“The so-called 'Left-Hand Path' - that of Kaulas, Siddhas and Viras - combines the... Tantric worldview with a doctrine of the Übermensch which would put Nietzsche to shame... The Vira - which is to say: the 'heroic' man of Tantrism - seeks to sever all bonds, to overcome all duality between good and evil, honor and shame, virtue and guilt. Tantrism is the supreme path of the absolute absence of law - of shvecchacarī, a word meaning 'he whose law is his own will'." ― Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar.

“It is necessary to have “watchers” at hand who will bear witness to the values of Tradition in ever more uncompromising and firm ways, as the anti-traditional forces grow in strength. Even though these values cannot be achieved, it does not mean that they amount to mere “ideas.” These are measures…. Let people of our time talk about these things with condescension as if they were anachronistic and anti-historical; we know that this is an alibi for their defeat. Let us leave modern men to their “truths” and let us only be concerned about one thing: to keep standing amid a world of ruins.” ― Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order in the Kali Yuga.

“We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who died at his post during the eruption of Vesuvius because someone forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one that can not be taken from a man.” ― Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Medieval Manuscripts, Religious Iconography, and Homicidal Women in Western Art

I view my blog as a digital-age commonplace book and blogging as note-taking and note-making without constraint or subordination to any single controlling idea or theses, an ongoing process of free-association and creative digression, such as this entry which doesn't really demonstrate anything particular beyond the profound intricacies found in the fabric of  the Western Mind as expressed in art, myth, literature, history, and religious iconography. This is a good example of why I am madly and obsessively in love with European Culture.

Here we have a curious juxtaposition of gruesome scenarios:

Before going into the details of the images, the details of the source and its background in European traditions are interesting enough to justify the digression. The above was taken from a 15th century manuscript by Jean Miélot of the Speculum Humanae Salvationis.

From Wikipedia we read; "The Speculum Humanae Salvationis or Mirror of Human Salvation was a bestselling anonymous illustrated work of popular theology in the late Middle Ages, part of the genre of encyclopedic speculum literature, in this case concentrating on the medieval theory of typology, whereby the events of the Old Testament prefigured, or foretold, the events of the New Testament. The original version is in rhyming Latin verse, and contains a series of New Testament events each with three Old Testament ones that prefigure it. It is one of the most common books found as an illuminated manuscript, and also in early printing in both blockbook and incunabulum forms."

Before continuing with the Wikipedia description of The Speculum Humanae Salvationis, the genre of Speculum Literature in general is worth noting:

The medieval genre of speculum literature, popular from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries, was inspired by the urge to encompass encyclopedic knowledge within a single work. The modern equivalent is a summary survey, in the sense of a survey article in a scholarly journal that summarizes a field of research. The speculum image, of the mirror that reflects far and wide, was drawn from the magical mirror that was supposed to belong among the treasures of legendary Prester John somewhere in the East. Through it every province could be seen. In the genre "Speculum of Princes", the prince's realms were surveyed and his duties laid out. Other specula offered mirrors of history, of doctrine or morals,

A number of medieval book titles include the word speculum:
Speculum alchimiae, the "Mirror of Alchemy", written by Roger Bacon.
Speculum astronomiae, written by Albertus Magnus.
Speculum ecclesiae, the "Mirror of the Church", written by Edmund Rich.
Speculum historiale, part of Speculum Maius the "Great Mirror" written by Vincent of Beauvais.
Speculum Humanae Salvationis, the "Mirror of human salvation", written c. 1309-24, perhaps by Ludolph of Saxony.
Speculum judiciale, or Speculum iuris, the "Mirror for Judges", written by Guillaume Durand.
Speculum meditantis, the "Mirror of Meditations", written by John Gower.
Speculum perfectionis, written by Brother Leo.
Speculum stultorum, the "Mirror of Fools" written by Nigel de Longchamps
Speculum regale, the "Mirror of Kings", which contains instructions for a young prince.

In English mirror appears in, among many other works, the Myrrour of the Worlde (1490), one of the first illustrated books printed in English, by William Caxton (a translation of L'image du Monde, an overview of the sciences), the perennially-republished A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), and The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul, a manuscript translation from the French by the young Queen Elizabeth I of England. The Mirror of Simple Souls is a modern English translation of a similar French work.
The Faustian underpinnings of this should be obvious. Also worth noting; Machiavelli's The Prince, and The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián y Morales are sometimes considered within this tradition as Speculum Regale, the "Mirror of Kings" or Princes.

