Saturday, December 09, 2006

Margarita Philosophica

['Margarita Philosophica' had] "for a half-century, aided in a
remarkable manner the spread of knowledge" {Alexander von Humboldt}

Margarita philosophica frontpiece - Prudentia
Prudentia and the 7 liberal arts (and including depictions of Saints
Jerome, Gregory, Augustine and Ambrose as well as Aristotle and Seneca).

Souls in Limbo
Souls in limbo.

Brain Anatomy
"During the middle ages it was widely thought that the various mental
faculties were each located in three ventricles in the brain. The first
ventricle was where information from the sense organs was received and
initially processed before being passed to the middle ventricle, the seat of
reason, for cogitation. Eventually thoughts were transferred to the third
ventricle which was the seat of memory."

Garden of Eden - Beginning of the World
God creating Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Ptolemeic World - colour and black/white
Astronomia - depiction of Ptolemy's geocentric planetary system.

Typus Musices
Typus Musices

Human Figure showing longitude and latitude
Figure representing longitude and latitude.

Ptolemy as King with Astronomia
A crowned Ptolemy with the goddess Astronomia.

Typus Geometris
Typus Geometris

Magister and Disciple
Magister and pupil.

The Wheel of Fortuna
The Wheel of Fortuna.

Typus Mathematicae
Typus Mathematicæ - a supervised competition between Pythagoras
using a type of abacus and Boethieus using the new arabic numerals.

The Branches of Knowledge Allegory
The Branches of Knowledge, featuring Aristotle, Emperor
Justinian and Seneca. There is a sword and flowering branch
coming out of the mouth of the central female figure.

Ocular Anatomy
One of the earliest (if not first) schematic illustrations of the eye ever published.

Typus Logice - Hunting Scene
Typus Logice. An allegorical hare, representing a 'Pblenia' (problem)
is chased by two dogs, 'Veritas' (truth), and 'Falsitas' (falsity)

Abdominal Anatomy - black/white and colour
This abdominal and thoracic anatomy diagram doesn't
seem too unsophisticated, considering it is nearly half a
century before the landmark work of Vesalius.

Zodiac Man
Zodiac Man indicates which body parts were associated
with each astrological sign. Inclusion of this illustration seems
a little contradictory in that Reisch was said to be skeptical of astrology,
favouring scripture and reason as a basis for understanding.

Gregor (Gregorius) Reisch (~1467-1525) became a Carthusian monk after matriculating as a Magister from his home town University of Freiburg in southern Germany. He would become Confessor to Emperor Maximilian I, teacher of John Eck and Martin Waldseemüller, friend to Erasmus, Beatus and Rheananus and Prior at the Carthusian Monastery in Freiburg.

His enduring legacy however, was an encyclopedic compendium of contemporary knowledge aimed at educating university students and young people called 'Margarita Philosophica' (roughly translates as 'Pearls of Wisdom'). The book was written in latin between 1489 and 1495 but was not actually published for the first time until 1503. The learned yet brief teaching manual was "widely used as a university textbook in the early sixteenth century, particularly in Germany."

'Margarita Philosophica' was divided into 12 chapters: grammar, logic and rhetoric (the 'trivium'); music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy (the 'quadrivium') together with natural philosophy, the origin of natural objects, powers of animal sensation and intellect and moral philosophy.

The text style is in the form of a dialogue with a student asking a series of questions and the teacher providing answers (for a similar approach, see the later work of Pluche). The inclusion of a large number of allegorical woodcut illustrations by unknown artists helped to make this (?the first) encyclopedia both popular and influential. Many editions were issued, including pirated copies, and there are differing versions (and qualities) of the illustrations around.


Georgiana said...

The illustrations are absolutely lovely. Thanks for sharing.

(Visiting via boingboing but I'll be bac!)

Tracey Eve Winton said...

I found a great digitized version of the 1508 edition at

peacay said...

Thanks very much for that Max Planck Institute link, space_odyssey. That is indeed the best quality version I've seen.

Marcos Faria said...

According to this catalog ( page 27) from an exhibit at Biblioteca Nacional (Brazil), the anatomy diagram from the 1503 edition had the genitals added. Then, in the 1515 edition, Reisch drawed the man with his clothes on to avoid that.

peacay said...

Thanks Marcos - sounds like familiar censorship down through history!

Here's the original Portuguese commentary from that .pdf :

"A comparação das duas edições (1503 e 1515) evidencia um exemplo claro de autocensura pelo próprio editor. A raridade de imagens em obras do início do século XVI, especialmente, do corpo humano nu é justificativa razoável para rasuras eróticas. Na primeira edição
da obra Margarita philosophica (1503), a imagem que reproduz o do corpo humano da cabeça aos quadris foi ‘indiscretamente complementada’, em tinta de época. Este tipo de rasura seria recorrente, pelo menos nesta obra, e teria levado o editor, na edição de
1515, a apresentar a mesma imagem, renovada e vestida o suficiente para inviabilizar esse tipo de rasura."


Op131 said...

Is there any "translation" or rendering in a modern language of this work? Or may be a book detailing its contents? Thank you for the wonderful images. In the address there are eight different digitized versions that can be downloaded as pdf files.

peacay said...

Thanks for that Op131. In fact, those 8 editions of 'Margarita Philosophica' can be viewed online as well, if you don't want to d/load the pdf versions.

I surmise that, because this book is of supreme importance as an historical document, there will be modern versions available, if not quilting designs, dance recitals, wallpapers and rap reinterpretations, to take things to their (un)natural limits.

That information is really outside of my purview, you might start with googlebooks & googleresearch & narrow down time frames and add suitable adjunctive search words, like: 'modern' 'translation' 'updated' etc etc. I would bet a great deal of someone else's money that there will be LOTS of different flavours of 'Margarita Philosophica' around.

Post a Comment

Comments are all moderated so don't waste your time spamming: they will never show up.

If you include ANY links that aren't pertinent to the blog post or discussion they will be deleted and a rash will break out in your underwear.

Also: please play the ball and not the person.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Creative Commons License