"Siben Farben unnd Künsten frey." The Place of Color in Martin Schaffner's Universe Table

"Siben Farben unnd Künsten frey." The Place of Color in Martin Schaffner's Universe Table

Andrew Morrall

aristotelian_cosmos_peter_apian_cosmographia_1524.jpg

The Ptolemaic Universe, from Peter Apian, Cosmographia 1524

In 1533, the Ulm artist Martin Schaffner painted a model of the Ptolemaic universe, structured in terms of sequences of sevens - of planets, metals, virtues, liberal arts, days of the week, as well as colors, set within a landscape of expansive naturalism. Conceived as an imposing tabletop, it was made for a Strassburg goldsmith family. This essay investigates the nature and place of the color sequence within this encyclopaedic scheme and its relation with the other septimal series. It traces the sources of the imagery within the conventions of medieval color allegory and argues that the painter laid particular emphasis upon links between the colors and the liberal arts, in a manner drawn explicitly from an earlier manuscript and print tradition. It shows how the colors function rhetorically, as attributes of the arts, their qualities derived not from a theory of color, but from a wide set of traditions, allegorical, associative, symbolic, so as literally to clothe the liberal arts with qualities appropriate to them. Placing the work within a context of contemporary art, it is argued that this use of the colors points towards a larger theme of the work, namely, the claim to painting as a Liberal Art and to the status of the artist as pictor doctus, one underlined by the inclusion of a self-portrait of the artist as Ptolemy himself.