Source collection The Cosmographic Chambers
Timaeus is one of Plato’s dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character Timaeus of Locri, written c. 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings and is followed by the dialogue Critias. Timaeus begins with a distinction between the physical world, and the eternal world. The physical one is the world which changes and perishes: therefore it is the object of opinion and unreasoned sensation. The eternal one never changes: therefore it is apprehended by reason
The Platonic Solids as drawn in Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum. Geometers have studied the mathematical beauty and symmetry of the Platonic solids for thousands of years. They are named for the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who hypothesized in his dialogue, the Timaeus, that the classical elements were made of these regular solids. In three-dimensional space, a Platonic solid is a regular, convex polyhedron. It is constructed by congruent (identical in shape and size) regular (all angles equal and all sides equal) polygonal faces with the same number of faces meeting at each vertex. Only five solids meet those criteria.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a great lover of geometry, and devoted much time to it starting in his early forties. His most outstanding polyhedral accomplishment is the illustrations for Luca Pacioli’s 1509 book The Divine Proportion. In the printed version of the book are woodcuts based on Leonardo’s drawings. Here is the first printed “elevated” form of a Dodecahedron. For the elevated forms, each face is augmented with a pyramid composed of equilateral triangles.
In Plato’s Timaeus, we find that God created the Cosmic Soul using two mathematical strips of 1, 2, 4, 8 and 1, 3, 9, 27. These two strips have the shape of an inverted “V” or the Platonic Lambda since it resembles the shape of the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. Calcidius was a 4th-century philosopher (and possibly a Christian) who translated the first part (to 53c) of Plato’s Timaeus from Greek into Latin around the year 321 and provided with it an extensive commentary and drawings.
The middle of the eighth century was the start of the ‘visible’ part of the European cultural period. The Patristic/Celtic tetradic division was revived by Saint Bede (the Venerable) in manuscripts like ‘De Natura Rerum‘ and ‘De Temporum Ratione‘. These texts treated the calendar, the four seasons, elements and humors. Bede positioned the four elements in their mathematical dimensions in a scheme of the elements and their interconnections. The sequence is here: Fire (Ignus) – Air (Aer) – Water (Aqua) and Earth (Terra).
Pythagorean Tetrade from the commentary that Agostino Nifo wrote in 1531 on the Meteorologica of Aristotle (the relation between the four elements and the four qualities). Agostino Nifo ( 1473 – 1538) was an Italian philosopher and commentator. His numerous commentaries on Aristotle were widely read and frequently reprinted.
The Mundus Annus Homo diagram is not a simple graphical schematization, but is both the fruit and the expression of a logical process, behind which stands a monumental philosophical, religious and scientific system. The four is a number that occurs in many different cults and philosophies with similar meanings: it is the number that represents the material world, immanence and space in general. It is a number that expresses solidity, extension and control over space.
An alchemical diagram from the ‘Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris Scilicet et Minoris, Metaphysica, Physica, atque Technica Historia’ (1617) by Robert Fludd, showing man as the solar system: his heart is the sun. ‘Dies Microcosmicus’, ‘Nox Microcosmica’ is written above and below the man. The Hebrew name of God or tetragrammaton ‘Yahweh’ is written in a cloud above his head, and a series circles radiate from the genitalia - the center of life.
The Zodiac Man was used in medieval medicine to determine the correct time for surgery, medication, bloodletting, and other procedures. The foremost rule was to avoid interfering with a body part when the moon could be found in its corresponding sign. Wherever the moon and stars are aligned with a certain astrological sign they correlated with a body part, bodily system, or the four humors.
The doctrine of temperament can be traced to the theory of humors which is a microcosmic form of the macrocosmic theory of the four elements (earth, water, air, fire) as first proposed by Empedocles (490 – 430 BC) and the four qualities (dry, wet, cold, hot). Humoral theory states that there are four body humors, and their proper mixture is the condition of health.
The first real advances in sciences after the Greeks occur in the Renaissance. The invention of the printing press allowed the publication of anatomical textbooks, allowing the dissemination of knowledge. An early example is Johann Peyligk’s Compendium philosophiae naturalis, published in Leipzig, Germany in 1499.
Mysterium Cosmographicum was published in 1596 by Johannes Kepler. It deals with the construction of the cosmos as he imagined: Kepler was convinced of the existence of a mathematical harmony in the planetary system. The Creator, according to his conviction, wad guided by mathematical laws. Around the sun, Kepler divides the five Platonic polyhedra so that each time one lies between the spheres of the planets.
Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) was a Danish nobleman, astronomer, and writer. Well known in his lifetime as an astronomer, astrologer and alchemist, he has been described as “the first competent mind in modern astronomy to feel ardently the passion for exact empirical facts.” His observations were some five times more accurate than the best available observations at the time. Brahe envisioned his castle Uraniborg as a temple dedicated to the muses of arts and sciences, rather than as a military fortress; indeed it was named after Urania, the muse of astronomy.
