25. Four sources of knowledge

The Leviathan Year (1650): celebration of dualism

The ‘Leviathan Year’ is a newly coined name, inspired by the book of Thomas Hobbes ‘Leviathan’ (1651). The character of this year is not concerned with the contents of his book, but rather with its style. The book heralded an air of self-confidence, brought like a teacher: ‘For Reason is nothing but reckoning (that is, Adding and Subtracting) of the Consequences of general names agreed upon, for the marking and signifying of our thoughts; I say marking them, when we reckon by our selves; and signifying, when we demonstrate, or approve our reckonings to other men’ (Part I, Ch. V, p. 111).

The spirit of the middle of the seventeenth century was beautiful depicted in a book by Johannes JONSTONUS (1603 – 1675) titled ‘Historiae Naturalis de Quadrupedibus’ (1657). Fiction and reality were close companions: the unicorn was seriously illustrated in a number of varieties, while the rhinoceros had the rough appearance like the one introduced by Leonardo da Vinci. The lion, however, was remarkable accurate and also the folios of insects had a modern appearance (although the description of species would not satisfy the modern connoisseur).

The Leviathan-year (1650) celebrated dichotomous-oppositional thinking. A great number of book titles, published around this marker year were, direct or indirect, connected with partitioning. The ‘Leviathan‘ was in itself a tribute to the multitude, the innumerable and uncountable, the absolute reign of visibility, embodied in a part. The title page of Hobbes’ book showed – in the first publication of 1651 – a distinct two-partition between church and state. The relation between the many (symbolized in the Leviathan) and the One (or unity) was of the utmost importance.

The same oppositionality can be seen in the title page of a Dutch book by Jan Janzoon Deutel, a bookseller and printer from Hoorn (The Netherlands). The ‘Huwelijkx Weegh-schael‘ (Balance of Marriage) put male against female. The balance between them should be equal (but is slightly heavier on the man’s side!). Happy family-life was given in the medallion on the left. The scene was opposed to the life as a hermit in a cave to the right. The creation of Eve was depicted in the middle (fig. 165).


Fig. 165 – The Balance of Marriage (‘Huwelijkx Weegh-schael, waerin werdt overghewogen of ’t huwelyck goed of quaet is’; Hoorn, 1641, reprinted 1662) was the title page of a Dutch book by Jan Janzoon Deutel. It was a typical example of an illustration born in an oppositional frame of mind. Deutel’s most distinguished publication was the journal of Willem Ysbrantzoon Bontekoe: ‘The Memorable Account of the Voyage of the Nieuw Hoorn’ (1646) (SCHAMA, 1988).

The dualistic representation of engraved title pages and frontispieces was typical for the period leading to the Leviathan Year. ASHWORTH (1985) gave an interesting expose of some scientific title pages, which were full of (noncontroversial) allegorical elements in a dual setting. Johann Bayer’s ‘Uranometria’ (Augsburg, 1603), Francois Aguilon’s ‘Opticorum’ (Antwerp, 1613) and Johann Hevelius ‘Selenographia‘ (Gdansk, 1647) are some examples, but there are many more.

Symbolism became gradually an instrument in the dispute between Galileo and the Jesuits about the position of the earth in the cosmos. This scientific test case was the interesting result of consequent dualistic thinking (in combination with better means of observation). The telescope sparked Galileo’s discovery of the four moons of Jupiter. COHEN (1990) mentioned the Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 1695), who discovered a satellite of Saturn (in 1655) solely on numerological grounds: The perfect number of six (planets) and five secondary planets (one of the earth and four of Jupiter) changed into a perfect symmetrical picture.

Galileo’s magnum opus was called ‘A Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems’ (Florence, 1632). The book was a tribute to division-thinking: central subject is the two-division and the comparison of two world systems: either the historical, Church-supported view with the earth in the center of the cosmos, or – proposed by Copernicus and supported by Galileo – the earth circling around the sun.

