Venus, Cupid and a sea monster


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John Deare  Venus, cupid and a sea monster

John Deare - English, 1785 – 1787 – Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster with Cupid and a Putto

Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, reclines on a fantastic goat-headed sea monster in this allegory of Lust. The goddess entwines her fingers in the creature’s beard–a so-called “chin-chucking” gesture that represents erotic intent–while the monster licks her hand in response. Cupid, astride the monster’s long tail, is poised to shoot an arrow at Venus, while in the background a putti adds to the amorous imagery by holding a flaming torch, undoubtedly meant to suggest the burning ardor of desire. The sea goat carries Venus through the frothy waves, carved with energy and precision.

John Deare displayed his great skill in carving a variety of levels and textures in this sculpture, from the low relief of the Cupid and putti to the smooth, half-relief of Venus, and finally to the sea-goat’s fully three-dimensional snout and wavy strands of hair. Deare’s depiction of Lust as a woman riding a goat forms part of an iconographic tradition that has been popular since the Middle Ages.


Zodiac Chandelier


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Gérard-Jean Galle - chandelier with zodiac signs

Gérard-Jean Galle – French, Paris, about 1818 – 1819 – Gilt bronze, enameled metal, glass

A hot air balloon inspired the design of this fanciful chandelier with a blue lacquered globe strewn with gold stars above a glass bowl. The twelve signs of the zodiac wrap around the globe on a gilt bronze band. The maker, Gérard-Jean Galle, fitted the bowl with a plug and explained that it could hold water and small goldfish, “whose continuous movement amuses the eye most agreeably.” When he exhibited the chandelier in 1819, he described it as a lustre à poisson (fish chandelier).

Galle tried to sell this chandelier along with other merchandise to the French King Louis XVIII in 1820. He desperately pleaded that these goods caused “the ruin of my factory and family” and promised that his stock was modestly priced, but the government rejected his offer. Conscious of popular criticism of governmental luxury, the bureaucrats argued that they could not purchase objects that were neither “advantageous nor useful.”

Landscape with the Story of Venus and Adonis


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Landscape with the Story of Venus and Adonis-Hans Bol

Hans Bol, 1859 – Landscape with the Story of Venus and Adonis

Hans Bol painted this unusual miniature in two parts: the central landscape, painted on parchment mounted on wood, and the framing design, painted directly on wood. Both parts tell the story of the beautiful youth Adonis from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the main panel, Venus and Adonis embrace before he leaves on the hunt shown in the distance, in which he is killed by a boar. Clockwise from left, the frame’s ovals show subsidiary incidents: Adonis’s mother Myrrha commits incest with her father; turned into the myrrh tree as punishment, Myrrha bears their son, Adonis; Venus is struck with love for Adonis; blood springing from the dead Adonis turns into the anemone flower.

In the frame, Bol combined the cartouches and trophies of a three-dimensional picture frame with illusionistic borders reminiscent of manuscript illumination. His materials–opaque color and gold paint on parchment–also follow the tradition of manuscript illumination.

Byrhtferth’s Diagram; Computus Diagrams


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Byrhtferth’s Diagram; Computus Diagrams

Byrhtferth’s Diagram; Computus Diagrams
From the Thorney Computus
Cambridgeshire, England; ca. 1102–10
Saint John’s College, Oxford, MS 17

This volume is an album of texts and graphic material organized around computus (literally, “computation”), the medieval science of reckoning time and fixing the dates of ecclesiastical feasts, particularly Easter. Byrhtferth’s digram is a visual meditation on the cosmic and religious resonances of computus, its subject the harmony of the twelve months and four elements, of time and the material world. The tables on the opposite page show a series of diagrams used for determining lunar cycles, days of the week, and divination diagrams based on numerical values assigned to the letters.

Diagram with Zodiac Symbols



Diagram with Zodiac SymbolsOpicinus de Canistris (1296–ca. 1354)
Diagram with Zodiac Symbols, folio 24r
Avignon, France, 1335–50
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City, Pal. Lat. 1993

This highly colorful and complicated folio coordinates a vast amount of information, far more than any of Opicinus’s other drawings. It includes more than twenty separate sets of content, including the prophets, symbols of the zodiac, doctors of the Church, four monastic orders, the months, days, an implied world map, the genealogy of Mary, personifications of the Church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the four types of Biblical exegesis, the four Evangelists, the apostles, and the names of the letters of Paul. Opicinus clearly intended the drawing to be complicated and to require extensive meditation and exegesis. He made use of the medieval diagrammatic tradition in order to probe the connections between the cosmic, earthly, and the corporeal.

Calendar for Calculating Easter


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Calendar for calculating Easter - 00In Latin, manuscript on paper
[France (Auxerre?), c. 1400]

This interesting manuscript contains the tables and computational data for the calculation of Easter and other major movable and immovable feast days throughout the calendar year. It employs several methods of calculation to ensure the proper calculation of Easter given the variants of the Julian calendar and the problems of astronomical calculation prior to the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century. This calendar show the development of the precision in calculating Easter with the incorporation of the Arabic numerals and astronomical treatises brought into circulation in Europe from the eleventh century onward. The increasing inaccuracy of the lunar tables established by the Venerable Bede was noted in the later Middle Ages to be increasingly problematic. In this calendar, golden numbers are assigned to other days, falling four days earlier than the earlier Bedean tables, which this author does not use.

Calendar for calculating Easter - 02

The calendar tables in this manuscript are designed to function on several temporal levels, from the specific calculations of Easter for the years 1400-1440 on f. 74, to the nineteen-year metonic and 72-year cycles found on f. 3v. Attention is paid to the importance of leap year in the table found on f. 2r and f. 3v. Throughout the manuscript, the author uses solar and lunar cycles in conjunction with the positions of the astrological signs corresponding to each month. One interesting feature is the incorporation of the zodiac with the position of the moon on f. 7v to determine whether or not actions taken during this period would be good or bad as they are attached to the twelve signs.

Calendar for calculating Easter - 03

Gemini Constellation


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Paranatellonta-De temporibus - Gemini

Illustration from a medieval Spanish language astrology textbook attributed to Alfonso X the Wise. The image is meant to depict the effect various other stars or constellations have in concert with Gemini.

De temporibus – a treatise on magic or on astrological images: Constellation of Gemini – “Tratado de astrología y magia” de Alfonso X El Sabio (Rome BAV Reg. lat. 1283 – fol-2v S-133)


Almagestum novum


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Giovanni Riccioli_Almagestum novum_1651_urania_fig14Frontispiece of Giovanni Riccioli’s Almagestum novum (1651).

Ptolemy lies prostrate at the feet of the Tychonic and Copernican models, saying “I will rise again!” He didn’t.  This was the book that Galileo was supposed to write.


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