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Keith Hutchison
University of Melbourne
This essay is about medieval heliocentricity. It pursues a surprising conclusion.
Put starkly, I seek to show that the scholastic universe was widely understood to
have a heliocentric design. This heliocentricity had, however, been defectively real-
ized in the nal materialization of Gods cosmic plan, so was very different to the
heliocentrism later pursued by Copernicus, and certainly did not put the Earth in
motion. As my title suggests, the central Sun was far more visible in the immaterial
universe, the world of spirits, which functioned (in much medieval thought, follow-
ing Platos central ontological claim) as a pattern for the mundane world. Though
much neglected in modern literature, this mystical heliocentricity (as we might call
it) was quite familiar to pre-Copernican audiences, and very common in pictorial
representations of the cosmos. It is heliocentric because its Neoplatonic geometry
placed God qua true Sun (i.e. qua Platonic form of the familiar material Sun) at the
centre of the angelic orbits of the Christian Heaven.
Such heliocentricity lived side-
by-side with other very different localizations of God, most notably the geocentric
one (well known to historians) where Heaven was placed outside the stellar sphere.
Both these arrangements were often interpreted metaphorically, but they were also
interpreted realistically. The two schemes were alternatives rather than competitors,
different conceptualizations of the same basic reality.
A preliminary illustration of the contrasting models is provided by comparing
an early sixteenth-century Coronation of the Virgin, by Pintoricchio
and Caporali

(Figure 1), with another Coronation from c. 1340 (Figure 2). In the fourteenth-
century depiction, the stellar sphere of medieval cosmology is quite recognizable,
and is clearly concave towards Earth, even though the Earth is not included, for the
picture shows Mary on her way to Heaven in the space between a central Earth and
the stellar sphere. The subsequent coronation is also shown,
in Heaven, outside the
mundane universe, on the convex side of the stellar sphere. This is exactly the arrange-
ment one would expect, given the medieval assimilation of Aristotles cosmology.
But depictions of the coronation often display a very different geometry, that
evident in our sixteenth-century example (Figure 1). Pintoricchios composition has
a completely different design, and what seems to be his stellar sphere (the obvious
almond-shaped mandorla framing the action, blue with yellow dots) is concave
towards the coronation, so concave towards Heaven. It has thus been given a curvature
that is quite enigmatic, the very opposite of that evident in the fourteenth-century
0073-2753/12/5001-0033/$10.00 2012 Science History Publications Ltd
Hist. Sci., l (2012)
FIG.1. Coronation of the Virgin (detail), Pintoricchio [& Caporali], c. 15025. Vatican Pinacoteca. Authors
photograph, reprod. with permission of the Vatican Museums. For colour, and less focused detail,
see URL given in ref. 5.
example (Figure 2), and thus the reverse of that demanded by geocentric cosmol-
ogy. The bulk of the essay below is devoted to explaining this inverted curvature, for
once that is understood, we will quickly be able to understand a second deviation in
Pintoricchios composition: the fact that his picture seems (especially when viewed
in full colour
) to portray a heliocentric arrangement of the universe, even though it
dates from around 1503, the period of Copernicuss student days in Italy. For a Sun-
like entity is placed at the centre of Pintoricchios stellar sphere.
It is important to realize that these two deviations are by no means unique to our
sixteenth-century example, or restricted to coronations. Both are very widespread
indeed, and not at all unusual.
(If anything, our fourteenth-century coronation on the
convex, Aristotelian, side of the stellar sphere is the rarity, but again our example
is by no means unique.
) The Pintoricchio deviations can be readily traced back to
at least the thirteenth century, in all sorts of subject matter though coronations
do tend to display them particularly vividly; and our 1503 specimen presents both
deviations together in a particularly clear fashion. That clarity, I must emphasize, is
the only reason for the attention that will be devoted to this picture below: decoding
its peculiarities helps us recognize that its puzzling cosmology was virtually a clich.
So Pintoricchio provides an especially sharp hook upon which to hang a far broader
message, the ubiquity of its pre-Copernican (but non-Copernican) heliocentricity.
The articulation of that larger message takes us in many directions, and we make
much use of ancient philosophy, for it is the writings of the Graeco-Roman world
that provide the clearest rationale for the later imagery that is our primary concern.
Our rst task in this long odyssey is to conrm my identication of Pintoricchios
mandorla as the stellar sphere. The second is relatively simple: to show the ubiquity
of his puzzling reversed curvature.
My third task is the real challenge: why, I ask, does the curvature get reversed?
Why do not all depictions of the coronation adopt the geocentric geometry of our
fourteenth-century example, Figure 2? To answer this question we will explore at
length the history of beliefs about the location of Heaven, looking in turn at: (a)
the notion that Heaven was outside the material universe; (b) hesitations about that
localization; and (c) a contrasting urge to locate divinity centrally. The accommo-
dation of this urge via an inverted geometry provides my nal explanation for the
placement of God on the concave side of the stars. And exactly the same theological
geometry turns out to explain, very quickly, the pre-Copernican heliocentricity that
is our ultimate target.
Behind this whole story, we will observe a widespread belief that God and Heaven
were not entities of such a kind as to possess the property of locality. So all spiritual
geometries became intrinsically symbolic, and observers felt free to adopt incom-
patible geometries for the cosmos, multiple geometries perhaps, only one of which
placed God and Heaven on the convex side of a geocentric stellar sphere, outside the
material universe. This is the cosmology so familiar to the literature.
But this notion that God did not possess locality was also controversial, and many
denied it, to the extreme point of making Heaven material. So some observers seem
FIG.2. Sienese Master of c. 1340. Detail of Assumption triptych. Munich, Bayerischen Staat-
gemldesammlungen, Inv Nr. WAF671 (Lipo Memmi, Die Himmelfahrt Mariae). Reprod. (with
permission of Princeton University Press) from Carol Purtle, The Marian paintings of Jan Van Eyck
(Princeton, NJ, 1982), Fig.13. Foto: Bayerische Staatsgemldesammlungen Alte Pinakothek,
Mnchen. Owner Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfond.
to have believed that Heaven truly was outside the stellar sphere, on its convex side,
in the familiar position for one mans symbolism can easily be anothers reality.
In parallel, however, an alternative belief also circulated, endorsing the reality
of an inverted, heliocentric, geometry within Heaven. To advocates of this view,
God really was on the concave side of angelic orbits, and truly at the centre of the
spiritual structure. The Aristotelian claims about the geocentric arrangement of the
universe were mere half-truths, applicable at best to material things. Such Platoniz-
ing alternatives tended furthermore to identify God with the true, intelligible Sun
the Platonic form of the inferior material Sun and thus generated a radically
heliocentric vision of the cosmic design that is the most remarkable feature of the
geometry adopted by Pintoricchio. The material world might well be geocentric, but
its immaterial prototype was very different.
The whole of this discussion would make no sense if my identication of Pintoric-
chios mandorla (and its equivalent in the other images cited throughout this essay)
as the stellar sphere were rejected, so it is important to devote an extended discussion
to the evidence for this preliminary claim. (It might also seem I need to establish
immediately that the central gure is a Sun, but that task is in fact not so urgent:
for in the end I shall not claim it is the Sun,
but the Platonic form of the Sun, and
evidence for this conclusion will gradually emerge along the way.)
In assessing the evidence that identies the mandorla, it helps to consider rst
how we identify the stellar sphere in the unproblematical fourteenth-century Corona-
tion (Figure 2). It seems to me that if we had done this thoroughly, we would have
assembled evidence in four somewhat distinct categories. Firstly, we might show
that the image of a dotted blue arc separating Heaven from the lower universe is
not at all unique to this picture, but repeated over and over again.
So this feature is
no idiosyncrasy of the individual artist, individual time, or individual region even.
In consequence, there must be some reason for its persistence across time and space,
and the hypothesis that the arc represents a portion of the stellar sphere provides that
reason. Secondly, we might show that these images were produced in regions and eras
where we believe that the stellar sphere was widely endorsed, and where its spatial
relationship to other events in the universe paralleled the spatial relationships in the
imagery. In other words, the hypothesis that the blue arc represents the sphere enables
us to t the picture into our conception of the theoretical beliefs of its designer, and
his milieu. Thirdly, we could show that the image comes from a corpus medieval
and early Renaissance Christian art where references to the stars are extremely
And nally we might show that the imagery which refers somewhat
ambiguously to the stars in our fourteenth-century Coronation (Figure 2), can be
found referring to them far less ambiguously in other images from that same corpus.
I have spelt this out rather pedantically, because these four arguments apply equally
well to Pintoricchios mandorla in Figure 1, and can now be used to argue the case
at issue. Since the whole of my essay serves to place the Pintoricchio image into
a broader tradition, and to identify the theoretical framework behind that tradition,
components one and two of the argument can be set aside for the moment. They are
automatically dealt with below, while component three has already been dealt with
in ref. 10, which explored the ubiquity of stellar references. So only component
four of the argument needs to be sketched now, that dealing with the ambiguity of
Pintoricchios imagery. I do not give a sustained argument, as that would become very
tedious just an indication of the form such an argument would take, and examples
of the evidence that would support it. It would be very easy for the sceptical reader
to multiply the evidence assembled here.
Convenient examples of the ambiguity I have in mind are provided by Pintoric-
chios use of the mandorla (rather than a circle) to represent what I see as the stellar
sphere, and his use of yellow dots to represent what I say are stars, for either of these
facts could be plausibly cited to challenge my interpretation of his picture.
Yet there is a long tradition of using the mandorla to represent the stars en masse;

and the Zodiac-man in the Duc du Berry Hours makes it clear that the mandorla was
elsewhere used to represent the stellar sphere for the zodiac is there displayed as a
mandorla, quite boldly. Similarly a sixteenth-century edition of Hyginus depicts the
Milky Way (a stellar zone which, like the zodiac, embraces the whole stellar sphere)
as a starry mandorla-ellipse, yet labels it a circulus.
Conversely, there are plenty of examples of the coronation (and other Heavenly
events) being located inside a stellar circle instead of a mandorla. Pintoricchio and
Caporali themselves used one such design some ve years after producing the Vati-
can Coronation.
In this case the dots of the earlier mandorla are supplemented by a few traditional
pointed star-images. The same is true of the coronation in Gentiles Valle Romita
polyptych (ref. 7); Spinello Aretinos Coronation (c. 1400); while Pintoricchios
Madonna in glory (151012) places clear pointed-stars inside a mandorla very similar
to that which had dots in it a decade earlier.
Furthermore, dots are frequently used
on stellar gowns, on stellar ceilings, and in cosmic backdrops the standard stellar
locations already noted (in ref. 10).
So there is good reason indeed to be condent
that the dots in Pintoricchios mandorla are stars.
A somewhat different objection to my identication of Pintoricchios stellar sphere
might (perhaps) derive from the fact that his mandorla contains angels (cherubim)
as well as stellar-dots. Yet the same is true of the unproblematic stellar sphere in the
geocentric Coronation (Figure 2) and it is, I suppose, conceivable that these sets
of angels could represent the spiritual movers of the stars. If so it would be very
appropriate to include them within the stellar sphere, but I see no positive evidence
for such a conclusion, and to me it seems far more likely that Pintoricchios addi-
tions just represent [one of?] the ranks of angels that were routinely portrayed, quite
separately from the stars, as arrayed about a central God.
That hypothesis does not
however mean that the mandorla is an angelic sphere as opposed to a stellar one it
is both, as the sphere in the fourteenth-century Coronation (Figure 2) clearly is. The
sphere of the xed stars has (surely) been blended with the sphere of angels and
such blending is quite common.
As we see below, the two spheres are analogous,
and each marks (more or less) the boundary of its realm,
so what Pintoricchios
mandorla (Figure 1), or the arc in the other Coronation (Figure 2), more truly indi-
cates is the zone of separation between spiritual and material things. If this zone is
conceived of in broad terms, and not just as a sharp line of demarcation, it is marked
both by angels and stars, just as a coast might be marked by beach and waves. I have
no powerful argument that this is so, but that feels no genuine impediment. Without
positive evidence to the contrary, there can be no reasonable doubt that the mandorla
in Figure 1 is the stellar sphere. In consequence, citations scattered throughout this
essay (notably refs 6, 64, 66 and 78) establish the existence of a widespread tradition
in which the stellar sphere is given a reversed curvature so we have now completed
the rst two of the tasks foreshadowed above.
We can, then, move on to the third of our tasks, the explanation of the reversed curva-
ture, and as already foreshadowed, that task requires a long exploration of the history
of beliefs about the location of Heaven. Indeed, discussions of this question occupy
the bulk of the essay, concluding only when we meet (in 12) the last of the three
main ways of tting Heaven into the complete universe. The associated heliocentric-
ity is then quickly confronted in the closing 13. All the work in this essay is in fact
done in developing an understanding of the rationale for the reversal of curvature.
I begin now by documenting, briey, a notion that needs major modication, the
familiar opinion that Renaissance audiences located Heaven outside the stellar sphere
of the Aristotelian universe on the convex side, that is. Such ideas certainly rest
on solid fact. For Renaissance cosmological diagrams of a didactic character, those
serving to set out contemporary theory, routinely placed Heaven in that position,

and a few explicitly indicate that this was the true location of Heaven. All of Reisch,
Apian and Digges, for instance, label the outermost realms of their diagrams as the
residence of God and the saints. Here the learned do appoyncte the abitacle of god
and all the electe, says Leonhard Digges, parroting Reisch; and his son Thomas
says much the same thing about the innite space outside the solar system of his
Copernican variant.
The same is often true of non-didactic representations, items
where cosmological theory serves only to provide a backdrop to the event of interest.
Our convex coronations (that in Figure 2 and those cited in ref. 7) are excellent
examples of this, but many others can easily be found.
Sustained, critical discussion of this localization in the secondary literature is
remarkably rare,
but it is frequently presumed that Digges seniors labelling tells
the bulk of the story, with the didactic diagrams reproduced over and over again,
as specimens of the medieval conception of the universe.
The argument that this
opinion is signicantly wrong (in the sense that competing representations and
conceptions as well were also circulating) constitutes the core of my essay.
The key idea behind the opinion I target is very old, and emerged as a renement
of the vaguer notion that the gods inhabit the uppermost portion of what might be
called a three-sheet universe, with mankind in the middle, and an underworld at the
bottom. Early Middle Eastern divinities had sometimes been portrayed in a region
that is clearly higher than the stars (and higher also than the Biblical waters beyond
the rmament); and the same idea can be found in the Old Testament.
Around Platos time the notion was adapted to accommodate the centrality of a
spherical Earth, by bending the upper layers of the sheet-universe around the Earth
to form celestial spheres.
To some, these spheres became the home of the gods,
but in a more abstract, less idolatrous, version of the same basic idea, the gods were
again placed beyond the stars. So in a famous section of the Phaedrus (247BE) the
world of gods and souls is characterized as a hypercosmic locality [
] beyond the outer surface of the vault of the stars.
In this same discussion, Plato did something else of the very greatest importance
to the discussion below: he identied his hypercosmic spiritual region with the realm
of forms,
thus translating the Platonic opposition between the intelligible and the
sensible ... into spatial terms, as one commentator helpfully puts it.
