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I came upon this cover advertisement for the Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig) for September 1919 and was excited by this typeface--especially the fantastic "f". The ad was for the German film production company UFA (Universum Film AG, today known as UFA GmbH) which was started a little less than two years earlier. There's not much I want to say about the company--I really just wanted to share the typography.
I've long thought that this (ca. 17th century) etching of a scholar in his study was alchemical in nature--that just for the the appearance and sound of the two words printed int he large open book on the table. As it turns out, I cannot find those words, anywhere--at least with meanings that could be related to the book or the scene.
The original print is available for purchase via the blog's bookstore, here.
That said it is still an interesting and very personal scene--one man, still heavily clothed in the dark (and what seems to be late at night, though there is no evidence for that, that is just how it feels t me), working away at something with the benefit of only a single semi-weak light source
The artist/etcher looks to be "JG", or "IG" or "GT", and other permutations and possibilities. I have not been able to identify who the artist is, having scoured the Big Book of Initials and Monograms: Francois Brulliot's Dictionnaire des Monogrammes, Marques Figurees, Lettres Initiales, Nom Abreges, etc., avec lesquels les Peintres, Dessinaeurs.... The book is a masterpiece of a type, sorting out the difficult and twisted means by which the originators of artworks identified themselves. It was published in Munich in 1832 in two volumes, and runs an easy 1200pp, though there is probably a half-inch of very thin paper that is unpaginated for various appendices. (For some reason the letter "T" is represented in only one page in the monogram section. Odd.)
The artist's monogram followed by a "fe", which is an abbreviation of "fecit", or "faciebat", which is also abbreivated as "f", "fac", and "fect", which seems to be a kind of ambiguous term, referring to "JG" as being the maker, as either the artist or etcher/engraver, or both. (This is less seldom scene than the more common indicators like "del" and "delin", which abbreviates the Latin word for draw/drew, and so indicating the artist; "eng" and "engd" would stand for "engraved", for the person who prepared and executed the plate made from the artist's work.)
Here's the detail of the open book, as well as the initials of the artist (located on the left-hand page):
And an early (and tiny, 2mm) collector's mark, stamped in the extreme right bottom corner:
I think that we'll just have to appreciate this print at this point for what it makes us feel--though I am sorry not to have more detail on what it is/where it came from/who made it.
[Image from John Comenius, Orbis Senfualium Piélus: Omnium Principalium in Mundo Rerun/Vita Аllопит, translated as Pictura et Nomenclatur, the Visible World, or A Nomenclature, and Pictures of all Chief Things that are int he World, translated into English by Charles Hoof...1726. See an earlier post here for more on Comenius. Image Source: PROJECT GUTENBERG.]
A Vapour, (1). ascendeth from the Water.
From it a Cloud, (2). is made, and a white Mist, (3). near the Earth.
Rain, (4). and a small Shower distilleth out of a Cloud, drop by drop.
Which being frozen, is Hail, (5). half frozen is Snow, (6). being warm is Mel-dew.
In a rainy Cloud, set over against the Sun the Rainbow, (7). appeareth.
A drop falling into the water maketh a Bubble, (8). many Bubbles make froth, (9).
Frozen Water is called Ice, (10). Dew congealed, (13) is called a white Frost
Thunder is made of a brimstone-like vapour, which breaking out of a Cloud, with Lightning, (11). thundereth and striketh with lightning
"...the Distillers have found out a way to hit the palate of the Poor, by their new fashion'd compound Waters called Geneva, so that the common People seem not to value the French-brandy as usual, and even not to desire it". --Daniel Defoe The Complete English Tradesman, 1727, volume 2, page 91.
I was moved to this post after reading a wonderful piece by Rebecca Onion at Slate Vault on an infographic/metaphorical social thermometer of drinking and temperance, a beautiful engraving published in 17971. (See here.) [Another, illustrated, version can be found at the College of Physicians, London, site, here.]
It reminded me of another great and iconic image regarding the evil of drink—it appeared earlier in the century, at a more difficult time in the history of London drunkenness. It is the William Hogarth's Gin Lane, published in 1751. I'm not sure what drove Hogarth to the subject matter—except of course he was a societal reporter, making art of what he saw, turning him observations of everyday street and cultural life in to parables. Certainly he needed go far to find subject material like this.
