One of the most famous and interesting subjects of Medieval art and astrological discussion was the thread of cardinal and theological virtues.
The word “virtue” comes from the Latin “vir“, i.e. man. Still in Latin culture the word did not indicate just masculine gender, but a moral code, an unwritten law more important than the written one.
I see somebody found this subject a little confusing, so I want to give some details about it.
Theological virtues are the founding virtues and are listed by St.Paul:1
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
On these virtues, cardinal virtues are based. Their origin is not in religion, because they come from Greek philosophy, Plato to give some names.
Anyway we can find them in the Old Testament too in the hellenistic text called The book of Wisdom:2
And if a man love justice: her labours have great virtues: for she teacheth temperance, and prudence, and justice, and fortitude, which are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life.
In the Middle Ages the debate about the SEVEN virtues (and vices) was naturally linked to planets because of the number. This is Giotto, one of the most famous Medieval artists in his masterpiece, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
Giotto surely was very interested in astrology since he depicted a first version - destroyed in a fire- of frescos of Astrolabium Planum, the famous book written by Pietro Abano.
We should note that panels are one in front of the other, so to the Prudence corresponds Foolishness, to Strength the Fickleness, to Temperance Wrath, to Justice Injustice, to Faith Idolatry, to Hope Envy, and last but not least, on the contrary this is the most importan for St. Paul - to Love Despair.
As usually - as in our modern times - nobody could agree with nobody, so we have different lists. This is the one Dante gives for virtues he uses in his Paradiso:
Moon: souls disposed to virtue; Mercury: souls disposed to good for fame; Venus, true love and friendship; Sun, theologians; Mars, warriors because of faith; Jupiter, kings; Saturn, contemplative souls.
Alberto Marchesi, a Renaissance monk, gives his version of zodiacal signs and vices:3
In the Sun, which always shines proudly you should understand arrogance…secondly, in Mercury, which is always near to the Sun avarice…thirdly in the Moon, you should understand sloth because it puts something dark in the soul. Mars, which fires blood near the heart region, you should understand wrath; Jupiter, benefic by nature, let understand greed. Then Venus, lust and the sin of the flesh. Last, Saturn, dark and ashen star, you should understand envy, which is nourished with the good of others, and makes dark and ashen the soul.
Maybe the most beautiful images of seven virtues comes from Andrea Mantegna, a famous painter and artist, who illustrated one of the first tarot decks, which is called after him, Mantegna tarot, which is not a tarot deck as we know, but a set of composite illustrations.
The cards numbered I-X depict various levels of the Human Condition, from its base, no. I Misero (the Beggar or Pauper) to its apex, no. X, Papa (the Pope). Those numbered XI-XIX represent the nine muses, and card XX, Apollo. Cards XXI-XXX depict the realm of knowledge, and feature the seven Liberal Arts, Astronomy, Philosophy and Theology. The cardinal and theological Virtues are illustrated on cards XXXIV-XV, and are preceded by three cards representing the Cosmos, Time, and the Sun, respectively. Lastly, cards XVI through to L constitute an ascent through the celestial spheres, with representations of the seven planets, of the ‘eighth sphere’ of the fixed stars, up to the Primum Mobile (the Prime Mover) and Prima Causa (the First Cause), which is to say, towards God. 4
This is the complete set of the B group, the one about virtues: (click on the images for a slideshow):
These are the original versions from a deck of 1475.
This is a modern version - original in the picture and coloured - from my tarot collection (I have 20-30 different decks) by Scarabeo.
Giuseppe Bezza, Arcana Mundi: Antologia Del Pensiero Astrologico Antico (Milano: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1995).
- I,13,13 [↩]
- VIII,7 [↩]
- Coeliloquium morale p. fratris Alberti de Marchesiis de Cottignola Ordinis minorum de obseruantia artium ac sacrae theologiae lectoris peritiss. Approbatum Clementis VII. Decreto ne quis hunc librum infra septennium imprimat aut alibi impressum uendat: sub poenis in eo contentis. Pubblicazione: (Impressum Bononie : in aedibus Ioannis Baptiste de Phaellis, die 20 Maij 1529 [↩]
- from http://www.spamula.net/blog/2004/08/the_mantegna_tarot.html [↩]