LEOPOLD OF AUSTRIA (13th century)
Compilatio … de astrorum scientia decem continentis tractatus
Venice: [Jacobus Pentius, for] Melchior Sessa and Petrus de Ravanis, 15 July 1520
Iowa Ste University – Memorial Union
Architect/designer William T. Proudfoot chose to incorporate the ancient symbols of the zodiac into the north entry floor — classic Greek/Roman mythology for a classic-Greek/Roman-style building.
In the 20s, the zodiac was not as well known as it is now. Proudfoot planned for intentional wearing away of the bronze forms by placing them above the surface of the floor – to be sculpted further by building users until, eventually, they would be the same level as the floor.
We know that by 1929, students had decided that if you stepped on the zodiac, it was unlucky – that you’d flunk your next test. Rumor has it that the students created this “curse” because they liked the raised effect of the zodiac and they wanted to preserve the zodiac signs even though it went against what the architect originally intended. Now most students, hedging their bets, walk around. If you accidently invoke the curse, you can throw a coin in the fountain to take it away!
Pope Clement XI (1700-1721) ordered Francesco Bianchini (1662-1729) to build a Meridian Line. Bianchini was the Secretary of the Commission for the Calendar. He chose the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli because of the stability of its roman walls and foundations and its suitable dimension. The Line built by Giandomenico Cassini (1625-1712) in 1655 in San Petronio, Bologna , was the model for Bianchini, who improved it by allowing the observation of stellar transits.
Pope Clement XI inaugurated the Great Sundial on October 6, 1702 , the annual
Feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order, whose statue is in the entrance of the Church. Carthusian monks ruled this Basilica for three centuries until 1884.
It is not the shadow which shows the time, but the light. At the astronomical noon a sunbeam, entering the church from a coat of arms near the ceiling, crosses a meridian line drawn on the floor. The intersection point changes according to the various periods of the year; these are indicated by inscriptions and by inlays showing the signs of the zodiac and the stars of the related constellation. The sundial allows also the calculation of Easter and the position of the Pole-star.
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.”
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.
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)