As we can see he only had to go as far as Bloomsbury (in the background and the tower of St. George towering) to find the location of his stage. The characters are well established, showing us in this unfolding tragedy a scene of drunken depravity and wantonness, of lechery, and forgetfulness, illness, crime, and death, all brought on by the continuing increase in gin and other alcohol consumption. But mainly gin. Gin was cheap, was sold everywhere, and was very effective. It was a disease, really, that affected London deeply throughout much of the 18th century, though the greatest part of the gin craze took place earlier in the century. Some of the problem was ameliorated by several governmental acts that interested with the sale of gin, though the major part of it occurred in the Gin Act of 1751, which was created to restructure the distribution of gin and make I more difficult (and expensive) to purchase—the logic of the move wasn't so much to convince the public not to drink gin, but to make it more difficult to buy the drink.
So gin was in the air, for sure—literally, and figuratively.
Hogarth attacked it. The most arresting figure for me is the scabbied drunken (syphalitic ?) mother in the middle foreground, passing out or wasting away, completely unconscious to the plight of her baby, falling, desperately, to certain major injury or death into a stairwell, without the attention of the mother, a vignette that is horrible and striking. At her feet is a starving skeleton, asleep or dead, dead or asleep, in a miserable state, although he does have a nice wicker basket with a bottle in it. This may be an allusion to Death from the Renaissance (and earlier) illustrations and depictions of Death coming to people at their play or profession—the Dance of Death, only this Death isn't dancing, it is only dying.
There's no relief in this print—an almost-calming scene at mid-left midground is Gripe's pawnbroker, the jaw-thrusting and disapproving proprietor assaying the tools of a man (a carpenter?) while a woman waits her turn, her pots in hand, waiting to pawn the stuff of existence or work. The three balls of the pawnshop's sign form a sort of upside down crucifix, which via a perspective tick hangs just above the steeple of St. George's. Under this cross all sorts of hellish behavior takes place.
At mid-right we find the distiller, with a big, ruddy, rheumy and raucous crowd in front of it, swinging chairs and crutches, close set, and depicted in such a way that you know everyone reeks.
In the upper right, forgotten, a man is seen hanging by the neck, a probable suicide, dead. Next door to his ruin house is a stable one, an undertaker's shop, with a sample of wares hanging as a sign—no doubt doing a decent business, though it seems as though any money left for coffins in these folks would've been drunk up a long time ago. To complete this architectural scene the house on the corner is collapsing, much like everything else.
Then in the gentle mist we see the coffin and body, and the men either putting the body in or taking it out—I think the viewer can choose for themselves which.
This image is the opposite of subtle, though you need to look for the messages a little; once found, they are forever present. Mr. Hogarth got his point across.
1. Lettsom, John Coakley, 1744-1815.History of some of the effects of hard drinking: The sixth edition. By J. C. Lettsom, ... The illustrations in question is "A MORAL AND PHYSICAL THERMOMETER; OR, A SCALE of the Progress of TEMPERANCE and INTEMPERANCE. LIQUORS, with their EFFECTS, in their usual Order". Summarizing, some drinking led to good health and tolerance; other sorts, not. The “Vices” perpetrated by the Bad Drink included the following: Idleness; Peevishness; Quarrelling; Fighting; Lying; Swearing; Obscenity; Swindling; Perjury; Burglary; Murder; Suicide. And the “Illnesses” associated with Bad Drink”: Sickness; Puking, and Tremors of the Hands in the Morning; Bloatedness; Inflamed Eyes; Red Nose & Face; Sore and swelled Legs; Jaundice; Pains in the Limbs, and burning in the Palms of the Hands, & Soles of the Feet; Dropsy; Epilepsy; Melancholy; Madness; Palsy; Apoplexy;Death. The social and economic onsequences: Debt; Black-Eyes; Rags; Hunger; Hospital; Poor-house; Jail; Whipping; The Hulks; Botany Bay; Gallows.
This dense, complicated table showing the distribution of
strategic raw materials (published in The Illustrated London News 3 August
1940) I is a decent example of how not to display data.
