JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Books are a favorite symbol, a venerable icon, a useful tool for developing ideas in Renaissance paintings. They do sometimes make unusual appearances, this time--and not too unexpectedly--in the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The painting, Cutting the Stone, (also called The Extraction of the Stone of Madness or better yet The Cure of Folly) was completed by Bosch in 1494 and lives today in the Prado.
Bosch was at the very least a very curious character, hardly a man of his time--he seems difficult for us to place in the 15th century given the extraordinary range of his deep imagination. He seems to be more a man of the modern times rather than one of the Renaissance. I mention that the painting is in the Prado, finding its way there from the collections of Spanish sovereigns, who collected Bosch as a deeply Christian painter who depicted the travesty of sin and moral neglect rather than his own deep fantasy.
Meester snyt die keye ras
Myne name Is lubbert Das
(in English: "Master, cut away the stone
my name is Lubbert das").
The man in the chair, the man undergoing some sort of cranial/brain surgery is an everyman of sorts, a Dutch Everyman Fool named Lubbert (translated to "castrated dachsund").. A charlatan medico stands and removes symbols of lunacy and foolishness from his brain, images of flowers standing for the fool's stone of long folklore. The medicine man wears an inverted funnel for a hat, a symbol for emptiness, nothingness. Likewise his purse is stuffed with straw, another iconic display of greed compounded and gaining nothing at all.
But what I am attracted to right now in this painting is the woman on the right balancing a book on her head. It seems to me to be a very rare case of a Renaissance image of a book displayed in this manner--usually books are simply held and are symbols of learning or wisdom or piety. In this case, the woman is just part of the general folly which is the concern of the quack surgeon, a closed book (impossibly?) balanced in tribute to the craziness before her, perhaps hoping for the words to seep through the pages and into her own head.
There are a number of other images of this operation, which was in its way a standard procedure for the relief of insanity, or depression, or lunacy, or basically of any mental complaint or "error", which can be found (along with description) on the bioephemera blog, here.
For example, there is this scene of mass extraction of the stones of madness by Peter Brueghel (painted ca. 1550)
Its a pretty miserable scene.
Again, I'm really just after the book in the Bosch.