Monday, October 26, 2015

Henry VII

The face of the Tree-man can now be identified as Henry VII of England, likely based on the portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London or a copy of it. Another image of Henry VII in the center panel seems to be based on a profile on a coin, likely to represent his penny pinching ways, but the one shown here has him in Rome in 1527, eavesdropping at the wall of a tree-house, in character as a spymaster. The reason he appears in 1527 (when he died in 1509) is most likely that in that year his daughter Margaret, Queen of Scots was divorced and his son Henry VIII was attempting to divorce even though the Pope was on the run from the sack. The enormous portrait is Charles V’s way of telling Henry VIII that his dad would be mad.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Maximilian and Trithemius

Just for the sake of context, the center panel of the Hieronymus Bosch triptych of Saint Anthony in Lisbon appears to come from the general direction of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, a Yorkist, and the idea of demons conveying messages is likely based on the work of the abbot Johannes Trithemius who advised Maximilian on demonology and also devised secret codes. This is not without interest in terms of art history since a comparison to Trithemius’s Steganographia and Polygraphia helps to clarify that for instance the Nahuatl chronology in El Jardin de las Delicias can be seen as an example of a message that can be decoded by putting its elements in chronological order by means of an obscure system, in this case a language that was unknown to most observers. A less obscure example is the series of illustrations described by Laurinda Dixon of an alchemical process for making gold in a laboratory. Charles V had no more need for alchemists than Saint Anthony had for demons volunteering to send messages since he had access to gold from New Spain, and the alchemical stages are certainly partly allegory (with for example the Sack of Rome representing putrefactio), but also a cover text to illustrate Trithemius’s steganography, that is the use of codes that make messages appear to be plain text concerning some unlikely subject.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The pois’nous bunch-back’d toad

Any information conveyed by the demons behind Saint Anthony, who is shown ignoring the lot of them, has to be regarded as unreliable. (I have added some labels to the detail shown here to show who appears to be claiming to be who.) Nonetheless they may have something to contribute to debates around Richard III. If nothing else, Hieronymus Bosch’s painting suggests that Shakespeare’s Margaret of Anjou was repeating a cliché when she slowed down a little after a long string of insults, just enough to allow Richard the Duke of Gloucester to get a word in sideways:
QUEEN MARGARET. And leave out thee? Stay, dog, for thou
    shalt hear me.
    If heaven have any grievous plague in store
    Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
    O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
    And then hurl down their indignation
    On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace!
    The worm of conscience still be-gnaw thy soul!
    Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv'st,
    And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
    No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
    Unless it be while some tormenting dream
    Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
    Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog,
    Thou that wast seal'd in thy nativity
    The slave of nature and the son of hell,
    Thou slander of thy heavy mother's womb,
    Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins,
    Thou rag of honour, thou detested-
  GLOUCESTER. Margaret!
  QUEEN MARGARET. I call thee not.
  GLOUCESTER. I cry thee mercy then, for I did think
    That thou hadst call'd me all these bitter names.
  QUEEN MARGARET. Why, so I did, but look'd for no reply.
    O, let me make the period to my curse!
  GLOUCESTER. 'Tis done by me, and ends in-Margaret.
  QUEEN ELIZABETH. Thus have you breath'd your curse
    against yourself.
  QUEEN MARGARET. Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my
    Why strew'st thou sugar on that bottled spider
    Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?
    Fool, fool! thou whet'st a knife to kill thyself.
    The day will come that thou shalt wish for me
    To help thee curse this poisonous bunch-back'd toad.
  HASTINGS. False-boding woman, end thy frantic curse,
    Lest to thy harm thou move our patience.
  QUEEN MARGARET. Foul shame upon you! you have all
    mov'd mine.
  RIVERS. Were you well serv'd, you would be taught your
  QUEEN MARGARET. To serve me well you all should do me
    Teach me to be your queen and you my subjects.
    O, serve me well, and teach yourselves that duty!
  DORSET. Dispute not with her; she is lunatic.
  QUEEN MARGARET. Peace, Master Marquis, you are malapert;
    Your fire-new stamp of honour is scarce current.
According to Thomas More, as of June 13, 1483 his left arm had been injured by sorcery that he blamed on Elizabeth, Jane Shore, and unnamed accomplices:
…And all the other affirmed the same. That is (quoth he) yonder sorceress my brother’s wife and other with her, meaning the queen. At these words many of the other Lords were greatly abashed that favoured her. But the lord Hastings was in his mind better content, that it was moved by her, than by any other whom he loved better. Albeit his heart somewhat grudged, that he was not afore made of counsel in this matter, as he was of the taking of her kindred, and of their putting to death, which were by his assent before devised to be beheaded at Pomfret this self same day, in which he was not ware that it was by other devised, that himself should the same day be beheaded at London. Then said the protector; ye shall all see in what wise that sorceress and that other witch of her counsel, Shore’s wife, with their affinity, have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body. And therewith he plucked up his doublet sleeve to his elbow upon his left arm, where he showed a werish arm and small, as it was never other. And thereupon every man’s mind sore misgave them, well perceiving that this matter was but a quarrel. For well they wist, that the queen was too wise to go about any such folly. And also, if she would, yet would she of all folk least make Shore’s wife of counsel, whom of all women she most hated, as that concubine whom the king her husband had most loved. And also no man was there present, but well knew that his harm was ever such since his birth. Natheless the lord Chamberlain answered and said: certainly, my lord, if they have so heinously done, they be worthy heinous punishment. What, quoth the protector, thou servest me, I ween, with ifs and with ans, I tell thee they have so done, and that I will make good on thy body, traitor. And therewith, as in a great anger, he clapped his fist upon the board a great rap. At which token given, one cried treason without the chamber. Therewith a door clapped, and in come there rushing men in harness as many as the chamber might hold. And anon the protector said to the Lord Hastings: I arrest thee, traitor.…
Hieronymus Bosch’s picture of Richard III suggests a recent injury, as though the king formerly could play a lute and now can barely carry it under his arm, and paralysis rather than withering. It is actually consistent with the Society of Antiquaries portrait, which might represent a paralyzed right hand; that is, unless the artist deliberately reversed the National Portrait Gallery version to suggest the king was left-handed, although if he had been left-handed there would likely be some verbal indication somewhere. 
If it was a paralysis caused by sorcery, it might have resolved before the Battle of Bosworth two years later, and also might not have left any physical evidence, assuming that anxiety about sorcery could produce a real paralysis but could not deform a person’s bones.
                        The painting suggests that “toad” was a little ambiguous, since toads are sometimes hunchbacked, sometimes associated with witchcraft, and also sometimes poisonous, unless someone put a spell on a poisonous toad, which would have covered all the bases.
                        It also illustrates that Richard III was not a hunchback as the word is mostly understood, and interestingly goes on to represent an actual hunchback as someone who can work as a musician. The real hunchback is quick to help the temporarily afflicted king when he sees the lute about to fall to the pavement.
                        The identification of the dog Lovell is less certain given the absence of the cat and the rat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Michelangelo's cats?