The actual dialogue was between three people: Sagredo (an interested layman), Simplicio, an advocate of the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic system and Salviati, a defender of Copernicus/ Galileo. The frontispiece of the first publication in 1632 displayed three men in discussion. Their names are written in the hems of their garments, from left to right: Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus (fig. 166).


 Fig. 166 – The frontispiece of Galileo’s book ‘Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems‘ depicted Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus. To the left: in its original form (Florence, 1632), with Copernicus resembling Galileo and to the right (Strasbourg, 1635) the historical Copernicus reinstated. After ASHWORTH (1985).

The latter looked more like Galileo, but this was never mentioned in the trial. ‘And yet the resemblance of the Copernican figure to Galileo was sufficiently obvious that when the ‘Dialogue‘ was printed in Latin three years later, the frontispiece was re-engraved and the features of the historical Copernicus were reinstated’ (ASHWORTH, 1985; p. 187). Again, some sixty-five years afterward, in an edition printed in Leiden (1700), the figure of Ptolemy was further pushed in the obscure. Aristotle was now seated on the brink of light and darkness, and Copernicus stood in the forefront with a sun-centered cosmos enlightening his youthful appearance (TEICHMANN, 1985; fig. 75).

The text of ‘A Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems’ was divided in four parts (days). The first day was about dimensions and perfection, new stars, sunspots and observation of the moon. The second day dealt with movement, the pendulum, air and wind. The third day treated the measurement of the stars and the retrograde movement of sunspots and finally the fourth day was concerned with the tides and the impetus. So the first and third days were ‘static’, about measurements and the second and fourth days were ‘dynamic’, concerned with the processes which lead to the argument of a sun-centered cosmos.

This presentation coincided with the four phases (unity – separation – unity – separation) in the Greek interpretation of being as proposed by the philosopher Empedocles (p. 107). This characterization of the four phases is also is familiar in the (quadralectic) interpretation of the quadrants. There is no proof that Galileo deliberately employed the four-division in this way.

Traces of the four-fold symbolism sometimes emerged in the engraved title-pages themselves as the ‘Four Sources of Knowledge’: Divine Authority (or Scripture), Reason, Profane Authority (pagan philosophers like Aristotle) and Senses. Cristoph Scheiner introduced this emblematic element in the frontispiece of his ‘Rosa Ursina sive Sol‘ (The Rose of the Orsini, or the Sun), printed in Bracciano between 1626 and 1630. The book was dedicated to Paolo Orisini, the Duke of Bracciano (fig. 167). This early scientific study of the sun was a follow-up of his optical work called ‘Oculus‘, published in Innsbruck in 1611.


Fig. 167 – A schematic representation of the ‘Four Sources of Knowledge’ as presented by Christoph Scheiner in the allegorical frontispiece of his book ‘Rosa Ursina sive Sol’ (Bracciano, 1626-30). Two two-fold divisions, based upon an upper and lower classification, merge into a new fourfold division.

Divine and Profane Authority are placed to respectively top and bottom left of the frontispiece and Reason and Senses at top and bottom right. To quote ASHWORTH (1985; p. 186): ‘Scheiner’s message seems clear. We can learn a great deal from Aristotle and other pagan authorities, and we can also profit from the knowledge provided by our senses. But such knowledge must not be confused with the more certain knowledge that is guaranteed by divine inspiration. And most emphatically, one must not think that the evidence of the telescope can be used to contradict either Reason (the instrument of the philosopher) or Sacred Scripture (the bastion of the theologian).’

The emblematic ‘Four Sources of Knowledge’ were later used by Athanasius Kircher in his optical publication ‘Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae’ (Rome, 1646). Kircher compared the action of light to that of a magnet.  The title was most appropriate for the dualistic character of the Leviathan Year (1650): light versus shadow.

The frontispiece (fig. 168) was, just like Scheiner’s example of the ‘Rosa Ursina’, a deviation from the ‘classical’ designs of two pillars on both sides of an engraved text. The observer’s eye is drawn to the light of an amalgamated personification of Apollo the sun, Hermes with the caduceus, Zeus and his eagle and the zodiacal man. This male element is mirrored in a less flamboyant setting as a combination of female deities: Artemis the moon, Astraea/Virgo with a starry cloak, Athena with her owl and Hera with a peacock.


