In an early post on this thread (viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&start=0#p7340
), I analyzed the SB Ace of Batons in terms of what I saw in the Theology of Arithmetic
and the Timaeus
, deciding that it represented the "union of sames" and also, since the two cherubs were mirror images of each other, a sameness in difference, i.e. a harmony. I wrote of both Batons and Swords
Thus each Ace is in microcosm a philosophical image of one aspect of God, as that in which all opposites and sames are combined harmoniously.
It seems to me now that there is another way of interpreting this card, namely, as an arrangement of hieroglyphs, in the Renaissance understanding of the term. It is emblamatura
, "mosaic work", a term first used in this context by the Hypnerotomachia
(cited in Manning, The Emblem
, p. 69). We need to look at the cuirass, helmet, and shield.
I will start with the Hypnerotomoachia
. Although it had not been published yet, many people think that some version existed in manuscript since 1469, and especially the hieroglyphs in it. Both Colonna, the reputed author, and Aldus, the publisher, were in Venice or surrounding area. The book interprets the cuirass, as depicted in two illustrations (pp. 327-329 of Godwin's translation), as “trophy,” specifically a trophy of war. Here is the first of three, which has its interpretation right below it (p. 245 of Godwin translation.)
The original reads:
DIVIIVLII VICTORIAR VMET
TROPHAEVM, SEV INSIGNIA.
I reproduce here what would seem to be a lack of separation between words, e.g. DIVI and IVLII.
Then later, as part of a procession of persons holding banners, we see two more.
The accompanying text says
First of all came the hunting pastophores, pyrgophores and the jubilant preluders, with trophies of military decorations mounted on sharp golden lances. There was the cuirass of furious Mars, with the other arms taken in victory: a bow hung sideways, holding up the cuirass, with a quiver of arrows tied to one end and a battle-axe to the others...A second nymph carried another trophy...Another nymph bore a trophy of a helmet surmounted by an ox-skull, and beneath that an antique cuirass with two shields tied on by the arm-holes.Two bands hung down from this, one on each side, holding the lion-skin with the knobbed and knotted club...
The club and lion-skin would seem to be a reference to Hercules.
So what is the relationship to God and the Monad, which I have suggested is the theme of the Aces? The armor of dead heroes, notably that of Ajax and Achilles, was a hotly contested souvenir, according to Alciato in 1531 (emblems 28, 48). From this perspective the cuirass, helmet, and shield would symbolize victory through heroic sacrifice in battle, perhaps achieved by a weapon of war, such as the club that the cherubs raise high (as in the club of Hercules). Or in Christian terms, they might suggest that Christian salvation, God’s cause, is built on sacrifice, such as that of the martyrs who have fought and died in its name, who now live in eternal glory. This interpretation now fits my Neopythagorean interpretation of the card as representing the Monad and God.
A variation on this theme, which perhaps offers a better fit to the card in a Neopythagorean framework, is offered by Wittkower in “Transformations of Minerva in Renaissance Imagery” (pp. 130ff in his Allegory and the Migration of Symbols
): the cuirass represents virtue, and the helmet is victory. “Virtue” is less martial-sounding than “sacrifice,” and also more basic, as what sacrifice is an example of; thus it perhaps more suitable for card-players. But what is the justification for such an interpretation?
Wittkower begins by citing Valeriano 1556, who identified the cuirass with virtue in his Hieroglyphica
. That identification is also exemplified in several works of art that Wittkower presents. Most convincing is a tapestry (at right) completed by 1491 showing a cuirass and helmet on top of the “tree of grace,” with Minerva’s aegis, the Medusa-shield, on the “tree of death” on the other side. Minerva stands between them, holding a helmet on the side of grace. On the left below is a drawing by Botticelli, identified as Minerva, thought to be the model for the central figure in the tapestry.
The cuirass is virtue and the helmet is victory, Moreover, Minerva is the virgin goddess (as she is also characterized in the Theology of Arithmetic
) and so the symbol of chastity. Wittkower says:
Pallas is not only the goddess of Victory, and the furtherer of peace and learning, she is also the maiden against whom the arrows of Cupid are ineffective—she is the symbol of Chastity.(p. 136).
