DESCRIPTION: While some earlier scholars would have labeled these maps as “the epitome of medieval European cartography”, due to the very ecclesiastical form and content, they were, indeed, an exception in this period’s mapmaking.
In his recent book, Body-Worlds, Opinicus de Canistris and the Medieval Cartographic Imagination, Karl Whittington writes that on the 31st of March, 1334, this Italian priest named Opinicus de Canistris fell sick. There is no way of knowing how many other drawings Opicinus completed, and certainly no reason to believe that all or even a majority of his works have survived.
It was not unusual during the later Middle Ages to bring together the body and the earth in pictorial representations.
The relationship on the page between texts, diagrams, and pictures throughout Opicinus’ work is an especially important issue. The elaborate, complex, and beautiful drawings that Opicinus created in the years following his illness and vision are the subject of this monograph. Opicinus’ beliefs and hypotheses about the earthly, the heavenly, and the human are encoded in the very structures of his drawings.
Over half of Opicinus’ 80 drawings in the Vaticanus and Palatinus manuscripts include at least part of a portolan chart. Opicinus’ body-maps are far more complicated than any of the examples above, and the question of what they mean is more difficult to answer. It seems most likely that the figure depicts a sort of hybrid — a personification of Christianity, with Christ at its head and its heart, surrounded by elements of the cosmic order. According to Whittington the precise placement and scale of the two maps is certainly not accidental; the maps have been placed in a precise relation to one another in order to create and explain correspondences between them.
This doubling and mirroring of the portolan chart served a specific purpose: as Victoria Morse has argued, it allowed Opicinus to contrast the world as it was seen and known with the possibility of an alternate world converted to a state of grace. There is one caption on the page that offers a tantalizing comment on its form and content.
This quoted caption outlines the general principle that Opicinus follows in these drawings that employ mirroring or correspondence — that the multiplied forms are generators of multiple truths and realities. Many Vaticanus drawings contain more explicit imagery of birth and reproduction; metaphors of birth and rebirth seem to have been one of Opicinus’ primary ways of expressing the spiritual transformation that he underwent following his illness of 1334.
Sign up now to start receiving the most popular newsletters, updates and exclusive offers from Beliefnet. Opicinus was a minor functionary and scribe at the papal court, which had moved to Avignon some thirty years earlier, and luckily for us he kept a kind of day-book that still survives.
Numerous scholars such as Camille, Kris and Salomon point to Opicinus’ “frequent” self-representation in the drawings. Medieval mappaemundi often organized the land-forms of the earth around the shape of a crucifix (sometimes even a cruciform body), medieval astrological drawings commonly showed human figures at the center of cosmic and planetary networks, and the concepts of macrocosm and microcosm had been fully developed for a millennium. It is possible, and productive, to partially separate Opicinus’ texts from his diagrams and pictures, especially those that represent his body-worlds vision. Opicinus’ works present a conundrum when it comes to audience and reception, since there is no textual or visual evidence that anyone ever actually saw the drawings. Their unusual forms complicate our most basic assumptions about what and how medieval artists could represent.
These structures form the core of the drawings’ disorientation and strangeness — maps are piled on top of other maps, sometimes transparent and sometimes opaque, in a seemingly endless play of permeability and superimposition.
Some drawings contain one chart, others up to four; sometimes the continents and seas are embodied, while other times they are left plain.
His drawings are so diverse and disorienting that generalizations about their design or meaning are difficult and often misleading. These drawings depict a single Africa and a single Europe, separated by the Mediterranean Sea. Captions suggest various identities: Christ, Opicinus, and a female personification of prudence are all indicated.
The face is smooth and beardless (many male figures in Opicinus’ work wear beards), and has long, flowing hair. According to Whittington it is mainly a confrontation between two figures: a figure of Babylon (probably representing Islam) and a figure of Christianity. This interplay between the local and the global is not unusual within Opicinus’ texts and captions on other drawings, which often comment on the everyday world of his youth and family (we must remember that he made these drawings in Avignon, not Pavia), but the specific visual alignment of parts of Pavia with parts of the Mediterranean region is unique in these three drawings. One interprets the significance of the placement of Opicinus’ home parish district, around the Chapel of Saint Mary, delineated with a red outline near Tunisia and Sicily on the lower map. Certainly the drawing contains multiple levels of reality: it is an allegorical depiction of three body-world characters in contact and dialogue, a depiction of the structural connections between local and regional realities, and a series of interpretive musings about the significance of these connections for Opicinus’ own life and family.
