Originally Posted by Ross G Caldwell
... the scenes in the circle above and around the triumph of Fame are a superimposition of allegories on an allegory - the Wheel of Fortune.
There are lots of narratives represented, historical and allegorical.
Originally Posted by Ross G Caldwell
You - the viewer - have to know how the Wheel of Fortune works. It turns clockwise. Up is upward good fortune, down is downward bad fortune. The center is the turner in most versions, but here it is transformed into another level of moralization - the *reason* for its existence at all. That is the fall of man.
Various cycles are shown with different directional flow. The Fall is shown in a vertical movement, from the two pre-Fall scenes (alone in the Garden and the creation of Eve) downward
to the labor of Adam and the murder of Abel. The cycle illustrating the Wheel of Fortune is in the conventional clockwise direction.
There is also a larger cycle shown. The two images work together, as a diptych, forming a single larger composition. Note in the illustration above, where I joined the two paintings, how both the foreground figures and the background landscape seem perfectly matched, and the Triumph of Fame procession runs headlong into the Triumph of Death procession. The four main sections of the combined composition form another cycle, a summula salvlationis
from the Fall through man's eschatological redemption.
Drogin talked about the spatial relationships of the paintings in the chapel as having a meaningful relationship with an obscure passage from Petrarch. However, the spatial arrangement I'm pointing out is the very composition of the two paintings. The Fall from Grace instituted the world ruled by Fortune, a world we know in terms of the famous figures and events used as exemplars in Costa's Wheel of Fortune. At the center of this 4-part cycle are the triumphs per se, Fame and Death. These are the rise and fall of Fortune's world or wheel, the first and second movements of the Fall of Princes
The Fall of Man is the first case study in Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium
(The Examples of Famous Men
). That book is an encyclopedic account of such Triumphs of Fortune throughout history. All of those accounts, however, are by their very nature fama, i.e., report, good or bad renown. Thus, the Wheel of Fortune throws off Triumphs of Fame as it turns. In Costa's painting this is made explicit, thereby degrading the humanist Triumph of Fame into a Christian vanity, Gloria Mundi
or Vainglory. Worse yet, the procession of Fame immediately runs into the oncoming procession of Death.
In the Tarot trump cycle, the middle section begins with triumphs in love and war, the very kind of circumstance we have seen displayed by Fama in her own triumphs. The sword and Cupid (or the Golden Apple of Venus) she holds aloft could just as well be represented by the Triumphal Chariot and Love cards. The passage of Time and turn of Fortune's Wheel lead to betrayal and ultimately Death. In both the Costa Trionfi
and Tarot's Trionfi
we see the same Fall of Princes
P.S. The heart of the Costa Trionfi
is the notion that triumphs of this life are transient, even for the great rulers of history and for the patron's family, while death is the passage to eternity. The moral allegory of the Floskaartjes shows the ultimate simplification of the Costa schema. The elaborate ranks of man in that deck are subject to the same two allegories, Life and Death. Because this connects to the theme of the trump cycle itself, because it is a fascinating game in its own right, and because the iconography is equally interesting with a long history, I'll expand on it a bit.
Life: The innocence, beauty, and transience
Floskaartjes: Een dodendans met speelkaartjes
of a child's soap bubbles, as a ship sails
the fickle sea in the background.
Death: The Reaper with scythe and hourglass.
There are at least five good examples online, although three of them are slight variations of the same design.
(the most striking of the five)
(Death w/o hourglass)
(Death with hourglass, high quality)
(Death with hourglass, legend at the top)
(Death with hourglass, lower quality, images reversed)
(For some reason the long URLs of the last two links don't seem to work.
If you right-click on the link and copy the URL, then paste it into the address bar, they do work.)
The allegory is well displayed in an earlier Dutch Vanitas
of Life and Death by Hendrick Goltzius.
Quis Evadet? (Who Escapes?)
Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617)
Copper Engraving, 212 x 153 mm, 1594
The legend on Goltzius' engraving is revealing, particularly the opening words, flos novus
. This is reminiscent of pseudo-Ausonius' 4th-century "gather, maiden, roses":
Collige, virgo, rosas, dum flos novus et nova pubes,
et memor esto aevum sic properare tuum.
Flos novus. Floskaartjes. In his post to Aeclectic, "Spoonbender" wrote:
Originally Posted by Spoonbender
If anyone is wondering about what the name means exactly: the only explanation I have come across is that 'flos' would mean 'rough', supposedly because the floskaartjes were printed on rough, cheap paper; and 'kaartjes' means 'little cards' ('kaartje' is the diminutive of 'kaart').
This would suggest "cheap little cards" as the name of the game. It certainly seems appropriate. However, the relationship between the Vanitas genre and flower buds suggests that Floskaartjes might be intended as "little flower cards". Today, it may seem a bit perverse that a macabre subject like Floskaartjes' Dance of Death might be referred to as flowers, but youth and fragile beauty have always insinuated age and loss in the contemptu mundi
outlook. In any case, although far from certain, it appears that Floskaartjes was created in the 17th Century, which would be perfectly consistent with the popularity of the Homo Bulla motif in Dutch art at that time.
From the sixteenth century on, a small boy blowing bubbles, mostly with a death's head nearby, symbolised the brevity of life. Goltzius's engraving of this motif is inscribed with the words quis evadet? -- who evades [death]? The print also bears a caption in Latin that likens the transience of human existence, even a child's, to the fleeting life of smoke or bubble. The purely allegorical homo bulla (man as a bubble) of the sixteenth century was later transformed in Dutch genre painting into an ordinary boy blowing bubbles.
Here is another example.
The metaphor was apparently popularized by Erasmus.
...the fragile soap bubbles exist only for a blink of an eye. In this sense, soap bubbles are associated with the transience of life. In the sixteenth century, the Dutch philosopher Erasmus reintroduced the Latin expression Homo bulla (man is a bubble) in his Adagia, a collection of sayings published in 1572. A Dutch Vanitas etching, published 150 years earlier[?], shows a young boy sitting on a skull and blowing bubbles. “Homo” is written over one of them: a skull as the symbol of death and bubbles representing the transience of man’s life on Earth.
Finally, in one example a young girl takes the place of the infant boy, and is given the attributes of Fortune.
Although popularized in post-Erasmus Dutch Vanitas works, the metaphor dates back to the ancients. Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) wrote the following as the first line of the first book of De Re Rustica
quod, ut dicitur, si est homo bulla, eo magis senex
for if, as they say, man is a bubble, all the more so is an old man
So the symbolism of the bubble, (like the universal symbolism of the skull or skeleton), was proverbial even in the 1st century BC.