I wonder if these might all be illustrations of the Biblical proverb “the race is not to the swift” along with Titian’s leopards. Maybe people are too quick to assume classical mythology was always meant to be serious.

Also, the inspiration for the bronze cats might have been pairs of African bronze leopards when the Indies included both Africa and South Asia.

The bronzes have just been attributed to Michelangelo and here are some links:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three fragments from Ovid

A Calydonian boar hunt for Katherine of Aragon’s successful campaign against Caledonian invaders (Scots); find the boars, not to be confused with bears. 
Proserpina thinking twice before eating seeds from a pomegranate for the well read child Mary Tudor, taken away from her mother the princess from Granada. 
A Fall of Icarus for Henry VIII’s fall into a river. 
Hopefully these help to establish the date of the triptych. The comparison between Katherine of Aragon combating the Caledonians in the 1513 Battle of Flodden and Atalanta participating in the Calydonian boar hunt might have been made years earlier, but Mary Tudor was not born until 1516 and Henry VIII’s fall in the water was in 1525. It was reenacted in the television series The Tudors, season 1, episode 4.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Henry Tudor in a Hieronymus Bosch Painting

A young Henry Tudor is accompanied by Elizabeth of York. For those of us who have trouble remembering roses they are color coded as Mr. Red and Mrs. White. Henry Tudor is easy to identify but he appears to be confronting a more difficult puzzle. Is the boar-face man Richard III back from the dead? Or the hunchback? But meanwhile obviously the whole drama is only the kind of thing Saint Anthony was able to resist watching.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Giovanni da Udine was the artist (along with assistants and advisors)

No time for details but a match to an elephant and giraffe in the Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena in the Vatican means the circumstantial case against Giovanni da Udine as the author of The Garden of Earthly Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias (against since he seems to have wanted to stay anonymous) is much easier to make than it would be otherwise. Not surprisingly the elephant’s name Anonne (Hanno in English) is a pun on Anonimo or Anonymous.
                        The photograph is a detail from Nicole Dacos and Caterina Furlan, Giovanni da Udine 1487-1561 (1987), page 45, “Giovanni da Udine, Volta della Loggetta del cardinale Bibbiena, particolare. Città del Vaticano.