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22 January 2013


His life, according to the Golden Legend of James of Voragine, as Englished by William Caxton.

Sequence by Adam of St. Victor:

Ecce dies preoptata,
Dies felix, dies grata,
Dies digna gaudio.
Nos hanc diem veneremur,
Et pugnantem admiremur
Christum in Vincentio.

Ortu, fide, sanctitate,
Sensu, verbo, dignitate
Clarus et officio,
Hie arcem diaconi,
Sub patris Valerii
Regebat imperio.

Lingue presul impedite
Deo vacat, et levite
Verbi dat officia:
Cujus linguam sermo rectus,
Duplex quoque simplex pectus
Exornat scientia.

Dumque fidem docet suam
Plebem Cesaraugustanam,

Comitante gratia,
Sevit in Ecclesiam,
Zelans idolatriam,
Presidis invidia.

Post auditam fidei constantiam,
Jubet ambos pertrahi Valentiam
Sub catenis.
Nec juveni parcitur egregio,
Nec etas attenditur ab impio
Saneti senis.

Fessos ex itinere,
Presses ferri pondere,
Tetro claudit carcere,
Negans victualia.
Sic pro posse nocuit,
Nee pro voto potuit,
Quia suos aluit
Christi providentia.

Seniorem relegat exsilio,
Juniorem reservat supplicio
Preses acerbiori.
Equuleum perpessus et ungulam,
Vincentius conscendit craticulam
Spiritu fortiori.

Dum torretur, non terretur;
Christum magis confitetur,
Nec tyrannum reveretur
In ejus presentia:
Ardet vultus inhumanus,
Heret lingua, tremit manus,
Nec se capit Datianus
Pre cordis insania.

Inde specu martyr retruditur,
Et testulis fixus illiditur:
Multa tamen hic luce fruitur,
Ab angelis visitatus.
In lectulo tandem repositus,
Ad superos transit emeritus;
Sicque suo triumphans spiritus
Est Principi presentatus.

Non communi sinit jure
Virum tradi sepulture:
Legi simul et nature
Vim facit malitia.
In defunctum judex sevit:
Hinc defuncto laus accrevit.
Nam, quo vesci consuevit,
Reformidat bestia.

En cadaver inhumatum
Corvus servat illibatum,
Sicque sua sceleratum
Frustratur intentio.
At profanus
Quod consumi.
Nequit humi
Vult abscondi
Sub profundi
Gurgitis silentio.

Nec tenetur a molari,
Nec celari potest mari,
Quem nec laude singulari
Venerari voto pari
Satagit ecclesia.
Ustulatum corpus igne
Terra, mari fit insigne.
Nobis, Jesu, da benigne
Ut cum sanctis te condigne
Laudemus in patria! Amen.
Englished by Digby S. Wrangham:

See the longed-for day arriving!
Happy day, day pleasure giving!
Day in which we should delight!
Let us keep this day then holy,
On it Christ admiring truly,
As He doth in Vincent fight.

For his birth, self-consecration,
Feeling, faith, speech, lofty station.
And his office eminent.
Under the paternal sway
Of Valerius his day
Of diaconate was spent.

Slow of speech, the bishop giveth
All his time to God, and leaveth
Preaching to the deacon's share:
Wreathed his words are with uprightness,
And his single mind with brightness.
Bred of double learning, fair.

When the truth that he believeth
Sarragossa's crowd receiveth
From his lips through present grace,
Then the prefect's enmity,
Zealous for idolatry,
Fiercely would the church abase.

When their constant faith he learns, that never flagged,
To Valentia both in fetters to be dragged
Doth he direct.
Neither doth the wretch that noble young man spare,
Neither to the holy bishop's age doth care
To pay respect.

These men, tired with travel-pains,
Weighed down 'neath a weight of chains,
In a foul jail he detains,
And all food to them denies.
Though to hurt them he is fain,
Yet his wishes are in vain.
Since Christ's bounty doth maintain
His own servants with supplies.

To exile by him is the old man sent.
The younger one meanwhile for punishment
The prefect keeps still graver.
What time his pain by claw and horse-rack ends,
Vincent at once the gridiron ascends
With spirit braced and braver.