Perhaps there’s just too many variables to
try to control here in one visual display: it tracks twenty raw materials by percentage of access for thirteen
different countries, with the entire graph being displayed in a sort-of
progression according to metric tons of material. Maybe it’s the varying widths of the bars
representing the material, maybe it’s the complex designs distinguishing the
countries, and maybe its just too many lines. The only time this really works for relatively-offhand use is when you’re
looking for one country in particular, and then the eye allows it self to just
concentrate on the solid black (Germany) or the stars in a bar (U.S.) When the
graph is used in this manner it displays rather quickly that Nazi Germany doesn’t
control a whole lot of the combined tonnage of the twenty strategic materials, which
was a particularly good thing for the general reading population in the Allied
world to see, because the war was not going so well at this early stage. (At this
point in the war—less than a year old now in Europe—the Battle of Britain had begun
though it was still weeks away from when the massive Blitz begins, and Hitler had
just toured Paris…it was not a good time for Britain, and a worse time for France.
Soviet Union is listed still with the Axis as it was
still 10 months away from being attacked, Hitler turning on his allies in Operation
Barbarosa in June 1941.)
A little further
effort would show that the Allied countries are mainly lighter, with the “belligerent”
or neutral countries are darker, showing the lighter is on top with darker
beneath, and that in general the Allies control more of these materials than
the Axis. It is also interesting to not
ethe relative smallness of control by Great
Britain, though when you throw in the rest
of the British and then the French empires the possession summary changes
So the data is there, and there’s allot of it, and its
fairly nimble—its just that the visual display is not pretty or easy to use .
I was making my way through LIFE magazine for 1943 and was struck by the ratio of the number of advertisements using the war as a backdrop (and American soldiers as convenient props) for sales against the actual space dedicated to war reporting. Concentrating on just two randomly selected weekly issues (November 1 and November 15 1943) I was surprised to find 28 ads (most of which were full-page); there was no war reporting in November 1 and just half a story (on the history of the Prussian General staff) in November 15. Most of the ads were directly war-related, the companies mostly relegated to vast production of war goods, like General Motors, Cadillac and Boeing. The others were less clear, like the ad pictured here for Green Giant peas and corn. This company was informing the home front that if there were shortages of their product it was because they were selling it to the Army or Navy--others were more adventurous for their spirited attempt at patriotism. I'm not sure that Wembly Ties really needed to include a GI in their ad, nor did I like the use of American soldiers to sell Interwoven socks.
The interesting thing about Hell--Dante's Hell--is that it has been shown and reconstructed and imagined for a long time--eight centuries--and, outside of painting, most of the representations seem to be in cross-section. That is why this image from the famous exposition by Alessandro Vellutello's 1544 struck me so strongly--it is a mostly straight-down look at the miserly and the prodigal in the fourth circle of Hell.
"… I saw multitudes to every side of me; their howls were loud while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push. They struck against each other; at that point, each turned around and, wheeling back those weights, cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?' --Canto VII, lines 25-30
This image depicts the great, tiring but tire-less, endless, despicable joust of the miserly and the prodigals, going at each other with large, difficult-to-move stones. Pluto is supposed to be in the middle, but I don't see him here. The artist though has made the men basically unrecognizable, giving them little character to their faces and virtually no differences in their bodies--Virgil tells Dante that they have lost themselves to something else, that there is no "there" there, that Dante--who would normally speak with the people he was coming into contact with--would not be able to interview them as they were too absorbed in their vicious need.
As has been seen in the many maps constructed for the Divine Comedy over the years--but especially during the Renaissance--Hell for Dante was a real place, a nine-layered inverted cone of measured depth and width commensurate with the sin, and established under the city of Jerusalem. Dante visited the place
"... but who art thou That hast inquir'd of us?" To whom my guide: "One that descend with this man, who yet lives, From rock to rock, and show him hell's abyss." (Inferno XXIX, 89–92, trans. Cary)
entering Hell on Good Friday and emerging from Purgatory on Easter morning, taking three days to travel through the two places and straight through the center of the Earth.
