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Creative Cosmologies in Late Gothic

Bohemia: Illuminated Diagrams and

Memory Tools for the Court of
Wenceslas IV
Eric Ramrez-Weaver

ost in the joyful consolation of his work, one

of Wenceslas IVs court astronomers, nicknamed Terzysko, gazes outward at the sun and stars from within
an ordered presentation of the zodiacal system of aspects
(fig. 1). This diagram, painted in Prague within the first few
years of the fifteenth century, provides the reader of an Astronomical Anthology a window on the heavens, just as Terzysko, who signed his nickname on the wax tablet resting
upon his lectern, studies the celestial cloud over his head
with a quadrant. Such creative diagrams attest to the so*An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Thirty-Fifth Annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies (1718 October 2008)
at Saint Louis University in the session on Manuscripts and Memory
organized by Susan LEngle. I wish to thank the University of Virginia for
two Summer Research Grants (20092010) while revising the paper.
1. Josef Krsa, Die Handschriften Knig Wenzels IV, trans. Herta Soswinski (Vienna, 1971), 56, 21112, underscored the multicultural contributions to the development of astrological practice in late medieval Prague,
as exemplified by the Astronomical Anthology (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm. 826). Around the year 1400 the international interest
in astrology and astronomyas well as related occult practiceshad the
curious effect of opening a forum for the use, sharing, and dissemination
of scientific or pseudo-scientific texts preferred by the various peoples of
the book: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. The Astronomical Anthology atManuscripta 54.1 (2010): 2148 (doi 10.1484/J.MSS.1.100786)

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,

Clm 826, fol. 8r
Terzysko, Astronomical Anthology for
Wenceslas IV
Photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek;
With permission of the Bayerische
Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Figure 1.

Creative Cosmologies
phistication of astronomical and astrological study in latefourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Prague during the
turbulent reign of Wenceslas IV. The king was crowned the
future sovereign of Bohemia during the second year of his
life in 1363, assumed full responsibility for Bohemia from
the death of his father, Charles IV, in 1378 until his own
death in 1419, and was for a time the elected King of the Romans, a title he held from 1376 until 1400. With their pris-

tests to this collaborative phenomenon. For background information and

a brief synopsis of the Anthologys contents, see Anton Legner, ed., Die
Parler und der Schne Stil, 13501400: Europische Kunst unter den Luxemburgern; Ein Handbuch zur Ausstellung des Schntgen-Museums in der
Kunsthalle Kln, 5 vols. (Cologne, 197880), 3:1045, alongside the more
recent discussion in Gerhard Schmidt and Eric Ramrez-Weaver, Wenceslas IVs Books and their Illuminators, in Prague: The Crown of Bohemia, 13471437, ed. Barbara Drake Boehm and Ji Fajt (New York, 2005),
22324, and the German-language catalogue accompanying the same exhibition: Karl IV., Kaiser von Gottes Gnaden: Kunst und Reprsentation
des Hauses Luxemburg 13101437, ed. Ji Fajt (Munich, 2006), 49091.
Julius von Schlosser, Die Bilderhandschriften Knigs Wenzel I., Jahrbuch des kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhchsten Kaiserhauses
14 (1893): 214317 first identified the Anthology as a member of the set of
manuscripts that can be verifiably linked to the court and reign of Wenceslas IV (26668). For more on the artistic milieu in fourteenth- and
fifteenth-century Prague, see the articles in Manuscripta 50 (2006) by
Milada Studnikov, Maria Theisen, and Karl-Georg Pfndtner.
2. For more on the life and rule of Wenceslas IV as well as his personal interest in astronomy, see Wenceslas IV, in Prague, 90103. Here
Boehm and Fajt relate the kings interest in visualizations of the cosmological harmony to the manufacture of the Astronomical Clock on the
Old Town Hall in Prague. In fact, one of the timepieces designers, Master
Iohannes indel, was also the kings personal physician in 1409 before becoming the relatively tolerant University of Pragues rector in 1410. Nicholas of Kada assisted indel with the clocks construction (99). Heavenly
study and healing were intrinsically intertwined in late medieval Europe,
likewise attested by Iohannes indels intersecting courtly interests. For
more on astrological medicine (melothesia) ca. 1400, see Harry Bober,
The Zodiacal Miniature of the Trs Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry:
Its Sources and Meaning, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Insti-


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


tine geometry, perfect order, and symmetry, diagrams like

this also belie the political realities of life in Prague. Scientific manuscripts were made by artists in the capital, occasionally under the employ of courtiers like Terzysko, rather
than the embattled Wenceslas IV, who was imprisoned on
two occasions. Wenceslass supporters nevertheless supplied him with de luxe diagrams and miniatures, fostering the kings renowned interest in astrology and offering
him refined reminders of the putative links between the
movements of heavenly bodies and life on earth. Images
from the Munich Astronomical Anthology and a cosmological diagram from a Bohemian copy of William of Conchess
twelfth-century Dragmaticon philosophiae in Madrid (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaa, MS Res. 28), relied
upon several different strategies for presenting scientific
information in pictorial form for the purpose of assisting
recollection. The visual strategies that Bohemian artists adopted or adapted to their scientific illustrations played a
dual role in the Kings library. On the one hand, lavish presentations of the heavens invited reflection as Wenceslas IV
and other readers sat at their lecterns like Terzysko, studying the cosmological principles contained within these illustrated books with satisfaction. On the other hand, creative

