On the Nature of Things

hoefnagel sloth

 Now come, and next hereafter apprehend
What sorts, how vastly different in form,
How varied in multitudinous shapes they are-
These old beginnings of the universe;
Not in the sense that only few are furnished
With one like form, but rather not at all
In general have they likeness each with each,
No marvel: since the stock of them’s so great
That there’s no end (as I have taught) nor sum,
They must indeed not one and all be marked
By equal outline and by shape the same.
Moreover, humankind, and the mute flocks
Of scaly creatures swimming in the streams,
And joyous herds around, and all the wild,
And all the breeds of birds- both those that teem
In gladsome regions of the water-haunts,
About the river-banks and springs and pools,
And those that throng, flitting from tree to tree,
Through trackless woods- Go, take which one thou  wilt,
In any kind: thou wilt discover still
Each from the other still unlike in shape.

De rerum natura
c. 50 B.C.E
Lucretius

Translated by William Ellery Leonard

Beneath a canopied structure, a wiry-haired animal, perhaps a sloth, munches on a twig. A Latin text based on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount appears above. Although the text and image seem to fit perfectly together, the different elements on the page were made thirty years apart.The elegant Roman-style lettering was written by Georg Bocskay to display his mastery of calligraphy. The text originally appeared on a plain black background. The illustration was added later by Joris Hoefnagel, who saw in the diminishing script the suggestion of recession into space, an illusion defied by the two-dimensionality of the text. He thus enclosed the letters within an architectural canopy drawn in perspective. Hoefnagel also responded wittily to the black coloration of the page, interpreting it naturalistically as nighttime: the silvery tones of the animal’s fur and the gold shimmer in the darkness.

Joris Hoefnagel illuminator, Georg Bocskay, scribe
Flemish and Hungarian illumination 1591-1596, script 1561-1562
Watercolors, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So little, so much to contemplate.

  2. Wonderful…and as ever, welcome remembrance.


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