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Picatrix and the decans of the salone dei mesi

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  • 1. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia
  • 2. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia Hannah Astarte Amongst the Hermetic literature en vogue in the Renaissance, «there is an extremely comprehensive treatise on sympathetic and astral magic, with particular reference to talismans, which goes under the name of Picatrix»1, although its original title was ‫ — ال ح ك يم غاي ة‬Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm. Written in Arabic, it is commonly dated between mid11th and 12th centuries, and is reputed to have had a considerable influx of Gnostic ideas «particularly among the Arabs of Harran»2. Although it was never printed, the Latin version of this grimoire seems to have had «a considerable circulation in manuscript during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries»3. Besides the attention given to it by Marsilio Ficino (most eminent translator of the Corpus Hermeticum), Pico della Mirandola kept a copy in his library, Peter of Abano was accused of plagiarising it, Cornelius Agrippa found some inspiration there, Rabelais thundered against such devilish work in Pantagruel («le reuerend père en Diable Picatris, recteur de la faculté diabologique»), and the list could go on forever. However, it is not our intention to probe deeply into such matter, only enough so as to enlighten the connections between the descriptions featuring in Book II, Chapter 11 of Picatrix and the frescoes shown in the middle fringe of the «Salone dei Mesi» of the Palazzo Schifanoia, in Ferrara. Following the Egyptian system of dividing the year into thirty-six sections, over which thirty-six gods ruled, the philosophers of the Hermetica attributed the same partition to the zodiac: «The decans, as they came to be called in Hellenistic times, were really Egyptian sidereal gods of time who had become absorbed in the Chaldean astrology and affiliated to the zodiac. They all had images, which vary in different lists of them, and these lists of the powerful images of the decans had come out of the archives of the Egyptian temples. The decans had various aspects. They had definite astrological significance, as "Horoscopes" presiding over the forms of life born within the time periods over which they presided, and they were assimilated to the planets domiciled in their domain, and to the signs of the zodiac, three decans going with each sign as its three "faces". But they were also gods, and powerful Egyptian gods, and this side of them was never forgotten, giving them a mysterious importance»4. In the afore-mentioned chapter of the Picatrix, its author describes the three-fold fantasia of the twelve signs of the zodiac, and we may see, from the following table, how closely they were converted into images by the painters hired by Borso d’Este to decorate the four walls of his «Salone dei Mesi» at Palazzo Schifanoia. Francis A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic tradition, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1964, p. 49. Francis A. Yates, idem, p. 49. 3 Francis A. Yates, idem, p. 51. 4 Francis A. Yates, idem, p. 46. 1 2 2
  • 3. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX ARIES Hannah Astarte «According to the leader of this science, the image of a large and distinguished black mad man with red eyes and an ax in his hand, a white rope wrapped around his waist, emerges in the first phase of Aries. This is the phase of Mars; it is a phase of cruelty, aggression, haughtiness and insolence. This phase is complete in its essence, character and instinct.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 3
  • 4. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX ARIES Hannah Astarte «The image of a woman with only one leg, wearing a red rope and a dress, and probing diligently for dresses, jewelry and children appears in the second phase of Aries. It is the phase of Venus, which denotes femininity, delicateness, cleanliness, kindness, entertainment and beauty.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 4
  • 5. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX ARIES Hannah Astarte «Furthermore, the image of an angry reddish man with red hair, unyielding look, holding a sword and a wooden bracelet in his hand, wearing red clothes, skillful in iron fabrication and wants to do good but cannot, is the phase for Venus.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 5
  • 6. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX TAURUS Hannah Astarte «The image of a woman with curly hair and wearing fiery clothes with a son whose clothes look like smothering embers appears in the first phase of Taurus. This is the phase of Mercury. It is complete by nature and it is a phase of planting and cultivation, building and development, ethics and wisdom, as well as dividing land and engineering.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 6
  • 7. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX TAURUS Hannah Astarte «In the second phase of Taurus, we find the image of a man whose body and face look like those of a camel, his nails similar to the hoof of a cow, wearing an old garment, interested in developing land and buildings, and using cows for planting and cultivation. This is the phase of the Moon; it is a phase of ability, honor, vice-regency, destruction and oppression of constituency.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 7
  • 8. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX TAURUS Hannah Astarte «The image of a red man with extremely white teeth appearing between his lips, with the body of an elephant and with long legs emerges in the third phase of Taurus. Also, the image of a horse, a dog and a resting calf appears in the same phase. This is the phase of Saturn and a phase of humiliation, servitude, torture, cruelty and disgrace.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 8
