JF Ptak Science Books Post 2026
Cave Cave Deus Videt ("Beware, Beware, God Sees")When I think of the early-ish thinkers on optics and vision, and consider their fantastic images of the anatomy of the eye and the mind/brain/eye connection, the work of Rene Descartes usually appears first. It is a general go-to illustration in optics and biology, and it appeared in his Dioptique in 1637. It is standard iconography.
For me, an antiquarian non-standard image of the eye appeared today. Hieronymous Bosch is not terribly well known as a person, as a walking and talking citizen of the world--it is known where he died, and where he spent the last twenty years of his life, but the details outside of this are scarce. And even though he signed his adopted name of "Bosch"(he was born ca. 1450 as Jerome van Aken, and died in 1516) very boldly and clearly--and was among the earliest crops of artists to do so in the West--he never dated the paintings. Scholars have determined their dates in some part by the increased realism and skill, which leads me to one of his latest works, the beautiful table top of the Seven Deadly Sins (ca. 1400).
I had never really noticed it before, but when I looked closely at some of the detail in the work it suddenly dawned on me that the central part of the work was an eyeball--this no doubt instantly seen by every other person, but for me it was a shock of recognition. This became particularly clear when I (quickly and clumsily) photoshopped out most of the elements of the painting, leaving me with this:
Which is clearly an eye--and as a matter of fact the Latin inscription emblazoned underneath Christ reads Cave Cave Deus Videt ( or "Beware, Beware, God Sees"), meaning that the watchful creator sees everything and will be the judge and offer final dispensation depending upon past history.
Rendered like this the work reminds me strongly--at least in a symbolist sense--of Ordilon Redon's (1840-1916) Eye Balloon (1878). Well, mostly it is the sense doctored image that drives this recollection more so than the painting--removing almost all of the elements of the Bosch suddenly gave the piece an escapist flavoring, like something in the early modernist movements.
And the original (47x59" in real life), with the roundels elements restored and Christ replaced in the iris of the eye:
The motif of the painting clearly works its way outside-in, with the all-seeing omnipotent being seeing-all, there at the center of the eye, surveying everything that takes place on the living dominion, surrounded at the corners by depictions of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, and then immediately encompassed by the seven deadly sins.
In the floating banner above the main circular image reads "For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them," and then below "O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!"
I found it very striking.