Here are a few examples of the cross sections that are the great standard bearers of Dante's visions:
The Hell of Dante by Pietro da Fino, 1568:
The circles of Hell from Commedia di Dante insieme con uno dialogo circa el sito, forma et misure dello Inferno by Filippo Giunta, Florence, 1506.
Again, just a few examples of the cross sections of Hell to contrast with the scarce looking-straight-down-at-Hell image above.
Images of Hell do not often appear graphically depicted right on the title page of books, even though books speaking to Hell and warning us of its coming number in the hundreds of thousands, if not more, particularly if you interpret religion as the means for keeping people away from the ring of fire. Few people are shy about depicting Hell in general, though there evidently is some reluctance (or forbearance, or oversight) to showing it front-and-center on the title pages of books.
A terrific exception to this rule is Jacobs de Voragine’s Passional, Hyr hewrrey sick an dath winter deel, printed in Basel in 1511, and illustrated by various and unidentified Strassburg woodcut masters. In this extraordinary title page we see the vision of the adoration of the Virgin Mother and child supported in a rose of light, aided by guiding winds and various floating saints, and shown lowering the holy book directly to the city of Strassburg. In either corner positioned above the temporal city and below the firmament are two visions of hell, one less vicious and the other more so: to the left we see some of the pious praying for better judgment as they are about to be consumed by the background flames, while to the right is a far more ambitious and morbid vision of hell featuring the famous Hellmouth. The Hellmouth makes appears all throughout the history of art (as we can see in this Brueghel painting, for example), but it is a little curious that, outside of the mention of Leviathan (translated from Hebrew, Job 41:1), Hellmouth (as the entrance to hell) doesn’t make an appearance in the Bible.
What is more easily found, at least in the artwork on title pages throughout the Renaissance and the Baroque, are images of people about to be sent to hell. A good and chilling example of this can be seen in the artwork for Thomas Murner (1475-1537) De quattor heresiarhis ordinis Praedicatorium de Observantis nuncupatorum…, printed (again) at Strassburg in 1509. The pamphlet tells the story of Johannes Jetzer and his accomplices (including four monks) who were tried (under torture) for blasphemy after it was revealed that they colluded to defraud people with a bogus story of religious visions, employing the bloody tear of Mary. All were found guilty and the four monks were burned alive at the stake—Jetzer having escaped—and sent immediately to the deeper, more fiery, pit.
This isn't quite showing the coming of hell as in the first case, but it is getting close. In any event, I found it interesting to see the depiction of the Bad Place right there on the title page of the Murner bokk.
This print has been hanging here and there at home for many years--it has always been amusing, and somehow warming.
"A _M of A, and Dealer in Curiosities" was "published as the act directs 30 July 1839", is an etchign which depicts,
I guess, a lettered/educated man who winds up as a seller of scientific and intellectual bric-a-brac and interesting bits, perhaps wonderful natural history/physics materials, perhaps trivialities. He seems satisfied to me, regardless of the little man over his shoulder making a face, a reminder perhaps to not take the curiosities too seriously. [There's also another face off to the right, peering into the image (see below).]
The Record of Arts & Science that our dealer is reading has some interesting parts to it:, including something on new mechanical flight and a new diving bell--it would've been more interesting historically if it had mentioned the brand-new Daguerre invention.
Among graduated indicators the semi-physical allocations of measurable units time must be the most significant--or at least in modern times, over the last few hundreds years, when the popular class was able to afford time-keeping devices so that they could have a greater appreciation and control over time past and future. Simplified articulations of long periods of time is generally not a topic of illustration, however--art and illustration showing the development of a story is generally not a common occurrence in published form.
It is not terribly uncommon in ancient and early modern times, though. Trajan's Column is an excellent example of a sequential story, this told in stone; legends and myths and other stories are told in vases and friezes in Greece, and in various codices and altars in Mayan and Mixtec cultures.
But in more modern times the telling of the sequential stories in published form, again, is not a common thing. Even the telling of the story of the development of, say, a tree or the life cycle of a bird is just not a common occurrence, in spite of the more-popular appearance of graphical and expressive modes of displaying quantitative data in the mid-19th century.
