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Seeing again : geometry, cartography and visions in the work of Opicinus de Canistris (1296-C.1354)
By Danijela Zutic
Master’s Thesis, University of British Columbia, 2012
Abstract: My thesis considers the work of Opicinus de Canistris (1296-c.1354), a fourteenth century priest and visionary who created the Palatinus Latinus MS 1993 between the 1330s and the 1340s as a complex geometrical program. Set against erratic textual content, the images in the Palatinus are combinations of mathematical forms, collection of figures and zodiac symbols. Among 52 images, the ymago et similitudo Dei, ecclesia universalis (image and likeness of God, universal church) folio 24r, emerges as an example where the sequence of circles, lines, animals and faces reveals a synergy of cosmological and cartographic elements. This graphic system outlines a fourteenth century vision of the idealized Church. In my thesis, I argue that in order to bring out the relationships between the various elements and make them meaningful, Opicinus, through repetition, initiates a form of diagrammatic thinking that references the familiar to recreate a contemplative journey through which the drawn elements make evident the almost infinite flexibility of perception. In this fashion, the Palatinus and its visual content appear as a type of structured fiction in which the literal, physical world is mediated by mathematics. The image, converting invisible matter through visible means, draws attention to a peculiar kind of action. The ymago et similitudo Dei, ecclesia universalis, as well as most images in the Palatinus manuscript, force an eye, thus a viewer, to make discoveries instead of reconfirming what s/he knows, or rather recognizes. Through this process the schematic image becomes a tool that emanates authority through apprehensive perception, measured expectation and spiritual healing. What becomes clear by integrating aesthetic, scientific and theological modules is that observing and inventing creates a productive environment outside of the simple reflective mode. The work (the Palatinus) and how it might function comes into view as a result of the demands the images make on the viewer.