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Humanism and Occultism

"Géométrie spéculative" by Gregor Reisch"Géométrie spéculative" by Gregor Reisch
Reisch, Gregor, d. 1525
"Géométrie spéculative"
In: Margarita philosophica cu additionibus nouis: ab auctore suo studiosissima reuisione quarto super additis
[Basilee, Michael Furterius] 1517
Damon Collection of Occult and Visionary Literature

Gregor Reisch was an early Renaissance German scholar. In 1503, he published Margarita Philosophica, a volume that was intended to provide students with a synthesis of the main humanist disciplines. It has sections on dialectics, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy, physics, natural history, and physiology.

This print illustrates the chapter on geometry, and provides an allegory for that discipline. It is interesting to compare and contrast it with Dürer’s Melencolia I, printed in 1514: like Dürer’s figure, the woman here is surrounded with geometrical instruments. But, while Melencolia I represents the limits of man’s understanding, the illustration above stresses the practical achievements of abstract knowledge. We can interpret the central feminine figure as a positive allegory of Geometry, while the illustrations at the bottom of the page stress the practicality of geometrical knowledge, exemplified with several of its material and architectural possibilities.


"De occulta philosophia" by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius, 1486?-1535
De occulta philosophia

Henrici Cornelii Agrippæ ab Nettesheym a consiliis et archiuis Inditiaris sacrae caesarae maiestatis De occvlta philosophia libri tres / Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ..
[Coloniæ : s.n.], M.D.XXXIII. [1533]
Damon Collection of Occult and Visionary Literature

Agrippa’s Philosophia Occulta was printed for the first time in 1533. But manuscripts circulated from the first decade of the century onwards, and many critics believe that Dürer was familiar with the text. The title of Dürer’s print, Melencolia I, probably comes from Agrippa’s classification of Melancholy into three types, the first type presenting it as a potential source of inspiration and genius.

Agrippa draws many charts that show the parallel between the influence of Saturn and melancholy. He also lists animals that are traditionally linked to Saturn, such as bats, snakes, and owls; all of these animals share solitary and nocturnal activities and habits.





"Déclaration des lettres de la seconde figure des os."

Déclaration des lettres de la seconde figure des os.
In: Les oeuvres d'Ambroise Paré.
11. ed. Rev. et corr. en plusieurs endroits, & augm. d'un fort ample Traicté des fiévres, tant en general qu'en particulier, & de la curation d'icelles, nouvellement trouvé dans les manuscrits de l'autheur. Avec les voyages qu'il a faits en divers lieux: et les pourtraits & figures, tant de l'anatomie que des instruments de chirurgie, & de plusieurs monstres.
Lyon, Pierre Rigaud, 1652
Rhode Island Medical Society Collection

Ambroise Paré (1510?-1590) was a French physician. One of the most notable surgeons of the European Renaissance, he is regarded by some medical historians as the father of modern surgery. Around 1550, Paré went to Paris, where he soon became a barber-surgeon apprentice at the Hôtel-Dieu. He was taught anatomy and surgery, and was employed as an army surgeon. By 1552 he had gained such popularity that he became surgeon to the King. He served four French monarchs: Henri II, François II, Charles IX, and Henri III.

This volume gathers Paré’s main scientific writings. His approach is a synthesis of various perspectives on the human body, which gives authoritative biological accounts of the body and its dysfunctions. In his introduction to the volume, Paré studies melancholy along with the three other “tempéraments.” He tries to give a biological account for melancholy, linking it with the spleen and with secretions from inside the body. For Paré, medical and surgical practice must take into account the four temperaments because they greatly influence the way in which the body heals and reacts to cures.

His chapter on the anatomy was written based on the dissection of corpses he conducted as an army surgeon. Yet, as can be seen on the Déclaration des lettres de la seconde figure des os, this scientific approach was not perceived as incompatible with an allegorical and religious perspective: his nomenclature of bones is illustrated with figures that are reminiscent of allegories of death. The figure represented here holds a posture that appears often in representations of melancholy, with the head of the skeleton resting on the hands.


"Malenconico per la terra." by Cesare Ripa

Ripa, Cesare, fl. 1600.
"Malenconico per la terra"
In: Iconologia / Iconologia, overo Descrittione d'imagini delle virtv', vitij, affetti, passioni humane, corpi celesti, mondo e sue parti. Opera di Cesare Ripa…
Padoua, per Pietro Paolo Tozzi, 1611.
Hay Star

In the guide to emblems known as Iconologia, Cesare Ripa, an Italian aesthetician of the early 17th century, proposes an allegoric representation of melancholy. Ripa describes the figure “Malinconino per terra” as a man

Of a Brown complexion, placing a Foot upon a Cube, holds in his left Hand a Book open, as if he would study ; his Mouth is musled ; in his right Hand a Purse close shut, and, on his Head, a Sparrow. The Muzzle denotes Silence, proceeding from Coolness; the Book, melancholy Men addicted to study: The Sparrow, Solitariness, it not conversing with other Birds; the Purse, Covetousness, reigning amongst melancholy Men.
[Translation by George Richardson, published between 1736 and 1817]

"Pour la mélancolie"'Pour la mélancolie"
"Pour la mélancolie"
In: Livre de recettes de 1691.
Manuscript attributed to Madame de Montespan, Mistress of Louis XIV and Mother of the Duc de Maine and Comte de Toulouse.
Albert E. Lownes Collection

Madame de Montespan was one of the mistresses of Louix XIV and was very influential at the royal court of France between 1666 and the early 1670’s. In 1691, a few years after allegations that she may have been involved in the Affaire des Poisons, she no longer enjoyed the favour of the Sun King and retired in a convent. This handwritten Livre de recettes attests to Madame de Montespan’s interest for medical and homeopathic remedies; the manuscript also includes recipes for cosmetics and notes about minerals.

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