Leopardi (2014 Congress)

Liliana Leopardi
(Hobart and William Smith College)
“Riding the Emerald:  Lithic Talismans in Renaissance Visual Culture”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2014)
Session on “Visualizing Learned Magic and Popular Magic through Talismans, Images, and Objects”
Co-sponsored by the Societas Magica and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by David Porreca (University of Waterloo)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 19 March 2014]

The usage and creation of magical talismans are often historically associated with the pre-Christian or early medieval periods.  As scholars have wished to see the Renaissance as the inception of a rational and scientific approach to reality, the making and use of talismans and charms in this period is often ignored. ; Yet, the visual evidence, even the artistic evidence (as with Bronzino’s Allegory of Venus and Cupid of circa 1545, now in the National Gallery in London), establishes that this was not the case.

This paper focuses on Camillo Leonardi’s Speculum lapidum, clarissimi artium et medicine doctoris Camilli Leonardi pisaurensis, a treatise on the magical properties of precious and semiprecious stones published in 1502 and dedicated to Cesare Borgia, duke of Valentinois.  The third book of the treatise specifically focuses on the use of talismanic images carved on precious or semi-precious materials.  While Leonardi’s book is not illustrated, a number of his descriptions neatly coincide with 17th-century representations of gems and rings found in the collections of various Italian connoisseurs, and still labeled as “gemma magica”.  By drawing on the visual evidence of paintings and illustrated texts, this analysis demonstrates the continued interest and use of talismanic magic throughout the Renaissance, as well as indicates evidence for a continued use of such objects well into the early 18th century.


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