Perhaps the most common of the early transitions in displaying these stories since the Renaissance have been in the telling of the lives of the Saints, or in the Passion of the Christ, or in the depiction of the legend of Adam and Eve (as in the work of Lucius Cranach, above). There are interesting cycles showing the Christian mythic formulation of the creation of the world, as in the case of Thomas Burnet's (illustrated title page to his) Sacred History of the Earth where there is a glorious seven-sphere display of the beginning and ending of our planet.
I wonder though if one of the most popular and common sequential depictions of an important and shared story is that of the ages of man/people: generally they show a pyramidal showcase of silhouettes or full-body portraits of one person as that body develops and decays over the major decades of a life.
They would normally appear in a configuration like the following:
And earlier on, very famously, like so:
(I've written about and identified these and other related depictions of the ages of man here.)
I came to think about all of this again after reading an interesting post in the excellent Public Domain Review blog where I found this absolutely delightful "barometric" rendition of the stages of life, a sequential, top-to-bottom graphical display of the stages, but without illustration. I cannot remember seeing such a "list" before, and was not familiar with the book from which it came (The art of invigorating and prolonging life, by food, clothes, air, exercise, wine, sleep, &cand peptic precepts, pointing out agreeable and
effectual methods to prevent and relieve indigestion, and to regulate
and strengthen the action of the stomach and bowels ... : to which is
added, the pleasure of making a will ...which was printed in 1822 by Constable for Hurst/Robinson in London, the full text of which can be found at the Internet Archive).
And the "Rule of Seven" which precedes the longer list above:
It is interesting to note that this was the fourth edition of this work, and that the end of the book, the very synopsis for ideas of full life and longevity, the whole is topped off by a chapter on happy-making and your personal will.
There were many admonishments that made and still make perfect sense found in these pages: early to bed and early to rise sort of material. Plain, but sensible. Eating early. Dressing sensibly. Eating (for the time) modestly. Interesting recipes. Pure air making for "a diverted mind". Good advice for the mature bookbuyers there in first quarter 19th-century England. I imagine that most of those readers were no doubt born in the second-to-last decade of the 18th century, which means that their instructions on Daily Life business was from their parents who got their information from their parents, which means by 1822 much of the handed-down wisdom relating to diet and exercise was from the early 18th century. Perhaps this work was the breath of fresh air that people needed, making it popular enough to find its was into at least four editions. (Also worth noting is that the average resting pulse rate for the readers of this book was said to be 60, which I think is lower than the American national average today.)
There is of course a suffocating number of ill-advised recommendations, like for athletes, where the consumed foods should not include veal, lamb, pork, fish or cheese puddings, "or vegetables", which leaves little room for anything besides red beef, which was to be had in quantities, including beef pudding, jellied beef, and "beef tea". There was also a lot of beer and malt liquor drinking, with suggestions for "three pints of home-brewed" to be had with dinner, followed by three glasses of wine ('the less, the better")--then again, clean/drinkable water was a tough go at times, so beer was a common-enough stand-in. All things being equal, the advice utilized whatever was the good data for the time.
The long list from birth to death of supposed and impending accomplishments is interesting particularly for the "decaying" part (which is outlined in the second chart) of life, where we find that at age 54 a person should be conducting their mathematical works, after which (from 55 to 60) one is relegated to pursuing "former works". (After all, the period of general decay according to the Rules of Seven chart begins at age 6x7.) And it is here that the creative life ends, because from this point to the preparation for eternity the life is spent enjoying one's earthly works.
In any event, I just wanted to point out the unusual nature of the "William Jones' Andrometer", which is a display of information that is outside my usual experience.
I briefly considered including "logic trees" in this description, as they do tell a story, in a way. Particularly Porphyry's Tree came to mind (which was a classification in diagrammatic form on different kinds of being) and then Pacioloi's summary of ratios from his Summa de arithmetica (1494). They do certainly represent a structured depiction of thought, but they are not a narrative, though they would provide the structure for one. Anyway, I'm convinced tonight at least that these diagrams don't belong in the sequential illustration discussion. (And in a weird way these diagrams enter the modern conversation so far as their overuse is concerned. Even in the Middle Ages the idea of the logic tree was being so over- and mis-employed that they would remind the modern reader of the "Top 15 (or whatever number) Photographs of Butterflies (and again, whatever he counted thing might be).)