The work originated between 1309, as a reference to the Pope being at Avignon indicates, and 1324, the date on two copies.[3] A preface, probably from the original manuscript, says the author does not give his name out of humility, though numerous suggestions have been made.[4] He (or she) was almost certainly a cleric, and there is evidence he was a Dominican.[5] Ludolph of Saxony is a leading candidate for authorship, and Vincent of Beauvais has also been suggested.[6]

The first versions are naturally in illuminated manuscript form, and in Latin. Many copies were made, and several hundred still survive (over 350 in Latin alone), often in translations into different vernacular languages; at least four different translations into French were made, and at least two into English. There were also translations into German, Dutch, and Czech.[7]

Manuscript versions covered the whole range of the manuscript market: some are lavishly and expensively decorated, for a de luxe market, whilst in many the illustrations are simple, and without colour. In particular, superb Flemish editions were produced in the 15th century for Philip the Good and other wealthy bibliophiles. The Speculum is probably the most popular title in this particular market of illustrated popular theology, competing especially with the Biblia pauperum and the Ars moriendi for the accolade.

In the 15th century, with the advent of printing, the work then appeared in four blockbook editions, two Latin and two in Dutch, and then in sixteen incunabulum editions by 1500. The blockbooks present unique questions as only editions of this work combine hand-rubbed woodcut pages with text pages printed in movable type. Further eccentricities include a run of twenty pages in one edition which are text cut as a woodcut, based on tracings of pages from another edition printed with movable type. Though the circumstances of production of these editions are unknown, two of the editions are in Dutch and the Netherlands was probably the centre of production, as with most blockbooks.[8] Hind places them in Holland, from about 1470-75.[9] It appears the Prohemium may have been sold separately as a pamphlet, as one version speaks of the usefulness of it for "poor preachers who cannot afford the entire book".[10]

The incunabulum editions, from eleven different presses, mostly, but not all, printed their woodcut illustrations in the printing press with the text. Some seem to have been printed in two sessions for texts and images. Günther Zainer of Augsburg, a specialist in popular illustrated works, produced the first one in 1473, in Latin and German, and with a metrical summary newly added for each chapter; this is considered an especially beautiful edition. [11] Further incunabulum editions include Latin, German, French, Spanish and Dutch versions, and it was the first illustrated book printed in both Switzerland, at Basel, and France, at Lyon, which used the Basel picture blocks, later also used in Spain.[12] A Speyer edition has woodcuts whose design has been attributed to the Master of the Housebook.[13] In addition, the first of the somewhat legendary editions supposedly produced by Laurens Janszoon Coster, working earlier than Johannes Gutenberg, was a Speculum. Even if the Coster story is ignored, the work seems to have been the first printed in the Netherlands, probably in the early 1470s.[14] Editions continued to be printed until the Reformation, which changed the nature of religious devotion on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide, and made the Speculum seem outdated.

The images in the Speculum were treated in many different styles and media over the course of the two centuries of its popularity, but generally the essentials of the compositions remained fairly stable, partly because most images had to retain their correspondence with their opposite number, and often the figures were posed to highlight these correspondences. Many works of art in other media can be seen to be derived from the illustrations; it was for example, the evident source for depictions for the Vision of Augustus in Rogier van der Weyden's Bladelin Altarpiece and other Early Netherlandish works.[15] In particular the work was used as a pattern-book for stained glass, but also for tapestries and sculpture.
Scans and details from another edition, Miroir de l'humaine salvation, Bruges: 1455, MS Hunter 60 (T.2.18):

The anonymous Speculum humanae salvationis, or 'Mirror of man's salvation', was written in the early years of the fourteenth century. A popular theological work, it survives in some 350 manuscripts, many of which are illustrated. Our copy was produced in Bruges in 1455. This French translation is a de-luxe manuscript on vellum written in a Burgundian bastard script; it is beautifully illustrated with forty two illuminated panels, all executed with exquisite care.

Folio 25v Gethsemane: Soldiers falling; Samson and Jawbone; Shamgar; David

The pictures are important in giving visual emphasis to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in the work's central concern with the doctrine of the Fall and the Redemption. These connections are depicted in the panels, each containing a coloured scene from the New Testament and three scenes in grisaille showing prefigurations of it from the Old Testament. The medieval concept of typology - that the contents of the New Testament were foreshadowed by events recounted in the Old - is thus dramatically enlivened in the illustrations.

Folio 29v Jesus Scourged; Achior scourged; Lamech tormented by his wives; Job reviled by his wife, and scourged by Satan.