tutes 11 (1948): 134. For more on Wenceslas IV and the international

courtly interest in astrology, see also Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic
and Experimental Science, 8 vols. (New York, 192358), 3:59092.
3. Eric Ramrez-Weaver, William of Conches, Philosophical Continuous Narration, and the Limited Worlds of Medieval Diagrams, Studies in
Iconography 30 (2009): 141.
4. Prague, 91.
5. Schmidt and Ramrez-Weaver, 22324.
6. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 4258. Also see Gerhard Schmidt, Malerei
bis 1450: TafelmalereiWandmalereiBuchmalerei, in Gotik in Bhmen, ed. Karl M. Swoboda (Munich, 1969), 23039.
7. Die Parler und der Schne Stil, 3:7988.

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design enhanced the ability of the viewer to remember what
had been seen and the ideas presented by the imagery.
Astronomical and astrological diagrams as memory tools
Recent scholarship has investigated the pictorial and rhetorical ways in which cosmological and astronomical images,
especially diagrams, contributed to the dissemination and
remembrance of metaphysical or epistemological claims.
Bianca Khnel has argued that the introduction of crosses
into cosmological diagrams during the early medieval period emphasized the contributions made by patristic fathers
and Carolingian prelates toward the creation of a coherent
Christian understanding of the heavens. Partly motivated
by millennial eschatological fears, early medieval savants
relied upon scientific diagrams to organize, cognize, and
visualize their mental models and situate conceptually and
artistically the earth and its inhabitants within the cosmos
believed to be controlled ultimately by its divine Creator.
Such representations delimited spatially medieval conceits
like the geocentric model of the universe while they elevated both the textual and visual information to hegemonic
status, confirming certain scientific beliefs as orthodox in
an (albeit sometimes unsuccessful) effort to silence heterodox voices. Thomas Raff and Barbara Obrist have explored
the subtle ways that specific crafted diagrams or imaginative presentations of the winds meaningfully deviated from
their classical models. All of these approaches treat medieval scientific illustrations as cogent presentations of belief,

8. Bianca Khnel, The End of Time in the Order of Things: Science and
Eschatology in Early Medieval Art (Regensburg, 2003), 116260.
9. Thomas Raff, Die Ikonographie der mittelalterlichen Windpersonifikationen, Aachener Kunstbltter 48 (197879): 71218; Barbara Obrist,
Wind Diagrams and Medieval Cosmology, Speculum 72 (1997): 3384.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


explainable by appeals to larger philosophical and religious

claims, following the traditional methodological approach
of Lynn Thorndike, who related the history of science to
larger socio-cultural fluctuations in the history of ideas.10 In
this regard, current art historical studies reflect a scholarly
interest shared by historians of science such as Stephen McCluskey11 and Edward Grant,12 as well as specialists studying
computistical treatises like Arno Borst,13 Faith Wallis,14 and
Nadja Germann.15
Bruce Eastwood has reviewed Carolingian astronomical
diagrams, rigorously critiquing certain examples for their
creativity or adaptation of earlier images.16 Eastwood has
also argued that there is a fundamental separation between
the ability of a scientific diagram to convey information and
the kind of embellishment studied by art historians. The
conflation of a modified author portrait on folio 8r of the

10. Thorndike, 3:585601.

11. Stephen C. McCluskey, Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval
Europe (Cambridge, 1998), 51164.
12. Edward Grant, God & Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2001),
1148; Edward Grant, Science & Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus (Baltimore, 2004), 1224.
13. Arno Borst, Die karolingische Kalenderreform, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Schriften, 46 (Hanover, 1998); also see the concise presentation of Borsts ideas in Arno Borst, Alkuin und die Enzyklopdie
von 809, in Science in Western and Eastern Civilization in Carolingian
Times, ed. Paul Leo Butzer and Dietrich Lohrmann (Basel, 1993), 5378.
14. See the helpful introduction in Bede: The Reckoning of Time, trans.
Faith Wallis, rev. ed., Translated Texts for Historians, 29, (Liverpool,
2004), xvci; also see Faith Wallis, Images of Order in the Medieval
Computus, Acta 15 (1988): 4568.
15. Nadja Germann, De Temporum Ratione: Quadrivium und Gotteserkenntnis am Beispiel Abbos von Fleury und Hermanns von Reichenau
(Leiden, 2006), 1176.
16. Bruce S. Eastwood, Ordering the Heavens: Roman Astronomy and
Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance, History of Science and Medicine Library, 4, Medieval and Early Modern Science, 8 (Leiden, 2007),

Creative Cosmologies
Munich Astronomical Anthology with a presentation of the
zodiacal system of aspects, in addition to assorted information about birth horoscopes (genethlialogy), according
to Eastwoods contention undermines the ability of the diagram to present its astrological and astronomical ideas, or
at the very least transforms the image into another type of
picture.17 Arguably, the Munich page could be said to have
exchanged its content for visual impact, diverting attention away from the astrological principles revealed in word
and image and toward the representation of the anthologys
compiler, Terzysko.18
Eastwood is partly correct to argue that the author portrait of Terzysko could overwhelm the viewer and therefore
stand in opposition to the educational utility of the diagram.
On the other hand, as Eastwood rightly notes concerning
computistical imagery, the words gave the truth; the diagram facilitated memory.19 The schematic and textual elements on folio 8r of the Astronomical Anthology present the

