"The aim of art is to embody the secret essence of things, not to copy their appearance." Aristotle
|Fig. 1. The location of the zodiacal iconographs within the painting.|
The circle is the key to unveiling the Sacred and Profane Love's subject matter, and when considered structurally and in relation to the paintings fundamental graphic programme, it is the content of the circle that will conclusively elucidate the fusion of paganism to Hermeticism, Astro Mythology to Classicism, Myth to Alchemy, and Alchemy to Cosmology.
During the early part of the sixteenth century the development of the modern star map was still in its infancy, and those celestial atlas’s which achieved popularity during the later sixteenth century were generally sourced from earlier catalogued forms of celestial cartography such as the Matheseos Libri VIII of Firmicus Maternus (A.D. 334 - 37) known to historians as the eighth and final book on judicial astrology.
Distinct from a constellation map, a celestial atlas comprises specific figures, for example the bull to represent Taurus, and the hunter to represent Orion etc., which made the observation of star groups the more recognisable.
There is a relationship between the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Pallazzo del Te in Mantua (designed, built, and completed by Giulio Romano 1499-1546) and the Mathesos libri VIII of Firmicus Maternus. Professor Ernst Gombrich had recognised and subsequently promoted that fact in his 1972 publication Symbolic Images where he announced the source of Romano's zodiacal references as being the Mathesos:
"the last book of which contains a conveniently coded catalogue of these constellations and their influence on human destiny."
The most important link between the Sacred and Profane Love and the Sala dei Venti is that in the Sacred and Profane Love, Firmicus' interpretative commentary has migrated from the textual to the pictorial, and visual emphasis is placed on the specific selection of those constellations in the round that would confirm the viewpoint of the south celestial hemisphere with the southern pole aligned at the centre. This is to say that the Sacred and Profane Love leans heavily on the Mathesos as a constellation catalogue; on selection, form and then (as if to direct attention to an accurate star map) the location of these constellations where all inhabit a southern star map at the same time.
Again, this viewpoint can only occur in a star map of the southern constellations with the south celestial pole at centre. Only four of the zodiacal references that occur in the Sacred and Profane Love support Firmicus' literal interpretations (clearly those interpretations in their entirety were considered too cumbersome and fanciful for the Sacred and Profane Love) and the remainder of the zodiacal references appear to employ the catalogue purely as a sequential, cosmographic source.
All this is not to say that the Sacred and Profane Love entirely ignores Firmicus. That 'fallen ivy covered pillar' noted by the author and (maligned) historian Harold E. Wethey seems to have been an attempt to visually reconcile the main star of Scorpio - Ara (Altar) - with an interpretation of Firmicus. This appears to have been thought better of and deleted (over painted). Scorpio then reappears next to Sagittarius (and if this is so, it can be known that the painter is working left to right). Firmicus states that Scorpio, under a different influence is regarded as a breeder of horses, and so the constellations form has been given equine shape only to pair and emphasise the constellation of Scorpio with that of Sagittarius - imitating their cosmographical proximity to each other on the southern star map. This will be discussed in its turn.
The proportions of the rectangular canvas having been outlined, the circle; the pentacle; the circle with the zodiac and constellational references; the sarcophagus/fountain; the two women and the child; each layer would have been presented separately. Romano appears to have received the invenzione with the complete zodiacal references. In contrast, the collaborative effort of the Sacred and Profane Love has selectively chosen those zodiacal references suitable to allegoric construction rather than the visual transliteration of Firmicus as executed by Romano.
The Night and the Sacred and Profane Love are very likely one and the same painting. There was only one person that had the freedom of access to Giorgione's works after his death in 1510 - and that person was Titian, who completed several of Giorgione's works after his death. When Isabella d'Este asked her merchant to secure for her a 'Night' from the studio of Giorgione after his death, she declared it to be:
'...very singular and beautiful...'It can be known by this short statement from Isabella that the Night was at a stage of near resolution, for such a statement could not be made otherwise. Isabella d'Este was arguably the greatest female art patron of the Renaissance and certainly no fool, and from whomever her information had been gleaned, she no doubt held their judgement in high regard. On this basis Isabella sent her merchant to consider the painting and if it were as good as she believed:
"...to obtain this picture for me, settling the price and giving me notice of it." P. Bourke, p.134
The painting had already left the studio - supported by documented excuses for its absence and sadly never to be seen again. But is that really so? Because the Sacred and Profane Love presents such a extraordinary and critical programme, new possibilities must be considered.