Originally written in Latin some time between 1309 and 1324, the work was immensely popular in the later Middle Ages and was quickly translated into German, French, English, Dutch and Czech. As well as over three hundred manuscript copies surviving, there were also many fifteenth century blockbook editions and sixteen incunabula of the text produced. According to a recent study of the many different copies of the book, in its text and pictures 'the Speculum contains a vivid account of the religious and artistic forces at work in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the lessons in piety, the allegories, and all of the arts were devoted to instilling in the minds of the people the need for salvation and the dread of eternal damnation' (Wilson & Wilson p.10).

Four French translations from the Latin are known to have been made in the fifteenth century, including this version from 1455. The translation has been attributed to Jean Miélot, a canon of Lille in Flanders, who was the secretary of Philip the Good. The wording in our copy, however, does not follow precisely that of the original which still survives in Brussels, and according to at least one scholar, it is actually the work of an as yet unidentified writer.

Folio 59r The Gates of Hell; King David punishing his enemies; Gideon punishing his enemies; Pharaoh & his army drowning in the Red Sea

The Speculum Humanae Salvationis was generally based on an earlier work, the Biblia Pauperum or "Pauper's Bible." In his Religious Art in France: the Late Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1986), Emile Mâle writes:

The influence on art of the Biblia Pauperum and the Speculum Humanae Salvationis was so great that we should say a few words about the works themselves.

The Biblia Pauperum is nothing more than a collection of images that we encounter first in the late 13th century, but which probably are older. The story of Christ is told in the 13th century manner, that is, by developing the Infancy and the Passion at length, at the expense of the life in between. The work ends not with the Ascension but with the Second Coming, that is, with the Last Judgment.

Each scene in the life of Christ is made to correspond with two events prefiguring it is the Old Testament; at the same time, four prophets, places in medallions, unroll banderoles on which are written cryptic words that provide a clue to the mysteries of the Gospel; a brief inscription explains each of the Old Testament figures....

The Speculum Humanae Salvationis is slightly more recent than the Biblia Pauperum. From a note found in several of the manuscripts we learn that "the book called Speculum Humanae Salvationis is a new compilation, edited by an author who, out of humility, wanted to conceal his name". Thus, the author was a man who lived in the last part of the 13th century and was permeated by its spirit. Outdoing his predecessors, he placed in correspondence to each event in the lives of the Virgin and of Christ, not two but three prefigurations taken from the Old Testament: the Annunciation, for example, is symbolized by the Burning Bush, the Fleece of Gideon, and the Meeting between Rebecca and Eliezer....

Like the Biblia Pauperum, the Speculum Humanae Salvationis is a book of images; the text, however, is given more importance, and a long commentary in rhymed prose accompanies each figurative scene and explains its meaning....

Artists began to look for symbolic motifs in the manuscript of the Speculum Humanae Salvationis around 1400. The miniaturist who illustrated the Tres Belles Heures of the Duke of Berry had already used it. This wonderful manuscript was lost when the library of Turin burned, but happily, it had already been photographed. Studying these reproductions, we note that the episodes from the Passion are accompanied by scenes from the Old Testament. These scenes are clearly prefigurations, but however familiar we may be with the spirit of the Middle Ages, we cannot help being stuck by their strangeness. For example, Christ Nailed to the Cross is shown with Tubal, father of blacksmiths, striking his anvil, and beside him the prophet Isaiah is sawed in half by torturers.

If the artist himself had been capable of thinking of such subtle correspondences, he would certainly have been a most ingenious theologian. But he was not thinking it up, he was copying two figures in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis accompanying the scene of Christ Nailed to the Cross. The other symbolic correspondences found in the Turin Book of Hours have the same source.

We can state affirmatively that from this time on, any self-respecting artist would have had a manuscript of the Speculum Humanae Salvationis in his studio. Jan Van Eyck had one, and here is the proof.

In 1440, he began a triptych for the Church of St. Martin, in Ypres, but died before finishing it. The central panel is devoted to the Virgin holding the Child; the right wing represents the Burning Bush and the Fleece of Gideon; the left, the Flowering Rod of Aaron and the Closed Gate of Ezekiel. These are the exact figures which correspond to the virginity of Mary in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis. It could be objected, this is true, that these were the traditional types and that Van Eyck could have found them anywhere. But a look at the reverse side of the wings reveals a completely new scene not to be found in painting before this time: The vision of the Ara Coeli. The Triburtine Sibyl raises her hand to point out to the Emperor Augustus the Virgin and Child in the sky. Now it so happens that in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis the scene between the Sibyl and Augustus accompanies the miracle of Aaron's Rod, and immediately follows the Burning Bush and the Fleece of Gideon, which are on the preceding page. Thus there can be no doubt; the presence in the work of Van Eyck of a subject as new as the Meeting of Octavius and the Sibyl - a subject introduced into art solely by the Speculum Humanae Salvationis - disposes of all uncertainty. Moreover, we can see that Van Eyck used the manuscript before him as his source for showing the porta clausa of the prophet at the town gate opening between two towers, and the Burning Bush as a tall, slender tree spreading out at the top....

