The study and practice of astrology re-entered Western Europe in the early 12th century, primarily via Spain. There Arabic and Jewish scholars had preserved ancient astrology, but also added much to it, particularly in abstract rather than practical ways. By the 14th century, every university in Europe had a chair of astrology, and developments toward a more observationally based practice were taking place.
By the 15th century in Italy, particularly in Florence, we see the beginnings of the use of astrological imagery that was based on specific data, beyond the commonplace medieval representations of the zodiac signs or months, and the activities associated with them.
Among the early instances that represent the intersection of art and astrology in a particular time and place is a painting created for the dome above the altar in the older Medici Chapel of the church of San Lorenzo. The Medici family would continue to use astrological imagery to promote themselves and their increasing de-facto power in Florence through the century, as well as for personal protection. In the 16th century, the use of astrological imagery as propaganda for destined rule reached new levels under Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The controversies over the Arabic theory of planetary conjunctions, especially that of 1484, which predicted the end of the Christian religion, helped to drive European developments in the practice of astrology and its representation in art. Join art critic and professor emerita of art history at Montgomery College Claudia Rousseau as she explains what astrology actually is, how it works, and its mathematical basis, as well as its cultural importance and how it was represented in art in the Renaissance era. The Christian astrologer’s motto: “The stars do not compel, they incline.”
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
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