[Detail from the title page of Natural Magic, below.]
Giovani Baptista della Porta was a magus, or a natural (science)
"magician", who searched nature for similarities that would serve to build a
broad template of forced understanding of seeming likenesses, looking for the great connector
in the exceptional and the unusual, the stuff outside of the formerly
Aristotlean world. Natural Magic is his magnum opus, an expansion of its earlier
version (Magna naturalis) published in Latin in 1558, which Porta expanded to twenty sections in 1589. The 1589 edition was a maturing of the 1558 edition, toning down the philosophical/religio-mystic basis for the ordering of the natural environment with an approach more suitable to observation and experimentation. It was an encyclopedic work of vast proportions, a
gold-mine of information and clever wishfulness, and very accessible due to
Porta’s wide inter-personal travel,
very wide reading and critical abilities, clear reasoning and deep vision: the book was hugely successful, going into at
least twelve Latin, four Italian, seven French, two German, and two English
editions in the early modern era. Natural
Magic, which first appeared in English in 1658, concerned itself with
magic, alchemy, optics, geometry, cryptography, magnetism, agriculture, the art
of memory, munitions, and many other topics, all grouped together and refined,
distilled, into a cloudy assemblage of natural knowledge—it would end up that the magical
whole was worth far less than the sum of its parts.
But the parts were pretty considerable, and much of the
information was spot-on for the time, not the least of which was a very capable
demonstration and explanation of a lensed camera obscura.
What I’m interested in right now though is the title page of
the book (pictured above).
It turns out and as we can see in the top image of the
title page, Chaos is not some subspace trajectory of cellular automata, or in
Dr. Brown’s/Einstein’s dancing dust—it is right above us. This recognition of its regular, localizable structure
probably does not support parameterization, or anything else for that matter,
except to say that it is definitely “pretty”.
The title page has nine illustrated compartments: the four corners depict the four elements,
the two opposing middles show art and nature; the bottom shows the author,
illuminated by the knowing sun. The top
center image is the element showing “chaos”, which I’ve chosen to use a map,
identifying where exactly chaos might be.
I’ve not seen an antiquarian map identifying chaos, though I have seen a
number showing lots of other non-existent places, like heaven and hell and
purgatory and Eden and the Kingdom of Prester John, to name a few. But not chaos.
It is very interesting to note that while in the process of looking at nature, and observing connections real and imagined, and creating ways of organizing and storing information in the brain, Porta conceived of a telescope, and this several decades in advance of Galileo. (The idea of the telescope stretches pretty far back, though. The idea seems ancient, though the scientific thought on the matter really weren't present until the 13th century with the work of Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste, and then with Nicolsa of Cusa (in 1451) doing experimental work on the properties of lenses, and then on to John Dee and Thomas Digges in 1570/1. Porta seemed right about there, just ont he edge of the invention of an instrument which would have allowed him to see farther and deeper than anyone else before him, but he didn't follow through. He mentions in the 1589 edition of Magiae:
"With a Concave lens you shall see small things afar off very clearly. With a Convex lens, things nearer to be greater, but more obscurely. If you know how to fit them both together, you shall see both things afar off, and things near hand, both greater..." (Porta would expand this section of the 1589 book (section XVII) into a complete and separate work in 1593, De refractione optices.)
I do not know what happened to this idea, or why it didn't flourish in Porta's hand like it would in those of Galileo less than three decades latter.
Porta was a very nimble and penetrating man--his Magia naturalis was a dissecting tool for the complexities that he saw around him, and his later works were in some ways continuations on this theme. The first two books following Magiae were concerned with private visions of Very Large Things: the first, De furtivis literarum notis (published in 1563) was one of the earliest works on cryptology. This looking-deeper book was followed three years later in 1566 by a book on how these thoughts could be organized in the mind. Given the spirit of the times and the difficulty of actually recording what it was you saw, Porta wrote Arte del ricordare, which addressed the very idea of memory and then the more applicable bits of mnemonic devices. He looked for more hidden messages in his next work--on the physiology of hands--but it didn't see the light of publishing day until after Porta died.