 Fig. 168 – The frontispiece for Anathasius Kircher’s book ‘Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae’ (Rome, 1646) placed the ‘Four Sources of Knowledge’ in the four corners.

The dualistic element is enhanced by the opposition between the profane knowledge – associated with a garden – and the senses depicted as a cave, the symbol of darkness. In the garden stands a sundial, but the beam of light goes astray in the darkness of the cave. The tetradic notion was represented in the corners of the picture as the ‘Four Sources of Knowledge’: the Sacral Authority with the Scriptures), the Ratio (symbolized as a writing hand with an unlighted eye), the Worldly Authority, and the Senses, depicted with a telescope and a pointing hand.

The four sources of knowledge were not a metaphorical invention of the seventeenth century, but had its roots in older imagery. The ‘Philosophia Naturalis’ of Albertus Magnus, published in Basel in 1560 (fig. 169), gave an example. Certain elements, like the compass and the rectangle, are attributes of Geometrica, one of the seven ‘artes liberales‘ (TEZMEN-SIEGEL, 1985), but are also to be found in the arms of the Florentine ‘Maestri‘. They were a guild of the building crafts with the Quattro Coronati as their patron saints (GOLDTHWAITE, 1980).


Fig. 169 – This representation of the ‘Philosophia Naturalis’ is from a work of Albertus Magnus (Basel, 1560). The Anthropos and the four elements are placed centrally in a black (moon) and white (sun) cosmos framed in the four sources of knowledge. The sources are symbolized as a balance (holy authority), compass (ratio), art/beauty (human authority) and ruler/rectangle (senses).

The motif of attributes referring to spiritual qualities had a long history, but it is hard to say – particular in the seventeenth century – if they were simply used as decoration in the corners of a square picture or stemming from a more deep-seated quadruple way of thinking.

The years around the Leviathan Year were historically situated in the ‘Age of the Baroque’ (1610 – 1660), a time of ‘dynamic movement, overt emotion and self-confident rhetoric’ (David PIPER (1984) quoted on p. 3 in: Steve WAKEFIELD, 2004). The confrontation between knowledge and faith was a contemporary topic. Science staked its claim as the provider of human imagery against religion: ‘Yet, during the course of the decisive fifty years after 1600, the place of religion and science changed radically and science was well launched on the triumphal career which was to culminate in our time’ (FRIEDRICH (1952/1962; p. 93).

This presumed struggle was, in a wider context, vividly described by John William DRAPER (1887). His book on the conflict between religion and science is stimulating reading, with some strong statements, like: ‘The frantic efforts of those who are interested in supporting delusions must always end in defeat’. His description of history as a conflict-model pointed strongly to a dualistic frame of mind, just like the mainstream of the Baroque period.

The turmoil of the seventeenth century can be qualified, in hindsight, as a dualistic struggle, but there are also tetradic images created from old dual elements. The world of science in the seventeenth century searched for their own symbioses of division thinking, just like Eriugena did with his ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ in the ninth century. Only the attention – within a fourfold setting – was shifted from the invisible to visible, from the sacral to the profane, from mysticism to power and from a real quadruple division to a mimicry-version.

The four Baroque ‘sources of knowledge’ were based on the duality of power and identity. They acted as a ‘demonstration’ of the old ‘ratiocinationis quadrivium’ pointing to the human ambition to qualify and observe. Both entities could be divided in two components. The sacral and profane authority represented the invisible and the visible faces of power, while ratio and senses stood for the invisible and visible forms of identity. Their sum is tetradic, but the roots were embedded in dualism.

An essential element in dualism is the psychological act of inversion. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) – perhaps together with Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) and Spinoza (1634 – 1677), the most dialectical minded philosophers of this period – reached this conclusion just before he suddenly terminated his ‘Lettres’: ‘A dialectical realization that your opponent is exciting to you, because he is a tempting possibility of yourself, weakens your political zeal, even though your cause be a just one’ (MUELLER, 1945; p. 75).