17. Eastwood, 39398; in his words, folio 8r would no longer be a scientific diagram, although it made use of a scientific diagram as part of its
construction (398).
18. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 5256, reported that documents attest to
the collaboration of two astronomers on an astronomical anthology for
Wenceslas IV, which was completed by 1407 in time for the King of the
Romans to transport the manuscript from Karltejn to Tonk Castle. Although there is no reason to believe that the Astronomical Anthology is to
be identified with this manuscript, Krsa identified one of the authors,
a Teek, with Terzysko, who prepared this second anthology for the
king with the aid of another courtier named Buek. Also see Krsas remarks in Die Parler und der Schne Stil, 3:1045. Wenceslas IVs extended
interest in Terzyskos work suggests that the latter may have benefited
from a more sophisticated and prolonged Maecenatism than typically
expected after Wenceslas IVs 1402 arrest, which was orchestrated by
his half brother, Sigismund. For more on the royal turmoil, see Jrg K.
Hoensch, Kaiser Sigismund: Herrscher an der Schwelle zur Neuzeit 1368
1437 (Munich, 1996), 93118.
19. Eastwood, 420.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


so-called system of aspects (explained below) with additional notes concerning genethlialogy inserted between the
series of large concentric circles forming a twelve-part zodiac wheel, delicately embellished along the circumference
by alternating red and blue florettes. Genethlialogy denotes
the astrological study of the birth horoscope, which adheres
to certain normative principles that serve as semiotic operators, or rules, elucidating the connections between observable astronomical events and their significance for human
beings.20 Around the circumference of the zodiac wheel, the
various mental and physical characteristics associated with
children born under the zodiac signs were adduced for the
curious reader, who turned the manuscript around in a circular motion, recalling the twenty-four hour passage of the
zodiac around the earth daily.21
In the lower left quadrant, the first sign of the astrological
year, Aries, is located at 9:00 in the diagram, with Taurus,
the second sign of the zodiac at its right. The signs progress
in counter-clockwise fashion around the outer series of concentric circles, accurately reflecting the passage of the sun
along its annual wavy path through the zodiac.22 It is interesting to note that the placement of Aries at 9:00 can itself
be considered a significant gesture on the part of the more
accomplished of the two medieval painters who worked on
this manuscript, probably in tight collaboration with Terzysko.23 According to the principle of equinoctial preces-

20. Roger Beck, A Brief History of Ancient Astrology (Malden, Mass.,

2007), 3839, discussed astrology as a semiotic system, which can be
treated art historically as an established set of rules applied to heavenly
configurations and earthly events.
21. For a concise introduction to astrology, see Tamsyn Barton, Ancient
Astrology (New York, 1994), 86113.
22. Beck, 2021.
23. Schmidt and Ramrez-Weaver, 224.

Creative Cosmologies
sion, the link between the Vernal Equinox and the sign of
Aries has shifted slightly toward the sign of Pisces.24
This phenomenon is reflected by the nearly contemporaneous image from the Trs Riches Heures of Duke Jean
de Berry, in the scene of the Hallali at the end of the hunt
from the image for December, made before 1416 (Chantilly,
Muse Cond, MS 65, fol. 12v).25 That image includes both
of the signs for the month: Capricorn and Sagittarius. By
placing the division of the zodiac between the same two
signs at the apex of the diagram from the Astronomical Anthology not only did Terzysko and the artist draw attention
to the Winter Solstice, but they also united the horoscopes
of men and Christ, born according to Christian tradition on
Dec. 25 in the sign of Capricorn.26 In keeping with Khnels
thesis, this was a significant artistic design decision that
effectively submitted the astrological logic of the diagram
to Christian orthodoxy. The diagram also thereby sought
Christian sanction.
Rather than undermine the informative quality of the medieval diagram, as Eastwoods criticism had suggested, the
careful integration of art and science in painterly diagrams
like this one elicited additional responses from the learned
reader, enhancing the pedagogical utility of the image. The
iconographic evaluation of the ordered arrangement of the
zodiac signs in Terzyskos author portrait revealed its meaningful structure. The mental act of discovery linking human
horoscopes and the birth of Christ in the diagram increased
the likelihood that students of astrology like King Wenceslas IV himself would recall the concealed and then revealed
24. Barton, 92.
25. Millard Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Limbourgs and their Contemporaries, 2 vols. (New York, 1974), 1:197, 42132,
2:fig. 646.
26. Michele Renee Salzmann, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of
354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, 1990),


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


information. In these Bohemian diagrams artistry fostered

learning and expanded the educational utility of medieval
diagrams as memory tools precisely because painterly craft
introduced additional layers of complexity. The textual portions of Terzyskos portrait conveyed the appropriately organized information, but the quality of the craftsmanship
increased the likelihood that the viewer would recall what
had been seen. This was true because of the diagrams overall structure and because the painted representation of the
compiler held the attention of the student.
In order to understand what is both insightful and inadequate about Eastwoods view concerning the role artistry
plays in astronomical illustration, a distinction proposed
by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida regarding the history of photography could be helpful. Barthes argued that
socio-political context and the ideas presented in an image constitute its studium, whereas the punctum is an individual reaction to the artistic details in an image, which
pricks the mind, as it were, and captivates the viewers attention.27 Eastwood noted that the structural presentation
of information in a radial format enhances the ability of
the viewer to recall salient pieces of information placed in
a meaningful relationship to one another.28 The compositional emphasis placed upon Terzysko, working at the origin of the concentric circles within the diagram, eclipsed
the astrological information and its content (or studium for
Barthes), according to Eastwood, fixing the viewers gaze
exclusively upon the portrait in the middle.29 Terzysko does
indeed arrest the spectators reading eye, but as punctum in
Barthess nomenclature, excites the mind and implants the

27. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans.