This eeting
identication of forms with spirits was much promoted by a Neoplatonic inclination
to allocate individual mental capacities to forms; and it eventually became a medieval
commonplace, when the Aristotelian theory of matter was given a Platonic twist that
allowed spirits to be identied as pure form, unalloyed with matter. For this reason,
Aquinas calls them separated substances, while Dante documents the spread of
the doctrine by disagreeing with it: identication of angels with forms, he objects,
will not allow enough spiritual beings.
Not surprisingly, Platos sincerity in this Phaedrus passage is much doubted, for the
Timaeus said the opposite, denying that forms possess locality.
Platos ambivalence
here permeates much later debate on the location of spirits, with both sides of the
question being widely endorsed. The Phaedrus passage was to become a favourite of
Plotinus, the philosopher widely deemed founder of Neoplatonism (and the writer
who, in the end, see 10 below, will provide our best elucidation of Pintoricchios
heliocentric structure). Its claim was reiterated by Platos student Xenocrates (later
head of the Academy), who located entities in different spatial regions, according
to their differing epistemic accessibilities. To him, the especially intelligible objects
of our highest understanding were placed outside the heavens [ ].
Martianus Capella refers to this region of pure understanding as empyrean
(from the Greek word for re), and something similar is proposed to Asclepius in
the Hermetica. It can also be found in the Chaldaean oracles (which add a symmetric
re-interpretation of Tartarus, as a region of pure matter, devoid of forms, inside the
Earth). And right at the end of our story, Edmund Spenser (rehearsing many of the
doctrines just surveyed) places the Idees ... which Plato so admyred in one of the
hypercosmic spiritual spheres; and a late sixteenth-century cosmic diagram of Ever-
ard Digbys does the same thing, placing the INTELLIGIBILIS realm, outside the
starry boundary of the SENSIBILIS one (but inside a further INNOMINABILIS
sphere, the ineffable realm).
Philo of Alexandria (immensely important here for linking Plato to Christianity)
preferred to follow the Timaeus on this question, so denied locality to forms. Yet, like
Plotinus, Philo was clearly attracted by the localization suggested in the Phaedrus. He
understood it; and effectively promoted it, by using spatial metaphors to enthuse about
the ascending souls Xenocratian (and Dantean, see below, 8) glimpses of a superior
world of forms. And that worlds symbolic location is outside the stellar sphere.
Next [this soul] is lifted on high and, after exploring the air ... it is borne further
upwards towards the ether and the revolutions of heaven. Then, after being
carried around in the dance of the planets and xed stars ... it peers beyond the
whole of sense-perceptible reality and desires to attain the intelligible realm
[where it observes] the models and forms of the sense-perceptible things which
it had seen here....
Elsewhere, Philo (vaguely) identied God with some sort of space (while denying
that he is in space); and he spoke of God (who is denitely a Platonic form for Philo
the form of the good) as a hypercosmic star [], an incorporeal pattern for
the Sun and all the stars.
But in some other discussions, Philo articulated a very
different spatial metaphor, a complete reversal (which will become very important
below) of the one that places divine things outside the material cosmos. The inner
sanctum of Mosess tabernacle, he suggested, symbolized the intelligible world of
forms, and its surroundings the world of the senses.
By mild contrast with Philo, Origen (another theologian central to the Platonizing
of Christianity) did allow that the pagan Phaedrus had correctly located the spiritual
universe (but claimed its cosmic geometry had been borrowed from earlier Jewish
tradition). Origen went further than this however, for he also insisted Heaven was
material in part because of a very broad commitment to materialism, in part
because this accommodated the resurrection of the body.
Medievals (as we soon see) often sided with Philo on this question, and treated
the localization as symbolic. But many also endorsed Origens materialism (albeit
in various special senses). In consequence, Heaven was often identied with a mate-
rial container for the universe, that had been introduced into the cosmology of Late
Antiquity for purely philosophical reasons. For such a vessel solved a problem that
had been left behind by Aristotle, whose Physics insisted that for an entity to be in
a place, it needs to be contained: If ... a body has another body outside it, it is in
place, and if not, not.... That is why ... the universe is not anywhere. So if the stel-
lar sphere was indeed the boundary of the universe it lacked locality, and seemingly
could not move, or rather could only move in a special restricted sense. An enigmati-
cally eeting discussion in his tract On the motion of animals hints at a resolution of
this paradox, when Aristotle wonders if indeed there is something like a stationary
container for the whole of the cosmos. Such a container was explicitly proposed by
Proclus and endorsed by Simplicius. It was a huge sphere, somewhat de-materialized
by identifying it with light, and said to be higher than both the aether and re. Sim-
plicius refers to this lower re as empyrean, and although the reference here is
probably to elemental re, Procluss luminous sphere was later identied with the
quite different hypercosmic empyrean eetingly mentioned by Martianus Capella
(ref. 28). Anselms Glossa ordinaria (of c. 1100) characterizes such an empyrean as
ery, intellectual, and (seemingly for the rst time) lled with angels.
In the Convivio, the tensions between the Philonic and Origenic doctrines came
briey into view, when Dante cited Psalm 8:1 polemically to endorse a Catholic insist-
ence that a dwelling-place of blessed spirits really is outside the ninth crystalline
heaven. But although Dante here characterizes this dwelling as material, he cites
Aristotles teaching to deny that it is within any place [non in luogo]. For there is
nothing further outside to contain it.
Though one must suspect that Dantes reserva-
tion also reects a persistence of the Timaeus doctrine, his remark is not the sharp
denial of local properties that one might initially suspect. For a parallel discussion in
Paradiso 22 (lines 6175) claries Dantes message when the poet declares that
the outermost sphere of the material universe non in loco, yet clearly envisages a
spatial relationship between this sphere and those below it. In the Convivio, Dante
tells us that the habitation of the spirits is called the empyrean (though he does not
use this name in the parallel passage from Paradiso: see my ref. 47).
So God, angels and saints were often localized in a (semi-?)material empyrean
sphere located at the very outside of the material universe, one of a multiplicity of
spheres that (for various reasons) eventually supplemented the authentic Aristotelian
cosmos. The key idea was very simple, and widely endorsed (even by those to be
discussed below who treated the localization of spirits as purely symbolic). Yet
there was much dispute about the details.
Behind such minor disagreement however, was something highly signicant and
already foreshadowed in the Phaedrus discussion (at 247C). For Plato here retreated
somewhat from his bold claim, to suggest that the locality at issue cannot be inves-
tigated by human minds. Origens endorsement of the Platonic geometry similarly
followed an assertion of the impenetrability of divine things: God, he said,
Himself as if in darkness. So this whole geometry of Heaven was frequently ques-
tioned, with most of those who accepted the localization appealing to revelation as
their authority. For Origens reservations also became an ongoing medieval trope,
when human science was more or less conned to sensible entities. In his early
fteenth-century Imago mundi, dAilly noted this restriction:
Beyond [the rst mover] certain philosophers assume a tenth, immobile heaven;
and beyond this there is said to exist a crystalline heaven and then comes the
empyrean Heaven, the outermost of all, where the abode of God is and the dwell-
ing of the saints. But these last two do not fall within the scope of philosophers
and astronomers.
Campanus of Novara (thirteenth century, author of the rst detailed Latin account
of Ptolemys astronomy) declared similarly, that on this question we are informed
by faith. This is how we know that the empyrean Heaven ... the dwelling-place
of good spirits is beyond the ninth heaven, with nothing beyond its convex
Dante (as we have seen, ref. 34 above) said much the same thing in the
Convivio, for when endorsing the empyrean localization of Heaven, he attributed his
understanding to Church teaching rather than human philosophy.
Given these epistemic hesitations, there was room to dispute the simplistic idea that
God and the blessed resided in the outermost sphere, and the sources show this often
happened. Indeed, in responding to the Phaedrus story, Aristotle had come very close
to proving that nothing at all existed outside the stellar sphere, declaring (more
subtly) that whatever was there possessed no spatial (or temporal) characteristics.

So the localization was often denied altogether, and deemed symbolical. For as Dante
explained (in the slightly different context of Paradiso 4:3763), the representation
of immaterial things via material imagery is a necessity imposed by the limitations
of our minds: For this reason Scripture condescends to your capacity, and attributes
hands and feet to God. Aquinas had earlier said much the same thing.
One obvious reason for rejecting the simplistic theory is the fact that the empyrean
was sometimes deemed part of creation, and often said to be the rst of the heavens
referred to in Genesis: that of 1:1, as opposed to the later, mundane rmament of
Clearly a created Heaven cannot be Gods permanent residence. Grosseteste
(early thirteenth century) resolved the tension here by explaining that although it is
commonly said that the empyrean is the throne [sedes] of God, that claim is only
true in a special sense: God is in fact everywhere, but especially in the empyrean in
that this location provides the grandest display of divine power. God is not circum-
scribable, he added (quoting John Damascene), not in a place [in loco non est].

Much earlier, Basil of Caesarea had avoided the problem by proposing some sort of
uncreated Heaven, suitable as a permanent residence for God but (according to
Randles) the idea of such an uncreated Heaven was very controversial.
Aquinas took a line similar to Grossetestes: those who say that God is in some
denite part of the world ... [like] the rst heaven are wrong, he says. But so too
are those who go to the opposite extreme, and deny locality to all incorporeal
things. God has locality, but no special locality for He is everywhere. Yet when
we attribute this ubiquity to God, we do so only by using locational language in a
sense different to that which applies to material bodies. Bodies are in place through
dimensional contact, he says, but God through causal contact. Though God is not
three-dimensional, we sometimes attribute bodily extension to Him metaphorically,
to symbolize the extent of [His] power: depth for example symbolizes His power
to know what is hidden....
Aquinas extended this understanding to angels as well. He allowed them to possess
locality, and said indeed that they were created in a material empyrean, localized as
the outermost sphere of the material universe. But this doctrine required what Aqui-
nas counted as a third meaning of the terminology: unlike ordinary bodies, angels
are deemed to be located where they act, as opposed to where they are.
So their
localization is rather like that of God.
In the course of these discussions, Aquinas eetingly referred to a special divine
Heaven of the Trinity, which is clearly distinct from the spatial empyrean, and
which is evidently a better candidate for the true immaterial habitation of God. These
two Heavens are also distinguished in Thomass ostensible source, the Glossa, which
characterizes the empyrean as lled with angels, implying that God is associated
with the other Heaven. Albertus Magnus mentioned such a Heaven too, and cited the
materiality of the empyrean as a reason for requiring a different Heaven for God. In
their study of this question, McDannell and Lang agree that a distinction was some-
times made between Gods special Heaven, and that occupied by saints and angels,
observing that the former was referred to using Aquinass phrase, but also via the
Heaven of Heavens of Psalm 148:4. The empyrean was merely Gods exterior
dwelling place, they say, rather too enigmatically. Yet the implication is clear: God
was given another more genuine dwelling.
A further, quite different, reason for denying that medievals systematically located
all spirits in the empyrean, is that the latter did not have enough structure to represent
the undisputed hierarchy of the spiritual world. One might think that it was easy to add
this structure, by simply dividing the empyrean into multiple sub-spheres, but many
discussions of the empyrean occur in contexts which show that such a multiplication
of spheres did not occur. For that context is often an attempt to count up the number
of spheres composing the universe, so a full count is important and that is why
the precise number of spheres replacing Aristotles single stellar sphere gets pedantic
attention (even though there is no basis upon which to reach a decision, as Grosseteste
mockingly observes). In such a context the sub-structure of the empyrean matters,
so the fact that it does not get mentioned
is a strong endorsement of the idea that
its substructure is not a standard doctrine. In the Convivio discussion noted above,
for example (ref. 34), Dante treated the empyrean as a single supplement (provided
by revelation) to the nine spheres recognized in (his) natural philosophy.
Yet the
multiple layers of angels are, by contrast, a standard doctrine, often represented (e.g.
Figure 3) as a relatively lengthy series of circles located hypercosmically, outside
those indicating the mundane universe, so that the stellar sphere (or one of its close
relatives) marks the boundary between the material and immaterial worlds. These
circles were often understood to reect the pattern of the planetary spheres, and
accordingly, some representations of the angelic layers explicitly correlated them one-
to-one with those of the planets (e.g. Figure 4). In fact, the angelic orders of Figure
3 must also be presumed to be correlated, implicitly, with the material spheres, since
a count reveals equal numbers (9) of material and immaterial layers in a numera-
tion which ignores the mundane layers below the Moon. Much the same correlation
is also present in the angelic layers of Figure 5, a late fteenth-century depiction of
Dantes vision of Heaven, and Dantes text conrms this interpretation. For the nine
ery orbits correspond to the movers of the nine material spheres, with the lowest
order that of angels sensu strictu corresponding to the Moon.
And nally, Mirandola (writing from the Platonic end of the spectrum) provides
us with another reason to reject the simplistic interpretation of the empyrean, as
standardly housing spirits. At rst sight however, Mirandola appears to endorse that
view. For the whole of reality, he says (in his commentary on Genesis) comprizes
FIG. 3. Nine layers of angels parallelling nine celestial layers of material cosmos, from moon to (white)
crystalline (?) heaven beyond the sphere of xed stars. Piero di Puccio dOrvieto, Cosmographia,
late fourteenth c. Camposanto, Pisa. Reprod. (with permission) from Giuseppe Ramalli et al.
(eds, authors, etc.), Camposanto monumentale di Pisa: Affreschi e Sinope (Pisa, 1960), Plate 99.
three regions:
sublunary; celestial; and that ultramundane [ultramundanum]
one which theologians call the angelic and philosophers the intelligible. This
supercelestial [supercoelestis] world is clearly that of Platonic forms, but (as in
Platos Phaedrus discussion cited here) it is also the dwelling of the angels,
FIG. 4. An explicit correspondence between planets and orders of angels, indicated by double labelling
of individual circles. From an early fteenth-century MS (formerly?) in the University Library,
Tbingen. Reprod. from Baltrusaitis, Cercles astrologiques (ref. 45), Fig. 12 on p. 74 (whose
reading of the labels, blurred in his copy, I follow).
and furthermore is composed of ... the divine nature of mind. Though Mirandola
describes this world as the highest (so that one is clearly invited to think of its
supercelestiality as similar to that of the empyrean, i.e. local, and exterior to the stel-
lar sphere), Mirandola does not in fact pursue the question of whether his spiritual
world really possesses locality.
But what he does do is unequivocally distinguish it from the empyrean. To him, the
empyrean is part of the celestial world, not the ultramundane. It thus belongs to the
material world,
and is denitely local in character, indeed it is the very outermost
portion of its own world. Since the angels dwell in the supercelestial world, they do
not (for Mirandola) dwell in the empyrean. Instead, the empyrean is the material coun-
terpart of the highest portion of the ultramundane world, i.e. God. And just as God
(in that world) presides over nine orders of angels ... without moving, so too does
the empyrean (in its world) preside over nine heavenly spheres ... itself unmoving.
So (as already seen in Dante, ref. 48, and in Figures 3 and 4) the ultramundane angels
are the immaterial counterparts of the hierarchy of spheres below the empyrean.
