Monday, July 30, 2012

The Illustrators of Petrarch

The great compilation of Petrarchian illustrations was published in 1902, by art historian Eugène Müntz (1845-1902) and the wealthy amateur scholar, Victor Masséna, prince d'Essling et duc de Rivoli (1836-1910).

Pétrarque: ses études d'art, son influence sur les artistes, ses portraits et ceux de Laure, l'illustration de ses écrits. (Petrarch: His Studies of Art, His Influence on Artists, Portraits and Those of Laura, the Illustration of His Writings.) appears to have a copy on offer for only $800. The description says the book has 290 pages, with 21 plates and many illustrations in the text. The edition was limited to 260 copies. Although 110 years old, it remains an important work. Despite its age, it is not available via Google Books or the Internet Archive. It is available in only a few libraries around the world, and cannot be accessed even through most inter-library loan programs.

Below is a review of the book by George Santayana. He attempts to explain something of the significance of Petrarch’s Triumphs “in his own age”. He also makes the important point that the pictorial representations were not in fact dependant upon Petrarch’s poems for anything other than the identity of six personifications. The six figures as usually portrayed, with their common motif in triumphal chariots, were a novel work only loosely based on Petrarch. I have collected some examples, from the 14th through the 18th centuries.

Petrarch's Triumphs

The Illustrators of Petrarch

By George Santayana
(The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 94, 1904.)

It is a long time since Lessing refuted the forgotten critic who maintained that good poetry must furnish good subjects for illustration; and the principle laid down in the Laocoon, to the effect that plastic art should not insist on expressing action, nor literature on describing form, is one of the few aesthetic principles that seem to have passed into axioms. The facts, however, remain imperfectly sifted, and the innate impulse which each art feels to transgress the sphere in which it has no rivals constantly leads to new attempts at fusion or substitution in artistic effects. After all, fable has always been a congenial subject for painting; the need of illustrating the Bible, for instance, hardly deprived Christian art of its inspiration. Yet for illustration to flourish special conditions, apparently, have first to be fulfilled; and we may well ask ourselves afresh what these conditions are, and when plastic art and poetry profit by borrowing each other's themes.

Some hints toward answering this question may be drawn from the sumptuous work on the illustrators of Petrarch which the Prince d'Essling and M. Eugène Müntz have recently published.(1) The book itself propounds no thesis, and is rather a monument to the personal taste and learning of its authors, who have sought to feast the eye at least as much as the mind; but a reviewer, leaving the volume to speak for itself in those particulars, may stop to reflect for a moment on the situation it unfolds, and on the character of those poems in which succeeding generations found subjects for so many miniatures, frescoes, tapestries, and other decorations.

The first fact to be noted is that almost all the illustrations to Petrarch reproduce his Triumphs. The rest of the Canzoniere and the Latin works seldom inspired any artist. The casual reader may be surprised at this preference shown for the Triumphs, which he may never have heard of; but surprise on this point, as on all others, will probably be dissipated by reflection. The Triumphs are not inferior to the Sonnets in what is Petrarch's greatest merit, — versification and diction; they do not lack, in appropriate places, as warm a breath of pathos and passion; and if the lists of names or the brief references to history and myth seem to us tedious, we must remember that antiquity was then a new world opening to human ken, a world whose weakest echo was full of poetry and power. Even now the rhythm of antique names is not without its magic, and I do not know whether it is pure music or Sehnsucht for ancient things that fills lines like these:—

Odi poi lamentor fra l' altre meste
  Oenone di Pari e Menelao
  D'Elena, ed Ermion chiamar Oreste,
E Laodamia il suo Protesilao.(2)

Doubtless the sonnets, since they sing of absolute love, touch a more universal chord, and can awake some response in minds no matter how empty; to the modern lover Laura is a more intelligible symbol of his own case than Cupid could be. Metaphors drawn from nature and poetic virtuosity, such as the sonnets abound in, charm the reader of verse more than a moral allegory is long likely to do. The sonnets accordingly can aspire to a permanent popularity. It is true that they are somewhat lachrymose and monotonous, and that, for all their exquisite beauty, they do not always respond to literary impulse, and are already far from satisfying romantic feeling, so that a certain historical imagination and gift for reconstruction is needed to appreciate them fully; for fashion is no less variable in sentiment than in art, and even more contagious and irresistible. Nevertheless, a finished expression of love, like the Canzoniere. which is at the same time a landmark in Italian literature, has claims to perennial attention; and so we continue to regard Petrarch's sonnets as classic, and to remember him chiefly for their sake.