61r he uses the skeletons of two portolan charts of the Mediterranean region, which have been rotated and overlapped to form one image.
In this particular example, the map shows the natural world at the bottom and the spiritual world at the top: labels on the drawing indicate that Affrica naturalis ypocrita and Europa naturalis occupy the continents of the smaller chart while Affrica spiritualis and Europa spiritualis talk to each other in the larger chart above. Europa naturalis bears a tarasque (a river demon from the Rhone) and Europa spiritualis contains an image of Christ showing his wounds, his side-wound situated suggestively close to Avignon, where Opicinus was living when he made the drawing. 58r of the Vaticanus Opicinus combines four small embodied portolan charts to create juxtapositions between the four seasons, the four cardinal directions, and the four states of the soul. 82r, we see many of the principles and techniques of the other drawings pushed to the limits of recognition and interpretability. At the precise center of the drawing, a cruciform shape is formed by the two mirrored shapes of Asia Minor and the Holy Land; Asia Minor forms the two arms, and the land below forms the body of a cruciform vestment. 1350), a Pavian who worked at the papal court in Avignon, drew a series of imaginative maps, while acknowledging in a text written between 1334 and 1338 his use of nautical charts.
In a passage that describes what sounds like a stroke, Opicinus details how his body slowly became paralyzed; he temporarily lost his ability to speak, and much of his memory. Opicinus almost always dated the Vaticanus drawings, which were composed between June and November of 1337. The passage describes a visionary experience: through oculus meis interioribus, Opicinus is granted a new view of the earth, one in which the land and the sea take on human attributes. A significant problem with many previous studies of Opicinus’ drawings is that they take a few lines of text, from folios of the Palatinus, or from distant pages of text in the Vaticanus, and use them to “explain” the content of Opicinus’ strangest imagery.
Visual parallels to these drawings certainly exist: body-maps have been produced in numerous periods, including such famous examples as the Ebstorf Map (#224, Book II, a medieval world map that placed Christ’s body in the corners of the earth), the Leo Belgicus (a map of the Netherlands and Belgium formed into the shape of a lion, the earliest example of which dates from 1583), or the Europa Regina, a depiction of Europe as a royal female (see below). The varied formats of these diagrams cannot be taken for granted — their arrangements form a crucial and underexplored aspect of their meaning.
The drawings in this first “category” are not all alike, and there is no evidence that Opicinus thought of them as a group, but finding language to describe and categorize their forms is a critical first step in their interpretation. This folio includes a cartographic picture in the upper two-thirds of the page, and text at the bottom. One could even identify Europe in this drawing as a kind of conglomerate figure of Christianity. The simplicity of this contrast stands out despite the extensive texts and interpretations written around it.
Binary themes in similar drawings include a contrast between the mouth of hell and the temple of the Lord (fol.
Opicinus played with this arrangement differently in each of the three drawings, changing the scales and position of the two maps, presumably seeking different correspondences.
On the page we see the body-worlds with which we are now familiar: here, a female Europe confronts a female Africa, and the Mediterranean devil lies between them, his head to the east.
84r, in which the scale of the portolan chart is completely different (much smaller in comparison to the grid of Pavia); here, Opicinus identifies different correspondences and comes to different conclusions as a result of the change in scale.
Yet the drawing is all about experimentation, layering, and play; to claim that creating or interpreting a drawing like this is a burden or struggle may be a modern misperception. But Opicinus piles on meanings, multiplies forms, and plays with realities seemingly as a form of experimentation. Each of the two charts is rendered in a different scale, with a larger one oriented toward the top of the page and a smaller one pointed toward the bottom. On each map, the western Mediterranean retains its integrity — France, Spain, and the northwestern coast of Africa are clearly visible both at the top and the bottom of the page.
Both figures of the “natural world” are male (a bearded, older figure in Europe and a tonsured monk in Africa), while both of the “spiritual” figures are female (Africa is a robed nun and Europe is a younger woman with long, flowing hair). The question, just as in the previous examples, is how its meaning is changed, activated, complicated, or simplified by its construction within the doubled and overlapped forms of the portolan charts. At the top of the page are two labels for Europe and Africa: Europe is the aduena rector novus, the strange new priest, and Africa is the parrochia aliena, the parish of another.


The longer captions on this folio do not always contain a single focus, and many make no comment at all on the drawing. Here, Opicinus seems to say that men do not transition literally into angels of light or darkness — the figures of the priest and parish at the top of the page do not actually become the figures at the bottom of the page. Even as Opicinus’ drawings make use of the natural world and empirical science, the arrangement of their forms expresses the detachment from reality that characterizes a dream.