It may perhaps be reasonable (for us) to say that Mirandola located angels outside
the stellar sphere(s) like the empyrean. But the fact that his angels are not located
within the empyrean itself, means that this claim about their external location cannot be
derived from the location of the empyrean. Indeed, it can only be taken to be a literal
truth by overlooking the ambiguity of words like outside. Since Mirandola only
endorses a genuinely spatial location for the empyrean, it is reasonable to interpret
the ultramundane and supercelestial character of his world of forms as referring
to immaterial transcendence the character attributed to forms in the Timaeus. In
so far as such descriptions appeal to geometry, they do so metaphorically, and using
geometrical relationships to communicate, symbolically, non-geometrical claims,
as Aquinas articulated above.
This simple fact is very important here. For it means that other quite different
indeed geometrically incompatible localization-metaphors can be freely coined,
whenever appropriate to express the features of the spiritual realm. And Mirandola
does precisely this here.
For (as we have already seen foreshadowed in Philo, ref. 31), he claims that the
three components of his universe are well modelled by the tabernacle described by
Moses in Exodus. The innermost Holy of Holies with its cherubic curtains (26:1;
26:31) represents the supercelestial spiritual world; the neighbouring Sanctuary
with its seven-candled menorah (25:317; 26:35) represents the planetary world;
while nally the outer court (of 27:918) represents the sub-lunary world. God then
(dwelling above the Ark of 25:821) is at the centre, surrounded by angels, who
in turn are surrounded by the stellar spheres, while Earth is at the extreme outside.
So this model of the universe is an inversion of the conventional schema. Its theo-
logical attractions are obvious. Indeed, it resuscitates one of the great virtues of the
primitive 3-sheet universe (4 above): a central god. For in that cosmology, divinity
could be central (to the stellar motions, on the polar axis) yet remain celestial in
character. Such pole worship was prominent in primitive cosmologies, and is espe-
cially clear in ancient Chinese thought, where the pole was standardly deemed the
location of the celestial emperor. Something similar was true in Mesopotamia, where
the supreme god Anu, the god from whom terrestrial rulers acquired their authority,
was also closely associated with the same region of the sky: O star of Anu, Prince
of the heaven, begins a prayer to the Pole Star.
The simplicity of such theocentricity had been disrupted by the shift to a periph-
eral divinity,
but it certainly survived, as evidenced in the familiar tradition that
associated Jerusalem with the cosmic axis (discussed below, 9), and in a scattering
of fragmentary remarks. So Carmen genesis (an early Christian biblical paraphrase)
places God on that axis: for when Abel suggests he is not his brothers keeper, Yahweh
there responds by noting that the complaint reaches him at heavens lofty pole.
The sixth-century Irish Hisperica famina similarly describes God as ruler of the
pole [rector poli], and locates the host of angels about the polar centre of the sky.
Then again, classical tradition often placed Zeus at the summit of heaven, and
referred to him as highest [].
Yet Hippolytus characterizes the pole in
very similar terms (), for the pole was routinely deemed the summit of
the cosmos, and vertex (= summit etc.) became a standard Latin word for the pole.
Given too the value-systems of both Plato and Aristotle where permanence is so
highly ranked one would expect the pole to have some especially elevated status,
and Aristotles aether is deemed superior to the other elements because it undergoes
the least kinetic of all changes, uniform circular motion. The pole manages to avoid
even this movement. But I do not know of any explicit commendation of the pole by
either of them (though the cosmic spindle in Platos Myth of Er, Republic 10.136
[= 614A621D], is presumably the polar axis). Homer however characterizes Olympus
as the abode of the gods that stands fast forever, while Philo says that God is xed
and unchanging, and others refer to the gods as inhabiting a serene region, where
motion etc. is minimized.
So divinity is often placed in a region very like the pole.
Aristotle does however give his god just one duty, to generate the diurnal rotation
of the stars. This is another reason to associate the peripatetic prime mover with the
pole (whatever Aristotles own opinion). For other sources clearly show that the stel-
lar motion was often understood to derive from the poles. Both the Hermetica and
Aratus are quite explicit about this, and Hippolytus attempts to explain the latters
remarks by claiming that the Greek word for pole () is related to a similar
word means turning (). He also describes Aratuss Perseus as a representation
of the polar axis, which ... makes the cosmos revolve, and one of the Greek magi-
cal papyri apostrophizes the Bear (the constellation especially associated with the
pole) as that which rule[s] the heaven, the stars and the [whole cosmic system] ...
[and] make[s] the axis turn. Similarly, a well-know medieval drawing shows cranks
attached to the poles, and turned by angels as the means of providing the cosmos
with its sustaining energy; while at the very end of our story, Milton also locates the
motive power of the cosmos in its axis.
And nally a very strong case for the divinity of the polar axis emerges from
Ulanseys fascinating (but controversial) reinterpretation of the central mystery
of Mithraism, the tauroctony. For Ulansey argues that the killing the bull (Taurus)
portrays the recently-recognized shifting of the equinox to a new constellation
(Aries). So if Ulansey is right, the supreme divinity Mithras is a god who controls
the position of the polar axis in the cosmos. The great popularity of his cult would
thus indicate that pole worship (with its central god) survived the replacement of
the three-sheet cosmos.
Given that Satan was more obviously placed in the prestigious central location by
the spherical arrangement that suppressed the simple theocentricity of the three-sheet
model, scholars have sometimes expressed puzzlement that theocentric variants were
not pursued by medieval cosmologists.
A few do however recognize that the sought-
for alternatives were in fact circulating. In the most forceful endorsement of this view
that I have found, C. S. Lewis cites Alan of Lilles eeting account, to illustrate a
tradition that attributed an inverted geometry to the cosmos, and thus portrayed the
universe as theocentric. Building on Platos much-repeated analogy between the
universe and a polis, plus the common interpretation of the geocentric cosmos in
terms of a ladder stretching from a lowly central Earth to an elevated God, Alan noted
how in this universe ... a certain excellence of administration is established by
an approved plan of management. For in Heaven, as at the pinnacle [in arce] of
an earthly state, the eternal commander has his imperial abode. In air, as in the
middle reaches of the city [in urbis medio], the celestial army of angels carry on
the battle and, in the capacity of deputies, assiduously extend their protection to
man. Man, however, like a foreigner, living on the outskirts of the universe [in
mundi suburbio], does not refuse to show obedience....
Boethius endorsed a similar inversion,
and so did Dante. For while journeying
from Earth to Heaven in the Paradiso, Dante passes through the familiar layers of
an Aristotelian universe. But when he reaches the last of the moving spheres, he is
greeted with a puzzling vision one with a new centre, a xed point of light
(Canto 28, line 95 etc.) orbited by circling layers of what the poet calls re, ame
and spark[s] (lines 25, 37, 91), soon identied (lines 98ff.) as the nine orders of
angels. (Compare Botticellis depiction of this episode, Figure 5, where however
the xed point is replaced by a Sun, so that Heaven becomes heliocentric.) Dante
is immediately confused, so Beatrice explains (lines 5878). In the material world,
the spheres are sized according to their virtue, so the larger spheres are more divine.
But in Heaven virtue correlates with closeness to God, so greater virtue now requires
a smaller orbit. This requires the geometry to get reversed, and the new centre.
Neither Dante nor Botticelli included Alans external Earth in their depictions,
nor Mirandolas sublunary world, for they remained content with placing the movers
of the lunar orb in the outermost orbit. One reason for this omission is clearly the
FIG. 5. Inverted view of heaven, as seen from the stellar sphere (illustrating Dante, Paradiso, 21ff., esp. 28,
but nominally attached to 26). Botticelli, 1490s. Reprod. from Sandro Botticelli, The drawings for
Dantes Divine comedy (London, 2000), 271. Reprod. with permission of Bildagentur fr Kunst,
Kultur and Geschichte, Berlin.
fact that at this stage of Dantes journey, the Earth has been left far behind, so there
is a sense in which it is beneath Dante (like the Earth in many globe-mandorlas, as
in Figure 8, discussed 12) yet unmentioned. Another reason may be that the inver-
sion is restricted to Heaven alone. Instead of giving the whole cosmos (material plus
immaterial) Alans inverted geometry, Dante may only have been saying that the
immaterial and immaterial components have geometries which are the inverse of the
others. But there is clearly much afnity between the two possibilities.
Several late Renaissance pictures of the inversion certainly did go further than
Botticelli, and (like Mirandola and Alan) placed earthly things at the periphery in a
reasonably identiable form. A good example is Raphaels early sixteenth-century
dome in the Chigi monument in Romes Santa Maria del Popolo: here God in the
central lantern is surrounded by the sphere of xed stars plus the seven planets (each
accompanied by one of eight angels), while the four elements (or perhaps their cor-
responding seasons) are in the four external corners. Schaffners Tischplatte of 1533
does the same.
The arrangement of both is exactly Alans God in arce, planets
in medio, elements in suburbio. But Schaffners reminds us that this conception of
the universe is no radical innovation for a clearly labelled Ptolemy is a prominent
feature of the earthly zone. So the inverted universe is denitely not an alternative to
the scholastic universe, just a special interpretation of it.
Oddly, Aristotle himself set an informative precedent here, when he replied to
the Pythagorean claim that something honourable (like re) should be found at the
centre of the universe. The Earth, said Aristotle, is only the local or geometrical
centre, not the true, natural centre. The latter, he suggested, is better identied
as the boundary of the universe, that which encompasses and sets bounds. Theon
(of Smyrna) and Proclus similarly cited the distinction between heart and navel to
declare the universe to have a double geometry (as a way of endorsing incompat-
ible opinions about the order of the planets); and the Bible seems similarly to give
the Heaven more than one geometry, for Revelation 4:6 suggests God is both all-
embracing, and central.
Exactly how common this second geometry was is hard to say, for there is a plethora
of examples available to us, yet many are difcult to interpret condently. (That is
why the clarity of the Pintoricchio and Botticelli depictions Figures 1 and 5 is
so important here.) As we saw earlier (refs 14, 17), God is routinely located on the
concave side of angelic layers, to which a material, stellar, layer is often added. This
stellar circle might well be thought to be a dead clich, but the occasional inclusion
of planets (as in Figure 6, from 1490, or the mid-fteenth century Figure 7, and in
several other examples
) indicates otherwise: the spheres in the depictions really
are representational. Domes similarly display the dual geometry, for many domes
are explicitly star-covered, and for them (and any where the stars are implicit) the
lantern is on the concave side of the stellar eld as seen from the inside but on the
convex side when viewed from the outside.
More problematically, an enormous
number of halos take the form of a circle of stars, sometimes clearly layered, and
could well represent the stellar sphere concave around the Heavenly head of the
saintly gure adorned with it. The hermeneutics here are very complex, as many
other halos take the form of a circle of star symbols, while some halos (those of the
still-living) were sometimes square. We will not pursue such huge problems here,
but rely instead on the examples of reversed curvature already mentioned. With these
examples, the interpretation is relatively clear: Figure 5, for instance, has an explana-
tory text provided by Dante; while Figure 6 indicates the planets unambiguously.
So we have at last explained the enigmatic concavity in Pintoricchios depiction of
Heaven: we have found that the concavity in his picture was reasonably common,
and indicated the allocation of a second, inverted, geometry, sometimes to Heaven,
and sometimes to the complete cosmos. It is of course hard to empathize with the
idea that the universe has two geometries, and this is surely a way of making a
truth out of what appeared to be a falsehood.
There was clearly a sense that the
best things should, so far as possible, be located at a geometric centre; but there
was also a widespread recognition that they are usually not so located. This incon-
venient fact was often blurred, via the ction of alternative geometries, one real,
the other moral, we might say. But we should not hence conclude that the moral
geometry was thought of as pure ction by those whose used it, a mere symbol,
that expressed absolutely none of their beliefs about the arrangement of the universe.
(That conclusion may be true, but it cannot simply be presumed: it is otherwise too
easy to avoid inconvenient facts.)
For (rstly) reection shows that the idea of multiple cosmic geometries is surpris-
ingly plausible. For any material object can be viewed from a variety of perspectives,
and each of these perspectives will give its image a different geometry.
Many portraits of the geocentric universe indeed are shaped as if viewed from well
outside the sphere of xed stars, so we see the whole of that sphere and the spherical
Earth at its centre. But consider the view from a different observation point, one very
near the surface of the Earth. A time-lapse photo taken overnight in the northern
hemisphere with a camera sitting on the ground, pointed upwards, will actually
produce an arrangement rather like of Figure 6, a series of orbits centred on a point
of light (the Pole Star): i.e. it will produce the inverted structure of Paradiso 28. If
the camera has a wide enough eld of view, some of the Earth will be included, to
yield the geometry evident in Figures 5 and 7. If the camera had an exceptionally
wide-angled lens (>180
), the Earth could be included as an outer boundary, exactly
as in Alan of Lilles description, or in the Schaffner Tischplatte (both 8 above).
So our inverted geometry is in fact that of a very ordinary image of Earth and sky,
with mere details adjusted and an elaborate re-interpretation added. In Figure 7,
for instance, the inverted structure has been generated, by simply shifting the planets
FIG. 6. Planets in inverted universe, with Moon outside stellar sphere. From Pierre D Ailly, Concordantia
astronomiae cum theologia (1490), verso of title page. Reprod. (with permission of Princeton
University Press) from Laura Smoller, History, prophecy and the stars: The Christian astrology
of Pierre D Ailly, 13501420 (Princeton, NJ, 1994), frontispiece.
slightly, to arrange them hierarchically on circumpolar tracks, while the celestial pole
has been greatly expanded. Instead of being a point it becomes a complete Heavenly
court though the angels surrounding the cosmocrator God are very faint here, and
may be hard to see in my reproduction. (So once again we see a retention of one of
the key components of the three-sheet cosmos the archaic notion that the central
pole is the seat of divinity. This retention is evident in the iconography, then, and
not just in the written sources.)
Though the inverted geometry can thus be derived from nave observation, we
know as well that it was often given a sophisticated symbolic interpretation, for it was
primarily applied to an immaterial world, and that world was commonly supposed
to lack ordinary spatial properties. But this belief did not prevent spatial facts being
used to express partially Gods relationship to the material world. For religious
FIG. 7. Planets in pseudo-orbit about central Heavenly court, with Earth both below and outside. Simon
Marmion (fteenth c.), Garden of Eden. From MS 9047 (Le livre des 7 ages du monde), Royal
Library of Belgium, Brussels. Reprod. (with permission of Royal Library of Belgium) from Bosch
and Marijnissen, Bosch (ref. 18), 55.
truths that were beyond human language were still deemed capable of articulation
albeit defectively in terms of ordinary human experience, as we have already
seen both Dante and Aquinas telling us (cf. ref. 39).
Yet the inversion language could not perform such functions if its interpretation
were totally symbolic. Success here required that it be thought of as expressing a
truth, not contrary to, but hidden in, the structure of the cosmos, a truth like Aristotles
insistence that something like the prime mover is the true centre of the universe, or
Procluss insistence that the Sun is the metaphysical centre (to borrow Siorvaness
characterization, loc. cit. ref. 65). So when Beatrice explains the puzzling geometry
of Heaven to Dante (8 above) her message is that Dante was misled by his immer-
sion in the material world, and that what he sees now is a deeper geometry, the true
structure of Heaven or rather a true structure of Heaven, for as Revelation 4:6
observed (ref. 65), and as every dome seems to insist (8 above), God was deemed
both central and all-embracingly innite.