As he burneth, fears he spurneth;
Even more to Christ he turneth,
Nor, though present he discerneth
The dread tyrant, for him cares:
Datian's cruel visage gloweth,
Tongue and hand each useless groweth,
Till, such furious rage he showeth,
He beside himself appears.

Into a cave then is the martyr thrown,
And, there confined, flung down on potsherds prone;
Still he enjoys much light unto him shown,
When angels bright to him appear.
At length, upon a pallet rudely cast.
He passes thence to heaven, his labours past;
And, thus triumphant, his brave soul at last
Is to his Prince presented there.

Datian no such grave alloweth,
As man's common law bestoweth:
Violence his malice doeth
To what law and nature say.
'Gainst the dead the fierce judge burneth,
But more glory for him earneth,
For the very wild beast turneth,
Awe-struck, from its wonted prey.

Lo! untouched, a raven, flying,
Keeps the corpse, unburied lying,
And, a monstrous scheme thus trying,
Datian faileth utterly.
But, unholy
Heathen's folly!
What earth would not,
What earth could not,
Waste, is hurried
To be buried
In the silent depths of sea.

Millstone's weight can hold him never,
Ocean must her dead deliver.
Whom the church would now endeavour
With one voice of praise for ever
To revere especially.
For his corpse, reduced to cinder,
Fire, earth, sea, illustrious render!
Jesu! grant in mercy tender
We and all saints may Thy splendour.
Duly praise at home with Thee! Amen.

21 January 2013


Her life, according to the Golden Legend of James of Voragine, as Englished by William Caxton.

Sequence by Adam of St. Victor:

Animemur ad agonem,
Recolentes passionem
Gloriose virginis:
Contrectantes sacrum florem,
Respiremus ad odorem
Resperse dulcedinis.

Pulchra, prudens et illustris,
Jam duobus Agnes lustris
Addebat triennium:
Proles amat hanc prefecti,
Sed ad ejus virgo flecti
Respuit arbitrium,

Mira vis fidei,
Mira virginitas,
Mira virginei
Cordis integritas!
Sic Dei Filius,
Nutu mirabili,
Se mirabilius
Prodit in fragili.

Languet amans, cubat lecto,
Languor notus fit prefecto;
Maturat remedia.
Offert multa, spondet plura,
Periturus peritura,
Sed vilescunt omnia.

Nudam prostituit
Preses flagitiis,
Quam Christus induit
Comarum fimbriis
Stolaque celesti.
Celestis nuntius
Assistit propius;
Cella libidinis
Fit locus luminis:
Turbantur incesti.

Cecus amans indignatur,
Et irrumpens prefocatur
A maligno spiritu.
Luget pater, lugent cuncti,
Roma flevit pro defuncti
Juvenis interitu.

Suscitatur ab Agnete;
Turba fremit indiscrete;
Rogum parant virgini:
Rogus ardens reos urit,
In furentes flamma furit,
Dans honorem numini.

Grates agens Salvatori,
Guttur offert hec lictori;
Nec ad horam timet mori,
Puritatis conscia.
Agnes, Agni salutaris
Stans ad dextram gloriaris,
Et parentes consolaris,
Invitans ad gaudia.

Ne te flerent ut defunctam,
Jam celesti Sponso junctam,
His, sub agni forma, suam
Revelavit atque tuam
Virginalem gloriam;
Nos ab Agno salutari
Non permitte separari,
Cui te totam consecrasti,
Cujus ope tu curasti
Nobilem Constantiam.

Vas electum, vas honoris,
Incorrupti flos odoris,
Angelorum grata choris,
Honestatis et pudoris
Forman prebes seculo.
Palma fruens triumphali,
Flore vernans virginali,
Nos indignos speciali,
Fac sanctorum generali
Vel subscribi titulo. Amen.

Englished by Digby S. Wrangham:

As we tell once more the fashion
Of this glorious virgin's passion,
Be we kindled to the fight:
As we touch the sacred flower,
Let us breathe the scents that shower
From its sweetness' full delight!

Beautiful and wise and noble,
Agnes now had to the double
Of five years an added three:
Much the prefect's first-born loves her,
But to maiden scorn he moves her.
Not submission to his plea.

Wonderful power of faith,
Wondrous virginity,
Wonderful virtue hath
Virgin hearts' constancy!
So did the Son of God
Come of His wondrous will,
And in frail flesh abode;
Which is more wondrous still!