Wittkower also offers an antique image of Thetis holding her son Achilles’ cuirass and helmet (not reproduced in this post), a Marc Antonio Raimondi drawing of the reconciliation of Minerva and Cupid (at left below), and a c.1470 Marco Zoppo drawing of Venus holding a helmet with a cuirass on the ground next to her (at right below).
The Marc Antonio engraving, Wittkower observes, is a “Minerva Pudica”; it assimilates Minerva to “Venus Pudica,” modest Venus, by the gesture of her left hand. The Zoppo is an example of “Venus Victrix,” labeled as such on numerous Roman coins, yet with Minerva's cuirass and helmet. (Victorious Venus equals Minerva Pacifica, I would add, because Venus and Mars were opposites, peace vs. war. Venus likes peace because then Mars can spend time with her instead of out fighting; this is clearest in “Mars and Venus” by Botticelli.) The Zoppo helmet and putti are quite close in bizarreness to that of the SB card, in my view, suggesting some sort of lineal descent from the one to the other. (The cuirasses are virtually identical, but not so bizarrely.) Zoppo was in Bologna or Venice when he did the drawing, 1465-1470.
Wittkower goes on to show us another early 16th century painting, this one by Titian, Alexander VI presenting Jacopo Pesaro to St. Peter
(above image taken from http://www.staroilpainting.com/images/s ... 0092df.jpg
). Here the cuirass is on a relief that forms part of the painting, next to a real helmet. Pesaro had helped win a sea-battle for the Pope, so again the helmet signifies victory. One side of the relief represents virtue, the other vice. On the relief, Cupid is shooting his arrow to the side of virtue, at his mother, the nude Venus. The idea is that Minerva has elevated Cupid to the cause of the desire for the divine,"Platonic Eros" (Wittkower p. 138), as expressed in the Marc Antonio and also in a quite similar early 16th century painting by the school of Dosso Dossi. In the Titian, it seems to me that Venus, on the virtue side, has been raised to the status of the chaste celestial Venus of the Symposium
and thus assimilated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Wittkower observes that the assimilation of deities was quite common in the Renaissance; it is a continuation of "the identification of Minerva and Mary which was familiar to the Middle Ages and which can also be found in the Renaissance" (p. 141).
So on the card, the helmet represents victory and the cuirass represents virtue. There is now no implication of martyrdom. Through virtue one achieves the victory of Christian salvation. The shield is Minerva's traditional attribute, especially if it has the Medusa on it, to ward off evil. On the card, there is something there, but I cannot make it out. Perhaps it is a face, such as that of the Medusa, or perhaps not. Perhaps it was always unclear, or perhaps it is the effect of five centuries.
ADDITION OF OCT. 5, 2010:
Reading Wind (Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance
p. 91), I see that he has an interpretation of the Zoppo drawing in opposition to Wittkower's. While I think it is a bit extreme, it does shed additional light on the meaning of the cuirass and helmet. He says
Dressed in armor, the Venus victrix or Venus armata signifies the warfare of love; she is a compound of attraction and rejection, fostering her gracious aims by cruel methods.
Then he has a footnote attacking Wittkower that concludes with a comment on the Zoppo:
(I omit the title of the XVI, 173 verse, which he gives in Greek letters.)
The cuirass place at the feet of Venus in a drawing ascribed to Marco Zoppo (our fig. 73) again far from representing 'the corselet of Minerva' (Wittkower, loc. cit.), belongs to the martial equipment of the Venus victrix, on whose armour, employed in the warfare of love, see Anthologia Graeca XVI, 173.
What I don't like about Wind's analysis is that Venus does not have the armor on. She's won in her fashion, not Mars', and the armor is her trophy, more something to play with than to use. She's Venus vixtrix but not Venus armata. What is helpful about Wind, however, is his identification of the armor as Mars'. It is a further elucidation of the cuirass and helmet as trophy as expounded in the Hypnerotomachia, now applied to the Zoppo as well. Wind does not mention the other examples I gave from Wittkower.