Both Singleton and Boyde present a different view, for (with little positive argu-
ment) they urge a purely symbolic understanding of the inverted image.
observes that the inverse image derives from what is directly visible in the sky; nei-
ther acknowledges it to have been so common in the medieval tradition; and neither
places much weight on the fact that the alternative external location of Paradise was
also interpreted symbolically though Boyde does agree the inversion is only
one ... projection, [with] no exclusive validity. And Boyde does cite lines 1112
of canto 30 where Dante describes God as seeming [parendo] to be enclosed
(by the inverted orbits) to argue that the poet does not genuinely abandon the
Aristotelian geometry. But Dantes words here do not require a purely symbolical
interpretation of the inversion, for they can easily be interpreted as a declaration of
the paradox encapsulated in the Revelation text (ref. 65): God is not enclosed, even
though he is central.
The dangers in such endorsements of an exclusively symbolical interpretation
are well-illustrated in modern discussions of the popular medieval claim about ter-
restrial geometry, which placed Jerusalem at the centre of the (inhabited?) world.
This tradition was once cited as evidence of pre-modern incompetence, but it is now
fashionable to defend medieval geography by insisting that the misleading claim was
only intended symbolically. Certainly, there is good evidence for this understanding.
Yet in the present case we know that there is also a long tradition of interpreting
the centrality claim realistically, for it grew out of the 3-sheet model of the universe
mentioned above (4) when omphaloi (cosmic navels) like Jerusalem were located on
the unequivocally central cosmic axis, atop the world mountain.
And we know that
this tradition was alive in medieval Europe, for Ps-Mandeville claims that the journey
from Europe to Jerusalem is all uphill, while the continuation to India is downhill,
and thus presumes the gravitational physics of a at (but hilly) Earth, while rejecting
its geometry. The same physics can be found in one of Luthers discussions of the
Red Sea miracle. Furthermore, the centrality of Jerusalem was frequently supported
by the citation of (dubious) astronomical facts, and this defence would be totally
pointless if the claim were not being understood realistically.
Clearly, two different
modes of interpretation are circulating together.
Much the same is happening with our inverted geometries, i.e. they are sometimes
understood realistically, sometimes symbolically. This is perfectly reasonable given
the hints scattered throughout the discussion above, indicating that the inverted
geometry was that possessed by the Platonic form attributed to Aristotles geocentric
universe. In so far as it applied to a transcendental world, this inverted geometry
was real; but since that superior world was itself an image of the material world, the
geometry was at the same time symbolic of that in the lower world.
We have indeed repeatedly seen a tendency to identify the hypercosmic spiritual
world with Platonic forms. Plato is explicit (though equivocating) about this; yet
many of our sources have taken his claim further by using standard Neoplatonic
terminology to characterize the empyrean as the intellectual realm, and the latter
is, beyond doubt, the exemplum of the world of the senses (as Calcidius puts it in
his commentary on the Timaeus). One important symptom of this relationship is
the correlation between planetary orbits and angelic ranks noted in 6 above (that
in Figures 3, 4, and 5). So in his preamble, Sacrobosco suggested that he would use
his knowledge of the circles of the material sphere, to discuss the structure of
the supercelestial one, while Dantes Convivio explicitly extended the gradations
of the material world into Heaven, quoting Psalm 18/19:1 (the heavens proclaim
the glory of God) to remind us that the angelic hierarchy parallels the planetary
one. In the Paradiso, he tells us explicitly that the geocentric universe of the earlier
cantos, and the inverted universe of canto 28 are related as model to copy, essemplo
to essemplare, and there is no doubt that he is here comparing the material universe
with its Platonic form. But he notes as well that the copy deviates enigmatically from
the pattern: needs must I ... hear why the model and the copy go not in one fashion
[non vanno dun modo], for by myself I contemplate this in vain.
Mirandola clearly envisaged the same Platonic relationship between the two
cosmoi, and again tells us that whatever is in the lower world is also in the higher
world, but of better stamp [while] whatever is in the higher ones is also seen in the
lowest, but in a degenerate condition.
Given this, one would expect that the geometry of the material universe was thought
of as like that of its Platonic form, but at the same time somewhat different, defective
even perhaps as the result of one of those catastrophes cited in both Christian and
pagan traditions as having generated some primeval upheaval in the structure of the
Discrepancies between the two geometries are implicitly acknowledged
by all those sources above which hesitated to apply routine spatial concepts to the
intelligible cosmos. Yet these sources must have been willing to allow some ana-
logue to geometry in the form, for geometric structure is so important a feature of
the material universe, that it cannot be totally lacking in its immaterial pattern. Even
though the Timaeus refused to place forms in a spatial region, for instance, it clearly
envisaged the spherical shape it allocated to Earth and cosmos, as reecting some
perfect shape-like characteristic of the world of forms, for Plato tells us explicitly
(29ab) that his Demiurge used a pattern when shaping the universe. So Plotinus
(Enneads, 6:9.8 = transl. [ref. 29], pp. 6212) distinguishes material circles from
spiritual ones, and gives the former spatial centres, and the latter centres of a dif-
ferent character. It is not, then, unreasonable to speak of a geometry as having been
attributed to the form of the universe.
Given this attribution, we need to ask where the form of the Earth was placed in that
superior geometry for our ultimate goal is to observe that the transcendent world
was heliocentric, and departed from the geometry of the world modelled, defectively,
upon it. I cannot directly answer this crucial question, but it seems certain that the
form of the Earth was not placed at the centre of the form of the universe. For only
one of the (albeit few) references to the form of the Earth that I have been able to
locate makes any reference at all to its locality (etc.), and that mention, a discussion
by Origen, places it (enigmatically) in the ninth sphere of the material cosmos
and treats it as an inferior component of the spiritual realm, a habitation for souls
of limited virtue. Similarly, the form of the Earth is omitted from Julians listing
of the forms of the cosmic bodies, suggesting that it is not of much signicance in
the intelligible world, and ignored, rather like the later omissions we have already
observed (8) in Dantes description of the inverted geometry, and in Botticellis
depiction of it.
More tellingly, Plotinus supplements his relatively vague reference
to the form of the Earth, with an explicit discussion of what he does locate at the
centre of his immaterial reality, and that central entity is not terrestrial. As bets his
emanationism, it is in fact his divine principle, The One. This, he says, is unmoved,
while all circles around it, as a circumference around a centre from which all the
radii proceed. This understanding is quite incompatible with a terrestrial centre, so
the spiritual geometry of Plotinuss superior world is clearly different to that of the
world for which it provides a model.
Yet such a central placement of divinity is clearly the critical component of the
inverted geometry we have been perusing, for the rest follows automatically from it,
given the standard hierarchy of the medieval universe, stretching from man to God,
via planets and angels. So at least one commentator nds the inverted universe set
out in the Enneads itself:
At the centre of everything is the One, from which radiates the intelligible world
or Mind, around which the sphere of the Soul metaphorically revolves.... The
sensible world or material cosmos, the world of bodies, is furtherest out from
its centre.
Direct evidence for the nal remark here is rather thin, just (it seems) a couple of
eeting passages: Enneads 6:9.8 (transl. [ref. 29], 621) placed man and beasts far from
the centre, while 4:3.17 (p. 274) does the same with the Earth. But there is no doubt
that Plotinuss condensed remarks function as an excellent elucidation of Paradiso 28,
or indeed Botticellis depiction of the Dante text. So we have now greatly deepened
our understanding of the Pintoricchio arrangement: it is not just an inversion of the
Aristotelian geometry, but the Platonic form of that geometry as well.
A slight anomaly in this interpretation is the presence of material stars in what I say
is a diagram of the immaterial form (of the material universe). But that presence is
hardly disruptive, and points indeed to an important fact about the inversion. Since at
least Platos time, the spiritual Heaven was clearly conceptualized in two somewhat
inconsistent modes, as an extension to the material world, and as a model for it. The
xed stars were thus a material instantiation of the outer reaches of the pattern, but
they were also (as we have already noted above, 2) the borderline between the spir-
itual universe and its mundane complement. So using them to indicate the outermost
zone of Heaven is quite harmonious with my interpretation.
Furthermore, given that the spiritual Heaven was an extension of the material uni-
verse, the whole Universe consisted of both components assembled together. To the
many who denied the spatiality of Heaven, this assembly was not a geometric process,
yet geometrical diagrams could be used to provide images of the union, imperfect
yet not false, a compromise perhaps, but accessible to human comprehension. As
we have so often seen, such spatial allegories were constructed in several ways: by
placing Heaven outside the material universe (in the pattern widely acknowledged
by those happy to localize Heaven); by placing the material universe around the
spiritual (the inverted model of Alan of Lille and Raphael etc., 8 above); by placing
the inverted model of Heaven above the geocentric material universe usually over-
lapping, as in the so-called globe-mandorla
of Figure 8 whose geometry is just a
slightly disguised version of the geometry in the more clearly cosmological Figure
5. Often, the relatively unimportant material component gets truncated, as in Figure
9, to produce an abbreviated version of the fuller cosmoi of Figures 5 and 8.
arrangements are, of course, ubiquitous, and that is one reason it is important to note
them here: they show that the heliocentric inversion so evident in Figures 1 and 5
became standard clichs of religious art, though often in somewhat blurred forms.
Reference to globe-mandorlas is also important because they underline a important
observation made above: the inverted structure is not a rejection of the geocentric
model, merely an interpretation of it. There is no choice being made between the two:
each expresses an important aspect of reality. The geocentric model is not declared
false by recourse to the inverted one, just supercial and incomplete.
Finally, the Plotinian interpretation above quickly provides a very satisfactory under-
standing of the heliocentricity so clear in the Pintoricchio and Botticelli diagrams.
Their central Sun becomes a simple consequence of our explanation of the reversed
curvature, for despite the obscurity of his Neoplatonic vision, Plotinus leaves no
doubt that his central divinity was assimilated to the Sun of the superior world of
forms, i.e., to the Platonic form of the material Sun.
The One (he said) was like a re whose outgoing warmth pervades the Uni-
verse, unmoved, while all circles around it. It had indeed been long identied with
the Sun, suggests Plotinus, for the Pythagoreans had called the solar deity Apollo,
since a-pollo (he claimed) means not-many (= One-ness). The images of The
FIG. 8. Heaven above (and seemingly inverted) overlapping the material universe below. Detail of Hans
Memling, Last Judgment triptych, c. 1465/671471. Muzeum Narodowe w Gdasku, Danzig.
Reprod. from Hans Memling, and Dirk De Vos, Hans Memling: The complete works (London,
1994), 823.
FIG. 9. A truncated version of the cosmic representation in Fig. 8. Unknown artist from Hall (perhaps
Lorenz Weismann), Last judgment, 1504. Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck,
Gem/85. Reprod. (with permission) from Harbison, Last judgment (ref. 77), f. 22.
One in the lower worlds, furthermore, were the intelligible Sun, and the visible
Sun. The former of these two, the Sun of its own intermediate realm, was a semi-
divine Intellectual-Principle, of which the Sun [of this sphere] is an image.
Plotinus was by no means alone here. A couple of centuries earlier, Plutarch had
provided Plotinus with his fake Apollo etymology, and characterized this solar deity
as more truly the god of the form of the Sun; and, about the same time, Philo had
repeatedly foreshadowed Plotinuss identication of god with a superior spiritual
Sun. To Philo, god was the Sun of the Sun ... [which supplies] the visible beams
to the Sun which our eyes behold.
That this Neoplatonic doctrine was passed on to Renaissance Europe is well-
documented in the pictorial tradition (as we have seen); and can be found in texts as
well. So (around 1150) Bernardus Silvestris described Platos supreme form The
Good as emitting radiant splendour; while Dante contrasts the corporeal and
sensible Sun [sole] with God the spiritual and intelligible Sun in both the
Commedia and the Convivio; and an enigmatic remark of Torquato Tassos (from
late in the sixteenth century) contrasts ancient solar interpretations of the various
obelisks erected in Renaissance Rome, with contemporary interpretations which
involve the Neoplatonic intelligible Sun. A little later, in 1619, Brulle commends
Copernicus by parroting Plotinus: Jesus (he tell us) is both the true centre of the
world and the Sun of the supernatural world.
In ancient writings, there are, as well, repeated references to the associated notion
that the universe contained two Suns. Some of these remarks certainly appear to refer
to mere optical illusions,
but many have cosmological import,
and the second
Sun was sometimes located centrally as an enigmatic polar Sun
on the cosmic
axis, rather like that of Botticellis (Figure 5,
whose polar geometry was discussed
above, in 9).
In early Christianity, this double Sun was a commonplace, for as with Plotinus,
the second Sun had been identied with the Godhead.
This too became a clich of
later European iconography, as in (say) Giovanni della Robbias Resurrection (of
1510) which clearly contrasts the material Sun with a heavenly one above, for
the former is coupled with a moon to indicate the crucixion eclipse.
the astronomical clock (of 1499) facing St Marks square in Venice might appear to
be nothing more than a ne example of a geocentric astronomical clock, but this is
not the full story. For (as already noted, in ref. 6), the mechanism turns out to have
two dials, and the second one (facing away from the Square, at the other end of the
spindle, in Calle delle Mercerie) is heliocentric like so many other early clocks.
But time is here indicated by a second, smaller Sun, moving around the rst in daily
orbit in imitation of the true solar motion about the polar axis.
So when Copernicus developed his ideas early in the sixteenth century, it was com-
monplace to commend a cosmic design that placed a superior Sun in the geometric
centre. This is clearly indicated by our analysis of the designs used by Pintoricchio,
Botticelli and so many others. Yet this heliocentricity was understood to have been
suppressed in the everyday world of the senses, so was in that realm a mere
latency. Copernicanism denied this, and attributed to the material world, a greater
portion of the Platonic perfections that had once been reserved for its spiritual exem-
plar: Copernicuss revision of the planetary geometry was found in this world, and
so too were Keplers cosmic harmonies. Copernicus must have been aware of the
contrasting immaterial heliocentricity analysed in this essay, and one must wonder
how much inuence it exerted upon his own project. That however is a difcult
question, well beyond the scope of the evidence assembled for this study. We must
leave it unanswered.
Much of the research reported in this essay was carried out while the author was on
sabbatical at the Faculty of Modern History, Oxford, and the Department of Science
and Technology Studies, University College London. The author is grateful to both
these institutions, and to many libraries in Oxford and London (particularly the
Bodleian, Sackler, Warburg and British Libraries) for so much assistance with this
work. He is also grateful to numerous colleagues (especially John Henry, Melinda
Moravcik, David Runia, Neil Thomason, and Marinus Van Der Sluijs) for important
feedback on early drafts.
1. The English word heaven, and its cognates in several languages, are inconveniently ambiguous, and
can refer to any of: the sky in a very material sense; some spiritual region inhabited by divinity;
or to some very abstract non-spatial version of the latter. In this essay, I shall (generally)
avoid using it in the rst sense, and capitalize it when referring to the specically Christian
Heaven that is the focus of my discussion. Following many precedents in the literature (both
primary and secondary) I shall often contrast such heavens with the everyday world by calling
them immaterial. Though I note below (ref. 34) that Heaven itself was sometimes thought of
as material, it should always be clear from the context what is meant. Unfortunately, no single
choice of language seems able to suit all circumstances. Worse, there is much sloppiness in
the literature here secondary as well as primary where remarkably little care is taken to
distinguish between the different types of heaven.