Sick, to bed the lover goeth:
When the cause the prefect knoweth,
Quickly seeks he for a cure:
Much now, vowing more, he proffers, -
Short-lived offerer, short-lived offers! -
But his gifts are all too poor.

Her doth the prefect, bare,
To outrage vile expose,
But a thick fringe of hair
Christ round her body throws,
And a robe heaven-whitened.
One of the angel-race
Beside her takes his place;
The den of lust that night
Becomes the abode of light,
And the lewd are frightened.

Her blind lover, most indignant,
Rushes in, and a malignant
Spirit robs him of life-breath.
Weeps his father, all are crying,
Rome bewailed a young man dying
By so terrible a death.

He is raised by Agnes' pleading;
But the crowd, - blind rage misleading! -
For the maid prepare the stake:
Its bright blaze the guilty burneth;
'Gainst the fierce the fierce flame turneth
For the Most High's honour's sake.

To the Saviour thanks she proffers,
To the lictor her throat offers;
Neither fears she when she suffers,
Conscious of her purity.
Agnes! thou, thy crown receiving,
At the saving Lamb's side living,
Comfort to thy parents giving,
Bidd'st them mount to joys on high!

Lest they mourn, as dead and buried.
One, to Spouse divine now married,
In a lamb's shape, Christ the story
Of His own and of thy glory
Set before them, spotless maid!
Suffer not our separation
From that Lamb, our One salvation;
Unto Whom devoted wholly,
Thou didst noble Constance throughly
Heal of sickness by His aid.

Vessel, glorious and elected!
Flower, with scent by naught affected!
By the angelic choirs respected!
Thou art as the type erected
Of a maiden's spotless fame.
Off the palm of victory bearing,
Still thy virgin blossom wearing,
Grant we may, unfit appearing
For a special title, share in,
With the saints, their general name! Amen.

20 January 2013


British Library:
The Macclesfield Alphabet Book is an exquisitely beautiful 15th century pattern book thought to have been used by scribes in medieval Britain to produce luxury books...

This extremely rare manuscript is written on parchment and has 46 leaves. It is held within an early 18th-century English calf binding and contains 14 different types of decorative alphabets, ranging from simple letters in Gothic script to large coloured anthropomorphic initials modelled after 15th-century woodcuts or engravings and two sets of different types of borders, some of which are fully illuminated in colours and gold.

19 January 2013


The Great Executioner (of St. John the Baptist) ~ Mezzotint by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, after the painting by Jose Ribera

Malcolm C. Salaman:
There is a story, long beleieved of Prince Rupert, that one day he saw a soldier cleaning the barrell of his musket, which the dew had rusted during a lengthy spell of sentry-go in the night. The prince, according to the legend, noticed that, as the soldier scraped away the fine grain eaten into the metal by the damp, which was in effect the rust, a sort of nondescript design was left, and from that he was supposed to have conceived the idea of mezzotint engraving. It was a plausible story, but its truth has been discounted, since Horace Walpole related it, by the discovery that the art was invented, not by Charles I's famous nephew, but by a German soldier of more modest fame.

Yet mezzotint engraving has its romantic story. When Prince Rupert was in Brussels in 1654, he sought the acquaintence of a certain Colonel Ludwig Von Siegen - but it was not to talk of military matters. Perhaps he was trying to forget the stricken fields of Marston Moor and Naseby, the surrendered battlements of Bristol, in the peaceful arts and sciences which now engaged his subdued activities. Among these engraving enjoyed his particular favour and interest; and his wonder and curiosity had been aroused by the report of certain extraordinary prints mysteriously produced from copper-plates which yet revealed no tough of graver or etching-point...

The secret of his invention, however, Colonel Von Siegen had kept to himself for twelve years, and in the interval, he had worked during his leisure hours at its development; but the flattering interest evinced by Prince Rupert, when he curiously and admiringly examined the prints, overcame the reticence of the gallant and ingenious inventor. He confided his secret to the sympathetic prince. He told him how, by means of a steel roller with fine sharp teeth cut on the face of it, fixed to a horizontal handle, he had worked over and over a copper-plate, in every possible direction, until the surface presented a close and even burr of grain, which, when inked, had given an impression of practically uniform black. Then, with a sharp tool, which he had devised for the purpose, he had gradually scraped away portions of the burr to varying depths and degrees, while other portions were left untouched, so that the high-lights, middle tints, and black shadows of his design resulted from impressions taken from the worked plate, and a whole picture was accordingly presented merely by gradatory tones of light and shade, and without a single line or dot, as in the known forms of engraving.
[The Old Engravers of England by Malcolm C. Salaman]