In his own age, however, religion was still the most prominent and expressible part of the mind; even rebellions against religion had to appear somehow in its service, if they were to go beyond mere pertness and personal whim. The love of beauty had to insinuate itself into a cultus, the avowed aim of which was to mortify the flesh and to quench the concupiscence of the eyes; the love of reasoning had to attach itself, with an insidious zeal, to the service of dogma. So the new pagan patriotism for Italy and the Empire, the new sense for all ancient glories, needed at first to subordinate itself to a Christian philosophy of history and life. The Renaissance could have enlisted on its side only minds consciously frivolous and heretical if it had not looked to a glorification of Christendom.

The Triumph of Eternity
Christ in Judgment over Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, and Time

Now Petrarch, like the other chief humanists, was a devout enough Christian. When he reviewed all classic virtue, and the whole march of things, to show its culmination in God and eternity, he thought he was paying homage to Christian truth. If the mundane pageant was wonderful and fascinating, the sad issue and final collapse of it were all the more edifying. It was accordingly into a work of edification, written in his old age, that he wove both his profane or modish enthusiasms. — his love for Laura and for antiquity. In that pious setting, overtopped by a majestic supernatural philosophy, a song of love and greatness could seem doubly brilliant, doubly touching, and, what is more, almost penitential. It was in the effort to confess their sins more eloquently that people began again to utter and to cultivate their passions.

To insinuate pagan values into Christian themes — and the whole Renaissance did nothing more — was what Petrarch accomplished in his Triumphs: a feat which made them a singularly fitting subject for ceremonial art. The form of a triumphant progress lent itself to pageantry; Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity, in their successive approach and victory, could each appear with a great retinue of historic and symbolic figures; whatever learning or imagination a man possessed he could exhibit in such a work. At the same time the subject was weighty and sacred enough to be depicted anywhere. The pious could not be offended at a Cupid, however lovely, that Chastity was about to disarm; an allegory which is indeed somewhat arbitrary, since in real life, as our authors observe, it is often the opposite that happens. Similarly the Triumph of Fame over Death could not seem too pagan when Time was already hastening to vanquish Fame; nor could this last idea savor of infidelity, when Eternity was seen glorified in the final picture. Into this unobjectionable fable, however, all sorts of images could be packed. The triumphs of Love and Fame especially lent themselves to every merry or high conceit, while the triumph of Death left room for the grotesque popular symbolism.

It is remarkable, however, that where the subject allowed so much freedom and so greatly stimulated invention, both episodes and treatment should immediately have become conventional. While in Petrarch, for instance, only Cupid occupies a chariot, the designers have usually represented the other victors also enthroned on floats, such as religious and civic processions had made familiar. This circumstance shows how conservative the eye is, and how unwillingly it departs from what it has seen, in order to follow discourse and imagination. Indeed, much that our authors represent as illustrations to Petrarch is attached to his poem only remotely. There was an independent pictorial tradition more influential over artists than were the poet's far richer and more varied scenes. The idea of these successive triumphs had evidently become common property. It was a moral and allegorical theme which, like the great religious subjects, might recommend itself anew to any patron; like them, it was treated in a traditional fashion, which could vary only with that gradual change in schools or on the appearance of great masters.

The Triumph of Chastity
Love Disarmed and Bound, Luca Signorelli, c.1509

In fine, Petrarch's Triumphs did not so much inspire plastic art as launch and make popular a striking allegory which the artists were led to employ and to recast in their own manner. If we care to generalize this result we may say that a poet, to influence the plastic arts and elevate their often trivial ideas, must work first on the popular mind. When the poet's images have become current the artists, too, may be infected by them, and may turn their technical gifts to illustrating those ideas, naturally transforming them somewhat in the process. It is hardly too much to say, for instance, that illustration of the Bible has reached distinction only when the person or scene to be portrayed has become legendary and native to the public mind; men do not picture the gospel till they have ceased to read it, and have remodeled it in their own thoughts, giving it that movement and accent which their own imagination requires.