Now that the Night was gone, one can presume - in light of the evidence presented below - that the invenzione went missing along with it. Did Titian sell the zodiacal programme to Giulio Romano for him to execute the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te? As the selected cosmographic references used in the Sacred and Profane Love belong to a specifically constructed theme it is important to note that the completed invenzione must have included a type of ‘ready made’ constellation map as part of the artists visual reference. This would be necessary in order that the artist should be able to approximate the positions of the constellations relevant to the Sacred and Profane Love's programme. In Romano's execution of the programme, he employed the order of the zodiacal round in true anti-clockwise sequence, and the extraordinary texts of Firmicus that were associated with each zodiacal sign - and to posterity's advantage Romano followed the programme unflinchingly!
Was it Bellini and Giorgione who abstracted the critical and useful? The story of Giorgione's pagan/esoteric interests might be reconsidered through a new reading of the Widener Orpheus and the murals on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice. They are explored in different posts on this site.
rectangular format. which now contains all of the zodiacal iconology.
|Fig. 4. Constellation map of the Southern Hemisphere with the South Celestial Pole at centre.|
The constellations referenced in the Sacred and Profane Love are each present on a map of the South Celestial Hemisphere (Fig. 4.). That they appear within the Sacred and Profane Love as metaphoric signs is not a felicitous correspondence.
|Fig. 5. Taurus is identifiable as the form of the the road upon which the rider|
on horseback is travelling - thereby marking the boundary of a circle.
Taurus juts upward in a diagonal forward slash form (refer to Fig. 5.) with a small ‘platform’ at the upper extreme. This is visually described as the angular design of the road upon which the horse and traveller race upward toward the fortress in the Sacred and Profane Love's upper left quadrant.
|Fig 6. Ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te.|
That other source that clearly validates the Sacred and Profane Love's iconological association is the Sala dei Venti at the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Within the Palazzo, Giulio Romano - a friend of Titian's - painted the ceiling [fig 3] of the Sala dei Venti in thirty seven sections.
Twelve of these sections were given to the months of the year; another twelve were alternately allocated to the signs of the zodiac, while the remaining thirteen central divisions were given to deities of the Roman pantheon. Cradled by the months of the year and in direct relationship to each zodiacal sign is a circular 'medallion' or ‘roundel’ that interprets the texts of the Matheseos of Firmicus.
Here the interest is neither in Romano’s stylism or virtuosic capabilities, nor Romano’s pictorial interpretation of the plan which he has acquired. What is relevant to the purpose of this essay is that there is a plan abstracted from the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti is sourced in part at least, from the Matheseos Libri VIII of Firmicus - as are those diminutive iconographs that populate the Sacred and Profane Love. This will show that at source, the same programme is fundamental to both schemes.
|Fig 8. The plan viewed on its 'side'.|
Now in direct comparison, it can be seen that what is zodiacally appropriate for the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti is equally appropriate for the Sacred and Profane Love. On the rotated plan (Fig. 8) all references not corresponding to the plan of the Sacred and Profane Love have been deleted. Not only this, but beyond the zodiacal references, the central area of Redfield's plan reveals a further convincing, revelation regarding the position and identity of the three figures around the sarcophagus/fountain.
|Fig 9. Central area isolated.|
Before this outline of the zodiacal metaphors begins, there is a direct comparison that should be made between the Sacred and Profane Love and the Sala dei Venti, and the constellation map of the South Celestial Hemisphere.
|Fig12. The circle (constellation map) sited over the rectangular format of the |
Sacred and Profane Love; the first four zodiacal metaphors in direct comparison.
To present the zodiacal references according to the sequential structure of the painting, Taurus is the first on the round followed by Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Aquarius. Each metaphor is consistent with zodiacal sequence, proceeding successively in an anti-clockwise direction with only Pisces, Aries, Cancer and Libra missing from the arrangement. There are nine iconologic references to signs the zodiac.
Taurus is the key to the paintings programme which opens
the lock to reveal the circle - the boundary of the star map.
“The only constellation rising with Gemini is the Hare (Lepus)".
These are in fact two hares which are the reference to the zodiacal constellation of Gemini as the Twins. Mythologically Gemini symbolises Castor and Pollux, those brothers egg-born by Leda after Jupiter’s notorious amour with her while assuming the form of a swan.