Robert Fludd’s most famous work is the History of the Two Worlds (1617-21). The two worlds under discussion are those of the Microcosm of human life on earth and the Macrocosm of the universe. In the third book of the “Macrocosm” Fludd offered another interpretation of the structure of the universe, complementing his earlier alchemical visualisations, but expressed musically. He analysed what he claimed to be the Musica Mundana, the musical forms that pervaded and structure universal creation.
The roots of the Ideal City are firmly embedded in the Renaissance history of Italy. The circle was seen as the ideal form, but other geometrical shapes like the hexagon, octagon and polygons were recommended as desirable for plans of sacred buildings (‘temples’). Renaissance ideal cities inspired by Vitruvius (15th-16th c.) 1. Filarete, 2. Fra Giocondo, 3. Girolamo Maggi, 4. Giorgio Vasari, 5. Antonio Lupicini, 6. Daniele Barbaro, 7. Pietro Cattaneo, 8/9 di Giorgio Martini.
The Norse mythological World Tree Yggdrasil represents the matrix of the cosmos, and the state of the universe is reflected by the state of the Tree - it embodies the mythological cycle. It also has intimate connections with life, fate and death and is a powerful life-giving force and symbol of regeneration (like all vegetative symbols). It serves as a medium for gaining knowledge, perhaps due to the oracular powers of the serpent-entwined cosmic trees of many cultures. It is a gateway to other worlds, the material of creation and destruction.
This elaborate tapestry-woven mandala, or cosmic diagram, illustrates Indian imagery introduced into China in conjunction with the advent of Esoteric Buddhism. At the center is the mythological Mount Meru, represented as an inverted pyramid topped by a lotus, a Buddhist symbol of purity. The landscape vignettes at the cardinal directions represent the four continents of Indian mythology but follow the conventions of Chinese-style “blue-and-green” landscapes. The dense floral border derives from imagery of central Tibet, particularly from monasteries with ties to the court of the Yuan dynasty.
The Ziggurat of Ur is a Neo-Sumerian massive stone structure in what was the city of Ur in present-day Iraq. The ziggurat was a piece in a temple complex that served as an administrative center for the city, and which was a shrine of the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur. Built during the Early Bronze Age, it had crumbled to ruins by the 6th century BCE of the Neo-Babylonian period when it was restored by King Nabonidus.
Of all the motifs used over the centuries in Oriental rugs, one design stands out among the others, not only for its impactful theme, but also due to a long history that spans numerous cultures and geographical areas. Known today as the Tree of Life, the design has played a central role in the arts for millennia, showing up in everything from pottery and mosaics to paintings and other handcrafted items.
The Codex Fejérváry-Mayer is an Aztec Codex of central Mexico. It is one of the rare pre-Hispanic manuscripts that have survived the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The Codex depicts specific aspects of the tonalpohualli, the 260-day Mesoamerican augural cycle. The painted manuscript divides the world into five parts. T-shaped trees delineate compass points: east at the top, west on the bottom, north on the left, and south on the right.
The Vitruvian Man is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci around 1490. It is accompanied by notes based on the work of the architect Vitruvius. The drawing depicts a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the ‘Canon of Proportions’.
The ancient Delta city of On or Ionu (near modern Cairo), which the Greeks called Heliopolis (City of the Sun), had a very old cosmogony. The Heliopolitan account of creation crops up here and there, like in the texts written on coffins which illustrates the separation of the Sky (Nut) from the Earth (Geb) by their father Shu (a personification of air): “I am the soul of Shu, for whom Nut was placed above him and Geb beneath his feet; and I was between them.”
In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) there arose a variety of talisman-scriptures. These charts show symbols of the Five Great Mountains in some significant arrangement, in the five directions or as a kind of map of China or the human internal ‘qi-arrangement’. These were used in Daoist meditations, visualizing the set as a kind of cosmic mandala, for illustrating certain philosophical doctrines, or for inner-alchemy.
The Prose Edda is an Old Norse work of literature written in Iceland in the early 13th century. The cosmology of Norse mythology has “nine homeworlds” or “nine realms”, unified by the world tree Yggdrasil. Mapping the nine worlds escapes precision because the Poetic Edda often alludes vaguely. The Norse creation myth tells how everything came into existence in the gap between fire and ice, and how the gods shaped the homeworld of humans.
In Polynesian mythology, people, the elements and every aspect of nature are descended from the one primal pair, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. Maui, fifth of his parents’ sons, was born so premature, so frail and so underdeveloped that he could not possibly have survived. For certain he would have died, but the gods intervened and Rangi, the Sky Father, nursed him through infancy. As a grown child, Maui returned to amaze his family with feats of magic.