This observation should not be strained into an assertion that good literary subjects are unsuited to the arts. What happens is merely that each art has its own procedure, its own models and habits, which cannot be thrown off without paralyzing it. If the Good Shepherd could at first be represented only as a sort of Orpheus, and never otherwise than in a classic guise, it was the visual imagination that by its inertia demanded that type. Such hereditary inertia gives life and character to art, as to every organic formation, furnishing the basis for all variation and progress. Literary creations can hardly be translated into pictures when no scheme for such pictures exists or can be furnished by visible objects. To illustrate Homer or Dante is difficult, not because the poems move too fast, but because traditional visual images are wanting, images already defined in their type and accessories, which the designer may adopt and refine upon.

The vogue of Petrarch's Triumphs among artists suggests a further observation, that art is not really indifferent to its subject. Of all the images offered by Petrarch the Triumphs alone had enough significance to hold the field. Any episode in any epic can suggest figures and attitudes in plenty, but an interesting picture needs, after all, to speak to the mind and to subordinate its technical and sensuous riches to some problem of composition and expression, to some given idea. Mediocre painters are never so tolerable as in a significant picture, and great painters are never so great. The occasion not only awakens but controls inspiration; it defines the problem and allows the critic to form a judgment which is not wholly personal and arbitrary. This last circumstance is of more consequence to art than the artist may sometimes think; for in a sense the public is composed entirely of critics, and unless a certain consensus of interest and comprehension is established in respect to a work of art, its existence is precarious, and its influence null. Petrarch's Triumphs could stimulate decorators so long as Petrarch's intellectual interests dominated the world; the pageantry of the scenes could avail nothing when their higher eloquence was gone.


 ✎ 1. Petrarque, ses e´tudes d'art, son influence sur les artistes, ses portraits et ceux de Laure, l'illustration de ses e´crits. Par le Prince D'esslinq et Eugene Muntz. Ouvrage accompagne de vingt et une planches tire'es a part et de cent quatre-vingt-onze gravures dans le texte. Paris : Gazette des Beanx-Arts - 1902.
 ✎ 2. Compare Alfred de Mussel:—
    . . . Le bleu Titarese, et le golfe d'argent
    Qui montre dana ses eaux, oil le cygne ae mire,
    La blanche Olooasone a la blanche Camyre.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Interlude: Fools and Folly

In at least two Tarot “history” forums, Ross has pointed to one of Aleister Crowley’s most valuable essays. The piece is, among other things, a cruel mockery of esoteric simpletons who believe modern occult impositions imply historical occult intentions. It comes from a book Wikipedia describes as:

Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 is widely considered to be the magnum opus of 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley, the founder of Thelema. It is a lengthy treatise on Magick, his system of Western occult practice, synthesized from many sources, including Eastern Yoga, Hermeticism, medieval grimoires, contemporary magical theories from writers like Eliphas Levi and Helena Blavatsky, and his own original contributions.

As we approach (or have passed?) the 100th anniversary of its publication, it is worth repeating this essay. The simps will still not understand, but we can console ourselves that they were both told that they are fucking dolts, and also shown, with unmistakable examples.

An Interlude
Frater Perdurabo

This chapter was dictated in answer to a casual remark by Soror Virakam.
Fra. P. said jokingly that everything contained the Truth, if you knew how to find it; and, being challenged, proceeded to make good. It is here inserted, not for any value that it may have, but to test the reader. If it is thought to be a joke, the reader is one useless kind of fool; if it is thought that Fra. P. believes that the makers of the rimes had any occult intention, he is another useless kind of fool. Soror Virakam chose the rimes at hazard.