2. Also spelt Pinturicchio. Born Bernadino di Betto (di Biagio) in Perugia, 1454; died Siena, 1513.
3. Giovanni Battista Caporali, also called Bista; Bitte; Bitti. Born Perugia c. 1476; d. 1560. For a
brief biography and further literature, see Eberhard Kasten et al. (eds), Allgemeines Knstler-
Lexikon, 2nd edn (Munich, 2005 ), xvi, 2578.
4. The coronation was a medieval addition to the late patristic/early medieval notion of the bodily
assumption of Mary, and took place in Heaven. I know of no satisfying summary of the tradition,
but see: New Catholic encyclopedia (New York, 1967), ix, 2801; F. Cross et al. (eds), The
Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (London, 1974), 117; Remigius Bumer et al. (eds),
Marienlexikon (St Ottilien, 198894), iii, 6801.
5. Images (usually coloured) of the bulk of the pictorial material cited in this essay are on the web at:
6. Further examples of the reversed curvature are provided all through this essay. Blurred examples of
the heliocentricity are very common, for God is often depicted as Sun-like inside the ranks of
angels but without the analysis presented in the body of this essay, such examples seem purely
symbolic. Interestingly, clear examples of the heliocentricity at issue here do tend to come from
within Copernicuss lifetime. See: Botticellis and di Paolos depictions of Paradiso 28 (Figure
5 and ref. 85); arch for entry of Phillip (of Spain) into Antwerp, 1549, depicted Roy Strong,
Splendour at Court: Renaissance spectacle and illusion (London, 1973), 105 (from pp. Niii
Niiii of Cornille Scribonius (= Grefer), Le triumphe dAnvers, faict en la susception du Prince
Philips, Prince dEspaig (Antwerp, 1550); alternative title: La tresadmirable, tresmagnicque,
& triumphante entree, du treshault & trespuissant Prince Philipes ... Anno 1549; although
relatively late, it is clear from the design that the heliocentricity here is modelled on coronations
of the Virgin, not Copernicus). See also the heliocentric clocks (of 1519, 1451, and late fteenth
century respectively): on Chartres Cathedral; in the main square in Bologna; and on the rear
heliocentric dial (with two Suns) of the astronomical clock on Piazza San Marco, Venice (the
front dial of which is geocentric). The Bologna clock has been much discussed in the literature,
because it was there when Copernicus was a student: see esp. A. Simoni, Lorologio pubblico
di Bologna del 1451 e la sua sfera, Culta Bononia: Rivista di studi Bolognesi, v (1973), 319.
(With no signicant evidence, Simoni explains the heliocentricity away, by identifying the Sun
as Earth surrounded by elemental re.)
7. For two further clear examples, see: Gentile da Fabriano, Valle Romita polyptych, fteenth century,
in the Brera Pinacoteca, Milan (reprod. Gentile da Fabriano: Il polittico di Valle Romita (ed. by
Matteo Ceriana et al., Milan, 1993), passim., esp. Fig. 1); Lorenzo Monaco, Coronation of the
Virgin, fteenth century, Ufzi Gallery, Florence inv. 1890: n. 885 (reprod. as Fig. 54 on p. 55
of Mina Gregori, Ufzi e Pitti: I dipinti delle gallerie Fiorentine (Udine, 1994)).
8. Certainly, a number of historians of art (with no special interest in cosmological questions) have
casually identied the image at the centre of similar gures as a Sun; and even, in passing,
described their arrangement as heliocentric. See, e.g.: p. 44 of Hans Leisegang, The mystery
of the serpent, on pp. 369 of Joseph Campbell (ed.), Pagan and Christian mysteries: Papers
from the Eranos yearbooks, transl. by R. Manheim and R. Hull (New York, 1964; lst publ.
193944, 1955) (on the similarities between the light-centred cosmology of Dantes Paradiso
and an ancient heliocentric bowl); Pckler-Limpurg on Schaffners Tischplatte, below, ref. 64;
literature on the Bologna clock (ref. 6).
9. I do not document this fact here, as the whole essay functions to perform the analogous task for the
arcs concave towards Heaven.
10. This fact matters for the argument below, so I document it a little tediously. Stars are routinely added
to depictions of gowns, and to what might be called cosmic backdrops things like ceilings,
niches, halos.
Examples are ubiquitous, but for some clear specimens beyond those in other references (esp.
ref. 15), see the gowns in: Gentile da Fabriano, Madonna and child, fteenth century, John Johnson
Collection, Philadelphia (reprod. Pietro Zampetti and Giampiero Donnini, Gentile e il pittori
di Fabriano (Florence, 1992), 245); Mello da Gubbio, Madonna and child, fourteenth century,
in the Museo Civico, Gubbio (reprod. Filipo Todini, La pittura umbra: Dal ducento al primo
cinquecento (Milan, 1989), ii, 169, Fig. 353); Master of the Leningrad Triptych (?), Madonna
and Child, fourteenth century, Spalato Archaeological Museum (reprod. Francesca dArcais et
al. (eds), Il trecento adriatico: Paolo Veneziano e la pittura tra oriete e occidente (Milan, 2002),
For a selection of different types of backdrop, see: Lorenzo Veneziano, fourteenth century,
Nativity, National Museum Belgrade (reprod. Mauro Lucco (ed.), La pittura nel Veneto: Il trecento
(Milan, 1992), i, 63, Fig. 55); Avanzo di Sammo, Liberation fresco, fourteenth century, San
Giacomo Chapel, Basilica del Santo, Padua (reprod. Lucco (ed.), La pittura nel Veneto (ref. 10),
i, 157, Fig. 181); Maestro di Montemartello, Archangel Michael and John the Baptist, fourteenth
century, Santa Maria della Stella, Montemartello (Cagli) (reprod. Todini, Pittura umbra (ref.
10), ii, 172, Figs 3601); Duccio (workshop), Enthroned Madonna, fteenth century, Museo
Civico Amedeo Lia, La Spezia (reprod. Federico Zeri and Andrea de Marchi, La Spezia, Museo
Civico Amedeo Lia: Dipinti, ed. by Marzia Ratti et al. (Milan, 1997), 117, Fig. 45); Ghissi, two
madonnas, fourteenth century, from the Pinaceta Civica in Fermo and Santa Andrea, Montegiorgio
(reprod. Zampetti and Donnini, Gentile (ref. 10), 667, Figs 501); Master of the Forzat Chapel,
judgement fresco in Santa Lucia, Treviso, fourteenth century (reprod. Lucco (ed.), La pittura nel
Veneto (ref. 10), i, 237, Fig. 293); Turone di Maxio (fourteenth century), Virgin and child, Santa
Maria della Scala, Verona (reprod. Lucco (ed.), La pittura nel Veneto (ref. 10), ii, 366, Fig. 469).
The stars are not restricted to depictions either. Many cathedral ceilings were (and still are)
decorated with stars, and the same applies to a number of secular buildings such as the
fteenth-century Rathaus in former Imperial capital Goslar (Lower Saxony). The nearby Brusttuch
Haus (built in the 1520s) also has planetary decorations, and such decorations are reasonably
common see O. Behrendsen, Darstellungen von Planetengottheiten an und in deutschen Bauten
(Strassburg, 1926), passim, but esp. pp. 8, 2630, which traces the motive back to fourteenth-
century Italy (e.g. Giottos Campanile in Florence, c. 1300, as pictured Marvin Trachtenberg,
The campanile of Florence cathedral: Giottos tower (New York, 1971), Plate 1, where the
seven planets are on the upper level). For some further illustrations of ceiling stars, see: Anon.,
Interior of Binche Palace, 1549, (from Bibliothque Royale, Brussels, as reprod. Dirk De Vos,
Rogier van der Weyden (Antwerp, 1999), 11 = Fig. 3); Tognatti, Reconstruction of early Sistine
Chapel, 1901 (as reprod. Pietro Perugino (Vannucci), Perugino: Il divin pittore, ed. by Vittoria
Garibaldi et al. (Milan, 2004), 214); Giotto, ceiling of Scrovegni chapel, c. 1300, as pictured
Giotto: La cappella degli Scrovegni, ed. by G. Basile (Milan, 1992), 269.
For actual gowns I can cite only one European example: the eleventh-century stellar mantel of
Heinrich II (but cf. Hilliards miniature portrait of George Clifford, c. 1590 (National Maritime
Museum, Greenwich), reprod. as Plate 8 on p. 47 of John Murdoch et al. (eds), The English
miniature (London, 1981)). Heinrichs gown (on display at the Cathedral in Bamberg) is pictured
(and discussed) in Peter Lasko, Ars sacra 8001200 (Harmondsworth, 1972), 131 and Fig. 133.
This gown is also discussed by Percy Schramm, Herrschaftszeichen und Staatssymbolik (Stuttgart,
1954), ii, 5789, and Elizabeth OConnor, The star mantle of Henry II, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia
University, 1980 (of which I have only seen the abstract), passim. These commentators present the
gown as a rare exception, yet none mentions the ubiquity of representations of stellar gowns in
paintings, while neither Lasko nor Schramm seems aware of the distinction between a constellation
and a zodiacal constellation. The gown certainly contains non-zodiacal constellations e.g.
Herakles. I conclude this is an unexplored eld!
11. For a few clear examples, see: Greek Master, Christ in mandorla, thirteenth century, Belgrade
National Museum inv. 692 (reprod. dArcais et al. (eds), Il trecento adriatico (ref. 10), 11213);
Sienese Master, Redeemer, thirteenth century, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (reprod. Piero Torriti,
La pinacoteca nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 201); Paolo
Veneziano, Madonna and child, fourteenth century, Venice, Gallerie dellAccademia (reprod.
Lucco (ed.), Pittura nel Veneto (ref. 10), i, 33, Fig. 20); Maestro of the Ranghiasci Polyptych,
Madonna orante, fteenth century, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia, La Spezia (reprod. Zeri and De
Marchi, La Spezia (ref. 10), 215, Fig. 91).
12. See: Harry Bober, The zodiacal miniatures of the Trs Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry. Its sources
and meaning, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xi (1948), 134, Fig. 1; Hyginus,
Fabularum liber (Basel, 1535; facs. reprint New York, 1976), 87. The characteristic iconography
of the Hyginus gure is discussed on pp. 14750 of Georg Thiele, Antike Himmelsbilder: Mit
Forschungen zu Hipparchos, Aratos und seinen Fortsetzern und Beitrge zur Kunstgeschichte
des Sternhimmels (Berlin, 1898), whose Fig. 65 (p. 149, from Codex. Vind. 2352, in the Viennese
Court Library when Thiele wrote, late 19th c.) is an unequivocal stellar mandorla. The Hyginus
ellipse could result from perspectival distortion of the circle, but Thieles gure denitely does not.
13. Pintoricchio [and Caporali], Coronation of the Virgin, 1508, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome (reprod.
Pietro Scarpellini & Maria Silvestrelli, Pintoricchio (Milan, 2004), 276). For the context, see
ibid., 242. For similar parallelings of mandorla and stellar circle: in the legend of Aracoeli, see
Millard Meiss, French painting in the time of Jean de Berry: The late fourteenth century and the
patronage of the Duke (London, 1967), i, 2335, ii, Figs 81420; and in some MS representations
of the Milky Way, see Thiele, Antike Himmelsbilder (ref. 12), 1489.
For other circular examples of the coronation with clear stars, see, e.g.: Paolo Veneziano
(fourteenth century), Santa Chiara Polyptych, Venice, Gallerie dellAccademia, and Marco
Veneziano (fourteenth century), Coronation of the Virgin, Washington, National Gallery; Catarino,
and Catarino and Donato (fourteenth century), two (similar) coronations of the Virgin, Venice,
Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia and Gallerie dellAccademia (all reprod. Lucco (ed.), Pittura nel
Veneto (ref. 10), i, Figs 7, 301, 712 on pp. 22, 412, 76).
14. Spinello Aretino (c. 1400), Coronation of the Virgin from Monteoliveto Maggiore polyptych, in
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (reprod. Piero Torrito, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena (Genoa,
197778), 2323, Fig. 274); Pintoricchio, Madonna in glory, Pinacoteca Civica, San Gimignano
(as reprod. Franco Nucciarelli, Studi sul Pinturicchio delle prime prove alla Capella Sistina
(Ellera Umbra, 1998), 192, Fig. 69).
15. Examples are very easy to nd, but I give a few clear examples. For gowns, see: Lorenzo Salimbeni,
Madonna and child (c. 1400), Oratorio di San Giovanni (reprod. Albert Rossi, I Salimbeni (Milan,
1976), Fig. 135) where the blue gown is covered with a mixture of pointed stars, eurs-de-
lys, and light yellow dots; Gentile da Fabriano, Madonna and child, c. 1400, Berlin-Dahlem
Gemldegallerie (reprod. Pietro Zampetti, Paintings from the Marches: Gentile to Raphael, transl.
by R. Carpanini (London, 1971), 45, Plate 4), where there are only dots.
For clear ceiling examples, see: Avanzo di Sammo, Liberation fresco, fourteenth century,
San Giacomo Chapel, Basilica del Santo, Padua (reprod. Lucco (ed.), Pittura nel Veneto (ref.
10), i, 157, Fig. 181), where dots are mixed with pointed stars; Fra Angelico (fteenth century),
Annunciation, Prado, Madrid (reprod. Laurence Kanter et al., Painting and illustration in early
Renaissance Florence 13001450 (New York, 1994), 32) where there are only dots.
16. See, e.g.: God the Father at the top of Gentiles Valle Romita polyptych (ref. 7); Strozzi, Coronation
of the Virgin, fteenth century, from a privately owned book of hours (as reprod. Kanter, Painting
and illumination (ref. 15), 3567); Lorenzo Salimbeni, Blessing Christ, c. 1400 (fresco from San
Severino Marche, church of Mary of Mercy, as reprod. on p. 107 of Vittorio Sgarbi (ed.), Lorenzo
e Jacopo Salimbeni di Sanseverino e la civilt tardogotica (Milan, 1999)).
17. E.g.: Pintoricchio, Madonna in glory (ref. 14); Perugino, Baptism of Christ, 1481, Sistine Chapel,
Vatican (detail as reprod. Perugino (ref. 10), 111); Perugino, two Ascensions of Christ, 1496,
Muse des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, and 1510, Cathedral in Sansepolcro (reprod. Perugino (ref. 10),
1445); Pastura = Antonio da Viterbo, Madonna and child, c. 1500, Museo Borgogna, Vercelli (as
reprod. Todini, La pittura umbra (ref. 10), ii, 537, Fig. 1243); Maestro della Capella Basso della
Rovere, Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1500, Basso della Rovere Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo,
Rome (as reprod. Todini, La pittura umbra (ref. 10), i, 111, ii, 544, Fig. 1262).
18. For representations where the cosmos is clearly bounded by a circle of angels just outside a circle
of stars, see: Woodcut from Ludolphus, Tboek vanden leuen ons heeren ihesu christi, 1487 (as
reprod. Hieronymus Bosch and Roger H. Marijnissen, Hieronymus Bosch: The complete works
(Antwerp, 1987), 86); Gentile, Valle Romita polyptych (ref. 7).