Richard Howard (New York, 1981), 2555.
28. Eastwood, 418: The wheel pattern that is almost ubiquitous in computus is an ordering, and thereby a memory, device.
29. Ibid., 398.

Creative Cosmologies
diagram within the memory. The artistic embellishment, in
fact, quickens the beleaguered students mind and provides
an opening into the consciousness through which the information contained within the diagram can enter and be
stored for further use.
At 8:00 in the diagram, there is the sign of Taurus. According to the text, Taurus is cold and dry; whoever is born
under this sign of the horoscope will have the following
characteristics: a long face, large eyes, a thick and stunted
neck, be a faithful person, have keenly discerning wide nostrils, have curly hairs, and be lazy in the city but rise above
[others].30 The reference to the cold and dry nature of Taurus refers to the common medieval concept of the triplicities, or the classificatory astrological features believed to
have been shared by the signs of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, likewise linked to one another by the larger doublelined triangle that united the signs located at 8:00, 4:00, and
12:00, respectively. These triplicities derived from ancient
Babylonian precedents, influencing the development of the
system of aspects likewise depicted on folio 3r of the Astronomical Anthology (fig. 2).31
The system of aspects in the center of the diagram is
complemented by astrological information about the various signs of the zodiac and their so-called planetary
houses, indicating the planets that exert a more positive effect within them.32 At 12:00 in the outermost ring on folio
3r the division between Pisces and Aries has sensibly been

30. Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm. 826, folio 8r: Thaurus

est frigida et sicca; natus sub huius signi horoscopo est erit naturae facies longa, oculi magni, collum spissum et breve, fidus, latae nares
acute, capilli crispi, et est dissolutus in urbis et volax. The translations
of texts from the Astronomical Anthology are my own unless otherwise
31. Meiss, 1:431. For the application of these principles to horoscopes, see
Barton, 18, 12530.
32. Barton, 96102; Beck, 2021.


Figure 2.
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 826, fol. 3r
Planetary and Zodiacal Influences, Including the System of Aspects,
Astronomical Anthology for Wenceslas IV
Photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
With permission of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Creative Cosmologies
placed at the beginning of the zodiacal year, emphasizing
springtime renewal. Within a series of concentric circles,
important pieces of astrological and cosmological information were arrayed in organized fashion for the viewer, including a twelve-part wind rose, the triplicities, planetary
houses and exaltations, astrological annotations, and the
system of the aspects.33 According to the diagram, Aries belongs to the house of Mars, and the sun has its greatest influence, or exaltation, in Aries.34 Additionally, the wedge
to the immediate right of 12:00 within the third nested ring
of the diagram (proceeding centripetally) contained text
informing the reader that Whenever a star falls from the
sign of Aries, as it likewise splits the sky, and divides its
signal, then this indicates that a king of the Christians will
die, that there will be losses of property, and that there will
be mighty wars in the land of Babylon.35 Such statements
on folio 3r derived from standard astrological compendia
but could have borne an additional personal significance
for Wenceslas IV, who was officially stripped of his title as
King of the Romans when King Ruprecht of the Palatinate
was elected his successor in 1400, even though Wenceslas
never really ceased to posture himself King.36
The embedded shapes at the center of the diagram, recalling those from the author portrait, further the discussion of planetary influences, known as the system of
aspects. According to the geocentric model of the universe,
planets traveled around the earth through the zodiac signs.

33. Franz Boll, Sphaera: Neue griechische Texte und Untersuchungen

zur Geschichte der Sternbilder (Leipzig, 1903; repr. Hildesheim, 1967),
34. Beck, 8485; Barton, 9697.
35. Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm. 826, folio 3r: Quando
aliqua stella cadit ab ariete ad similitudinem quod scindit caelum et divisit suum signale significat quod morietur rex christianorum et quod in
rei secciones et guerrae fortes erunt in terra babylonie.
36. Prague, 23335; Krsa, Die Handschriften, 6163.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


As planets moved about, they entered into geometric relationships with one another. These links were expressed by
a straight line, the triangle, square, and a hexagon. Relationships involving the first two powers of two were pernicious: these included the opposition of two signs delineated
by a straight line in diametrical aspect and the square,
designating the quartile aspect. Two relationships involving threesthe triangular trine or hexagonal sextile aspectsindicated instead favorable circumstances.37
Just as Terzysko was pictorially and astrologically framed
by the possible planetary relationships in the author portrait, by progressing through the frontispiece cycle from the
Astronomical Anthology on folios 1 through 10 King Wenceslas IV as student and reader of the book would also have
immersed himself in a structured repetition and expansion
of its astrological ideas. The original frontispiece cycle offered a regulated series of apertures into the heavens, helping the king to recall salient details about the astrologers
craft and second-century Ptolemaic astronomy.38 The level
of artistic sophistication further enhanced the readers ability to remember the astronomical and astrological ideas
contained within the frontispiece cycle. At times, unusual
innovations like the conflation of an author portrait and astrological diagram on folio 8r actually enhanced the pedagogical potential of the manuscript precisely because the