  • 9. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX GEMINI Hannah Astarte «The image of a beautiful woman, experienced in dressmaking, with two calves and two horses emerges in the first phase of Gemini. This phase is also for Jupiter and it is complete in nature. It indicates recording and accountability, giving and taking, knowledge itself and seeking knowledge.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 9
  • 10. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX GEMINI Hannah Astarte «Then there is the image of a man with the face of a griffin tied with a turban, wearing a shield made of lead and armed with a helmet of iron on his head. On the top of the helmet is a crown made of brocade. He is holding a bow and an arrow in his hand. This image appears in the second phase of Gemini. This is the phase of Mars and it indicates trudging, motivation, speed, violence and unprofitable haste.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 10
  • 11. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX GEMINI Hannah Astarte «The image of a man wearing a shield and carrying a bow and an arrow in its case emerges in its third phase. This is the phase of the Sun, and it indicates overlooking and missing what should be noticed, fun and entertainment and unemployment.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 11
  • 12. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX CANCER Hannah Astarte «Consider the image of a man with curved face and fingers that looks like a horse. He has white feet and tree leaves are attached to his body. This image appears in the first phase of Cancer. It is the phase of Venus, and it indicates wittiness, mindfulness, friendliness, delicacy and cleanliness.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 12
  • 13. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX CANCER Hannah Astarte «There is also the image of a beautiful woman longing for pleasure and singing, wearing a wreath made of green basil on her head and holding a rod of water lily in her hand. This image appears in its second phase. This is the phase of Mercury, and it denotes entertainment and enjoyment of music as well as grace, honour and wealth.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 13
  • 14. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX CANCER Hannah Astarte «The image of a man holding a snake in his hand, having a foot similar to the foot of a turtle, and possessing golden jewelry appears in the third phase of Cancer. This phase is for the Moon; it is a phase of tricks and driving away by force, achieving objectives by fighting, struggle and repulsion.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 14
  • 15. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LEO Hannah Astarte «The image of a man wearing dirty clothes along with the image of a cavalryman who looks like a wolf and a dog is looking to the north, appear in the first phase of Leo. This image is for Saturn, and it is complete in form and nature. This is a phase of strength, rescue, stamina, action, attack and triumph.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 15
  • 16. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LEO Hannah Astarte «The image of a man wearing a wreath made of white basil on his head and holding an arrow in his hand appears in its second phase. This is the phase of Jupiter, and it indicates heresy, ignorance, perplexity, idleness of idiots, pulling out swords and fighting.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 16
  • 17. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LEO Hannah Astarte «The image of an ugly man who looks like a Negro with a fruit and a piece of meat in his mouth and a kettle in his hand appears in its third phase. This is the phase of Mars, and it indicates friendliness, rewards, affection, participation and harmony.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 17
  • 18. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX VIRGO Hannah Astarte «The image of a virgin maid wearing an old dress and holding a pomegranate in her hand appears in the first phase of Virgo. This is the phase of the Sun, and it denotes plowing and planting, grass and plants, buildings and wealth and righteousness.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 18
  • 19. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX VIRGO Hannah Astarte «The image of a man with a nice colour wearing clothes made of animal skins and another made of iron appears in the second phase. This phase if also for Venus. It is a phase depicting working, making a living, saving, stinginess, niggardliness and depriving others of their rights.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 19
  • 20. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX VIRGO Hannah Astarte «The image of a large white man wrapped in a rope and a woman holding in her hand a black fawn, which is offered by the Magus for sacrifice, appears in its third phase. This is also the phase of Mercury; it is a phase of old age, weakness, immobility, chronic illness, uprooting trees and destruction of buildings.» 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 20
  • 21. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LIBRA Hannah Astarte «The image of a man holding an arrow in his right hand and the picture of an upside down bird in the left hand appears in the first phase of Libra. This is the phase of the Moon; it is a phase of legitimacy, justice, fairness, protection of the weak and the needy from tyrants and people in powerful positions. This phase is complete in form and nature.» 1st decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 21
