Sunday, April 30, 2006

(26) Peter Martyr and the Dresden Codex

Once it begins to be deciphered, El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights starts to match a description by Peter Martyr (Pietro Martiro d' Anghiera) in De Nuper sub D. Carolo repertis insulis (1521), pp. 33-34, which Michael Coe has proposed represents the Dresden Codex. I have re-translated since some translations omit the stars (stellis):
The characters are very dissimilar to ours, dice, hooks, snares or nooses, outlines, stars, and similar forms, written in lines in our fashion: almost to rival the forms of the Egyptians: between the lines they depict men, and types of animals, particularly the king and also prominent people: for that matter it can be believed that greater accomplishments are recorded there for their own king, as it is in our time. We often see them insert figuras [illustrations?] in general histories, and also mythical codices, concerning the same matters, and the story is that this is for the alliciendos to gratify the wishes of authors who want them, also the way the outer panels are pleasingly put together looks no different when they are closed than ours: also law, and sacrifices, and ceremonial rites, astronomical notations, and certain computations, and cycles and times for sowing, are entrusted to books.
…Sunt characteres a nostris ualde dissimiles, taxillis, hamis, laqueis, limis, stellisque ac formis eiusmodi, lineatim exarati nostro more: Aegypti as fere formas aemulantur: Interlineatim hominú, animeliumque species, regum praecipue ac procerú dipingunt: quaere credendum est gesta esse ibi maiorum cuiusque regis conscripta, quaeadmodum nostra sit tempe state. Vedemus saepenumero eos generalibus historijs, fabulosis etiam codicibus, ipsius rei, quae narratur, ad alliciendos emere cupientium animos authorum, figuras interserere, artequoque grata superiores tabulas cópingút, nil differe a nostris clausi videntur: legú quoque, & sacrificiorú, ceremoniarúque ritus, astronomicalque annotationes, & cóputationes quaesdá, seminandique rónes & toa, libris cómendát…

See Michael D. Coe, “The Royal Fifth: Earliest Notices of Maya Writing,” Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 28 (1989):1-10.

(25) constellation Perseus

Perseus is very small compared to Auriga, but recognizable both because Perseus is usually shown as a man in armor, and because of the two-armed shape suggested by the pattern of stars. The dogs attacking the knight are not from the same myth, and seem to be a continuation of the stereotype of what Europeans looked like to people in the New World, which started with the image of Auriga as a charioteer (below), showing the European as a man in armor. The scene represents a reversal of events described by Bartholome de las Casas, where the invaders brought dogs to attack people.
Connections between El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights and the writings of Bartolome de las Casas have been described by Francisco Rodríguez in a dissertation, La Brevíssima Relación del Padre Las Casas, Texto y Subtextos (University of California, Davis, 1995; available from University Microfilms).

(24) constellation Lynx

The constellation Lynx was formerly described in vague terms as a group of stars circling the pole, and might be represented by the circle of riders in the center panel. The line of trees and vegetation just below the circle of riders corresponds to the line formed by the modern constellation.

(23) constellation Gemini

Gemini (the Twins) can be identified without knowing exactly what the twins in the center panel represent. The group also resembles Leonardo's painting (now known from the copy by Melzi illustrated here), which shows the whole family: Leda, the swan, Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins), and a second set of twins, Helen and Clytemnestra. The blue columbine flowers in front of the twins in El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights are an echo of the ones at Leda's feet in the Melzi painting, too small to see here.

(22) constellation Cancer

The first writer to identify the pink fountain in the left panel as the constellation Cancer was Anna Boczkowska, although Paul Lafond (1914) had described the scene as containing "…au milieu d'un lac, une petite île d'ou émerge une végetation étrange et colossale aux branchages en forme de princes de homard…" and O. Benesch (1957) wrote that "…the Fountain of Life … takes the forms of gigantic crab petrified in coral." Boczkowska thought that the main subject of the triptych was a conjunction of the sun and moon in the sign of Cancer in 1504.

(21) map of stars in El Jardín de las Delicias

The constellations represented in El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights correspond to a portion of the sky from Cancer to Taurus, and north to Lynx and possibly Ursa Major.

