Astrologer by Jan Luyken (1694)
Domenicus van Wijnen
Astrologer observing the Equinox and a scene of parting Adonis and Venus (~1680)
This sombre scene, where the only light comes from the candles, the setting sun and the rising moon, is one of the most notoriously obscurely mysterious works. This type of rebus painting was particularly fashionable in the Baroque period, especially among Roman artists. The Dutch painter Dominicus van Wijnen, who assumed the name of Ascanius after moving to Rome and jointing the fraternity of Dutch painters there, painted a large number of complex depictions that pose great demands on the viewer’s erudition. The Wilanów painting, which is an allegory of the natural changes, depicts a young scholar wearing an Oriental turban (an astronomer or an astrologer, possibly a magus) lost in thought over a volume while observing an astronomical phenomenon. The scholar is visited by spectres of mythological lovers, Venus and Adonis. As decreed by Zeus, after Adonis’ tragic death they could only spend half the year together, during spring and summer. Adonis had to spend the remaining time in Hades ruled by its queen Persephone. The clasping couple symbolizes the autumnal equinox, the moment of the lovers’ parting and the coming of autumn and winter, a period of death in the realm of nature. Adonis’ return in spring would be marked by a renaissance, a joyous time of renewed vegetation and natural fecundity. Charon the ferryman of the dead comes from the otherworld to collect Adonis, depicted as a naked and winged man emerging from the waves of the watery main. The two skulls, one human and one animal, are symbolic of the ultimate end of all living creatures. The sculpted decorations of the antique monument bearing a vase and lit by the rising moon likewise allude to the myth of Adonis. The vase probably depicts the moment of the birth (return?) of Adonis, depicted as a small child being helped up by putti (symbolic of emerging from Limbo or the world of the dead. Below, the panel of the sarcophagus depicts a man held (or led?) by two unidentified males of different age, who are probably related to the allegorical meaning of the composition and may be Thanatos and Hypnos or two genii. Both scenes may allude to the ancient feasts of Adonis celebrated in West Asia and on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean (known as the “Adonies” or the “Gardens of Adonis”). In recent scholarship, attention has been drawn to a less well-known of the myth related in Macrobius’ Saturnalia and mentioned early in the 17th century by Karel van Mander in his commentaries on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which Ascanius may have been familiar with. The pages in the open volume perused by the scholar contain a diagram of constellations corresponding to the autumnal equinox (Libra). This symbol is complemented by the accompanying constellations of Hades or the Ferryman, shown as Charon, and Venus and Adonis. Those constellations could only be seen in the Orient (in the so-called Sphera Barbarica). Thus, it becomes highly likely that the scholar depicted in the painting is one Hipparchus of Nice, an ancient astronomer who lived in Asia Minor.
Giulio Campagnola was born at Padua, in about 1482. His father Girolamo was a distinguished writer, and an amateur painter. Giulio, it seems, showed precocious artistic talent, and efforts were made to place him in the Gonzaga Court at Mantua, so that he could study painting under Andrea Mantegna. Instead, he went to the Court of Ercole I, Duke of Ferrara, although some accounts mention him as one of Giovanni Bellini’s pupils. An archetypal ‘Renaissance Man’, Campagnola was a painter, sculptor, poet, musician and scholar. It is as an engraver, however, that he is best remembered.
The engraving known as The Astrologer is probably Campagnola’s most famous image. It is the only one of his works that is dated: 1509. The odd-looking monster is, according to Jaynie Anderson’s monograph on Giorgione, a dragon: such beasts, she writes, were often depicted in connection with lunar eclipses, and indeed there were two such events in that year.
“On the fourth day comes the astrologer from his crumbling old tower.”
(from Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger)
(from Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger)
One of the most successful illustrators of all time, Newell Convers Wyeth studied under Howard Pyle between 1902-1904 in Chadds Ford. Perhaps more than any other student, he took Pyle’s dictates completely to heart. He is the preeminent example of the results of Pyle’s teachings, following every precept religiously. During his career, Wyeth painted nearly 4,000 illustrations for many magazines and books. An early aficionado of Pyle’s, Wyeth became his greatest advocate even settling his family in the Brandywine area, where many of them still live today.
Much of NC Wyeth’s art embraced an American Western theme, filled with cowboys and Indians, gun fighters and gold miners. He also illustrated popular children’s books with pirates, knights, and brigands, including Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer, establishing visual images of these characters in young readers’ minds eyes for generations. Beside his many illustration plaudits, NC Wyeth is famous for being the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth – a patrimony of major consequence for American art history.
N.C. sold his first illustration to the Post in 1903 at 21 years of age; his first book commission was accepted in 1911, illustrating Treasure Island for the noted publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons. So well received was his first book, that he illustrated a whole range of “boy’s adventure books” which came to be known as Scribner’s Classics, including Kidnapped, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, The Boy’s King Arthur, The Last of the Mohicans, and twenty other titles. The Scribner’s Classics have never waned in popularity and, indeed, remain in print to this day. Wyeth’s valiant and heroic characters created prototypes of our American heroes, which have lasted to set the standard for movie, television, and computer game heroes. Many of our real life heroes are modeled on those first envisaged by NC Wyeth, as most boys see themselves in roles of heroic nature and act accordingly when the occasion arises.
Born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882, Newell Convers Wyeth showed an early passion for drawing and was encouraged by his family. From 1903 until his tragic death in a 1945 car accident at a railroad crossing, N.C. Wyeth set new standards for illustrators in style, technique, and imagination. He had an extraordinary ability to create living characters from an author’s imaginary story. Because of his fantastical imagination, he envisaged all aspects of a story and often identified crucial elements simply overlooked by the author himself. Cooper, DeFoe, Irving, Stevenson, and Verne were some of the authors whose works he illustrated.