Four of these drawings depict the body-worlds, and the reproduction always takes place within the body of the European figure. Morse’s other crucial innovation, in addition to asserting the rational and intentional basis of Opicinus’ thought, was to place the Vaticanus manuscript at the heart of her research. Salomon and others characterize the themes of the Vaticanus manuscript as just an extension of those in the Palatinus. The shapes of Europe, Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea each contain (or form) a human figure; these are the forms that Whittington calls “body-worlds,” and they constitute Opicinus’ most original and perplexing contribution to 14th century visual culture.
One of the things that makes Opicinus’ drawings so unusual is that they also incorporate a visual tradition that was practical, empirical, and scientific — medieval sea charts, usually called portolan charts. He often kept adding to the drawings over many years, including new details or textual explanations, and dating them to a specific day. As mentioned above, it seems possible that the Vaticanus was never meant to be viewed by others; much of it is arranged chronologically (like a diary), rather than thematically, and the subject matter of the texts and images suggests a private function.
The images of Africa and Europe as human figures were the core of this experience, but the interpretation of the vision was left up to him. According to Whittington the formats of Opicinus’ body-world drawings can be grouped into four categories: (1) single portolan charts, (2) portolan charts overlapping with local maps, (3) multiple portolan charts overlapping with each other, and (4) multiple, mirrored portolan charts. The coastlines of the Mediterranean and the relative scale and position of the landforms are almost exactly the same as we know them to be today.
Yet beyond the basic characters and the captions, the drawing’s meaning is clearly activated or shifted by the placement of the two personifications within the geographical forms of the portolan chart; after all, it is not difficult to imagine a much simpler way to express this confrontation, using only pictures and no maps.
The scene is full of interesting and surprisingly graphic details, many of them interpreted in the marginal texts. Such interpretations are, I think, meant as models; as Morse demonstrated, Opicinus hoped that the drawings could be used by others to probe their own consciences and personal histories. Even when texts in the Vaticanus indicated the stressors in Opicinus’ life —spiritual, moral, legal — the drawings remain exploratory and even lighthearted. The maps’ superimposition encourages the viewer to seek correlations between them, and Opicinus reinforces these correspondences by drawing actual lines and lines of text to connect various parts.
He grafts a spiritual system of correspondences and coordinations onto this new representation of the physical world, but specifically includes details that undermine both systems, seeking instead a negotiation between the two.
The rota on the breast of Affrica naturalis shows the mental processes that lead to sin: thinking, imagining, deciding, and delighting in (cogitatio, ymaginatio, electio, delectatio) lead the sinner to consent to sin (consensus peccati).
These can either connect the same geographical location between two separate maps (as in the line drawn between the two Carthages on the upper left map and the lower left map), or establish a point of contact between the same physiological parts of two body-worlds on the same map (as in the line drawn between the reproductive areas of the Europe-woman and the Africa-woman in the upper-right map).
It contains four complete portolan charts, all the exact same size, placed in careful relation to one another through overlapping and mirroring. This is different from the numerous drawings in the previous category, in which the two charts overlapped one another; here, the two white charts on the surface of the page are both complete diagrams of the region, reflecting one another along an invisible horizontal line in the Holy Land and Asia Minor.
The figures seem to present the encounter between a new priest and his new parish (a situation that Opicinus underwent several times in his early career).
The role of this form in the drawing is ambiguous — its cruciform shape and its “soaking in blood” certainly evoke Christ’s sacrifice, and its position at the heart of the drawing, precisely where the two white maps are mirrored, suggests that it may be significant in the transition between the two.
It is the caption that tells us something different; over their heads are written the words “matrix” and “virga” — womb and penis. Representing pregnancy and birth inside of Europe was a way for Opicinus to convey how both good and evil tendencies enter the world. The Vaticanus was often mentioned by earlier authors, but had never been the object of extensive study, perhaps because its visual material is smaller and less elaborate than the large Palatinus folios. These and other claims are refuted by Whittington with a basic statistical analysis of the manuscripts’ subject matter. Their enigmatic forms, expressions, and arrangements have the power to arrest the attention of modern viewers, reversing expectations about what sorts of imagery were possible in the early 14th century. The “world,” in Opicinus’ drawings, is always represented using these charts; they form the drawings’ structural basis and frame their meanings. The large size of the Palatinus folios suggests a more public function, given their physical similarity to large medieval wall maps and portolan charts. Here one sees before a map of the Mediterranean world — Europe, North Africa, Anatolia and part of the Near East are left the white color of the paper, and the seas around them are tinted with a reddish-brown wash. The incredibly diverse drawings that he created in the years that followed were his way of exploring the meaning of this vision and experimenting with different strategies for representing its shape and scope, searching for the arrangements and combinations that would lead him to the deepest meaning. Opicinus’ maps were based on the most modern and technically accomplished cartography of his day — mariners’ sea-charts, which we call portolan charts.