37. Beck, 2023, 8485; Barton, 2023, 99102.

38. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 56. It must be emphasized that Boll, 421
22 n. 3, and von Schlosser, 267 reported that the zodiacal diagram on fol.
2r and the square schematic depicting twelve astrological houses on fol.
3v were later sixteenth-century additions to the Astronomical Anthology,
and therefore could not have formed part of the original cycle designed
by Terzysko or studied by Wenceslas IV and his contemporaries. This
also attests, however, to the centenary use of this manuscript. The sponsor of the additions could have been its early sixteenth-century owner,
identified by Krsa (in Die Parler und der Schone Stil, 3:104) as Wilhelm
Haller of Nuremberg.

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crafted curiosities as puncta in Barthess use of the term ignited the spark later to be fanned into the flames of memory.
As Mary Carruthers has argued, decoration is practical
in the medieval understanding of that word, having a basic role to play in every readers moral life and character because of its role in the requirements of memory practices.39
The artistic decisions, like the choice to begin the year with
Christs horoscope in the author portrait but not in the presentation of planetary astrology on folio 3r, underscore the
ways that craftsmanship led the mind of the reader to discovery, and subsequently along a guided path toward recollection. In fact, on folio 8r, the image inserts Terzysko within
the modeled recreation of his own thought processes, as the
viewer witnesses the courtiers mental recreation of the astrological relationships that were the foundation of his science. The reader is presented with the same grid structure
through which Terzyskos astronomical observations were
organized within his mind and laid bare before the viewers
eyes. On folio 8r, the spectator observes not only a presentation of the system of aspects but that system at work in the
mind of Terzysko, legitimizing the system and inviting both
compiler and reader to further discovery.
Paranatellonta and inventory fables
Mary Carruthers has also discussed certain mythological
accounts or inventory fables, which provide an explanatory rationale for the conventional forms of the constellations, facilitating their users recollection of their normative
forms.40 Carruthers explained that constellations and star

39. Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2008), 336; for her more fully developed treatment of nedieval diagrams, see 32437.
40. Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and
the Making of Images, 4001200 (Cambridge, 1998), 27.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


myths are visual and narrative summaries treating factual celestial relationships (like the relative placement of
the stars into clusters from a geocentric point of view) and
fictional narratives. Since such myths provide an organized
interlocking network of verbal cues and visual reference
points, together they facilitate an observers identification
of specific star clusters, and the creation of that scientific
mental framework is the primary goal of their corresponding astronomical study:41
The purpose of organizing stars into constellation patterns is not representation, but to aid human beings,
needing to find various stars, to locate them by means
of a recognizable pattern retrieved immediately and securely from their own memories. Constellations are
mnemotechnical tools.42
Following the frontispiece cycle in the Astronomical Anthology, on folios 11r27r the same artist who painted the
original diagrams created a fairly standard series of seven
planetary personifications and a novel array of thirty-six
representations of the constellations. The latter portrayed
the paranatellonta, or the regular clusters of stars grouped
into constellations, contained within ten-degree zones of
zodiacal space, called decans.43 Avenarius (d. 1169), the
Jewish polymath from Toledo depicted at work in the frontispiece to the section on folio 11v (fig. 3), prepared a Hebrew translation of the seminal ninth-century Islamic treatise, the Introductorium maius of Abu Mashar (d. 886).
41. Ibid., 2429.
42. Ibid., 26; she adds: Locating things to be remembered in a story is
an elementary human mnemonic principle.
43. Boll, 41225; Barton, 2022, 42; Krsa, Die Handschriften, 5657,
21114. Also see Karel Stejskal and Josef Krsa, Astralvorstellungen in
der mittelalterlichen Kunst Bhmens, Sbornk Prac Filosofick Fakulty
Brnnsk University 8 (1964): 7475.

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The Hebrew text was translated first into French by another Jewish scholar, Haginus of Mecheln, in 1272, and finally into Latin by Pietro dAbano in 1293 with a new title,
the Introductorium quod dicitur principium sapientiae; this
is the edition in the Astronomical Anthology. Attesting to
the works notoriety, a printed edition had already been prepared by 1507 in Venice.44
Both the pictures and the texts in this section were intended to provide handy reference tools for star-gazers,
who wished to identify the constellations associated with
specific decans and zodiac signs. For example, the following
excerpts, adducing the constellations visible within the zodiac sign of Cancer, were located beside their corresponding images on folio 14r of the Astronomical Anthology (color
plate 2):
And in the second decan [of Cancer] a young girl ascends, who is represented in a cloud, and in that very
same place is the middle of the dog and half of the ears
of the left-hand donkey. And the Indians say in their
language that in the second decan the beautiful handmaid ascends, over whose head at another time the
crown mixed with red rests according to Herasr (?);
in her hand is a wooden walking stick, and the same
woman seeks wine and singing. And according to the
opinions of [the second-century astronomer] Ptolemy, the head of Ursa Major ascends, as later does the
side of Cancer and the belly of the ship, too.
And in the third decan [of Cancer] the handmaid of
the virgins, who sometimes wanders about the east
but now and then toward the west, ascends; and in
turn the nether parts of the Gemini ascend, the sec-

44. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 56. Also see, Boll, 419; the Venetian printed
edition was reproduced by Boll and is used here (42324).


Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,

Clm 826, fol. 39r
Perseus, Astronomical Anthology
for Wenceslas IV
Photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
With permission of the Bayerische
Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Figure 4.

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,

Clm 826, fol. 11v
Avenarius, Astronomical Anthology
for Wenceslas IV
Photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
With permission of the Bayerische
Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Figure 3.

Creative Cosmologies
ond half of the ears of the left-hand donkey ascend,
and in the same manner a second donkey to the south.
As you see, the wise men of India believed that in that
place a man ascends, whose foot resembles serpents,
and the serpent rises over his body; and his ardent
desire is to board the ship and sail the sea in order
to bring silver and gold and thereby make rings for
his wives. And according to the opinions of Ptolemy,
the neck of Ursa Major and its right paw, the claws of
Cancer, the head of the audacious man, and finally the
ship, all ascend.45
These small framed miniatures are lively but straightforward visual translations of their corresponding texts into
images, providing useful reminders for astronomers and
astrologers of the constellations one could expect to see
within any decan. The relative placement of the constellations one to another was paramount, and that required

45. As transcribed by Boll from the 1507 Venetian edition of the text reproduced with analysis in Sphaera, 42324 and confirmed by comparison with the microfilm of Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm.
826, folio 14r: Et ascendit in secunda facie (cancri) puella iuvenis, que
simulatur nubi, et ibidem medietas canis et dimidium auricularum asini sinistri. Et Yndi dicunt ascendere in ipsa ancillam pulchram in verbis,
super cuius caput inest de herasr [sic] alias corona mixta rubeo corona
[sic], in manu eius baculus ligneus, ipsaque querit vinum et cantum. Et
ascendit secundum sententiam Ptholomei caput urse maioris et latus
cancri posterius, venter quoque navis. Et ascendit in tercia facie (cancri)
ancilla virginum, que interdum discurrit inter oriens, aliquando versus
occidens; et ascendit iterum geminorum posterior medietasque secunda
auricule asini sinistri et asinus itidem secundus meridianus. Yndorum
quippe sapientes putaverunt illic ascendere virum, cuius pes pedi serpentis simulatur, et super eius corpus serpens; eiusque desiderium est
navem intrare et mare navigare, ut aurum argentumque afferat, ut exinde mulieribus suis anulos componat. Et ascendit secundum sententiam
Ptholomei collum maioris urse eiusque manus dextra et cornua cancri et
audacis caput ultimumque navis.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


accommodating partially visible star clusters like the head

and forepaws of the Great Bear in the first picture, or the
Gemini belonging to the second image, depicted as a single
youth naked from the waist down. These illustrations drew
upon both western and non-western understandings of the
heavenly spheres. In the second book of Abu Mashars treatise, as in the subsequent presentation by Avenarius, the beliefs of three discrete traditions were juxtaposed in order to
provide an encyclopedic view of the constellations in the
heavens: the Persian-Babylonian-Egyptian tradition, the
Indian study of astronomy, and the Greek Ptolemaic system.46 Avenariuss openness to non-western astronomy coincidentally reflected the political and educational realities
in Prague, where there was also a historical openness to
Jewish and Islamic learning during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.47
These images of the decans helped the reader to recall which constellations were associated with Cancer, and
therefore enabled the reader to look outward like Terzysko
from his lectern, imposing order upon the cosmos. It is important to underscore that the novel representations of the
decans partly contributed to this effort, because they were
so odd. Fragments of body parts, the depictions of fanciful
creatures populating the night sky, and monstrous aberrations like the snake-footed man of the third decan of Cancer
all fostered recollection of these images through the creative insight and vision of the manuscript painter. As Carruthers has argued, It is a principle of mnemotechnics that
we remember particularly vividly and precisely things that
are odd and emotionally striking, rather than those that are
commonplace. Sex and violence, strangeness and exaggera-

46. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 5657.

47. Prague, 99; Krsa, Die Handschriften, 5657; also see Vivian B. Mann,
The Artistic Culture of Prague Jewry, in Prague, 8389.