18 January 2013


According to five early ecclesiastical historians:

Eusebius of Caesarea:
But since I have come to mention this city, I do not think it right to omit a story that is worthy to be recorded also from those that come after us. For they say that the woman who had a haemorrhage, and who, as we learn from the sacred Gospels, found at the hands of our Saviour relief from her affliction, came to this place, and that her house was pointed out in the city, and that marvelous memorials of the good deed, which the Savior wrought upon her, still remained. For that there stood on a lofty stone at the gates of her house a bronze figure of a woman, bending on her knee and stretching forth her hands like a suppliant, while opposite to this there was another of the same material, an upright figure of a man, clothed in comely fashion in a double cloak and stretching out his hand to the woman; at his feet on the monument itself a strange species of herb was growing, which climbed up to the double cloak of bronze, and acted as an antidote to all kinds of diseases. This statue, they said, bore the likeness of the Lord Jesus. And it was in existence even to our day, so that we saw it with out own eyes when we stayed in the city.
Macarius Magnes:
Berenice, who once was mistress of a famous place, and honoured ruler of the great city of Edessa, having been delivered from an unclean issue of blood and speedily healed from a painful affection, whom many physicians tormented at many times, but increased the affection to the worst of maladies with no betterment at all, He made to be celebrated and famous in story till the present day in Mesopotamia, or rather in all the world - so great was her experience - for she was made whole by a touch of the saving hem of His garment. For the woman, having had the record of the deed itself nobly represented in bronze, gave it to her son, as something done recently, not long before.
John Malalas:
In his grief King Herod, the son of Philip, came from Judea, and a certain wealthy woman, living in the city of Paneas, called Bernice, approached him, wishing to set up a statue to Jesus, for she had been healed by him. As she did not dare to do this without imperial permission, she addressed a petition to King Herod, asking to set up a golden statue to the Saviour Christ in that city.

The petition ran as follows: To the august toparch Herod, lawgiver to Jews and Hellenes, king of Trachonitis, a petition and request from Bernice, a dignitary of the city of Paneas. Justice and benevolence and all other virtues crown your highness's sacred head. Thus, since I know this, I have come with every good hope that I shall obtain my requests. My words as they progress will reveal to you what foundation there is for this present preamble. From my childhood I have been smitten with the affliction of an internal haemorrhage; I spent all my livelihood and wealth on doctors but found no cure. When I heard of the cures that Christ performs with His miracles, He who raises the dead, restores the blind to sight, drives demons out of mortals, and heals with a word all those wasting away from disease, I too ran to Him as to God. I noticed the crowd surrounding him and I was afraid to tell Him of my incurable disease in case he should recoil from the pollution of my affliction and be angry with me and the violence of the disease should strike me even more. I reasoned to myself that, if I were able to touch the fringe of His garment, I would certainly be healed. I touched Him, and the flow of blood was stopped and immediately I was healed. He, however, as though He knew in advance my heart's purpose, cried out, Who touched Me? For power has gone out of Me. I went white with terror and lamented, thinking that the disease would return to me with greater force, and I fell before Him covering the ground with tears. I told Him of my boldness. Out of His goodness He took pity on me and confirmed my cure, saying, Be of good courage, My daughter, your faith has saved you. Go your way in peace. So, your august highness, grant your suppliant this worthy petition.

When King Herod heard the contents of this petition, he was amazed by the miracle and, fearing the mystery of the cure, said, This cure, woman, which was worked on you, is worthy of a greater statue. Go then and set up whatever kind of statue you wish to Him, honouring by the offering Him who healed you. Immediately, Bernice, who had formerly suffered from a haemorrhage, set up in the middle of her city of Paneas a statue of beaten bronze, mixing it with gold and silver, to the Lord God. This statue remains in the city of Paneas to the present day, having been moved not many years ago from the place where it stood in the middle of the city to a holy place, a house of prayer. This document was found in the city of Paneas in the house of a man called Bassus, a Jew who had become a Christian.
Among so many remarkable events which occurred during the reign of Julian, I must not omit to mention one which affords a sign of the power of Christ, and proof of the Divine wrath against the emperor.