19. For some good (and well-known) examples of such diagrams, see: Gregorius Reisch, Margarita
philosophica nova (Salzburg, 2002; 1st pub. 1508), ii, 331; Hartman Schedel et al. (untitled
German translation of Liber chronicarum, commonly known as Nuremberg chronicle), transl. by
Georg Alt (Nuremberg, 1493), fol. 5v; Konrad Von Megenburg, Das Buch der Natur (Augsburg,
1499), unpaginated; Peter Apian, Cosmographicus liber (Antwerp, 1524), fol. 6. The last three of
these diagrams are reprod. on pp. 20, 33, 38 of S. K. Heninger, The cosmographical glass (San
Marino, CA, 1977) whose Apian diagram comes from fol. 4 of the 1533 printing; and whose
Megenberg diagram comes from fol. c5v of the 1499 printing). Heninger (passim.) provides
several other examples.
20. See fols 4v, 16, 43 of Thomas Digges, A pert description [heliocentric] of the caelestiall orbes
(1576), in Leonhard and Thomas Digges, A prognostication everlasting [geocentric] corrected
and augmented [heliocentrically] by Thomas Digges (London, 1576).
21. For some minor exceptions, see: Alexandre Koyr, From the closed world to the innite universe
(Baltimore, 1968), 247; Marina Smyth, Understanding the universe in seventh century Ireland
(Woodbridge, Surrey, 1990), 8893, plus the erratic, yet extended, discussions in Edward Grant,
Planets, stars and orbs (Cambridge, 1994), esp. pp. 37189, and Much ado about nothing:
Theories of space and vacuum from the Middle Ages to the Scientic Revolution (Cambridge,
1981), e.g. pp. 10344. Grant (e.g. Much ado, 1447) demonstrates at length that belief in
hypercosmic locality was highly controversial, and such dissent is vital to the argument below.
Unfortunately though, Grant gives little attention to the localization of spiritual beings, or to
the persistence of the Platonic interpretation that we are soon to meet. (Pictorial evidence, and
the important Phaedrus discussion are totally ignored; Philo barely rates a mention; only one
discussion of angels is recorded in the index; and Dante does not manage even this much attention.)
22. For examples (from a variety of contexts) of this endorsement (implicit and explicit) of the external,
convex location of Heaven see: Jerome Langford, Galileo, science and the Church (Ann Arbor,
1971), 25; Eustace Tillyard, The Elizabethan world picture (London, 1943), 38ff.; Charles
Singleton, Commentary to: Dante Alighieri, The divine comedy, transl. with commentary by
C. Singleton (6 vols in 3 parts, Princeton, 197075), vi, 78, 452, 4923; Koyr, Closed world
(ref. 21), Fig. 1, p. 7; James Lattis, Between Copernicus and Galileo: Christopher Clavius and
the collapse of Ptolemaic cosmology (Chicago, 1994), 72, 82; Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican
revolution: Planetary astronomy in the development of Western thought (Cambridge, MA,
1957), 11213.
23. J. E. Wright, The early history of heaven (New York, 2000), 327 (esp. Fig. 2.4), 568, 8897 (esp.
Fig. 3.25); Jeffrey Russell, Lucifer: The devil in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1984), 218; pp.
70, 73 of L. Jacobs, Jewish cosmology, pp. 6686 of Carmen Blacker and Michael Loewe
(eds), Ancient cosmologies (London, 1975); Isaiah 14:13 and 66:1; Psalm 8:2. See also sources
cited in ref. 24 below.
24. Mircea Eliade, however, suggests that such identication of a realm of archetypes, with a divine region
(in the sky, and perhaps beyond), has many precedents in what he calls the archaic ontology of
primitive thought. See his: The myth of the eternal return (transl. by W. Trask; some printings
entitled Cosmos and history; Princeton, 1954), chap. 1 (Archetypes and repetition), esp. pp.
56; Shamanism, transl. by W. Trask (Princeton, 1972), 284.
25. Pierre Boyanc, tudes sur le songe de Scipion: Essais dhistoire et de psychologie religieuses (Paris,
1936), 73 (my transl.).
26. For the Neoplatonic version, see: Arthur Armstrong, Introduction to ancient philosophy (London,
1957), 1878; John Dillon, Pleroma and noetic cosmos: A comparative study, pp. 99110
of Richard Wallis et al. (eds), Neoplatonism and gnosticism (papers from a 1984 conference;
Albany, NY, 1992), p. 101; Frederick Copleston, A history of philosophy, i/2 (London, 1946),
219, 223. For the medieval, see: Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica (= Summa theologiae,
Dominican edn, London, 196380), 1a.50.13, 75.5, 76.4 (= ix, 417, xi, 207, 6471); Dante,
Convivio, 2.4 (= The banquet, transl. by Christopher Ryan (Saratoga, CA, 1989), 4951); Nicholas
Steneck, Science and creation in the Middle Ages: Henry of Langenstein (d. 1397) on Genesis
(Notre Dame, IN, 1976), 38; Keith Hutchison, The natural, the supernatural and the occult in
the scholastic universe, pp. 33355 of Guy Freeland et al. (eds), 1543 and all that (Dordrecht,
2000), 342. See also: ref. 34 below.
27. Timaeus 52B, as discussed Friedrich Solmsen, Beyond the heavens, Museum helveticum, xxxiii
(1976), 2432, passim, esp. pp. 256. The famous analogy between the Sun and the form of
the good in the Republic (508c = Loeb, ii, 1023) does however use spatial language, and calls
the world of forms the intelligible place ( ). But Reginald Hackforth suggests the
locational metaphor is very subdued here: see his annotations to Plato, Platos Phaedrus, transl.
by R. Hackforth (Cambridge, 1952), 801.
28. For Xenocrates, see Sextus Empiricus, Against the logicians, I.147 (= Loeb, ii, 803). For Plotinus,
see Arthur Armstrong, n. 1 to p. 88 of vol. iv of Plotinus, Enneads, transl. by A. Armstrong
(London, 196688). For the hermetic endorsement, see Poimandres, 26 and Asclepius, 324
(on pp. 6, 878 of Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new
English translation, with notes and introduction, transl. by B. Copenhaver (Cambridge, 1992)).
For the Chaldaean version, see Hans Lewy, Chaldan oracles and theurgy: Mysticism magic
and Platonism in the later Roman Empire, transl. by S. Pines et al. (Cairo, 1956), 778, 298301,
and compare the hypercosmic solar world of light in The Chaldean oracles: Text, translation and
commentary, transl. by R. Majercik (Leiden, 1989), fr. 59 = pp. 723. For Martianus Capella,
see his The marriage of Philology and Mercury (= De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii) = vol.
ii of Martianus Capella and the seven liberal arts, transl. by W. Stahl et al. (New York, 1977),
202 = pp. 601. For Spenser, see his Heavenly beautie, esp. lines 8283. For Digby (father of
the gunpowder-plot Everard, and grandfather of Kenelm), see Everard Digby (c. 15511605),
Theoria analytica, viam ad monarchiam scientiarum demonstrans ... (London, 1579), 88 (reprod.
by Michel-Pierre Lerner, Le monde des sphres (Paris, 199697), i, Plate 9). For yet another
endorsement of the Platonic vision, see Apuleius, Apologia 64. Henri de Lubac, Surnaturel: tudes
historiques (Paris, 1946), 32954, gives many examples of early Christian writers applying the
hypercosmic terminology to the spiritual realm.
29. Quoting from Philo, Creation, 12.701 (= Philo of Alexandria, On the creation of the cosmos
according to Moses, transl. by David Runia (Leiden, 2001), 64 = Loeb, i, 547). For similar
spatial metaphors, see: Philo, Giants 61 and Questions on Exodus 2.37 (= Loeb, ii, 4745, suppl.
2, 7880); and compare: Anita Masson, Du char ail de Zeus larche dalliance: Images
et mythes platoniciens chez Philon dAlexandre (Paris, 1986), 208ff.; Harry Wolfson, Philo:
Foundations of religious philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Cambridge, MA, 1947),
i, 369; Runia, annotations to Philo, Creation (transl., ref. 29), 2301; Alan Scott, Origen and the
life of the stars: A history of an idea (Oxford, 1991), 69, 1624; W. G. L. Randles, The unmaking
of the medieval Christian cosmos, 15001760 (Aldershot, 1999), 78. For Philos denial that
forms occupy space, see his Creation, 4.17 (transl., ref. 29, 50 = Loeb, i, 1415), as discussed
by Wolfson, Philo (ref. 29), i, 2402, and by Runia, annotations to Philo, Creation (transl., ref.
29), 140. For Plotinus, see Enneads 4:3.17. transl. by S. MacKenna (London, 1969), 274, as
discussed Armstrong, loc. cit., ref. 28.
30. For God as space, see Philo, De somniis, I.634 (= Loeb, v, 3289), discussed Grant, Much ado (ref.
21), 11215. For God as star, see Philo, Creation, 6.2931 (= Runia transl. ref. 29, p. 53 = Loeb,
i, 225), discussed by Runia, annotations to Philo, Creation (transl. ref. 29), 169, and Masson,
Char ail (ref. 29), 198, n.194.
31. Philo, Moses 2.16 and Questions on Exodus 2.916 (= Loeb, vi, 4889 and suppl. 2, 1405). Cf.
Raphael Patai, Man and temple in ancient Jewish myth and ritual (London, 1947), 10513.
32. For the hypercosmic heaven, see: Origen, Contra Celsum, transl. by H. Chadwick (Cambridge, 1965),
6.1821 = pp. 3304, esp. p. 332. Whether Origen identied this region with forms is unclear to
me. Mark Edwards, Origen against Plato (Aldershot, 2002), 64, cites the difcult passage De
principiis 2.3.6 (= pp. 2734 of the F. Crombie transl. on pp. 239384 of vol. iv of The ante-
Nicene fathers (Edinburgh, 1989)) as evidence that he rejects the existence of forms in toto, but
I read it (hesitatingly) as saying their existence is not purely mental. In any case, the passage
makes it clear that the idea of giving them a hypercosmic location was familiar. For Origens
radical materialism, see: Edwards, Origen against Plato (ref. 32), 160; and Scott, Origen and
stars (ref. 29), 15067.
33. See: Aristotle, Physics, 4.45, quoting from 212a30212b15 and Motion of animals, 34 (= 699a10
700a100). On pp. 1389, 292 of her annotations to Aristotle, Aristotles De motu animalium: Text
with translation, commentary and interpretative essays, ed. by Martha Nussbaum (Princeton,
1978), Nussbaum interprets what I call the container here as the immaterial unmoved mover,
but notes that Aristotle does not demonstrate immateriality. For the introduction of the empyrean,
see: Proclus and Simplicius, on pp. 649 of Shmuel Sambursky, The concept of place in late
Neoplatonism (Jerusalem, 1982); Lucas Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-platonic philosophy and science
(Edinburgh, 1996), 251; and n. 32 on p. 35 of Simplicius, Corollaries on place and time, transl.
by J. Urmson (London, 1992); 16782, esp. p. 178, of Bruno Nardi, La dottrina dellEmpireo
nella sua genesi storica e nel pensiero dantesco, on pp. 167214 of Saggi di losoa dantesca
(Florence, 1967), who suggests unconvincingly (p. 177) that the rst use of the name occurs in
the Chaldan oracles (loc. cit., ref. 28). Augustine, City of God 10.9, nds it in Porphyry, while
Randles, Unmaking (ref. 29), 7, nds it in Martianus Capella (loc. cit., ref. 28), though he locates
the rst identication of the empyrean as an angelic habitation, in the Glossa (at cols 6869 of
Jacques-Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologiae cursus completus ... latina ... (Paris, 1879), cxiiicxiv),
where the text is (incorrectly) attributed to Strabo. Today it is associated with Anselm of Laon,
but has many other contributors. We must recall (from 4) however that Plato himself had placed
the gods and souls in that same location, but without calling it empyrean.
34. Convivio, 2.3.812 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 478): the Vulgate Psalm 8:2 (cited by Dante here) speaks
of the glory of god super caelos. For further examples and discussion of the notion that Heaven
was material in Western Europe, see: Conrad Aslachus, The description of heaven (transl. (from
1597 Latin) by Raph Jennings; London, 1623), 306; Patrick Boyde, Dante philomythes and
philosopher: Man in the cosmos (Cambridge, 1981), 135; Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang,
Heaven: A history (New Haven, 1988), chap. 3 = pp. 4768 (esp. p. 67); John Wippel, Essence
and existence, on pp. 385410 of Norman Kretzmann (ed.), The Cambridge history of later
medieval philosophy (Cambridge, 1982), 40810 (on spiritual matter); Randles Unmaking (ref.
29), passim, e.g. pp. 9, 1012, 1415, 2631 who notes a very telling ongoing debate about
the operation of the bodily senses in Heaven.
35. Contra Celsum (ref. 32), 6.17 (= p. 330), citing Psalm 17:2.
36. Pierre dAilly, Imago mundi, Latin with French transl. by Edmond Buron (Paris, 1930), 1645; English
transl. adapted from Edward Grant (ed.), A source book in medieval science (Cambridge, MA,
1974), 6301. For similar remarks, see: Pliny, Natural history, 2.1; Isidore, as reported by Smyth,
Understanding the universe (ref. 21), 92; Aslachus, Description of Heaven (ref. 34), 79, 43;
Lerner, Monde des sphres (ref. 28), i, 21012.
37. Campanus of Novara, Theorica planetarum, published as: Campanus of Novara and medieval planetary
theory, ed. by F. Benjamin and G. Toomer (Madison, WI, 1971), 1823.
38. Aristotle, On the heavens, I.9, as discussed Solmsen, Beyond the heavens (ref. 27), 2932.
39. Cf. Convivio 3.12.6 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 109); Aquinas, Summa theologica (ref. 26), 1a.1.9, 1a.3.1
(= i, 335, ii, 23).
40. Aquinas, Summa theologica (ref. 26), 1a.61.4, 1a.66.3, 1a.68.1 (= ix, 21213, x, 403, 747); Philo,
Creation, 4.167.37 (= transl. (ref. 29), 505, with Runias annotations on pp. 13278); Anselm,
Glossa, loc. cit. (ref. 33); Randles, Unmaking (ref. 29), 2ff.
41. Robert Grosseteste, On the six days of creation: A translation of the Hexameron (Oxford, 1996),
3.16.2 (= p. 118). For the identication of this heaven as empyrean, see 1.16.1 (= p. 71).
Grossetestes editor identies the John Damascene quotation as from De de orthodoxa 13.2.
For similar interpretations of the empyrean, see: Bartholomew of England, as discussed by
Lynn Thorndike, A history of magic and experimental science (New York, 192358), ii, 41415;
Aslachus, Description of Heaven (ref. 34), 1415. Note that Grosseteste (loc. cit.) does allow
that spirits reside in the empyrean.
42. Basil (of Caesarea, fourth century), Exegetic homilies, transl. by Agnes Way (Washington, DC, 1963),
1.5 = pp. 89, discussed by Randles, Unmaking (ref. 29), 34.
43. Thomas Aquinas: Summa contra gentiles, transl. by A. Pegis et al. (Notre Dame, IN, 1975), 3.68 (=
Bk 3, pt 1, p. 225); Summa theologica (ref. 26), 1a.3.1, 1a.8.13, 1a.52.1 (= ii, 203, 11021
(quoting from pp. 23, 115); ix, 445).