Working in the areas of pharmacology, hydraulics, military engineering, physiology, and physics, among many other areas, Porta published De aeris transmutanionbus (1609) on meteorology; De distillatione (1610), on chemistry; Coelestis Physiogranonia (1603), on a sort of "writing in the sky" and both a blast and support of astrology; and De humana physiognomonia libri IIII (1586), which was a work physiognomy and discerning function from structure. There were other books, not to mention at least 17 dramatic works. Porta was basically unstoppable.
All of this takes me back to the question of wondering about his inability (?) to see the possibilities of the telescope. In all of his books on deterministic vision, and of seeing things deeply--whether it was in the sky, or in chemical experiments, or in seeing the structure of a plant incised with its function in nature, or in the complexities of memory, and so on--it is a mystery to me how he could have left the development of the telescope along.
Could we satisfy our selves in the position of the lights above, or
discover the wisdom of that order so invariably maintained in the fixed
stars of heaven......we might abate.....the strange Cryptography of
Gaffarell in his Starrie Booke of Heaven. Thomas Browne1 (1605-1682) in his major Hermetic effort, The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered (published in 1658).
The Garden of Cyrus is a neo-Pythagorean insight weaving together all manner of visions in nature and art, and the art of nature and vice versa and so on, all tied up in universal thinking about these intersections in terms of the great quincunx patterns and the number five and it various variants in terms of latticework and the figure X.
"What is more beautiful than the
quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight
lines?-- Quintillian's Institutio OratoriaVIII.3.ix
The Browne quote relate to the work of J. Gaffarel, who saw connections in art and nature quite literally in the structure of the heavens, among other places--but it is his "star-writing" that I'd like to address a bit here. His provocatively-titled Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, horoscope des Patriarches et lecture des estoiles ("Unheard-of Curiosities concerning Talismanical Sculpture of the Persians, the horoscope of the Patriarchs and the reading of the Stars") was published first in 1629 and then many times thereafter well into the 18th century. Garrafel (1601-1682) presented to the world a wide class of interesting subjects which had previously been thought of as being outside the normal realm of academic discussion, the subjects being mainly seen as dogmatic occultism. What Garrafel did was very interesting, writing about these areas as discussion-builders, as "curious" topics that could or should be considered to widen general inquiry. (In an interesting article, "The Use of Curiosity in Early Medieval France and Germany" the author Neil Kenny writes of Gaffarel, "Making occult knowledge into conversation rather than a dogmatic system made [his work] less likely to be universally censured")
His work definitely interesting and curious, though the use of that word didn't save him, as some of the topics were verbotten--certainly Gaffarel
was aware of this, and he tried his best to write about them in a way
that the ruling intellectual powers would not find offensive, but it
didn't work, and his book was found to be abusive and was banned by the
Sorbonne. This was such an integral action that Gaffarel succumbed to
not one but two retractions.
What is of primary interest right now with Gaffarel is his interpretation of writing systems, and how frequently they seem to exist exclusive of human manufacture. It seems that a fair percentage of the time that these appearances came in the form of agate. and that these durable micro- explorations in agate go back thousands of years,
expounded by Pliny and some of the other ancients, who followed the origins of
humanity back into the rocks. This was a
popular idea for the origin of animate beings, propounding itself for centuries,
even winding up in the bony lap of Leibniz of all people, who wrote that “men
derive from animals, animals from plants, plants from fossils, which in turn
derive from bodies that the senses and imagination represent to us as being
totally dead and formless”. Stones
therefore held the seeds of the formation of the world; all things living,
breathing, and not.
Our own Athanasius Kircher, the definition of polymathic ability and
superior imagination was responsible for many such observations and
discoveries. It seems to me that as much
as Kircher gave, he took away, keeping ahead of his critics and the rest of the
scientific community with tremendous output…people I think just couldn’t keep
up with him. He found all sorts of
things in stone: as early as 1619 he exhibited an image of St. Jerome (in no less a place than the cave of the Nativity
in Bethlehem!) that he found in
agate. His Mundus Subterraneus (1661)
is a home to a wide range of these
objects: quadrupeds of all shapes and descriptions, human full-length
portraits, hands with jewels, and even the Virgin Mary and child. AS spectacular as these are there is always
more: the magnificent cityscape
(reproduced here) and the sublime discoveries of a full set of the alphabet and
a series of 15 geometrical drawings, all naturally impressed in stone.