Having heard that at Caesarea Philippi, otherwise called Paneas, a city of Phonicia, there was a celebrated statue of Christ which had been erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood, Julian commanded it to be taken down and a statue of himself erected in its place; but a violent fire from heaven fell upon it and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downwards at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning. The statue of Christ was dragged around the city and mutilated by the pagans; but the Christians recovered the fragments, and deposited the statue in the church in which it is still preserved. Eusebius relates, that at the base of this statue grew an herb which was unknown to the physicians and empirics, but was efficacious in the cure of all disorders. It does not appear a matter of astonishment to me, that, after God had vouchsafed to dwell with men, he should condescend to bestow benefits upon them.

There is also the statue of the Saviour in the city of Paneas, a work of magnificent execution put up by the woman with the haemorrhage whom Christ healed, and erected on a notable site in the city... Now an herb grew up by the feet of our Saviour's image and the reason for this was sought, for in the passage of time both the person portrayed and the reason for the monument had been forgotten; it stood in the open with nothing to cover it, and much of the body was buried in the dirt that kept falling upon it from highter ground especially in times of rain, the dirt covering the writing that explained each of the matters. An inquiry was therefore instituted, the buried part was dug out, and the writing was found that told the whole story... The Christians removed it and put it in the sacristy of the church. The pagans pulled it down, fastened ropes to the feet, and dragged it through the public square until it was broken up bit by bit and so destroyed. Only the head was left; that was seized by someone while the pagans were raising their clamor and speaking blasphemies and utterly disgraceful words against our Lord Jesus Christ, words such as no one had ever heard.

15 January 2013


Selected illustrations from Romani Collegii Societatus Jesu Musaeum Celeberrimum, a description of Kircher's museum written by Giorgio de Sepibus and published in 1678:

14 January 2013


Timothy J. Crowley:
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:
In fine Misse sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice Ite, Missa est, ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice Deo Gratias, ter respondebit, Hinham, hinham, hinham.

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.
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.
Sequence by Peter of Corbeil:

Orientis partibus
Adventavit asinus
Pulcher et fortissimus
Sarcinis aptissimus.

Lentus erat pedibus,
Nisi foret baculus,
Et eum in clunibus
Pungeret aculeus.

Hic in collibus Sychen
Iam nutritus sub Ruben
Transiit per Jordanem
Saliit in Bethlehem.

Ecce magnis auribus,
Subjugalis filius,
Asinus egregius
Asinorum dominus.

Saltu vincit hinnulos
Damas et capreolos
Super dromedarios
Velox Midianeos.

Aurum de arabia
Thus et myrrham de Saba,
Tulit in Ecclesia,
Virtus asinaria

Dum trahit vehicula
Multa cum sarcinula
Illius mandibula
Dura terit pabula

Cum aristis hordeum
Comedit et carduum,
Triticum ex palea
Segregat in area.

Amen dicas, Asine!
Iam satur de gramine:
Amen, Amen itera -
Aspernare vetera!

Englished by Andrew Streinmetz:

In the eastern regions
Chanced an Ass to be,
Beautiful and bravest,
Fittest loads to bear.

Slow in foot was he
Lest there was a stick
And a goad to prick him
In his lazy buttocks.

He was raised in Sichem,
Pastured under Reuben,
Found his way o'er Jordan,
Trotted into Bethl'hem.

Here he is with big ears -
Primitive clod-hopper -
Ass as big as ever -
Lord of all the asses.

Mules he beats at jumping,
Bucks and goats the same -
Swifter than the Midian
Dromedary's he.

Gold of rich Arabia,
Incense, myrrh of Saba -
All, the Church now offers
To an Ass's virtue.

Whilst he drags his wagon,
Plentifully piled on -
Then his jaws are grinding
Hard food for digestion.

Wheat and barley loves he,
Thistle too he savours,
Wheat from chaff well knows he,
Browsing in the barn-yard.

Now say Amen, O Ass!
Belly full of clover -
Amen! Amen ever!
And away with fodder!

12 January 2013


Glasgow University Library:
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.

11 January 2013


Christian Museum:
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.

9 January 2013


From the MacKinney Collection of Mediaeval Medical Illustrations.

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