December 27, 2005

Images of the Gods of the Ancients

While Vincenzo Cartari’s book Imagini delli Dei de gl’Antichi (‘Images of the Gods of the Ancients’) was neither the earliest nor the most erudite treatise on the Græco-Roman pantheon to be published in 16th Century Italy, in time it came to be the most popular and influential. The book focused on the iconography of the gods, explaining the guises in which they were portrayed, and detailing their several attributes and accoutrements. The book’s success was bolstered by the vivid woodcut illustrations accompanying the text, which first appeared in its third edition, published in Venice in 1571. The designs are said to be by one Bolognino Zaltieri. Details from some of these woodcuts follow below.

Detail of a woodcut illustration of Saturn in 'Old Father Time' mode by Bolognino Zaltieru, from Cartari's 'Imagini'.
Detail of a woodcut illustration of Saturn in 'Three-Headed Monster' mode by Bolognino Zaltieru, from Cartari's 'Imagini'.

Very little is known about Cartari. He was probably born in Reggio Emilia in the early years of the 16th Century. According to Jean Seznec, he was probably a protégé of the dukes of Ferrara. He wrote in Italian rather than Latin. His name is seldom found in the works of his contemporaries. In his book, Cartari acknowledged the influence of Lilio Gregorio Giraldi’s ‘History of the Gods’ (De deis gentium varia et multiplex historia…), which had been published in 1548; Cartari indeed was later accused of plagiarizing the older scholar’s work. Cartari’s writings were borrowed in turn by later writers, notably by Gian Paolo Lomazzo.

Detail of a woodcut illustration of Janus by Bolognino Zaltieru, from Cartari's 'Imagini'.
Detail of a woodcut illustration of Jove and Pan by Bolognino Zaltieru, from Cartari's 'Imagini'.

Given that the present revels derive in part from the ancient Saturnalia, I have reproduced a pair of images (the first two, above) of the god Saturn. The first of them represents the sad effects supposedly brought by the planet Saturn, and by the renewal of the year. The three-headed personification of the god in the second image refers to time past, present and future, and again represents the malign nature of the planet, and its distant frigidity. The third of the present images shows Janus, another deity readily brought to mind at the turning of the year, while Jove is shown together with Pan in the fourth image.

Detail of a woodcut illustration of Angerona and Harpocrates by Bolognino Zaltieru, from Cartari's 'Imagini'.
Detail of a woodcut illustration of Hercules as Mercury, from Pignoria's annotations to Cartari's 'Imagini'.

The fifth image, the first of the pair immediately above, shows the goddess Angerona, a deity whom, I must admit, I had not heard of before. Apparently, though, she is a goddess of secrecy, and of the winter solstice. If I’m construing the text in the book correctly, she is shown alongside the figure of Harpocrates, ‘god of silence.’ Later editions (from 1615 onward) of the Imagini were augmented with annotations by the antiquarian and philologist Lorenzo Pignoria: the sixth image is taken from this appendix, and depicts Hercules in the guise of Mercury.

Detail of a woodcut illustration of an Aztec deity (Quetzalcoatl(?), from Pignoria's 'second part' to Cartari's 'Imagini'.
Detail of a woodcut illustration of an Aztec deity (Quetzalcoatl(?), from Pignoria's 'second part' to Cartari's 'Imagini'.

Pignoria also appended a Seconda Parte delle Imagini de gli Dei Indiani (‘Second Part of the Images of the Indian Gods’), a short and rather perfunctory selection of images of Mexican and Japanese divinities. The final pair of details above were scanned from this final section of the book, more specifically from a reprint of the 1647 edition of the Imagini issued by Editrice Luna of Milan, in 2004.

Posted by misteraitch at December 27, 2005 08:36 PM

so glad you're back !

i've been checking every day

Posted by: tristan on December 27, 2005 09:02 PM

There is something disturbing about the 16th century Italian rendering of Mexican imagery. It's a bit like hearing classical arrangements of folksongs. I’d be quite curious to see how they handled Japanese deities. I remember seeing an engraving of a really odd-looking ‘Chinese goddess’ Pussa (sic) in Kircher, which was probably based on a third-hand Jesuit account. It had a sun-face and it sat atop a lotus in the ocean, with ships in the distance.

Posted by: Michelangelo on December 28, 2005 03:51 PM

you may have already seen this "antique" animation

quite a long down load time

Posted by: tristan on December 31, 2005 10:27 AM

Michelangelo—I’ll post a couple of examples of the Japanese deities when I get a chance.

Tristan—Many thanks for the link to that animation: I hadn’t seen it before, and it is brilliantly well done, although I didn’t care so much for the accompanying music.

Posted by: misteraitch on January 5, 2006 11:48 AM

Here are a few images of Japanese ‘idols’ from Pignoria’s appendix to Cartari’s book: 1, 2, 3.

Posted by: misteraitch on January 8, 2006 10:00 AM

Whoa. Those Japanese ‘idols’ are something else. I love the third one, the ‘Silenus’ type. It would be fun to identify the sources. Thanks for posting them.

Posted by: Michelangelo on January 26, 2006 11:23 PM

The University of Mannheim have a scanned 1581 Lyon edition (in latin) of Cartari's book.

Posted by: peacay on March 17, 2007 05:22 AM

this is boring..

Posted by: on May 16, 2007 05:47 PM
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