Oppositional and absolutist thinking can lead in the end to Pyrrhonian scepticism: ‘The general conclusion to which Greek philosophy came was this – that, in view of the contradiction of the evidence of the senses, we cannot distinguish the true from the false; and such is the imperfection of reason, that we cannot affirm the correctness of any philosophical deduction’ (DRAPER, 1887; p. 202).

The struggle between faith and knowledge is a chimera and represented only a particular point of view. Surely, the conclusion of any philosophical development should include skepticism, but it makes an important difference how this conclusion is reached and in which setting the result is valued. It could be either centered on the old ‘rebis‘ (two things) of the alchemists (fig. 170) or in a tetradic environment. In the latter case, skepticism is just a specific form of insight in the width of a communication.


Fig. 170 – A seventeenth century view of the ‘Rebis‘-man in the cosmos. This representation of an androgyn man expresses an alchemistic interpretation of division thinking. The human being is connected with the five planets (Venus-Mars, Mercury, Jupiter-Saturn) and the sun (Sol) and moon (Luna). The man is carrying a compass (Ratio), while the woman holds a rectangle (Sensus). The dragon of darkness is conquered. The (winged) earth – as a reference to Hermes/ Mercury – is divided in four parts. Superimposed on this (weak) division are a square (4) and a triangle (3), indicating the four- and threefold division as the main building stones of the ‘Magnum Opus‘. In: KELLER  (1912).

ASHWORTH, William B. Jr. (1985). Divine Reflections and Profane Reactions: Images of a Scientific Impasse in Seventeenth-Century Italy. In: LAVIN, Irving (Ed). (1985). Gianlorenzo Bernini: New Aspects of His Art and Thought. University Park, London. Pennsylvania State University Press.

COHEN, H. Floris (1990). Christiaan Huygens and the Scientific Revolution. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

DRAPER, J. William (1887). History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., London (ISBN 9781108000697; reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009).

FRIEDRICH, Carl J. (1952/1962). The Age of the Baroque. Harper Torch-books, Harper & Row Publishers, New York.

GOLDTHWAITE,  Richard A. (1980). The Building of Renaissance Florence. An  Economic  and Social History.  The Johns  Hopkins  University  Press, Baltimore/London. ISBN 0-8018-2342-0

JONSTONUS, Johannes (1657). Historiae Naturalis de Quadripedius. Joh. Jacobi Schipperi, Amsterdam.

KELLER, Ludwig (1912). Akademien, Logen und Kammern des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts. Neue Beiträge zur Geistesgeschichte von. Vorträge und Aufsätze aus der Comenius-Gesellschaft. XX, 2. Verlag von Eugen Diederichs, Jena.

MUELLER, Gustav E. (1945). Pascal’s Dialectical Philosophy and his Discovery of Liberalism. Pp. 67 – 80  in: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. VI, Jan. – Oct. 1945. Arthur O. Lovejoy (Ed.). College of the City of New York.

PIPER, David (1984). A-Z of Art & Artists. Mitchell Beazley, London. ISBN 13-9780855335472

SCHAMA, Simon (1988). The Embarrassment of Riches. An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. University of California Press, ISBN 0520061470.

TEICHMANN, Jürgen (1985). Wandel des Weltbildes. Astronomie, Physik und Messtechnik in der Kulturgeschichte. Deutsches Museum/Rowolt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH., Reinbek bei Hamburg. ISBN 3 499 17721 8

TEZMEN-SIEGEL, Jutta (1985). Die Darstellungen der septem artes liberales in der Bildenden Kunst als Rezeption der Lehrplangeschichte. Tuduv Studie/Reihe Kunst-geschichten; Band 14. Tuduv Verlaggesellschaft mbH., München.

WAKEFIELD, Steve (2004). Carpentier’s Baroque fiction: Returning Medusa’s Gaze. Tamesis Books. ISBN 9781855661073

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