Several folios depict only the western portion of the standard Mediterranean portolan chart, limiting their view to the area between Gibraltar and the boot of Italy.
The geographic range of the depicted portolan outline is narrow - we see Gibraltar, Tunisia, France, Spain, and Italy, but none of the eastern Mediterranean, which is cut off by the drawing’s lower edge. The drawing thus suggests a combination of male and female elements: a pregnant female personification of Christendom, with Christ at the head and heart. In this first example, where the contrast between the two figures is simple and direct, we can more easily explore two ways that the form of the drawing — its geographical frame —may change the meaning of these figures.
For example, the Mediterranean figure appears to have two sexual organs — one massive penis that seems to be ejaculating onto the southern coast of Spain, and another that he clutches in his fist (presumably in an act of masturbation) near Venice.
84v, numerous captions explore the moral, theological, quotidian, and incidental correspondences created by the overlay of the city grid on the portolan chart.
The revelation and the experiment were meant to be used by anyone — Opicinus is using himself as a test case, taking examples from his own life, family history, and childhood, and using them to interpret the correspondence between the two charts.
These are all examples of Akbari’s horizontal allegory, or of allegory as a primarily interpretive act; Opicinus creates the structure (which may or may not have an intrinsic meaning — in this case, it seems not to), but the primary work is put into interpretation, play, and the creative exploration of his visual construction. Opicinus created, an over-determined world because of its opportunities and flexibility, not to build a burdensome system that would collapse on top of him. This basic format is repeated on at least eight other pages in the Vaticanus; again, there are variations in the size and placement of the two maps, but all of these examples include two portolan charts that are laid on top of one another. In the smaller, lower image, the negative space of the chart — the sea — is tinted with a light brown wash, delineating the body of the so-called “Mediterranean Man,” often labeled “Lucifer” His head and beard occupy the eastern Mediterranean (his ear tucked against the Nile delta and curving beard shaping the coast of the Anatolian peninsula), his arms gesture near Italy (one fist plunging violently east of Italy, forming the Adriatic), and his feet poke out near Gibraltar, between the faces of Europe and Africa.
Small lines connect the first four concepts to the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the Africa-figure, indicating the complicity of the exterior senses in this pathway to sin. 74v how Opicinus, by framing his allegories within the portolan charts, solidified their meaning into measured form, aligning the world’s shapes with the truths and figures they revealed.
The meaning of such lines remains ambiguous, but they do suggest points of contact and interconnection between elements that are otherwise set in opposition to one another. All four of these portolan charts are embodied, creating eight distinct characters: four male figures of Europe, and four figures of Africa (two angels and two male figures).
Rather than containing the figure of the diabolical sea, the spaces of the Mediterranean and Black Seas on these two charts are left as windows through which the viewer can see the other maps in the drawing.
The colored worlds below are not labeled, but the figures seem to be a precise mirror of those on top, in both gender and physical appearance. Opicinus’ statement about the generation of meaning seems to apply both to this drawing and to many others that depict multiple levels of reality (usually through multiple iterations of the body-worlds).
This drawing contrasts two complete sets of body-worlds, one overlapping and partially obscuring the other, and two very different depictions of genitalia are found in the area around Venice on both depictions of Europe.
In a passage early in the Vaticanus, Opicinus describes how the “diabolical sea” inseminates an already-pregnant Europe, splitting the child unnaturally into two figures — Europe and Africa.
Victoria Morse shows the way that Opicinus read meaning even into the precise position of these two tiny body-worlds over Lombardy below, determining which local cities fell under Africa and Europe. The first 48 contain little visual material besides a few marginalia, while the second half of the book includes some text-only pages, some full-page drawings, and some smaller drawings with extensive text on or around them.
