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Siben Farben unnd Künsten frey’: The Place of Color in Martin Schaffner’s Universe Tabletop of 1533

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image of Early Science and Medicine

This article investigates the place of colors within an encyclopedic scheme painted as a tabletop by the Ulm artist Martin Schaffner in 1533 for a member of the Strassburg goldsmith family Stedelin. The painting depicts a model of the Ptolemaic Universe, structured in sequences of sevens – of planets, metals, virtues and liberal arts, days of the week, as well as colors. The essay situates the seven colors within the traditions of medieval color symbolism, arguing for their particular relation with the liberal arts following an earlier manuscript and print tradition. In this tradition, colors served as attributes, their qualities derived from a wide set of allegorical and symbolic meanings, so as literally to color the liberal arts with qualities appropriate to them. This association, it is argued, reinforces the work’s implicit theme, namely the claim to painting as a liberal art and to the learned status of the artist, one underlined by Schaffner’s inclusion of a self-portrait as Ptolemy himself.

Affiliations: 1: Bard Graduate Center, New York


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