The Marble Philosophers and the search for pia sapientia

  • Angela Dressen (Autor/in)


Central to the design of the Siena cathedral pavement is the Mountain of Wisdom. It is located among Sages like Hermes Trismegistus and the Sibyls. Originating in a larger study of the roles of Neoplatonic, Gnostic and Hermetic concepts of salvation in the cathedral pavement design, this paper concentrates on the panel designed by Pintoricchio in 1504 which shows Socrates, Crates, Fortuna and Sapientia together with a "peripatetic" group of Sages who ascend the mountain. Many sources have been claimed for this scene, among them the Bible, Augustine, and the tabula cebetis. Crucial for understanding the panel's iconography are however the Old Testament's Book of Wisdome and Lactantius' Divine Institutes, with its chapter on the False Wisdom of the Philosophers. Lactantius uses ancient philosophy and their pagan sages to undermine his apologetic approach to justify Christian religion. Within this context Socrates and Crates constitute important moral exemplars. The Book of Wisdom indicates Sapientia as the teacher of all the virtues, and through an interpretation of Divine Wisdom links humanity to the maritime allegory. Only those who recognize the superiority of Divine Wisdom finally achieve enlightenment.