Friday, April 28, 2006

(20) Auriga and the Dresden Codex

There seem to be two possible explanations. One is that a picture of Auriga like the one illustrated here could be a comical image of what Europeans looked like to Maya and other New World observers. Their use of domesticated animals including horses, goats, and the gratuitous oxen that the illustrator of the 1482 edition included in the picture must have seemed extremely peculiar, and vehicles with four wheels even more so. (The reason for including the oxen might have been that a star that was once listed as part of Auriga was later transferred to the constellation Taurus.)

A second explanation might be that a Maya person had talked about stars and events in the constellation Auriga relating to prognostications concerning the year 2012. A technical explanation has this to say about the "kid" stars on the charioteer's left hand:
Epsilon-Aurigae, or Almaaz, is the Kid star closest to Capella. Distance: 4600 LY. Usual magnitude: 3.0. It is an eclipsing binary, with an unseen companion that comes in front of Almaaz every 27 years. For one year Almaaz fades to 3.8 magnitude before recovering. Watch for the next fade in 2009, reaching its faintest between 2011 and 2012! (from a University of Oklahoma online exhibition which also includes images from the 1482 edition of Hyginus and many other images).

But like any speculation concerning the year 2012, the hypothesis that the artist might have heard about the "kid" stars has to be regarded with caution.

(19) Aquarius and the Dresden Codex

But if the right panel El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights is partly based on the Dresden Codex, why does it include a large picture of the constellation Auriga, and not Aquarius? There are only two tiny images that might allude to Aquarius, a woman filling a jug and a man carrying a jug.

(18) Auriga according to Hyginus

The image of Auriga, the Charioteer, seems to be loosely based on the Poetic Astronomy of Hyginus, where the constellation is described as follows, as a picture of a person with arms but no legs:
3.12 The figure has one star on the head; one on each shoulder (the one on the left shoulder, called Capra [Capella] is brighter); one on each elbow, one on the right hand; two on the left (left) hand which are called Kids, located near the western stars. The total is eight.
(illustration and text from Theony Condos, Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook; Grand Rapids, MI, Phanes Press, 1997, pp. 49 and 52)

(17) Auriga in El Jardín de las Delicias

An image of the constellation Auriga in El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights is like the one in Bruegel's drawing of The Beekeepers, but much less precise. It more or less resembles the constellation as it appears in the sky and on a modern star map (that is, not reversed left to right). Like the image of Orion in The Pedlar, the image of Auriga can be identified with some certainty because the painting includes other surrounding constellations, which will be shown above in a larger map.

(16) St. Jerome, Venice

In a painting of St. Jerome in Venice, the lion looks even more like the sign for Leo and less like a real lion.

(15) Saint Jerome and astrologers' glyphs

But the glyph for Libra looks more like a hat than a balance. The painting seems to be not so much an illustration of the constellations as it is an illustration of how to recognize the signs astrologers use to represent Leo and Libra in a horoscope.
If the painting of St. Jerome in Ghent is really by Hieronymus Bosch, as all the modern literature on Bosch agrees, then it demonstrates that Bosch was incorporating astrological signs in a realistic looking picture almost in the same way that later artists included New World hieroglyphs in European-style paintings. The problem is that it is difficult to be sure whether a "Bosch" painting is really the work of Hieronymus Bosch or whether it is an imitation, even when dendrochronological analysis can prove that the wood on which it is painted is old.

(14) cardinal's hat

Saint Jerome's cardinal's hat can be read as an image of Libra (the Scales) because of its elaborate tassels, which make it look somewhat like a balance.

(13) Apianus map

On a map by Petrus Apianus from 1540, Leo, Virgo, and Libra are in the same direction as in the painting.

(12) Farnese Atlas globe

The constellations in the painting of St. Jerome are shown backwards, the way they appear on star globes and on old maps. An engraving of the Farnese Atlas illustrates the way a small group of stars looks large on a globe.