But what Flemish artist did not have the Speculum Humanae Salvationis? Thanks to this valuable book, more than one artist who was probably no great scholar could seem to be a theologian.

Meanwhile, toward 1460, the first woodcut edition of the Biblia Pauperum appeared. This book, which had been little known as long as it remained in manuscript form, began to be used by artists. Sometimes they preferred it to the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, but for the most part they used both.
  So, returning to our original image we now see that it is a juxtaposition of an event from the New Testament, namely Mary subduing Satan, and prefiguring events from the Old Testament stories of Judith and Jael, and history, the story of Tomyris:
Before going through these individual images in more detail, here is different version of the Mary-Judith-Jael-Tomyris analog from GKS 79 2º: Speculum humanae salvationis, Parchment, 99 ff; 26 x 16 cm. Germany c. 1430:

At this time I have not pinned-down the scriptural source for the episode of Mary quelling Satan with the instruments of the crucifixion. I definitely don't think the episode appears in the New Testament, which is sparse on information about Mary after the actual crucifixion. This is curious considering most of the other primary frames of the Speculum are from obvious primary scriptural sources, although I have not fully made that comparison. But the other tales included here, Judith, Jael and Tomyris are not only well-known and from obvious sources, but have a rich history of portrayal in Western art.

First considering the story of Judith and Holophernes, we read from Wikipedia:

The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint, and in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded by Pharisaic-Rabbinical Jews and Protestants. It has been said that the book contains numerous historical anachronisms, which is why many scholars now accept it as non-historical; it has been considered a parable or perhaps the first historical novel.
The Book of Judith has a tragic setting that appealed to Jewish patriots and it warned of the urgency of adhering to Mosaic Law, generally speaking, but what accounted for its enduring appeal was the drama of its narrative. The story revolves on Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, to whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him information on the Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken stupor. She decapitates him, then takes his head back to her fearful countrymen. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Israel is saved. Though she is courted by many, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life.
The famous renditions of this are many:

Andrea Mantegna, Judith and Holofernes (15th c.)

Giorgione, Judith (c. 1505)

Michelangelo, Judith carrying away the head of Holofernes, in the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512)

Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (c. 1598-1599)

Giovanni Baglione, Judith and the Head of Holofernes (1608)

Cristofano Allori, Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1613)
Carlo Saraceni, Judith and the head of Holofernes (c. 1615)

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. 1612)
Franz Stuck, Judith and Holofernes (1927)

Turning to the image of Jael, we read:

Yael (or alternately, Jael) (Hebrew Ya'el, יעל, the Hebrew name of the Nubian Ibex) is a character mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible, as the heroine who killed Sisera to deliver Israel from the troops of king Jabin. She was the wife of Heber the Kenite.

God told Deborah (a prophetess and leader) that she would deliver Israel from Jabin. Deborah called Barak to make up an army to lead into battle against Jabin on the plain of Esdraelon. But Barak demanded that Deborah would accompany him into the battle. Deborah agreed but prophesied that the honour of the killing of the other army's captain would be given to a woman. Jabin's army was led by Sisera (Judg. 4:2), who fled the battle after all was lost.

Yael received the fleeing Sisera at the settlement of Heber on the plain of Zaanaim. Yael welcomed him into her tent with apparent hospitality. She 'gave him milk' 'in a lordly dish'. Having drunk the refreshing beverage, he lay down and soon sank into the sleep of the weary. While he lay asleep Yael crept stealthily up to him, holding a tent peg and a mallet. She drove it through his temples with such force that it entered into the ground below. And 'at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell down dead'.

As a result of the murder of Sisera, God gave the victory to Israel. The praise given to 'blessed' Yael in the Bible, is given for her action.

This is the part of Deborah's song (Judg. 5:23-27) that refers to the death of Sisera:

"Extolled above women be Jael,

The wife of Heber the Kenite,

Extolled above women in the tent.

He asked for water, she gave him milk;

She brought him cream in a lordly dish.

She stretched forth her hand to the nail,

Her right hand to the workman's hammer,

And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,

She crashed through and transfixed his temples.