Creative Cosmologies
tion, are especially powerful for mnemonic purposes.48 The
bizarre and unnatural aspects of these star pictures contributed to their educational value, providing puncta that astrologers in Prague like Terzysko could exploit to recall the
paranatellonta of the decans.
Al-Sufis star catalogue
In the Astronomical Anthology eighteen elaborate miniatures of the constellations from an Islamic tradition likewise attest to the interest in Prague around the year 1400
for integrated, multicultural presentations of the heavens. By the early sixteenth century, these star pictures were
conjoined with the other sections of the Astronomical Anthology. Whether the representations of the constellations
belonging to the Abd al-Rhaman al-Sufi (d. 986) catalogue
of the fixed (non-planetary) starsknown as the Kitab suwar al-kawakib al-thabita (The Book of the Images of the
Fixed Stars)were intended to complement the images of
the decans from the outset, is impossible to confirm with
absolute certainty. There is no question, however, that the
al-Sufi illustrations were created in the same courtly and
artistic milieu within Prague as the remainder of the codex
with the exception of the sixteenth-century additions to the
book.49 For this reason it is permissible to reflect upon the
structure of the Astronomical Anthology as a whole. Around
the year 1400, Wenceslas IV or one of his courtiers recognized the value of the al-Sufi illustrations, which supplied
depictions of the stars that were clustered together within
individual constellations. These star pictures arguably enhanced the overall astronomical utility of the Astronomical
Anthology by focusing the readers attention upon the forms
of the constellations and the stars they contained, creating

48. Carruthers, Craft of Thought, 2829.

49. See note 38.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


complementary records of fifteenth-century science. The

discrete astronomical sections of the anthology expanded
the possibilities for memory work that the collection as a
whole was intended to offer the reader. Moving from the diagrammatic frontispiece cycle of astrological principles to
the paranatellonta depicted within their respective decans
and then telescoping the readers outlook further to the individual celebrations of the constellations themselves, the
Astronomical Anthology was an integrated presentation of
medieval erudition and superstition pertaining to the liberal art of astronomy and the late medieval courtly cultivation of astrology. It is generally agreed that these star
pictures are by a second and less talented painter who copied the representations of the constellations in the Strahov
Atlas, a northern Italian astrological manuscript that was in
Prague during the reign of Charles IV (d. 1378), Wenceslass
father and Holy Roman Emperor (Prague, Strahov Library,
MS DA II 13).50
Perseus (on fol. 39r) elevates a sword in his left hand, and
intimates the Islamic influence at work in the star picture
(fig. 4). Medusas head was replaced by the diabolic Ras alGhul, literally the head of the demon, seen dangling by
his devilish locks from Perseuss right hand.51 The star Beta
() Persei, otherwise known as Algol, is an eclipsing binary
star, which is still used by star-gazers to locate the constellation in the night sky.52 The gruesome head of the demon,
according to Carrutherss view, reinforced the ability of the
astronomer to recall the star cluster Perseus, since the vi50. Krsa, Die Handschriften, 21114; Schmidt and Ramrez-Weaver,
22324. For more on al-Sufi and Islamic artistic traditions, see also Stefano Carboni, Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art
(New York, 1997), esp. 37, 3839.
51. Erwin Panofksy and Fritz Saxl, Classical Mythology in Mediaeval
Art, Metropolitan Museum Studies 4 (1933): 22880 at 24041; also see
Krsa, Die Handschriften, 211.
52. Ian Ridpath, Stars and Planets (London, 2002), 118.

Creative Cosmologies
sion of Algol in the miniature seared its form into the readers mind as punctum, according to Barthes. In other words,
the demons gaze activated its mnemonic magic. Arguably,
the Arabic name for the star Algol might also have provided
a mnemonic device for a Bohemian reader in the know,
since the name was a straightforward descriptor, situating
the star within the constellation for the star-gazers convenience. In the al-Sufi images of the constellations, the technical artistry of the painter in Prague and the layers of late
medieval cultural exchange on which the painter drew for
his imagery worked in tandem to make the pictures more
memorable. This also enhanced their effectiveness, promoting learning and recall.
Discussion of the argument for the roundness of
the earth
Terzyskos involvement in the creation of the Astronomical
Anthology assured his place historically among a small number of elite intellectuals who may have sponsored highly refined secular commissions in Prague themselves. Another
manuscript attributable to the circle of painters working
for Wenceslas IV, yet for which there is no identifiable patron, is a de luxe copy of the Dragmaticon philosophiae: Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaa, MS Res. 28.53 William
of Conches included over two dozen diagrams in his cosmological dialogue, which he composed for Duke Geoffrey
Plantagenet in 114749 after Williams dismissal from the
Platonist School of Chartres for his defense of theoretical
study against Cornifician reformers. In the author portrait
on folio 1r of the Bohemian copy of the Dragmaticon, William scrawled the numbers on his wax tablet that yield the

53. Prague, 22931; Krsa, Die Handschriften, 6163. Most recently, see
also Ramrez-Weaver, 141, with earlier bibliography.


Figure 5.
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaa, MS Res. 28, fol. 49r
Two Arguments for the Roundness of the Earth, Dragmaticon philosophiae
Photo: Biblioteca Nacional
With permission of the Biblioteca Nacional de Espaa, Madrid

Creative Cosmologies
date of the books production, 1402.54 In addition, an illuminator in Prague executed a diagram to accompany Williams
cosmological argument for the roundness of the earth, employing yet another mnemonic visual strategy (fig. 5). Unlike the astronomical illustrations discussed above, which
facilitated learning and memory through variously organized presentations of putative factual information, the
philosophical modality of manuscript illumination discussed here traces instead the logical structure of an argument, as a sort of visual thought experiment. In this way, the
Bohemian reader of the manuscript will not only come to
understand the conclusion of the argument for the roundness of the earth, but also be able to reproduce its logical
presentation to others, as well.
In the Bohemian copy of the Dragmaticon, a painter followed closely Williams original designs, but transformed
what was probably a linear schematic into a painted miniature, presenting a reductio ad absurdum argument for the
roundness of the earth on the top of folio 49r. The sloping rooftops and crenellated curtain walls of the twin cities located first in the east (on the left) and second in the
west (on the right) allude to aspects of Germanic Bohemian
architecture, which recall Wenceslas IVs restorations of
Kivoklt Castle, near Prague, during his reign.55 In the Prologue to Book Six of the Dragmaticon, William explained to
Duke Geoffrey his rationale for composing the book: Matters that I have heard again and again from my teachers,
most serene Duke, I have committed to memory after endless recollection and constant meditation; I have set my pen
to record them so as to retain more firmly the words that fly
off, past recall.56 The verbal presentation of Williams argu-