  • 22. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LIBRA Hannah Astarte «The image of a black man leading a wedding emerges in its second phase. This is the phase of Saturn. It is a phase of relaxation, wealth, good living, security, peacefulness and easy living.» 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 22
  • 23. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX LIBRA Hannah Astarte «The image of a man riding on a donkey and a predatory animal in front of him appears in its third phase. This is the phase of Jupiter and it indicates sinfulness, impudence, sodomy, singing, entertainment and enjoyment.» 3rd decan SCORPIO 1st decan «The image of a man with an arrow in his right hand and an arrow in his left hand appears in the first phase of Scorpio. This is also the phase of Mars, which is complete in form and nature. It indicates honor and glory, cunning and triumph.» FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA IMAGE DELETED 23
  • 24. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia Hannah Astarte SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX SCORPIO «The image of a man riding on a camel and holding a Scorpion in his hand appears in its second phase. This is the phase of the Sun, and it indicates disgrace, scandal, tragedy and anger.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a horse and a snake appears in its third phase, and this is the phase of Venus. It indicates sinfulness, impudence and disdainful forceful marital sex achieved by subduing and anger.» IMAGE DELETED «Consider the picture of three bodies; the first is red, the second is white, and the third is red. This image appears in the first phase of Sagittarius. It is also the phase of Mercury, and it indicates valor, activity, pleasure, patience and chivalry.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a man driving cows, a monkey and a wolf in front of him appears in its second phase. This is a phase of the Moon, and it indicates fright, loss, weeping, fear, sadness and violence.» IMAGE DELETED 2nd decan SCORPIO 3rd decan SAGITTARIUS 1st decan SAGITTARIUS 2nd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 24
  • 25. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia Hannah Astarte SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX SAGITTARIUS «The image of a man wearing a cap of gold on his head killing another man appears in its third phase. This phase is for Saturn, and it indicates taking risks, unwarranted involvement, exerting efforts in disgraceful, shameful and harmful actions.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a man holding a cane in his right hand and a hoop in his left hand appears in the first phase of Capricorn. This is also the phase of Jupiter, and it indicates pleasure, activity, going back and forth, incapability, weakness and humility.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a man with a monkey in front of him appears in the second phase and this is the phase of Mars. This phase delineates seeking what it known but unobtainable.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a man opening and closing the Qur’an, with the tail of a fish before him, appears in its third phase. This is also the phase of Jupiter IMAGE DELETED 3rd decan CAPRICORN 1st decan CAPRICORN 2nd decan CAPRICORN FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 25
  • 26. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia Hannah Astarte SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX 3rd decan and it indicates intensity, desire, monopoly, accumulation and greed.» AQUARIUS «The image of a beheaded man holding a peacock appears in the first phase of Aquarius, and this is the phase of Venus. It is the phase of hard and tiring work, poverty, need, few means of subsistence or lack of it.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of a tenacious man who looks like a powerful king emerges in its second phase, and this is the phase of Mercury. It portrays beauty, nobility, goodness, complete form, complete religion and manhood.» IMAGE DELETED «The figure of a beheaded man with an old woman in front of him appears in its third phase, which is the phase of the Moon. This phase denotes ugliness, bad reputation and a scandal.» IMAGE DELETED «The picture of a man with two bodies pointing with his fingers appears in the first phase of IMAGE DELETED 1st decan AQUARIUS 2nd decan AQUARIUS 3rd decan PISCES FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA 26
  • 27. Picatrix and the decans of the «Salone dei Mesi» in Palazzo Schifanoia Hannah Astarte SIGN OF THE ZODIAC DESCRIPTIONS OF THE DECANS DECAN PICATRIX 1st decan Pisces, and this is the phase of Saturn. It demonstrates little attacking with violence, weakness, extensive travelling, suffering, tiring, looking for wealth and earning a living.» PISCES «The image of an upside down man holding food in his hand appears in its second phase, and this is also a phase of Jupiter. It indicates dignity, inspiration and the capability of dealing with matters of great importance.» IMAGE DELETED «The image of an evil man with a woman in front of him who has a donkey above her and a bird in her hand appears in the third phase. This phase is for Mars. It indicates marital sexual relations, hugging, lust, intimacy, sensuous desire and a tendency to have leisure and relaxation time.» IMAGE DELETED 2nd decan PISCES 3rd decan FRESCOES OF THE DECANS «SALONE DEI MESI» IN PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA As can be seen, there are close affinities between the descriptions in the Picatrix and their illustration in the frescoes that have remained untarnished, showing the influence of Hermetic literature in Italian Renaissance art and how their patrons highly praised this ancient knowledge, judging it worthy of representing their will and enhancing their power. 27