Tag Archives: religion

‘Libri idiotarum’ and the triumph of Christianity

It’s nice to find a Google query with more hits in Google Books than in Google itself.

Such is the case with “libri idiotarum,” 47 hits in Google [1] and 215 in Google Books[2] (see also the Google NGram view[3].)

Libri idiotarum” means “books of the ignorant” or “books for the illiterate” (idiot did not mean what it means today). The expression was first recorded in a letter by Pope Gregory I:

“For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books.”[4]

Gregory refers to paintings, illustrations, sculpture and other visual representations used in Christian art to spread the the gospel in an era when only the clergy and the nobility were able to read.

For these unfortunate illiterate souls, the biblia pauperum (an illustrated bible) was also made.

But apart from being literate or illiterate, a picture is worth a thousand words.

N’est-ce pas?

Illustration: Triumph of Christianity

The coarsest drawings in the history of caricature

It is with great pleasure that I present an almost complete set of Abbildung des Papsttums (1545, Representation of the Papacy), a series of nine antipapal caricatures by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Click here for the PDF.

These woodcuts were published in conjunction with the “Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil” a anticlerical and anti-Catholic pamphlet by Martin Luther.

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that they are “the coarsest drawings that the history of caricature of all times has ever produced.”

The majority of this type of prints during the war between protestants and catholics were produced by protestants, however, there is the fine example of a catholic counter-attack by the depicting ‘Luther as the Devil’s Bagpipes‘.

Needless to say, I find this “coarseness” envigorating and I remember how amused I was when I first read “You should not write a book before you have heard an old sow fart,” another infamous dictum by Luther.

You can find more at Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic and antipapal pamphlets and protestant satire of catholicism.

In case you would like to purchase the set, it will cost €35,000.

The math of Noah’s Ark

Over the course of last summer I read Philipp Blom‘s A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (2010), a book about the petite histoire of the D’Holbach’s Coterie.

One of its most memorable passages describes Abbé Mallet’s entry on Noah’s Ark which cites Bishop John Wilkins’s mathematical breakdown of the food needed on Noah’s Ark. Fascinating.

Also, Wicked Company notes more. It notes how the alphabetical order in the Encyclopédie was regarded as a heresy in itself (just as it had been in Bayle‘s Historical and Critical Dictionary), since according to contemporaries, God should be the measure of things, not something mundane as the alphabet. It also notes how in the diagram “Figurative system of human knowledge[1], also known as the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, theology is but a subclassification of both philosophy and reason, and not a source of knowledge in and of itself.

By the way, there is another fascinating diagram based on the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, called ‘Essai d’une distribution généalogique des Sciences et des Arts principaux[2], representing a more narrative genealogical distribution in the shape of a very large cactus-like plant of which the leaves are filled with text.

Image sourced at the wonderful Il Giornale Nuovo.

See also: Concerning the surface of God

Durtal is fascinating.

Self portrait, 1885, oil on canvas, by Félix Vallotton

Imaginary portrait of Durtal (2009)

Durtal is fascinating.

Durtal is the name of the the recurring fictional character in J.-K. Huysmans‘s novel sequence Là-Bas, En route, La Cathédrale.

Norman Mailer appropriated Durtal to rewrite Là-Bas — a novel by Huysmans about the first documented serial killer and pratictioner of Satanism, Gilles de Rais — in Trial of the Warlock, a novelette I am currently reading in a Dutch version in the collection Playboy Stories: The Best of Forty Years of Short Fiction.