Selected illustrations from Romani Collegii Societatus Jesu Musaeum Celeberrimum, a description of Kircher's museum written by Giorgio de Sepibus and published in 1678:
The celebration of the Festum Asinorum in medieval and ecclesiastical circles was a pastime in which all, from the dignitaries in the upper stalls of the sanctuary to the humblest among the esclaffardi, participated. The feast dates for the 11th century, though the source which suggested it is much older [the Christmas Eve liturgy of the Processus Prophetarum] ... In all this the part that pleased the congregation was the rôle of Balaam and the Ass; hence the popular designation of the Processus Prophetarum as the Feast of the Ass.
The part of Balaam was soon dissociated from its surroundings and expanded into an independent drama. The Rouen rubrics direct that two messengers be sent by King Balaak to bring forth the prophet. Balaam advances riding on a gorgeously caparisoned ass (a wooden, or hobby, ass, for the rubric immediately bids somebody to hide beneath the trappings - not an enviable position when the further direction to the rider was carried out - and let him goad the ass with his spurs). From the Chester pageant it is clear that the prophet rode on a wooden animal, since the rubric supposes that the speaker for the beast is in asinâ. Then follows the scene in which the ass meets the angered angel and protests at length against the cruelty of the rider.
Once detached from the parent stem, the Festum Asinorum branched in various directions. In the Beauvais 13th century document, quoted by the editors of Ducange, the Feast of Asses is already an independent trope with the date and purpose of its celebration changed. At Beauvais the Ass may have continued his minor role of enlivening the long procession of Prophets. On the 14th of January, however, he discharged an important function in that city's festivities. On the feast of the Flight into Egypt the most beautiful girl in the city, with a pretty child in her arms, was placed on a richly draped ass, and conducted with religious gravity to St. Stephen's Church. The Ass (possibly a wooden figure) was stationed at the right of the altar, and the Mass was begun. After the Introit a Latin Prose was sung... Mass was continued, and at its end ... the following direction was observed:
Sequence by Peter of Corbeil:In fine Misse sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice Ite, Missa est, ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice Deo Gratias, ter respondebit, Hinham, hinham, hinham.This is the sole instance of a service of this nature in connection with the Feast of Ass. The Festum Asinorum gradually lost its identity, and became incorporated in the ceremonies of the Deposuit or united in the general merry-making on the Feast of Fools. The Processus Prophetarum, whence it drew its origin, survives in the Corpus Christi and Whitsun Cycles, that stand at the head of the modern English drama.
At the end of Mass, the priest, having turned to the people, in lieu of saying the Ite, Missa est, will bray thrice; the people instead of replying Deo Gratias say, Hinham, hinham, hinham.
The book is one of the seminal works of musicology and was hugely influential in the development of Western music – in particular on J.S. Bach and Beethoven.
Its author [Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher] lived and worked at the Collegio Romano in Rome for most of his life and his position at the hub of a huge international organisation – the 40000 or so strong Society of Jesus - had two very important effects: first of all he received thousands of letters from Jesuits and others in places as far apart and little-known as China and Mexico, giving him access to unparalleled sources of knowledge mostly unknown to the western world.
The second effect was the converse of this: Kircher’s books were printed in large numbers – there were 1500 copies printed in 1650 of the Musurgia Universalis alone – and widely distributed through Jesuit channels. In 1652, for example, more than 300 Jesuits came to Rome from all over the world to elect a new Superior General: every one of them took back one of these sumptuous volumes, which explains the astonishing diaspora of these books even today.
The Musurgia Universalis then is hugely famous and has been since it appeared in 1650. Its most famous image is probably that of the birds with their songs written out in musical notation beside their pictures... The nightingale's song is given first, followed by those of the cock, the hen laying eggs and calling her chicks, the cuckoo, quail and parrot; the latter says Hello in Greek. The cockerel's music has the familiar portamento at the end of each phrase; as usual the cuckoo's call is notated as a falling minor third.
The rest of the content of the book, however, is much less well-known... The German publishing house of Olm produced a facsimile edition of it in 1990 but it is already out of print. Perhaps most strangely of all, apart from a nineteenth century translation of the work into German, there are no translations of the book, which is written in rather ponderous Latin with occasional excursions into Greek and Hebrew. Some of the musical scores printed in the book are found in no other form, despite the fame of some of the composers.
The frontispiece to the first volume was engraved by Baronius of Rome after a drawing by John Paul Schor. It makes reference to similar pages in some of Kircher's other volumes, particularly the triangle and globe symbols...
The triangle at the top is the symbol of the Holy Trinity and sheds its rays over the whole of the top of the picture. Kircher held to the mediaeval idea that music is a reflection of the essential mathematics and proportions inherent in all Creation... Under the Trinity we find the nine angelic, four-voice choirs, singing a 36-part canon by Romano Micheli. The canon is properly described as canoni sopra le vocali di piu parole (on the vowels of a few words) although in the present case the words ascribed are those of the angelic choirs in the Trishagion, Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus, as described in Revelation. The strip of text reads: Angelic choir of 36 voices [then the Sanctus music notated in staff notation] distributed in 9 choirs.
The middle section is dominated by a globe of the World, on which is seated Musica, holding the lyre of Apollo and the panpipes of Marsyas. The globe is encircled by the Zodiac, and Musica holds also a streamer bearing the legend Of Athanasius Kircher of the Society of Jesus, Universal Musicmaking or the Art... [being the beginning of the full title of the work]. Round the last part of the streamer is displayed the dedication To His Serene Highness Leopold William, Archduke of Austria. Other symbols in this section include rings of dancing mermaids on the shore, a shepherd trying out the echo and the winged horse of the Muses, Pegasus.
The lowest part of the picture shows blacksmiths in a cave: the sound of blacksmiths hammering had led Pythagoras to important conclusions about the nature of pitch and the blacksmiths are acknowledged in the picture by being pointed out by Pythagoras, who also holds an illustration of his theorem, also using triangles, and hence referring obliquely once again to the top of the picture. The muse on the right may be Polymnia who appears in standard pose surrounded by musical instruments of various kinds.
This painting by an Austrian or perhaps a Hungarian painter has an unusual iconography. Originally, the panel was joined with another one that closely correlated to it also in its content. In the other, now lost panel, a praying man was depicted. The red lines that once departed from his figure and continue in this picture represent his erring thoughts. The attention given to clothes, drinking, worldly treasures, and women is shown here as morally reproachable. It is possible that also a third panel was joined to these which showed the correct direction of the praying man’s thoughts and the desirable virtues. Tempera on wood, 1430s.
The Cisiojanus is a medieval composition of 24 hexametrical verses with a syllable for each day in the year. Its purpose is to memorize the most important feasts. The name is taken from the incipit Cisio Janus Epy... (Circumsision, January, Epiphany...). It originated probably in Northern Germany (Cologne or Aachen) in the 12th century, and spread to Eastern Europe and Scandinavia... After a Cisiojanus in the Speculum Humane Salvationis I have demonstrated how it is possible in some cases to reconstruct a calendar on basis of the Cisiojanus alone. In France was it not commonly known before the end of the 15th century, when vernacular versions began to circulate, mainly spread with the calendars in printed books of hours.Cisiojanus attributed to the Venerable Bede:
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