Gaffarel's principle and perhaps first-on-the-scene notion (though some of it may have appeared in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (first published in 1533)) was the elements of an alphabet--the Hebrew alphabet--was found not in stone, but actually written in the night sky. In the stars.
It was another sort of artificial language, an entire alphabet, though this was written in the sky; Hebrew letters transcribed in the stars, lines connecting them here and there. Replaceable letters from one point to another. The possibilities of the formation of actual words was present. This seems to have been the first time this idea appeared in print.
1. Browne's writing is both beautiful and difficult, or complex and impenetrable, as can be seen from the very opening paragraph of his work here.
That Vulcan gave arrows unto Apollo and Diana the fourth day after their Nativities, according to Gentile Theology,may passe for no blinde apprehension of the Creation of the Sunne and
Moon, in the work of the fourth day; When the diffused light contracted
into Orbes, and shooting rayes, of those Luminaries.
Plainer Descriptions there are from Pagan pens, of the creatures of the
fourth day; While the divine Philosopher unhappily omitteth the noblest part of the third; And Ovid (whom many conceive to have borrowed his description from Moses) coldly deserting the remarkable account of the text, in three words,
describeth this work of the third day; the vegetable creation, and
first ornamentall Scene of nature; the primitive food of animals, and
first story of Physick, in Dietetical conservation.
2. An interesting article in the blog 8vo appears here on Gaffarel's celestial writing.
In working on an alphabet of the occupations of children in 1910/1920 America based on the photographs of the immortal Lewis Hine (and found via looking at other materials on the excellent Retronaut website), I came across this extraordinary image:
The detail seems to show lip rings on what I think is a very young woman. She is very slender (you can see very thin wrists), and is wearing a number of layers of clothes, not the least of which is a long white apron on top of which sit Civil-War-like shawls, She is stepping into the street, caught mid-stride. It looks as though it is frosty, the sidewalk and steps seem to have a thin veneer of ice It is cold. And she is carrying an ungainly, heavy burden, which might weigh half of her own weight. And she is young. And she has no gloves.
Where did she go?
It also that Hine--in his notes onthe back of the photograph-- identifies her with kindness and grace as a "tenement gleaner". (In my notes I was less kind and called her a "ragpicker" I'm a little ashamed to say. Mr. Hine taught me a lesson.) Gleaner.
Hine documented things that were part of everyday life that made cities like New York what they were, much of which went unnoticed, or scuttled by intentional indifference. People like this made the city run--then as now--and Hine was one of the early photographers in the United States who "discovered" these people and made their standing a cause of his life.
Like many other pioneers/artists/social observers, Hine (1874-1940) didn't fare so well in his later life. After four decades of huge service in photography, people became disinterested in his past/present/future work, and Hine lost his resources. And his house. And then, in a few years, his life. His personal collection of negatives and prints were given by a relative to the New York Photo League, but they were displaced when the League was dismantled in 1951. Unsettled, they were offered out to places like the Museum of Modern Art, which rejected the collection. Ultiamtely, fortunately, the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, accepted the collection and saved it from the unknown.
This image easily could have been Atlas, but Libertas seemed better.
I've just written a short post on the beautiful key to iconography by Cesare Ripa, Iconologia overa descrittione d'imagini delle virtu, viti, sffetti, passioni humane, corpi celesti, Mondo e sue parti..., which was published in Padua in 1611. The version I used was an 18th-century English translation with new illustrations--now though the translation was very appreciated, the images were not so. As I pointed out, they do serve the purpose of illustrating the specifics in iconography, the images were not that pleasing. I wanted to include here an example from the original, and in particular the imagery of "Dawn".
It is a gorgeous thing, a very striking, very strong woodcut showing the messenger of the new day coming, attacking the night with arrows of dawn.
I enjoy he earlier, more robust images for this iconology, even though there are many variants to choose from--there were more than 40 editions of this work since its first non-illustrated edition in 1593--but given it all I much prefer the early 17th century flavor.