Facsimile of a fresco by Traini, exposed to nature for centuries but severely damaged in WWII, located in Camposanto, Pisa.
“A scroll warns that ‘no shield of wisdom or riches, nobility or prowess’ can protect them from the blows of the Approaching One. ‘They have taken more pleasure in the world than in things of God.’ In a heap of corpses nearby lie crowned rulers, a Pope in tiara, a knight, tumbled together with the bodies of the poor, while angels and devils in the sky contend for the miniature naked figures that represent their souls.”
-Barbara Tuckman, The Black Plague
Detail from the Offices for the Week, compiled by Andrea Matteo Acquaviva (1458-1529), Duke of Atri. This manuscript is delicately ornamented with Italian red morocco and gilt throughout. Currently property of the Huntington Library. View it in full detail here.
Priamo della Quercia (active 1426-1467) masterfully illuminated these miniature scenes of Inferno and Purgatorio only a century after Dante’s time. Together with illuminations by Giovanni di Paolo, this Yates-Thompson manuscript contains 110 miniatures in brilliant pinks, blues, greens and gold.
Hail Isis, representative of all motherhood, new life, and goddess of magic and wisdom!
Apuleius, Prayer to Isis, Metamorphoses, lib XI cap XXV
O holy and blessed dame, the perpetual comfort of human kind, who by Thy bounty and grace nourishes all the world, and bearest a great affection to the adversitities of the miserable as a loving mother, Thou takest no rest night or day, neither art Thou idle at any time in giving benefits and succouring all men as well on land as sea; Thou art she that puttest away all all storms and dangers from men’s life by stretching forth Thy right hand, whereby likewise Thou dost unweave even the inextricable and tangled web of fate, and appeases the great tempests of fortune, and keepest back the harmful course of the stars. The gods supernal do honour Thee; the gods infernal have Thee in reverence; Thou dost make all the earth to turn, Thou givest light to the sun, Though governest the world, Thou treadest down the power of hell. By Thy mean the stars give answer, the seasons return, the gods rejoice, the elements serve: at Thy commandment the winds do blow, the clouds nourish the earth, the seeds prosper, and the fruits do grow. The birds of the air, the beasts of the hill, the serpents of the den, and the fishes of the sea do tremble at Thy majesty: by my spirit is not able to give Thee sufficient praise, my patrimony is unable to satisfy Thy sacrifices; my voice hath no power to utter that which I think of Thy majesty, no, not if I had a thousand mouths and so many tongues and were able to continue forever. Howbeit as a good religious person, and according to my poor estate, I will do what I may: I will always keep Thy divine appearance in remembrance, and close the imagination of Thy most holy godhead within my breast.
Tu quidem sancta et humani generis sospitatrix perpetua, semper fovendis mortalibus munifica, dulcem matris adfectationem miserorum casibus tribuis. Nec dies nec quies nulla ac ne momentum quidem tenue tuis transcurrit beneficiis otiosum, quin mari terraque protegas homines et depulsis vitae procellis salutarem porrigas dexteram, qua fatorum etiam inextricabiliter contorta retractas licia et Fortunae tempestates mitigas et stellarum noxios meatus cohibes. Te superi colunt, observant inferi, tu rotas orbem, luminas solem, regis mundum, calcas tartarum. Tibi respondent sidera, redeunt tempora, gaudent numina, serviunt elementa. Tuo nutu spirant flamina, nutriunt nubila, germinant semina, crescunt germina. Tuam maiestatem perhorrescunt aves caelo meantes, ferae montibus errantes, serpentes solo latentes, beluae ponto natantes. At ego referendis laudibus tuis exilis ingenio et adhibendis sacrificiis tenuis patrimonio; nec mihi vocis ubertas ad dicenda, quae de tua maiestate sentio, sufficit nec ora mille linguaeque totidem vel indefessi sermonis aeterna series. Ergo quod solum potest religiosus quidem, sed pauper alioquin, efficere curabo: divinos tuos vultus numenque sanctissimum intra pectoris mei secreta conditum perpetuo custodiens imaginabor.
In the magnificent baptistery of the Duomo of Florence, there is a master work of the Infernal Majesty of Satan and the fallen angels, eagerly munching the tenderest parts of the damned. This may be one of the earliest artistic versions of Satan as the Pan-like devil we know Him as today.
This, and Marcovaldo’s other 13th century works incorporate a blend of Byzantine and Romanesque styles, popular in Tuscany in the time. But this image of Satan is something quite new, though old. These devils are a frightening hybrid of the Satyr and a more ancient god in Tuscany, Fufluns.
These pagan deities, whose domains were merriment, orgiastic revelries and having a good time in general, are now demonized to represent the downfall of sinners, and the mysterious fits of ecstasy of the Cult of Dionysis, only known by this time in rumors or works of Greek tragedy like Euripedes’ Bacchae, were now the Church’s tool of the imagination, used to keep the masses scared and afraid, and so obedient.