(11) Saint Jerome, constellations

A painting of St. Jerome in Ghent, usually attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, can be read as a star map. The lion is Leo, St. Jerome is Virgo, his cardinal's hat is Libra, and below the three zodiac constellations a floating spherical object is the constellation Crater, a small bird is Corvo, and the water is Hydra.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

(10) hidden images in the Prado St. Anthony

There are similar "hidden images" in the painting of Saint Anthony in the Museo del Prado.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

(9) Orion near the horizon

The idea of showing Orion's belt as a separate object might also come from the experience of seeing the three stars rising. In northern latitudes, they can be mistaken for a radio tower.
When the three stars are just above the horizon, the bright star Sirius is a hidden image that will appear a certain time later. (In The Beekeepers, Sirius is invisible since it is to the left of the edge of the drawing.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

(8) Orion and the Dresden Codex

POSTCARD showing a woodcut illustration of Orion from an edition of Hyginus, and the detail from the Dresden Codex. The idea of putting the stars in Orion's belt on something a person is carrying might have come from the European illustration, or from the Dresden Codex, or both.

(7) The Pedlar, map of Ursa Major

Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) is a hidden image. This map shows the way only part of Ursa Major is visible in the painting. It is marked by the line of the roof of the building, and an imaginary line from the corner of the roof to a small bird in the tree just over the peddler's head. The long pole leaning against the side of the building is exactly the length of the "missing" imaginary line from the corner of the buildng to the small bird.

(6) The Pedlar, map of Orion

The map of Orion in The Pedlar only shows a few stars in a precise way, including the three stars of Orion's belt and the bright star Sirius, which is part of Canis Major. (Ursa Major will be shown in the next post. ) An easy way to find Sirius is to find Orion, and imagine a line drawn through the three belt stars to the brightest star in the area. The rest of the constellation is only an approximation, unlike The Beekeepers which matches a modern star map closely. But in The Pedlar, unlike The Beekeepers, it is easy to identify some surrounding constellations. Canis Major is not shown, but Canis Minor is represented by a small dog. Two people in the doorway of the inn represent Gemini (the Twins), and a bull or cow represents Taurus. The road the peddler is following stands for the Milky Way. The purpose of the picture might be to help remember the names of some of the constellations, including some of their Arabic names (see Gilchrist, Susan Fargo, "The Good Thief imagined as a peddler," in Source 17:2, 1998, pp. 4-14).
The interesting thing about the way the painting represents the imaginary line from Orion's belt to Sirius as a wooden staff is that the idea might come from the Dresden Codex. In the Dresden Codex a person or supernatural is carrying a staff with three openings or dots, and also (like the peddler) has a round object in the other hand and a spotted cat on his back. It appears as though the artist who painted The Pedlar, if he or she was copying the Dresden Codex, thought the staff with three marks represented the three stars in Orion's belt.

(5) about this blog

This blog is for the purpose of explaining a long, complicated interpretation of The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias (Museo del Prado), which will require an unusual number of illustrations because the triptych in the Prado is based partly on New World and partly on European models. Postings will include postcards with short explanations, some pictures with longer explanations, and chapters from an article in progress.
POSTCARDS are 4x6 photo composites that I sometimes print on card stock and send in the mail, and sometimes tape together to make a fanfold book that can be mailed as a single fat postcard. The composites and all text on this website (except comments) are copyright 2006 Susan Gilchrist.

(4) The Beekeepers, map of Orion

POSTCARD composite showing a hidden star map in Pieter Bruegel's drawing of The Beekeepers. This drawing is an imitation of The Pedlar, with a star map that is much more difficult to find and also much more precise. The scale and precision of the map on which the drawing was apparently based suggest that it was made with the aid of a flat mirror, most likely a highly polished copper plate since the drawing was suitable for engraving. (click on the image for a larger picture)

(3) Dresden Codex and The Pedlar

Detail from the Dresden Codex and The Pedlar, Rotterdam. The Pedlar is usually attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, but if it is based on the picture in the Dresden Codex, it must be later and it must be the work of a different artist. (click on the image for a larger picture)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

(2) Dresden Codex and El Jardín de las Delicias

POSTCARD comparing The Garden of Earthly Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias, the Dresden Codex, and a Maya vase
click on the image for a larger picture)

(1) key to the chronology

POSTCARD key to the Mixtec/Nahuatl chronology in The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias (click on the image for a larger picture)