March 27th, 2006

Vanitas desk

Temperance at hand

The new iconography of the virtues developed in the mid-fifteenth century in France, and pretty well died out within a hundred years. The iconographic scheme shows the seven cardinal and theological virtues laden down with way too many attributes. My PhD dissertation was structured around an analysis of Temperance's iconography within this scheme.

The mid-sixteenth century engravings after Brueghel's design of the new iconography was the last gasp of this scheme, and the one best known to art historians, print collectors, and curators. The images shown the new iconography made marginally more feasible by abstracting the odd items the virtue personifications stand on. Instead of Temperance balancing precariously on the top of a windmill, just the sails lie on the floor near her, her own feet planted firmly on the ground.

On Thursday, I held an impression of the print in my hands, looked at it closely for the first time. There were so many details I'd never noticed: actors and cannons as exemplars of temperance; the varieties of counting schemes used by the accountants in the lower left-hand corner; the odd devices in the upper-right hand corner whose purposes I do not immediately recognize.

The print dealer had three of the seven virtues on hand. Temperance was slightly damaged in the corner, although otherwise a very good impression. The damage meant that the print wasn't worth quite as much as Faith and Hope. It "only" cost UKP 9500.