Every nursery rime contains profound magical secrets which are open to every one who has made a study of the correspondences of the Holy Qabalah. To puzzle out an imaginary meaning for this "nonsense" sets one thinking of the Mysteries; one enters into deep contemplation of holy things and God Himself leads the soul to a real illumination. Hence also the necessity of Incarnation; the soul must descend into all falsity in order to attain All-Truth.
For instance:
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to her cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone;
When she got there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.
Who is this ancient and venerable mother of whom it is spoken? Verily she is none other than Binah, as is evident in the use of the holy letter H with which her name begins.
Nor is she the sterile Mother Ama—but the fertile Aima; for within her she bears Vau, the son, for the second letter of her name, and R, the penultimate, is the Sun, Tiphareth, the Son.
The other three letters of her name, B, A, and D, are the three paths which join the three supernals.
To what cupboard did she go? Even to the most secret caverns of the Universe. And who is this dog? Is it not the name of God spelt Qabalistically backwards? And what is this bone? The bone is the Wand, the holy Lingam!
The complete interpretation of the rune is now open. This rime is the legend of the murder of Osiris by Typhon.
The limbs of Osiris were scattered in the Nile.
Isis sought them in every corner of the Universe, and she found all except his sacred lingam, which was not found until quite recently (vide Fuller, The Star in the West).
Let us take another example from this rich storehouse of magick lore.
Little Bo Peep
She lost her sheep,
And couldn't tell where to find them.
Leave them alone!
And they'll come home,
Dragging their tails behind them.
"Bo" is the root meaning Light, from which spring such words as Bo-Tree, Bodhisattva, and Buddha.
And "Peep" is Apep, the serpent Apophis. This poem therefore contains the same symbol as that in the Egyptian and Hebrew Bibles.
The snake is the serpent of initiation, as the Lamb is the Saviour.
This ancient one, the Wisdom of Eternity, sits in its old anguish awaiting the Redeemer. And this holy verse triumphantly assures us that there is no need for anxiety. The Saviours will come one after the other, at their own good pleasure, and as they may be needed, and drag their tails, that is to say those who follow out their holy commandment, to the ultimate goal.
Again we read:
Little Miss Muffett
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating of curds and whey,
Up came a big spider,
And sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffett away.
Little Miss Muffett unquestionably represents Malkah; for she is unmarried. She is seated upon a "tuffet"; id est, she is the unregenerate soul upon Tophet, the pit of hell. And she eats curds and whey, that is, not the pure milk of the mother, but milk which has undergone decomposition.
But who is the spider? Verily herein is a venerable arcanum connoted! Like all insects, the spider represents a demon. But why a spider? Who is this spider "who taketh hold with her hands, and is in King's Palaces"? The name of this spider is Death. It is the fear of death which first makes the soul aware of its forlorn condition.
It would be interesting if tradition had preserved for us Miss Muffett's subsequent adventures.
But we must proceed to consider the interpretation of the following rime:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He stuck in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"
In the interpretation of this remarkable poem there is a difference between two great schools of Adepts.
One holds that Jack is merely a corruption of John, Ion, he who goes—Hermes, the Messenger. The other prefers to take Jack simply and reverently as Iacchus, the spiritual form of Bacchus. But it does not matter very much whether we insist upon the swiftness or the rapture of the Holy Spirit of God; and that it is he of whom it is here spoken is evident, for the name Horner could be applied to none other by even the most casual reader of the Holy Gospels and the works of Congreve. And the context makes this even clearer, for he sits in a corner, that is in the place of Christ, the Corner Stone, eating, that is, enjoying, that which the birth of Christ assures to us. He is the Comforter who replaces the absent Saviour. If there was still any doubt of His identity it would be cleared up by the fact that it is the thumb, which is attributed to the element of Spirit, and not one of the four fingers of the four lesser elements, which he sticks into the pie of the new dispensation. He plucks forth one who is ripe, no doubt to send him forth as a teacher into the world, and rejoices that he is so well carrying out the will of the Father.
Let us pass from this most blessed subject to yet another.
Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Stole a pig and away he run.
The pig was eat,
And Tom was beat,
And Tom went roaring down the street.
This is one of the more exoteric of these rimes. In fact, it is not much better than a sun-myth. Tom is Toum, the God of the Sunset (called the Son of Apollo, the Piper, the maker of music). The only difficulty in the poem concerns the pig; for anyone who has watched an angry sunset in the Tropics upon the sea, will recognize how incomparable a description of that sunset is given in that wonderful last line. Some have thought that the pig refers to the evening sacrifice, others that she is Hathor, the Lady of the West, in her more sensual aspect.