At her feet he curled himself, he fell, he lay still;

At her feet he curled himself, he fell;

And where he curled himself, let it be, there he fell dead."

Scholars have long recognised that the Song of Deborah, on the basis of linguistic evidence (archaic biblical Hebrew), is one of the oldest parts of the Bible. A similar theme was explored in the Apocryphal Book of Judith ('lioness').

According to Jewish tradition Jael was a convert to Judaism.
As with Judith and Holophrenes, the representations of the Jael/Yael assassination of Sisera are many:

Jan Saenredam engraving picturing Yael killing Sisera.

Yael Killing Sisera, by Palma the Younger.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1653)

LAZZARINI, Gregorio (b. 1655, Venezia, d. 1730, Villabona)

Pedro Núñez del Valle. "Jael and Sisera." C. 1630.

Jacopo Amigoni, Jael and Sisera, ca. 1739

Illustration from Figures de la Bible (1728)

James Northcote, R.A. (1746 - 1831) Jael and Sisera, 1787

Turning to Tomyris, we read from Christian Iconography: or, The History of Christian Art in the Middle Ages by Adolphe Didron (1886), "The legend of the vengeance of Queen Tomyris on the dead body of Cyrus is one of the three types for the subject of the Virgin Mary when she quells Satan by holding before him the emblems of the Passion. Judith and Jael are the other two types. The author of the Speculum has probably taken the stoiy from Justin, who quotes from Herodotus. This is one of the subjects wrought on Dante's pavement in Purgatory.* "Where is shown the scath and cruel mangling made By Tomyris on Cyrus, when she cried, 'Blood thou didst thirst for: take thy fill of blood."' Herodotus (Book i. cap. 214), Justin (Book i. cap. 8), and Valerius Maximus (Book ix. cap. 10), said that Cyrus met his death in a battle against the Massagetse. According to Herodotus, Tomyris their queen, having beheaded him, plunged the head in a skin filled with blood, saying: " Though living and victorious, thou hast lost me in destroying my son, who has fallen into thy snares ; but I will satiate thee with blood as I have threatened thee."

From Wikipedia we read:

The names of Tomyris and her son, Spargapises, who was the head of her army, are of Iranian[1] origins. Since the historians who first wrote of her were Greek and theirs was the language of the educated for centuries, the Hellenic form of her name is used most frequently.
The Greek historians recorded that she "defeated and killed" the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great during his invasion and attempted conquest of her country. Herodotus, who lived from approximately 484 B.C. to 425 B.C., is the earliest of the classical writers to give an account of her career, writing almost one hundred years later. Her history was well known and became legendary. Strabo, Polyaenus, Cassiodorus, and Jordanes (in De origine actibusque Getarum, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths) also wrote of her.[2]
Map of Asia showing the location of Massagetae, where Tahm-Rayiš had ruled and defeated the Persians c. 323 B.C.According to the accounts of Greek historians, Cyrus was defeated in his initial assault on the Massagetae and was forced to retreat. His advisers suggested laying a trap for the pursuing Scythians: the Persians left behind them an apparently-abandoned camp, containing a rich supply of wine. The pastoral Scythians were not used to drinking wine—"their favored intoxicants were hashish and fermented mare's milk"[3]—and they drank themselves into a stupor. The Persians attacked while their opponents were incapacitated, slaughtering the Massagetae and capturing Tomyris' son, Spargapises, the general of her army. According to Herodotus, Sparagises coaxed Cyrus into removing his bonds, thus allowing him to commit suicide while in Persian captivity.[4]

Tomyris then sent a message to Cyrus, denouncing his treachery and challenging him to an honorable battle. In the fight that ensued, the Persians were defeated again with high casualties. Cyrus was killed and Tomyris had his corpse beheaded,[5] and shoved his head into a wineskin filled with human blood. She was reportedly quoted as saying, "I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall" [6] [7](Hdt 1.214) She allegedly kept his head with her at all times and drank wine from it until her death.[4]
Persian and Central Asian folklore maintain a rich store of other tales about Tomyris. Modern Kazakhs revere her as the great queen and independence fighter and the name Tomiris is very popular in Kazakhstan.
"Tomyris Plunges the Head of the Dead Cyrus Into a Vessel of Blood" by Alexander Zick

Georg Pencz (German, 1500-1550), Tomyris with the Head of Cyrus. Original engraving, c. 1539.

Peter Paul Rubens (Pieter Pauwel Rubens) (Siegen, Westphalia, 1577 - Antwerp, Netherlands 1640)

Pietro Ricchi (1605 - 1675)

More later.......