In contrast, Morse demonstrated that the Vaticanus holds the key to understanding Opicinus’ thought: its drawings are more intimate and revealing, and it contains over a hundred pages of text. Portolan charts were modern, cutting-edge diagrammatic maps of the Mediterranean region, and Opicinus’ use of them transforms what would otherwise have been old-fashioned, theoretical, and primarily textual drawings into a completely new type of representation. Interpreting the vision with relation to his own body and life was only one of the tactics that he used.


According to Whittington, to explain what the body-worlds “mean,” one must explore how and why Opicinus harnessed these maritime maps to a completely different purpose from that for which they were created.
Others include the entire range of the chart, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea and the Holy Land.
Small captions and rotae are positioned at various points on the map; some of these are placed to comment specifically on a geographical feature, while others remark more generally on the drawing and its characters. Opicinus uses the portolan chart to construct a binary system in which values can be opposed, and also to place these allegories or personifications within a space that is, in the broadest sense, real. For example, in a short passage in the upper left corner of the page, Opicinus mentions that the body of the sea-devil extends beyond the inner city wall of the Pavian map, which he interprets as a sign that malice and mischief are spread out in the city; beyond the old city walls. An over-determined world allowed him to make visible to himself and his potential readers the primary concerns, impulses, histories, and spaces of his world and his body in a way that led to potentially productive connections and revelations. In contrast, the sea of the larger top map is not embodied, and retains the color of the paper.
In contrast, a caption on the rota for Affrica spiritualis points to the interior senses (sensus interiores) that indicate spiritual progress: meditation, contemplation, discernment, and rumination (meditatio, contemplatio, discretio, degustatio).
They also establish that the body-worlds’ identities as both bodies and maps remain significant on their own; because connections rely on their status as both maps and bodies, one is not emphasized over the other. The mirror of any of his creations, which he acknowledges are fabrications (in the sense that they are imaginary and exploratory), will always contain some new level of meaning. The two red lines indicate the precise point where worlds are mirrored, and the differentiation in color — white, brown, and red — brings the forms of the body-worlds into a near-sculptural relief. In the overlapped body-worlds, which are tinted with red and brown wash, we see a small penis depicted inside the figure of Europe, just past the fist of the Mediterranean figure. In 1537 the Tirolese cartographer Johann Putsch celebrated the Hapsburg rule over Europe by presenting a placid “Europa Regina” wearing Charles V’s Spain as a crown and Ferdinand’s Austria as a medal at her waist, representing the triumph of the Hapsburgs. The representation and interpretation of this divine image of the earth would occupy much of the rest of his life. Other dates in the manuscript are scarce; most scholars agree that the bulk of the drawings were completed between February 1335 and June 1336, with later additions stretching all the way to 1350.
Opicinus was working during a crucial moment in the history of cartography, when numerous artists and mapmakers sought to combine old and new forms.
In this example, Europe is embodied as a man — his head occupies the Iberian Peninsula, his chest and stomach lie in France (where some kind of beast in the ocean tries to bite at his shoulder), his arm arches up through the lowlands and Germany, and his legs occupy the Italian peninsula and the Dalmatian coast. He used this technical, practical, scientific cartography to probe deeper into the nature of God and the created world. The two figures that constitute, lie within, or coexist with Africa and Europe are classic examples of Opicinus’ body-worlds (the third figure that often appears in the Mediterranean is not included, in this particular drawing).
In two outer concentric rings Opicinus places the names of the seven planets and the days of the week. Despite these and other details on the figures, the actual bodies seem less important to Opicinus in these three drawings; the commentary focuses more on the physical interplay and connections between the two overlapping maps. At the centre of the page the embodied eastern Mediterranean of the lower map (including the Black Sea) overlaps both the land and the sea of the upper map, so that its eastern half (part of Italy and all of Greece, Egypt, and Turkey) is obscured.
Or, given the opposing genders of the two Europes in the maps, and the fact that the area at the top of the Adriatic was understood as the erogenous zone of the European body, the line could suggest a sexual point of contact — even intercourse — between the two figures.
It is necessary first to describe and explain the drawing’s complex structure, before discussing its content in relation to several captions that surround it. The interpretive paradigm for this drawing must be one of experimentation; it is the only image in the manuscript with this particular arrangement of forms, and through it Opicinus only seems to have arrived at fragments of meaning.
The small caption nearby simply reads Venetie [Venice] and without further explanation it is unclear whether the penis belongs to the European body, depicted lying back against his stomach, or whether he is somehow being penetrated by a small penis belonging to the sea-figure.
74v, which is positioned for a normal delivery through Venice, with its head down and its arms folded peacefully in prayer.
