January 27, 2004


Every once in a while I check back at the MATEO project website at the University of Mannheim, hoping they may have added more to their already very marvellous selection of digital editions of old, illustrated books. There was nothing new there on my latest visit the other day, but I took a while browsing through the digitised pages of a volume called Microkosmos or Parvus Mundus, an emblem-book published in Antwerp in 1579, written by one Laurentius Haechtanus, with engravings by Gérard de Jode. I snipped out a few of the emblems, as shown below:

Mikrokosmos emblem #1, 'Homo', man is the world, writ small.


Mikrokosmos emblem #2, 'Mundus argenteus', the Silver World, presumably.

Although each emblem in the book is accompanied by a Biblical quotation, as well as the customary Latin verse, the illustrations in this ‘rare and curious book’ are notably lacking in traditional Christian imagery: their engraver clearly shared in the Renaissance enthusiasm for pagan classical antiquity. Perhaps the single most striking illustration in this respect is that of Prometheus, shown hanging somewhat Christlike from a cross (below).

Mikrokosmos emblem #5, 'Promotheus in crucem suspensus', or Prometheus suspended from the cross.


Mikrokosmos, emblem #7, 'Au[lus] Gel[lius] in Noct[ibus] Att[icis]: Non semel est, neque bis, minus est, sed utrumque vocatur'.

Sites such as MATEO leave me to lament my linguistic shortcomings, as I can construe very little of either the Latin texts, or of the German commentaries thereupon. Often, perusing the images makes me feel as though I am participating in a recondite kind of caption-competition, one that I am much too slow-witted to win.

Mikrokosmos, emblem #9, 'Herbarum virtus' the power of herbs, perhaps here referring to the herb basil's supposed ability to repel basilisks.


Mikrokosmos, emblem #10, 'De Baccho et Pegaso ', a rather stout Bacchus atop a barrel, with the wing’d horse rearing in the background.

As my comprehension of Russian is poorer still than my German (i.e. effectively zero), this site, which also features the Mikrokosmos emblems is even more baffling to me: it seems as though it’s some kind of guide to pictorial symbolism. I am easily fascinated, I suppose, by things I don’t understand. Clicking on each of the present images, by the way, will open the relevant Mikrokosmos double-page spread at the Mannheim site.

Mikrokosmos emblem #20 'Sapientiam avaritia et dolus decipiunt'.


Mikrokosmos emblem #23, ''De Atalanta et Megareio' illustrating the legend of Atalanta losing the race, which she stops to pick up the golden apples strewn by her opponent.


Posted by misteraitch at January 27, 2004 05:58 PM | TrackBack

If you need anything translated in particular, I'm a native speaker of German.

Oh, and I know someone who speaks Russian.

Posted by: Gunther Schmidl on January 28, 2004 01:08 PM

The Russian site is just a listing of emblems, with no additional information.

Posted by: Alex Baylin on January 28, 2004 06:26 PM

*oops* just wanted to say hi! :)

Posted by: FireandIce on January 29, 2004 02:54 AM

Good post again.

Posted by: Duckling on January 29, 2004 05:50 PM

If this is of interest to you and you would like to go a bit deeper, you may find the work of e.g. Aby Warburg and Jean Seznec helpful. They explored the relation between antique and christianity - e.g. why antique deities and astrologic belief would survive trough Middle ages far into the Renaissance. Spectacular, and you will understand the relations.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. on February 1, 2004 03:00 PM

p.b. if you need access to these texts [German and Italian], I can be of help, this is my study field.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. on February 1, 2004 03:01 PM
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