44. Aquinas, Summa theologica (ref. 26), 1a.52.12, 1a.61.4 (= ix, 449, 21215). Cf. Randles, Unmaking
(ref. 29), 38, 51 (discussing: Ps-Bede, De mundi celestis terrestrisque constitutione: A treatise
on the universe and the soul, ed. by Charles Burnett (London, 1985), 3045 = pp. 445; Biels
illocabiles souls of 1574; and Zanchis non-physical locality [loco non physico] of 1591);
Steneck, Science and creation (ref. 26), 3940, for Henry of Langesteins localizing of angels.
45. Aquinas, Summa theologica (ref. 26), 1a.61.4 (= ix, 21415). Aquinas attributes Anselms Glossa
to Strabo, like the Patrologia latina (ref. 33), where the two Heavens are at v, 113, cols 689.
For Albert, see Randles Unmaking (ref. 29), 1415. McDannell and Lang, Heaven (ref. 34), 82.
For further references to the Heaven of the Trinity, see: St John Seymour, The seven heavens
in Irish literature, Zeitschrift fr Keltische Philologie, xiv (1923), 1830, pp. 2021; Trinity-
depiction in Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Cercles astrologiques et cosmographiques la n du Moyen
Age, Gazette des beaux arts, xxi (1939), 6584, Fig. 14 (p. 76), as discussed p. 74. For a further
clear example of the heaven of the angels being distinguished from Gods special Heaven, see
John Colet (d. 1519), Letters to Radulphus on the Mosaic account of creation ... (London, 1876),
10. For a clear example of the Heaven inhabited by God being distinguished from the (material)
empyrean, see Clavius, Sphaera (1611), 47 as transl. on p. 85 of Lattis, Between Copernicus
and Galileo (ref. 22). For a slightly blurred example, see the ineffable section of Digbys cosmic
diagram, as cited ref. 28.
46. Grosseteste, Hexameron (ref. 41), (= 1068). A minor exception to this generalization is
provided (much later) by Robert Fludd, for one of his many idiosyncratic diagrams divides the
empyrean into three sections (yet clearly locates the divine Trinity elsewhere): see S. K. Heninger,
Touches of sweet harmony: Pythagorean cosmology and Renaissance poetics (San Marino, CA,
1974), 186. On the other hand, Smyth (Understanding the universe (ref. 21), 893) observes that
early Irish sources located angels in a rather physical way in multiple layers outside the astral
heavens, but did not (she adds, p. 92) refer to such dwelling places as empyrean.
47. This broad claim might seem to be refuted by the multiple layers attributed to Heaven in Paradiso,
via the orbits of canto 28 (as soon to be discussed, and illustrated in my Figure 5), or via the
tiers of the rose of canto 30. But pace opinions emanating from much secondary literature
(e.g. McDannell and Lang, Heaven (ref. 34), 84, 86; Nardi, Dottrina dellempireo (ref. 33),
204, 2069; 66970 of Attilio Mellone, Empireo, on pp. 66871 of vol. ii of U. Bosco (ed.),
Enciclopedia Dantesco (Rome, 197079); Singleton, Commentary (ref. 22), vi, passim, esp. pp.
43940, 447, 450, 492), Dante never uses the word empyrean (etc.) in the Paradiso. (See Ernest
Wilkins et al., A concordance to the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (Cambridge, MA, 1965),
189.) Furthermore, the entity identied by Nardi (loc. cit.) as the empyrean, is not a structured
heaven, but a single sphere, supreme, ultimate, uniform and immobile. In the letter (of
contested authenticity) dedicating the Paradiso to Can Grande (Epistolae: The letters of Dante,
transl. by Paget Toynbee (Oxford, 1920), 186/206 = 10.24), Dante does mention the empyrean
explicitly, identifying it as the heaven (of canto 1.4) that receives most of Gods light, and as
the destination of his mystic journey. Yet (pace Boyde, Dante philomythes (ref. 34), 135, who
restricts this opinion to the younger Dante) this same letter also characterizes this heaven as
material, despite the clear indication at line 39 of canto 30 that Dante leaves the corporeal world
behind. So it is difcult to see the immaterial, non-uniform and patently kinetic layers of cantos
28 and 30 as correctly identied in the letter. They are clearly a vision of a spiritual Heaven, but
that Heaven seems to replace (rather than instantiate) the empyrean in the poem. If however the
letter really is genuine, Dante seems guilty of some strange inconsistency here, so again cannot
be used as clear evidence for a structured empyrean. (It should probably be added that I cannot
see how Nardi justies his characterization, p. 205, of the empyrean as assolutamente uniforme,
but if he is wrong here my point is only slightly weakened.)
48. For the correlation of my Figures 3 and 4, see Baltrusaitis, Cercles astrologiques (ref. 45), 723.
For Dantes correlation, see: Dante, Convivio, 2.5.1213, 3.7.6 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 53, 945);
Paradiso, 28:34, 556, 708, as discussed Singleton, Commentary (ref. 22), vi, 4504; McDannell
and Lang, Heaven (ref. 34), on p. 86 (Fig. 5). Dantes nine Paradiso spheres are the seven planetary
ones, plus a stellar sphere and an outer crystalline sphere. For another explicit detailing of the
correlation, see John Colet (d. 1519), John Colets commentary on First Corinthians, transl. by
Bernard OKelly et al. (Binghampton, NY, 1985), 24251.
49. He later adds (e.g. p. 79) a fourth world, man, but that addition seems to have no impact on our
analysis here. My discussion of Mirandola here is based on the rst few pages of the second
proem of the 1489 Heptaplus (pp. 759 of the D. Carmichael transl. on pp. 63174 of On the
dignity of man; On being and the One; Heptaplus (Indianapolis, 1998)).
50. The same message is very explicit with: Tolhopf as discussed Lynn Thorndike, Science and thought
in the fteeenth century (New York, 1929), 298301; Bartholomew of England, as discussed
Thorndike, History of magic (ref. 41), ii, 41415.
51. Colet too adopts the same schema very explicitly: see Leland Miles, John Colet and the Platonic
tradition (London, 1962), 557.
52. Joseph Needham et al., Science and civilisation in China, iii (Cambridge, 1959), 22931, 2401,
25961; Stephen Langdon, Semitic [mythology] (vol. v in series The mythology of all races;
Boston, 1931)), 94, 395. Cf. The legend of Etana: A new edition, ed. and transl. by J. Wilson
(Warminster, 1985), 9, 65, 76 for a slightly different Mesopotamian divinization of the pole.
For more general discussions of the divinity of the cosmic axis in non-classical cosmologies,
see, e.g.: Mircea Eliade, Centre du monde, temple, maison, on pp. 5782 of Le symbolism
cosmique des monuments religieux (Rome, 1957); idem, Myth (ref. 24), 1218; idem, Shamanism
(ref. 24), 25987; idem, Images and symbols: Studies in religious symbolism, transl. by P. Mairet
(Princeton, 1991), 3956; idem, Patterns in comparative religion, transl. by R. Sheed (New York,
1958), 99108, 36787; Arent Wensinck, The ideas of the western Semites concerning the navel
of the Earth (Amsterdam, 1916) = Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen
te Amsterdam Afdeeling Letterkunde, n.s., xvii/1 (1917), passim; Wilhelm Roscher, Omphalos
(Hildesheim, 1974), passim.
53. This apparent suppression of centrality lies at the heart of the story I tell here, and I am extremely
grateful to a colleague for pointing it out: Marinus van der Sluijs, who is currently preparing a
comparative and historical study of the mythology of the divine cosmic axis, a study foreshadowed
in his The world axis as an atmospheric phenomenon, Cosmos, xxi (2005), 352.
54. Genesis 4:911; Anon., Carmen Genesis (a Latin poem, from late Antiquity, of unknown authorship,
paraphrasing the Bible), in Patrologia latina (ref. 33), ii, cols 1097102, and transl. by S. Thelwall,
on pp. 1325 of vol. iv of The ante-Nicene fathers (Edinburgh, 1989), line 160, and compare
lines 5 (cardo), 8, 80 (transl. by Thelwall as lines 200, 6, 10, 100); Anon., Hisperica famina: The
A-text. A new critical edition with English translation and philological commentary, ed. by M.
Herren (Toronto, 1974), lines 51, 222, 290, 3746, 494, 561 = pp. 68, 80, 86, 92, 102, 108. Cf.
Origen, Contra Celsum (ref. 32), 331 (= 6:18 and translators n. 3). See also the iconographical
evidence discussed below, 9.
55. Franz Cumont, (= Hypsistos = highest), on cols 44450 of vol. ix of G. Wissowa et
al. (eds), Paulys Real-Encyclopdie des Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart, 1916),
esp. col. 446; idem, After life in Roman paganism (New York, 1959; 1st publ. 1922), 98, 1035
(citing: Julian, Caesar 307c (= Loeb, ii, 3467); Lucan, Pharsalia 1.45 (= Loeb, 67); Statius,
Thebaid, 1.30 (= 1928 Loeb, Mozley transl., 3423); Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 8.31 (= Loeb, ii,
3467)). Cumont suggests that the epithet placed Zeus in the outermost region of the cosmos,
or even beyond the cosmos. See his: , col. 449; After life, 108; Jupiter summus
exsuperantissimus, Archiv fr Religionswissenschaft, ix (1906), 32336, pp. 32934. For a much
later Christian example of the same terminology, see Spenser, Heavenly beautie, lines 1001.
56. Hippolytus, Refutation of all heresies (= Philosophumena), 4.47.12 (= pp. 1312 of Greek text ed. by
M. Marcovich, published as Refutatio omnium haeresium (Berlin, 1986) = p. 42 of J. Macmahon
transl., on pp. 1162 of vol. v of The ante-Nicene fathers (Edinburgh, 1986)); Charlton Lewis
and Charles Short, A Latin dictionary (Oxford, 1969), s.v. vertex, meaning III.B.2. For further
examples, see: Cicero, De natura deorum, 2.41.105 (= Loeb, 2223); Anon., Hisperica famina
(ref. 54), lines 103, 290, 3746 (= pp. 70, 86, 92); Virgil, Georgics 1.242 (= Loeb, 11415);
Vitruvius, On architecture, 9.1, 9.4 (= Loeb, ii, 21213, 2389).
57. Philo, Questions on Exodus (24.1011), 2.37 (= Loeb, Supplement 2, 79); Cumont, After life (ref.
55), 195 (citing: Homer, Odyssey, 6.417 (= Loeb, i, 2089); Lucretius, Nature of things, 3.18ff.
(= Loeb, 1901); Zeno, fragment 147 (= H. Von Arnim (ed.), Stoicorum veterum fragmenta
(Leipzig, 190324), i, 40 = Lactantius, Divine institutes, 7.7)). For some later examples, see:
Dante, Convivio, 2.3.10 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 47); Miles, Colet (ref. 51), 52; Colet, Letters to
Radulphus (ref. 45), 10.
58. Aratus, Phaenomena, lines 2025 (= Loeb Callimachus, Lycophron and Aratus, 3823); Hippolytus,
Refutation, 4.47.1, 4.49.23, 5.8.3435, 5.15.34 (= ref. 56, Greek pp. 1312, 136, 1612, 181;
transl. pp. 44, 55, 62); Hermetica (ref. 28), 5.4 (= p. 19); The Greek magical papyri in translation,
transl. by Hans Betz (Chicago, 1986), 4.675685, 7.68690 (= pp. 51, 137); Milton, Arcades,
line 66; John Murdoch, Album of science: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (New York, 1984),
3357, 384 (Fig. 276.3 (from a fourteenth-century MS) for the cranks). Cf.: Isidore of Seville, De
natura rerum, 12.6 (= pp. 2223), citing Lucan, Civil war 10.199200 (= Loeb, 6045); Lewy,
Chaldan oracles (ref. 28), 99 (on Aion); Martianus Capella, Marriage (ref. 28), 60; Seneca,
Hippolytus/Phaedra, 9604 (= Loeb, Tragedies, i, 3967).
59. David Ulansey, The origins of the Mithraic mysteries: Cosmology and salvation in the ancient world
(New York, 1989).
60. See: N. M. Wildiers, The theologian and his universe: Theology and cosmology from the Middle
Ages to the present (New York, 1982), 867; Russell, Lucifer (ref. 23), 218, 222; John Freccero,
Satans fall and the Quaestio de acqua et terra, Italica, xxxviii (1961), 99115, pp. 11213;
Valerie Shrimplin, Sun symbolism and cosmology in Michelangelos Last judgment (Kirksville,
MO, 2000), 72.
61. C. S. Lewis, The discarded image ( Cambridge, 1964), 58, 87, 116; Alan of Lille (Alanus ab Insulis),
Opera omnia, ed. by J.P. Migne (Paris, 1855), i, col. 444 (= prose 3), transl. adapted from J.
Sheridans (= The plaint of nature (Toronto, 1980), 120), with my middle reaches replacing
the translators centre, to avoid overstating the case. Unfortunately Lewis reports details very
inaccurately, and overstates the case far more than Sheridan. For other examples of secondary
literature noting the inversion, see: Jeffrey Russell, A history of heaven (Princeton, 1996), 180;
Singleton, Commentary (ref. 22), 450; Phillip Cary, Augustines invention of the inner self: The
legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford, 2000), 103.
62. Boethiuss translator interprets (in his note on p. 87 of Anicius Boethius, The consolation of philosophy,
transl. by V. Watts (Harmondsworth, 1969)) the cosmos of Consolation, IV poem 1 = pp. 867
as one of the inversions identied by Lewis, but I cannot read the text that way. When discussing
Raphaels depiction of the inversion (see below, ref. 64), Lewis (Discarded image (ref. 61), 87)
cites a far more satisfactory precedent, IV prose 6 (= 105), where Boethius characterizes God
as a cosmic centre.
63. Cf. Convivio 2.5.8 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 52); Colet, Commentary (ref. 48), 2467. The fact that Dante
feigns puzzlement counts (somewhat) against my ongoing claim that this inverted geometry was
familiar to pre-Copernican audiences, but the fact remains that Dante does solve his own riddle.
64. For a depiction of the dome (which dates from 151213), see: Raphael and Pierluigi De Vecchi,
Raphal (Paris, 2002), Fig. 265 (p. 277). For the identication of Raphaels lower, outer zones
as terrestrial, elemental, and seasonal, see pp. 127, 139, 157 of Kathleen Brandt, Cosmological
patterns in Raphaels Chigi Chapel in S. Maria del Popolo, on pp.12758 (and plates 4354) of
Christoph Frommel et al. (eds), Raffaello a Roma: Il convegno del 1983 (Rome, 1986).
For the Tischplatte, see Peter Whiteld, The mapping of the heavens (London, 1995), 57. For
analysis, see Siegfried (Graf) Pckler-Limpurg, Martin Schaffner (Strassburg, 1899), 72, and
Suzanne Lustenberger, Martin Schaffner: Maler zu Ulm (Ulm, 1959), 208. Lustenberger correctly
interprets Schaffners central gure as empyrean, while Pckler-Limpurg simply treats it as the
For another, later example (Veronese, Villa Barbaro, Maser, late 1550s), see: Paolo Veronese
and Terisio Pignatti, La villa di Maser (Milan, 1968), passim (for good illustrations); Richard
Cocke, Veronese and Daniele Barbaro: The decoration of the Villa Maser, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xxv (1972), 22646 (for analysis). Cocke identies: the outer
corners as elements (on p. 229); the system as Ptolemaic (p. 231); and the whole schema as one
of the supreme decorative achievements of the Italian Renaissance (p. 226). Pignatti (pp. 14,
23) notes that the seasons here are in lunettes separate from (but next to) the elemental corners.