Leo b (Overpainted)
The Princeton scholar Harold E. Wethey claimed to have discovered two iconographs that had been over painted on the surface of the Sacred and Profane Love. This fact was derided as false by historians to become the most uncritical and appalling example of fratricide in art historical circles there has probably ever been. After thirty-seven years it is pleasing to be able to reinstate the view of Harold Wethey (and his wife Alice) who in 1975 announced:
|Fig 14. The Sala dei Venti reference for Leo (Detail).|
Turning again to the plan of the Sala dei Venti murals [Fig 19], one can see that the medallion directly under the zodiacal sign of Leo refers to Sirius (L. Canicula) - the Dog-Star.
It is the text of Firmicus to which the author of this invenzione has referred, and contextually it is a dogs head (and not a cows) that Wethey saw prior to the paintings restoration. But why should this have been deleted? Firmicus [as quoted by Gombrich] states:
There can only be one reference to the Dog Star (Sirius) because Sirius forms in part the constellation of Canis Major.Most importantly though, the observation of Harold Wethey was correct.
|Fig 16. The constellation of Virgo.|
|Fig 17. Sala dei Venti (Detail); Virgo and 'Wreath'.|
Turning to the plan of the Sala dei Venti murals [Detail, Fig 23], it is the sign of the Virgin (Virgo) that commands the central lower position, again in imitation of this constellations position on a star map. On the plan of the Sala dei Venti the medallion directly below states simply: Wreath.
|Fig 18 Virgo is the most 'southern' or 'lowest' constellation on the star map.|
At the level of the Sacred and Profane Love as an astrological map, the position of the rose bush at the paintings lower centre agrees well enough with the position of Virgo on a star map (see Fig 18). The text of Firmicus suggests cultivation of the beautiful garden:
...intent on the study of the womanly arts, an inventor of flowers and wreaths, a lover of gardening...
|Fig 19 (Detail). The constellation of Scorpius is positioned at the lower mid right of the celestial hemisphere|
The choice of a horse is the key here, for according to Firmicus those born in the twelfth degree of Scorpio will be '...a feeder and breeder of horses...'. But there is something of a dilemna here because in this twelfth degree '...rises the Centaurus...'. So what is the dilemna?
|Fig 22. Sacred and Profane Love (Detail); Scorpio & Sagittarius|
In reference to the constellation map of the southern sky, it is the cosmographic relationship between Scorpio and Sagittarius [Fig 28] that is imitated here; their constellational proximity to each other on a map of the South celestial hemisphere (refer to Fig 19).
Fig 24. Sagittarius: Sacred and Profane Love (Detail) & sigil for Sagittarius.
|Fig 25. (Detail) The Shepherd guarding his herd.|
From this point on the texts of Firmicus have been abandoned entirely. The remaining signs of Capricorn and Aquarius depart from the texts in favour of the goat and sigil respectively. To the right of Scorpio and Sagittarius is a shepherd with his herd.
|Fig 33. Capricornus as the triangular constellation at the upper right.|
While this shepherd informs the identity of the third person in the trio of figures at the sarcophagus as Mercurius/Hermes, there is no zodiacal relevance between the figure of a shepherd and the sign of the sea Goat.
“Symbols do not carry meaning as trucks carry coal... Their function is to select from alternatives within a given context...”
|Fig 34. Fête champêtre.|
Looking to the Fête champêtre [Fig 34], several motifs found in the Sacred and Profane Love are repeated, though at a different angle. There is a stone well; two women; a shepherd and his herd, all contained within a rustic landscape.
|Fig 35. Fête champêtre (Detail):|
The animal closest to the back of the nude [Detail, Fig 35] looks like a goat - in contrast to the full coated woolly-haired sheep between it and the piping shepherd. Context is our guide here.
Italian cuisine, particularly in the southern regions, ate as much goat as they did sheep, (whereas in the mountainous, forested Northern area one might substitute goat for the forest deer and boar). So where we do not have 'goat' or even more correctly 'sea-goat', the piping shepherd is minding a mixture of sheep and goat.
|Fig 36. (Detail) Water divided by an isthmus |
with Scorpio and Sagittarius in the foreground.
Divided water infers the form of the Aquarian sigil.
|Fig 37. The constellation of Aquarius atop the celestial round.|
Sagittarius (the archer), was dealt with in a similar manner though far more obvious, with the position of the horse forming the arrow and cross as the sign for Sagittarius. Those two - Sagittarius and Aquarius - stand out as a pair, and are rather different from the signs that mimic the shape of their constellations such as Scorpio and Taurus (and possibly Virgo).
|Fig 39. The zodiacal round within the Sacred and Profane Love.|
The meta narrative yet to be delivered.
All text and images and contextual associations are copyright Paul Doughton 1997-2014 and not to be used without permission.