But it is probable that this poem is only the frst stanza of an epic. It has all the characteristic marks. Someone said of the Iliad that it did not finish, but merely stopped. This is the same. We may be sure that there is more of this poem. It tells us too much and too little. How came this tragedy of the eating of a merely stolen pig? Unveil this mystery of who "eat" it!
It must be abandoned, then, as at least partially insoluble. Let us consider this poem:
Hickory, dickory, dock!
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one,
And the mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock!
Here we are on higher ground at once. The clock symbolizes the spinal column, or, if you prefer it, Time, chosen as one of the conditions of normal consciousness. The mouse is the Ego; "Mus," a mouse, being only Sum, "I am," spelt Qabalistically backwards.
This Ego or Prana or Kundalini force being driven up the spine, the clock strikes one, that is, the duality of consciousness is abolished. And the force again subsides to its original level.
"Hickory, dickory, dock!" is perhaps the mantra which was used by the adept who constructed this rime, thereby hoping to fix it in the minds of men; so that they might attain to Samadhi by the same method. Others attribute to it a more profound significance—which it is impossible to go into at this moment, for we must turn to:—
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty got a great fall;
All the king's horses
And all the king's men
Couldn't set up Humpty Dumpty again.
This is so simple as hardly to require explanation. Humpty Dumpty is of course the Egg of Spirit, and the wall is the Abyss—his "fall" is therefore the descent of spirit into matter; and it is only too painfully familiar to us that all the king's horses and all his men cannot restore us to the height.
Only The King Himself can do that!
But one can hardly comment upon a theme which has been so fruitfully treated by Ludovicus Carolus, that most holy illuminated man of God. His masterly treatment of the identity of the three reciprocating paths of Daleth, Teth, and Pe, is one of the most wonderful passages in the Holy Qabalah. His resolution of what we take to be the bond of slavery into very love, the embroidered neckband of honour bestowed upon us by the King himself, is one of the most sublime passages in this class of literature.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
He put her in a peanut shell;
Then he kept her very well.
This early authentic text of the Hinayana School of Buddhism is much esteemed even to-day by the more cultured and devoted followers of that school.
The pumpkin is of course the symbol of resurrection, as is familiar to all students of the story of Jonah and the gourd.
Peter is therefore the Arahat who has put an end to his series of resurrections. That he is called Peter is a reference to the symbolizing of Arahats as stones in the great wall of the guardians of mankind. His wife is of course (by the usual symbolism) his body, which he could not keep until he put her in a peanut shell, the yellow robe of a Bhikkhu.
Buddha said that if any man became an Arahat he must either take the vows of a Bhikkhu that very day, or die, and it is this saying of Buddha's that the unknown poet wished to commemorate.
Taffy was a Welshman
Taffy was a thief;
Taffy came to my house
And stole a leg of beef.
I went to Taffy's house;
Taffy was in bed.
I took a carving knife,
And cut off Taffy's head.
Taffy is merely short for Taphtatharath, the Spirit of Mercury and the God of Welshmen or thieves. "My house" is of course equivalent to "my magick circle." Note that Beth, the letter of Mercury and "The Magus," means "a house."
The beef is a symbol of the Bull, Apis the Redeemer. This is therefore that which is written, "Oh my God, disguise thy glory! Come as a thief, and let us steal away the sacraments!"
In the following verse we find that Taffy is "in bed," owing to the operation of the sacrament. The great task of the Alchemist has been accomplished; the mercury is fixed.
One can then take the Holy Dagger, and separate the Caput Mortuum from the Elixir. Some Alchemists believe that the beef represents that dense physical substance which is imbibed by Mercury for his fixation; but here as always we should prefer the more spiritual interpretation.
Bye, Baby Bunting!
Daddy's gone a-hunting.
He's gone to get a rabbit-skin
To wrap my Baby Bunting in.
This is a mystical charge to the new-born soul to keep still, to remain steadfast in meditation; for, in Bye, Beth is the letter of thought, Yod that of the Hermit. It tells the soul that the Father of All will clothe him about with His own majestical silence. For is not the rabbit he "who lay low and said nuffin'"?
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man!
Bake me a cake as fast as you can!
Pat it and prick it and mark it with P!
Bake it in the oven for baby and me!
This rime is usually accompanied (even to-day in the nursery) with a ceremonial clapping of hands—the symbol of Samadhi. Compare what is said on this subject in our comment on the famous "Advent" passage in Thessalonians.
The cake is of course the bread of the sacrament, and it would ill become Frater P. to comment upon the third line—though it may be remarked that even among the Catholics the wafer has always been marked with a phallus or cross.