65. Aristotle: On the heavens, II.13 (esp. 293a15293b20 = Loeb, 21619); Siorvanes, Proclus (ref. 33),
30411 (for Theon and Proclus). In the Vulgate Revelation 4:6, the four beasts of the Apocalypse
are in medio et in circuitus sedis Dei which seems to place the throne of God all about the beasts
and in the centre of them. This is certainly how the twelfth-century mystic Gilbert of Hoyland
interpreted the passage: see Bernard McGinn, The growth of mysticism (London, 1995), 300.
66. My Figure 7 should be compared with another miniature from the same MS, that reprod. as Fig. 11 on
p. 38 of Friedrich Winkler, Die mmische Buchmalerei des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig,
1925). In this second diagram, the zodiac is not surrounded by the planets (as a full-blooded
inversion requires), but surrounds them, and this may be why Russell, Lucifer (ref. 23), 223
cites Marmion (in this exact context, but without giving a source) as proposing an odd schema
in which the Moon is the planet closest to God. That interpretation is denitely not true of the
geometry of either of these two gures, and my Figure 7 certainly has the stars inside the planets.
For further examples of the inversion, see: image on fol. 69 of Nicole Oresme, Le livre du ciel et
du monde, 1377 = Bibliothque Nationale de France, MS Fr.565, at: http://classes.bnf.fr/ebstorf/
grand/60.htm); emblem of a candle from Farlie, Lychnocausia (1638), as reprod. Huston Diehl,
An index of icons in English emblem books (Norman, OK, 1986), 236.
67. For some sustained (though generally unsatisfying) attempts to demonstrate that domes and the like
were symbols of the heavens (in both senses of the word), see: Karl Lehmann, The dome of
Heaven, Art bulletin, xxvii (1945), 127; Adrian Snodgrass, Architecture, time and eternity:
Studies in the stellar and temporal symbolism of traditional buildings (New Delhi, 1990), i,
2617; Louis Hautecoeur, Mystique et architecture: Symbolisme du cercle et de la coupole (Paris,
1954); Earl Smith, The dome (Princeton, 1950), passim (e.g. pp. 8, 7494).
68. James Feibleman, Religious Platonism: The inuence of religion on Plato and the inuence of Plato
on religion (London, 1959), 1068.
69. Singleton, Commentary (ref. 22), 4502; Boyde, Dante philomythes (ref. 34), 2001. Cf. Russell,
History of heaven (ref. 61), 179. Similarly, on p. 181 of his Commentary, Singleton treats the
heavenly Sun (of Paradiso 10.53) as just a symbol. This dismissal of Platonic realism is surely
an anachronistic reading, adapted to a far more modern metaphysics. Boyde, by contrast, notes
several afrmations of the idea that God is Light literally and not guratively: see pp. 20810.
70. See, e.g., Wensinck, Ideas (ref. 70), passim; Eric Burrows, Some cosmological patterns in
Babylonian religion, on pp. 4370 of S. H. Hooke (ed.), The labyrinth (London, 1935), 66;
Eliade, Images (ref. 52), 3946.
71. For the symbolic interpretation, see: Naomi Kline, Maps of medieval thought: The Hereford paradigm
(Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2001), 20815; David Woodward, Reality, symbolism, time, and space in
medieval world maps, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, lxxv (1985), 51021,
esp. pp. 51417; J. B. Harley and David Woodward (eds), The history of cartography, i (Chicago,
1987), 3402; W. G. L. Randles, De la terre plate au globe terrestre (Paris, 1980), 1920 (quoting
from a 1485 edition of the travels of Mandeville). A good example of the astronomical claim can
be found in (another edition of) the very same text: see Ps-Mandeville, The travels of Sir John
Mandeville, transl. by C. Moseley (Harmondsworth, 1983), 129, which claims that Jerusalem is
beneath an equinox. Some versions of Mandevilles argument say Jerusalem is beneath the Sun
at the summer solstice: see, e.g. Paul Wheatley, The pivot of the four quarters: A preliminary
enquiry into the origins and character of the ancient Chinese city (Edinburgh, 1971), 4289.
For the gravitational claim, see Ps-Mandeville, Travels, 129 and Martin Luther on Genesis 1.9
on p. 35 of the G. Schick transl. in Luthers works, i, ed. by J. Pelikan (St Louis, 1958). See also
Chet Van Duzer, The mythic geography of the northern polar regions: Inventio fortunata and
Buddhist cosmology, Culturas populares: Revista electrnica, ii (MayAug. 2006), passim.
72. Dante Convivio, 2.5.1213, 3.7.6 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 53, 9495), Paradiso, 28: 5556. See also:
Spenser, Heavenly beautie, lines 6477; Sacrobosco, The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its
commentators, ed. by Lynn Thorndike (Chicago, 1949), 76/118 plus references to archetype (in
the divine mind) on pp. 80/120, 153/208, 248, 253, 286, 3645; Boyde, Dante philomythes (ref.
34), 1301; Edmund Gardner, Dantes ten heavens: A study of the Paradiso (Westminster, 1898),
201. For an extended discussion of Dantes comparison, see Alison Cornish, Reading Dantes
stars (New Haven, 2000), chaps. 78. For Calcidiuss remark, see Calcidius (and Plato), Timaeus
a Calcidio translatus commentarioque instructus, ed. by J. Waszink and P. Jensen (London,
1962), 154. For Mirandolas, see Heptaplus (ref. 49), 77.
73. I have no convincing data on this topic, but note the following fragments: (a) In ancient Chinese
mythology, a discrepancy between the current and primeval universe was recognized, and an
explanation was to hand, for a primeval battle between Kung Kung and Chuan Hs had broken
the cosmic axis, and tilted the sky: see Needham et al., Science and civilisation, iii (ref. 52),
21115, 286, 291 n.b, 297; Marcel Granet, La pense chinoise (Paris, 1934), 344. (b) In the West,
both Christian and pagan traditions accepted that the Sun had been shifted by the Fall: see, e.g.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.89124 (= Loeb, i, 811, for the disruption of the perpetual spring of
the Golden Age); ibid., 2.1718 (= Loeb, i, 7273, for Phaetons taking the Sun near the Pole);
Milton, Paradise lost, 10.6516 (for the creation of the seasons as a punishment). (c) Robert Fludd
(Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris metaphysica, physica atque technica historia, Part 1
(Oppenheim, 1617), i, 43, 13442) suggests that the Sun was created centrally, but later vacated
that position; while the frontispiece (facing p. 1) and p. 3 of Michel de Marolles, Tableaux du
temple des Muses (Paris, 1655; facs. reprint, New York, 1976) places a polar constellation near
the Sun in his primeval chaos, and says there was no sunlight then.
74. For the form of the Earth, see: Philo, Creation, 6.29 (= transl. ref. 29, p. 53 = Loeb Works, i, 2223,
discussed by Runia, annotations to transl. (ref. 29), 1645); Origen, De principiis, 2.3.6 (= transl.
(ref. 32), 2734 and cf. Scott, Origen and stars (ref. 29), 1624); Plotinus, Enneads, 6:7.1112
(= transl. (ref. 29), 56970) and cf. Dillon, Pleroma (ref. 26), 1045). See also Revelation
21:1, for a Biblical reference to a second Earth. For references to the forms of (several) heavenly
bodies, see: Otto Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte (Munich, 1906),
1467; Philo, loc. cit.; Origen, loc. cit.; Plotinus, loc. cit.; Julian, Against the Galileans, 65BC
(= Loeb Works, iii, 3367).
75. Quoting Enneads, 1:1.7 (= transl. (ref. 29), 65). See also 5:1.11, 6:5.5, 6:8.18, 6:9.8 (= 379, 535,
61011, 6212). Cf. Cary, Inner self (ref. 61), 5, 26; P. A. Meijer, Plotinus on the Good or the
One (Enneads VI,9): An analytic commentary (Amsterdam, 1992), 2425. My understanding of
Plotinus is very defective, and accordingly, my discussion here avoids disentangling the details
of Plotinuss superior worlds. This simplication is a distortion, but does no real damage in the
present essay, where such detail is not required. For though the mystical visions of late Antiquity
tended towards a multiplication of superior worlds, medieval Christian theology was, on the
whole, far more spartan.
76. Cary, Inner self (ref. 61), 103. Cf. p.121. Cf. also the somewhat similar internal/external contrast in
Philo, loc. cit. (ref. 31).
77. This term derives from p. 38 of Walter Cook, The oldest painted panels of Catalonia II, Art bulletin,
vi (1924), 3160, whose extremely useful discussion of gures like my 8 and 9 traces (38, 4750)
the motif back to ninth-century France, without nding any special cosmological commitment
in the intersecting circles. My expanded interpretation is argued by Tadeusz Dobrzeniecki (see
part 3 of his Maiestas domini w zabytkach polskich i obcych z Polska zwiazanych (parts 13),
Rocznik Museum Narodowego w Warszawie, xvii (1973), 586, xviii (1974), 215308, xix
(1975), 5263, e.g. French summary, p. 261) and made absolutely clear by: the text attached to
the Botticelli variant (my Figure 5); plus the internal circles in both the Memling Heaven (my
Figure 8), and some of the other globe-mandorlas reprod. in Craig Harbison, The last judgment
in sixteenth-century northern Europe (New York, 1976).
My three gures also serve to reject an interpretation hesitatingly proposed as an alternative
to Cooks in the Reallexikon zur deutschen Kunstegeschichte (vol. v, col. 1071, s.v. Erde) to the
effect that the bottom circle represents the Earth, for Dantes text makes it clear that the bottom
circle in Figure 5 is not the Earth, while Figures 8 and 9 include a separate Earth. The suggestion
is also incompatible with those globe-mandorlas (cited in ref. 78) placing stars on the bottom
circle, viz. the Vatican Last Judgment and the Siena Redeemer.
78. For further helpful examples of these coalescences, see: several of the other illustrations (beyond
my Figure 9) in Harbison, Last judgment (ref. 77); Nicol (Nicolaus) and Giovanni (Johannes),
twelfth-century Roman School, Last Judgment, Vatican Pinacoteca Inv. 40526; Beato Angelico
(Guido di Petro, fteenth century), Stories of St Nicholas, Vatican Pinacoteca Inv. 40252 (both
reprod. on pp. 109, 191 of Umberto Baldini et al., Pinacoteca vaticana: Nella pittura lespressione
del messaggio divino nella luce la radice della creazione pittorica (Milan, 1992)); tympanum
over the entrance to the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy (Savoie), c. 1200 (depictions readily found
on web); Giotto, Last Judgment, c. 1300, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (depicted Cappella (ref. 10),
277, 284); Sienese Master, Redeemer, thirteenth century, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (reprod.
Torriti, Pinacoteca (ref. 11), 2021). Cook, Oldest panels (ref. 77), 3860, provides many
more examples, many reproduced.
79. Enneads, 1:7.1, 2:3.9, 4:3.11, 5:1.67, 5:3.12, 5:5.68 (= pp. 65, 98, 270, 3745, 3945, 4089 of
MacKenna transl. (ref. 29); or vol. i, 2701, ii, 7677, iv, 7073, v, 3033, 11417, 1749 of
Armstrongs Loeb transl.). I cite two different translations because both are quoted, but also
because of Plotinuss obscurity on which, see also my warning in ref. 75 above. When
Plotinus wrote, Apollo had become a sun-god, but this was not true in the time of the Pythagorean
Plotinuss association of The One with the Platonic form of the Sun is universally accepted
in the secondary literature. Cf. John Rist, Plotinus: The road to reality (Cambridge, 1967),
6872; Arthur Armstrong, The architecture of the intelligible world in the philosophy of Plotinus
(Cambridge, 1940), 5556; p. 297 of A. C. Lloyd, The later Neoplatonists, on pp. 272325
of A. H. Armstrong (ed.), The Cambridge history of later Greek and early medieval philosophy
(Cambridge, 1967); Cary, Inner self (ref. 61), 5, 74.
80. Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 354ef, 381f, E at Delphi, 393b394a, and Oracle at Delphi, 400d,
Obsolescence, 433d3 (= Loeb Moralia, v, 2627, 1767, 24651, 2923, 4745); Philo, Special
laws, 1.279, On the virtues, 164, Rewards and punishments, 3640 (= Loeb, vii, 2623, viii,
2645, 3325). Cf. John Dillon, The middle Platonists (London, 1977), 191, 2001.
81. Bernardus Silvestris, The cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris, transl. by W. Wetherbee (New York,
1973), 99 (and editors n. 19, p. 158); Dante, Convivio, 3.12.67 (= Banquet (ref. 26), 109);
Paradiso 10.534; Tasso, De limprese, in Torquato Tasso, Dialoghi, ed. by G. Baffetti (Milan,
1998), ii, 1114. For Brulle, see Clmence Ramnoux, Hliocentrisme et Christocentrisme (sur
un texte du Cardinal de Brulle), on pp. 337461 of Le soleil la Renaissance: Sciences et
mythes (Brussels, 1965), esp. pp. 44950 (my translation).
82. E.g. Pliny, Natural history, 2.31 (= Loeb, i, 2423). Cf. Dante, Purgatorio, 16.107.
83. E.g.: Atius, 2.20.13 = DK A56, discussed W. K. C. Guthrie, A history of Greek philosophy (Cambridge,
196290), i, 286, ii, 1925; Virgil, Aeneid, 6.641 (= Loeb, i, 5501); David Ulansey, Mithras
and the hypercosmic Sun, on pp. 25764 of John Hinnells (ed.), Studies in Mithraism (Rome,
1994); Lewy, Chaldean oracles (ref. 28), 1513; Gruppe, Griechische mythologie (ref. 74), 1467.
84. The story of the polar Sun is very large, uncertain, and poorly developed in the literature, so only to
be hinted at here. But cf. Ulansey, Mithras and the hypercosmic Sun (ref. 83, expanding upon
Ulansey, Origins (ref. 59)); E .A. S. Butterworth, The tree at the navel of the Earth (Berlin, 1970),
5, 67, 1245,127; Wolfgang Menzel, Die vorchristliche Unsterblichkeitslehre (Leipzig, 1870),
3673; Snodgrass, Architecture (ref. 68), 93101, 118, 240, 284; Eliade, Images (ref. 52), 46.
85. For another example of Dantes point-of-light being replaced by a Sun, see Giovanni di Paolos
depiction of the Paradiso 28 episode (reprod. Giovanni Di Paolo and John Pope-Hennessy,
Paradiso: The illuminations to Dantes Divine Comedy by Giovanni di Paolo (London, 1993),
86. Martin Wallraff, Christus verus sol: Sonnenverehrung and Christentum in der Sptantike (Mnster,
2001), 53, 82, 116, 118, 124, 1856; Shrimplin, Sun symbolism (ref. 60), 12934.
87. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, cat. 003832373.
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