Three illustrations from Robert Fludd‘s History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia, 1617—1621), as reprinted in Joscelyn Godwin’s summary of the same.

The Great Darkness

“The Great Darkness. ‘And thus, to infinity’” (p23).

A picture of pre-creation or un-creation, of materia prima, or Paracelsus‘s Mysterium Magnum.

Let there be Light

“Let there be Light” (p25).

From FIAT (“let it be”), the Spirit of God (the dove) creates the three realms of the universe by radiating its divine light in three revolutions: empyrean (the well-lit Heaven of the angels), ethereal (the crossroads of spirit and matter, domain of stars and demons), and elemental (dark home to man and plant).

The Primeval Duality

“The Primeval Duality” (p30-1). Click image for larger version.

A recapitulation of the dove’s progress. Down the right, “divine volunty, from which comes the divine act or wisdom, doing the will of the Father and revealing the foundations from the darkness and bringing to light the lethal shadow, creates the world of formless matter.” Down the left, “divine nolunty, from which comes divine potency, doing the Father’s nolunty.” Down the middle, “one from two”, “God, still one.”

Just “as Dionysus tears man into his seven pieces by night, so Apollo restores him by day to his sevenfold constitution. They are both none other than the one God, who works all in all.”

Alciati’s Emblematum Liber

March 23rd, 2007

Three emblems from Andrea Alciati‘s Emblematum Liber (1549 edition), recently translated by John F. Moffiit.

“The term ’emblema’ was frequently taken by Alciati’s contemporaries to represent the modern equivalent of the ancient hieroglyphs, for these also combined an enigmatic image with a mostly inscrutable text” (Moffit’s introduction, p7). Or, as Alciati’s teacher Filippo Fasanini described them, “short sayings… which can, in combination with painted or sculpted figures, wrap in shrouds the secrets of the mind” (p6). In Emblematum Liber, Alciati encoded 212 such emblems with moralistic allegories, lessons, histories.

Ass bearing Isis

Emblem 7 (p23)


A dim-witted ass was carrying an image of [the goddess] Isis, so bearing upon its bent back the venerated mysteries. Every passerby along its route worshipped the Goddess with reverence, falling to their knees to offer her their pious prayers. The ass, however, assumed that the honors were only being given to himself, and he swelled up with pride. This stopped when the donkey driver, correcting him with some whiplashes, told him: “You are not God, you half-baked ass, but only the bearer of God.”

The hand with an eye

Emblem 16 (p33)


States Epicharmus: “Never be credulous nor cease to be sober.” These are the sinews and members of the human mind. Behold the hand with an eye upon it; it only believes what it sees. Here is shown the mint, the herb symbolizing ancient sobriety. Brandishing this plant, Heraclitus pacified and soothed the maddened mob bursting into frenzied revolt.


Emblem 182 (p211)


“Old man from Pallenia, oh Proteus, you have as many shapes as an actor has roles. Why are your members sometimes that of a man, and sometimes that of an animal? Come on, tell me, what can be the reason for you to change into all manner of shapes, and yet you have no fixed form of your own?” “I reveal the signs belonging to the most remote ages, ancient and prehistoric, and each man imagines them according to his whimsy.”

Doyle on Fairies

March 15th, 2007

Three photographs of the The Cottingley Fairies, as described in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Coming of Fairies (1922), recently reissued by Bison Books. These photographs were taken by two girls (10 and 16 years old) in 1917, and subsequently defended by several as proof of fairies—including Doyle, who was evidently influenced by his interest in the Spiritualism and Theosophy movements.

“The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth-century out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and a mystery to life” (p58).

Elsie and the gnome

“To the objections of photographers that the fairy figures show quite different shadows to those of the human our answer is that ectoplasm, as the etheric protoplasm has been named, has a faint luminosity of its own, which would largely modify shadows” (p53).

Frances and the fairies

Doyle quotes C. W. Leadbeater: elemental fairies (being one type of fairy) “are the thought-forms of the Great Beings, our angels, who are in charge of the evolution of the vegetable kingdom. When one of these Great Ones has a new idea connected with one of the kinds of plants or flowers which are under his charge, he often creates a thought-form for the special purpose of carrying out that idea. It usually takes the form either of an etheric model of the flower itself or of a little creature which hangs round the plant or the flower all through the time that the buds are forming, and gradually builds them into the shape and colour of which the angel has thought. But as soon as the plant has fully grown, or the flower has opened, its work is over and its power is exhausted, and, as I have said, it just simply dissolves, because the will to do that piece of work was the only soul that it had” (p187/8).

Fairy offering posy of hare-bells to Elsie

Finally, in a 1981 interview (some 60 years later), the girls (then women) admitted they fabricated the fairies by tracing pictures from Princess Mary’s Gift Book (1914).

Three figures from Johannes Itten‘s The Elements of Color, 1961.

Colors of equal brilliance

“Colors of equal brilliance” (p39).

“The doctrine to be developed here is an aesthetic color theory originating in the experience and intuition of a painter. For the artist, effects are decisive, rather than agents as studied by physics and chemistry. Color effects are in the eye of the beholder. Yet the deepest and truest secrets of color effect are, I know, invisible even to the eye, and are beheld by the heart alone. The essential eludes conceptual formulation” (p7).

Color juxtaposition

“Combinations showing how the same blue… [is] altered in expression by different juxtaposed colors” (p87).

“Symbolism without visual accuracy and without emotional force would be mere anemic formalism; visually impressive effect without symbolic verity and emotional power would be banal imitative naturalism; emotional effect without constructive symbolic content or visual strength would be limited to the plane of sentimental expression” (p13).

Harmonious proportions

“Harmonious proportions of areas for complementary colors” (p60).

“Doctrines and theories are best for weaker moments. In moments of strength, problems are solved intuitively, as if of themselves” (p7).

The Etchings of Piranesi

March 3rd, 2007

Three etchings by the antiquarian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720—1778), reprinted in Luigi Ficacci’s Taschen edition.

Remains of the tomb of the Metelli

Remains of the tomb of the Metelli. Click image to view larger version.

“When he can devote himself exclusively to ancient Romain remains, his style fully realizes the visionary originality that… he dedicated to representation of the ancient monuments” (p22).

View of the subterranean foundation of the mausoleum

View of the subterranean foundation of the mausoleum. Click image to view larger version.

“His prints ‘showed’ things in an unprecedented and unimaginable way… [they] revealed a previously unknown aspect and represented a totally unknown world that, notwithstanding the precision of his rendering, was loaded with an extraordinary forceful charge of information” (p8).

Tomb of the three Curatii brothers

Tomb of the three Curatii brothers in Albano. Click image to view larger version.

“Over the course of their formal evolution, a forest of new content appeared — cryptic, symbolic, allegorical and synthesized into an extremely pictorial vision that could simultaneously appear to be a decorative whim or a mine of recondite meanings, while the initial subject, neutral in itself, was transformed into a composition. This was a game of intentional ambiguities that could function differently according to the disposition and critical capacity of the observer himself” (p24/5).