The queen’s crown (Spain), orb (Sicily), and heart (Bohemia) from a triangle that directs the viewer’s eye away from Eastern Europe toward the West. In over eighty surviving drawings, now kept in the Vatican Library and referred to by scholars as the Vaticanus and Palatinus manuscripts, he experimented with how he could uncover the meaning that he was sure God had planted in the vision he saw, in the hope that his drawings would help to renew the faith of all Christians. This encounter between the scientific and the spiritual is best explored by looking at the structures that Opicinus used to create the drawings. The angels are labeled angelus lucis and angelus tenebrarum — an angel of light and an angel of darkness.
She seems to speak directly into the ear of the European figure, depicted partly in profile and partly from the front. At the center of the roundel is a seated figure of Christ showing his wounds; around this are the names of seven episcopal seats, and the seven planets and their positions. In these simplest drawings, though, such a possibility is only hinted at; a much fuller manipulation of the metaphor of travel and movement between binaries, and indeed a subversion of the very concept of binary opposition, is found in Opicinus’ more complicated images, discussed below. This grid, eight squares by ten, is oriented in the same way as the map below, with east at the top of the page (the street grid of Pavia was, and still is, slightly off-axis from the cardinal points because of its alignment with the river, which is reflected in its positioning at a slight angle on the page).
Opicinus just seems to be testing each possible arrangement on either side of the folio, turning it back and forth to see which parts of it align with things he believes to be true.
Any resident or visitor familiar with the city would recognize that the local map of Pavia was a measured, accurate representation, and the fundamental hypothesis of this image and its interpretation is that correspondences can be deduced through the alignment of one measured map with another. One complete map lies below the upper white map, and one complete map lies below the lower white map, but each is placed in a different relation to its chart above. The danger of any study of Opicinus is that in seeking out the contexts in which one may understand Opicinus’ work as logical and coherent, one risks losing sight of what makes them so exceptional.
But he also used this idea in order to create images unrivalled in their complexity and interpretive difficulty, multiplying maps and figures across the page in kaleidoscopic networks. The local grid is filled in with detail; the numerous small labels in brown indicate churches, city gates, bridges, and monasteries in Pavia, while the few red captions refer to cities or regions on the portolan below (here, like elsewhere, Opicinus uses color to clarify his content for the reader). Once again, a grid serves two functions, measuring the space of one reality and indicating the measurability of another. The arrangement recalls nothing so much as the angel and devil of the human conscience that perch on the shoulders of cartoon figures in modern movies and comics, offering advice and urging the character towards good or bad decisions; in the drawing, the heads of the angels seem to rest directly on the shoulders of the figures below them.
Here, the two “personifications” of the penis and the womb have produced a tiny child and are preparing it for birth. Later editions of Europe as a queen were issued by Sebastian Munster, Heinrich Bunting and Matthias Quad.
Looking at the drawings as a whole, there can be no doubt that there are distinct threads running through them — themes, problems, and possibilities that Opicinus set out to explore. And just as the drawings’ forms combine simplicity and complexity, their content also veers from the straightforward to the impenetrable. The relationship between these human figures and the landforms is, as is always the case in Opicinus’ drawings, very difficult to describe. These personifications’ sexuality is normative and non-transgressive — male and female members come together inside of the female body. The green lines at the top and bottom of the page show the path of several Pavian canals, and the three concentric red boundaries drawn around the page indicate the city walls. Most of all, however, these enigmatic forms seem to depict the earth and the bodies as coextensive, and of the same material — bodies made out of the earth. The more one looks at these body-worlds, the more one sees the human figures as figures — the stranger parts of their bodies, where the landforms do not align so easily with a normative human shape, become less and less noticeable.
The two red axes are thus crucial to understanding the drawing: they must have been used to construct it and also intended to aid in its decoding.
Its drawings are less structured and presentational, contain more sexual imagery, and include more personal themes, all of which we might associate with a private, rather than public function (although such distinctions were perhaps more fluid in 14th century Italy than they are today). Secondly, the drawings in the Vaticanus and Palatinus have very different structures; the Vaticanus uses the form of the portolan [nautical] chart to structure meaning and representations of bodies, while the Palatinus drawings use larger geometric, ecclesiastical, and temporal frames, which in turn often contain representations of the earth. Finally, the Palatinus drawings contain a temporal, cyclical element (numerous calendars and representations of the zodiac) that the Vaticanus drawings usually lack.



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