54. Ramrez-Weaver, 18.

55. Prague, 96; Ramrez-Weaver, 19.
56. William of Conches, A Dialogue on Natural Philosophy = Dragmaticon Philosophiae, trans. Italo Ronca and Matthew Curr (Notre Dame,


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


ment for the roundness of the earth, illustrated at the top of

folio 49r in the Madrid Dragmaticon safeguarded his ideas,
ensuring that the philosophical cosmology William had rehearsed and memorized through repetition and concentration would not be forgotten.
William justified his use of a diagram: So that you can
understand this better I shall sketch a figure in which I shall
draw a line for the flat earth and at the two ends of it two
cities, and above it I shall draw in the curve of the sun and
above each of the two cities the [rising and setting] sun, in
this way.57 Williams argument is straightforward, but perfectly illuminated by the Bohemian painter. The logic of a
reductio ad absurdum argument requires that the reader presuppose that the opposite of the desired conclusion is true.
Then, William asks his reader to consider two test cases.
If the earth were flat, then the city in the east (on the left)
would experience morning and then noon shortly thereafter. Similarly, if the earth were flat, then the city in the west
(on the right) would rapidly witness high noon followed by
sundown. This is not so; therefore, the world is not flat, as
assumed, but round.58
Although the argument is compelling, Williams diagram, as presented by the Bohemian manuscript illuminator, successfully facilitates the readers comprehension and
recollection of the original argument precisely because the
image reveals the flat earth theorys lack of sense. In order
to capture the two discrete case studies requisite for a complete presentation of this argument, the Bohemian painter
followed Williams model and reduplicated the image of the

1997), 119; all citations for this manuscript are from this edition. As a
convention, passages in the Dragmaticon are designated by book, chapter, and paragraph; this passage is from (book) VI. (chapter) 1. (paragraph) 1.
57. William of Conches, Dialogue, 121 (VI.2.3).
58. Ibid.

Creative Cosmologies
sun, which became a wandering planetary protagonist in
the diagram, in order to evince the impossibility of the flat
earth theory. Whereas the astrological diagrams and star
pictures from the Astronomical Anthology represented putative celestial relationships in ordered and patterned ways
thereby rendering them comprehensible and memorable,
Williams diagram assists the readers study of cosmology
by showing what cannot be so. The painter who created the
diagrams, displaying the system of aspects from the Astronomical Anthology, charted the positive and negative relationships, which were believed to link planetary movement
through the zodiac with human activity.59 The logical relationships revealed by the myriad lines and planar shapes
dividing and uniting such diagrams into discrete pictorial
realms of sense facilitated their intelligibility, fostering their
use as propaedeutics, and thereby ensuring their legacy as
memory tools. Through artistry, the image for the reductio, however, expressed in visual terms the logical structure of Williams argument for the roundness of the earth.
As a philosophical illustration, it was insufficient to display
the conclusion; instead, it was necessary to unveil the logical way in which the arc tracing the suns path illuminated
its readers journey toward acceptance of the arguments
All these painterly presentations of astrological, astronomical, and cosmological ideas remain memorable, because of
the refined ways in which they were crafted. Modern readers of these Bohemian books can marvel at the logical and
ordered universe they open up on the past, just as Terzyskos celestial cloud had permitted him access to the heavens
from within the frontispiece cycle of the Astronomical An59. Beck, 4042.


Eric Ramrez-Weaver


thology. The diagrams in the anthology revealed recondite

ideas about astrology in a memorable format because of
their structural innovations, such as the decision to submit
Terzyskos author portrait discussing genethlialogy to the
horoscope for the birth of Christ. The novel presentations
of the decans encouraged recollection because of the bizarre and unexpected depictions of the constellations populating their frames. In fact, it is the imaginative ingenuity
of these pregnant presentations of the paranatellonta that
makes them so memorable, not the degree to which they
provide visual translations of their corresponding texts. In
the depiction of Perseus from the al-Sufi star catalog, the
Islamic rendition of the star picture piqued the interest of
the reader and fostered memory. The Bohemian rendition
of Williams reductio defiantly challenged its reader, presenting a fallacious world and a sound argument to be remembered. In closing, it is equally important to recall that
these scientific images did more than just foster learning.
The manuscripts also provided their patrons and readers,
like Wenceslas IV or Terzysko, with moments for meditative reflection, focusing their understanding upon the comforting ordered cosmos contained within these folios. Such
assiduous study and corresponding metaphysical comfort
were necessary, according to William, for the ideas contained within these Bohemian scientific manuscripts could
only [be] committed to memory after endless recollection and constant meditation.
University of Virginia, Charlottesville