Veritas filia Dei. 2. The naked Truth

Veritas filia Dei
1. The Ithika
2. The naked Truth
3. Time and Truth
4. Daughter of God
After the overview of the edition history and context of Ithika ieropolitika (1712) let us return to the image that first caught our attention: the representation of Truth.

The meaning of this figure can be approached in two ways, by setting out either from the image or the four verse epigram printed under it. As we will see, the two do not completely match each other. Let us begin with the image, as the Western model of the illustration, the allegory of Truth in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593) offers an accurate key to its interpretation.


A beautiful naked women, holding the sun in her right hand and fixing her eyes on it. In the other hand she holds an open book and a palm leaf, and under her foot the globe of the world.
Truth is the custom of the soul to keep the tongue on a right path and to be faithful to the things she is speaking or writing about, that is, to assert always equally and without changing what is or to deny what is not.
We represent her naked, thus attesting her natural plainness. Euripides says in the Phoenician women that it is a plain thing to speak about truth, and that she does not need vain discussions, for she is enough for herself. The same is told also by Aeschylus and by Seneca in his fifth letter: that truth is plain speaking. This is why we paint her naked, as we told, and let her wear no ornaments.
She holds the sun, thus showing that truth is friend of light, what is more, she is the clearest light which lights everything that exists.
We can also say that she beholds the sun like God without whose light there is no truth, and He is the truth itself, as our Lord Christ told: I am the way, truth and life.
The open book shows that books speak about the truth of things, and this is also the purpose of scholarship.
The palm leaf means the force of truth. As it is well known that palm tree does not bend under any weight, thus neither truth bends under the pressure of opposing things; and even if many attack her, she rises and grows high. Besides, palm leaf is also a sign of steadfastness and victory. Aeschines speaking against Timarchus says that truth has so great strength that is surpasses every human idea.
Bachilides in his commentary to chapter 4 of Esdras calls truth an all-knowing wisdom. And Zerubbabel, the Jew says that truth is stronger than any other thing, and that it was more valuable than anything else in the eyes of King Darius.
But why do I quote all those sayings when the deeds of our Christian heroes abundantly bear witness to truth. For there have already been several thousands from every age, gender and almost every country who were ready to give their blood and life for the truth of the Christian faith. Thus seizing a glorious victory above cruel tyrants, they decorated Christian truth with a large number of palms and crowns.
The globe of the world under her feet means that she stands above every thing of this world, and being of divine origin, she is more valuable than those. This is why Menandros says in Nannis that truth is a citizen of heaven and she only feels well among the gods.

This allegory and its description is a good demonstration of the method of Ripa which consists in the accumulation of attributes. Although since the “re-discovery” of Iconologia in 1927 the author is usually considered in the literature as a “knight of infinite erudition” who “appears to have browsed through all the antiquity from Homer to Athenaeus and Boethius, not ignoring the church fathers, quoting the great medieval authors and contemporary poets, and where books remained silent, he consulted old medals and coins” (Émile Mâle), * in the reality a detailed analysis of his sources reveals that he composed his allegories basically from about ten popular encyclopedic works. * He usually took the main figure from one of them, and then added from the other works all the attributes pertaining to the topic. At the first sight it seems that the nakedness of Truth as her basic characteristic was further enriched in this way with the sun, the book, the palm and the globe, all referring to an additional feature of hers.

While claiming nakedness to be a fundamental attribute of the Renaissance allegory of Truth, Martine Vassellin has pointed out * that in the art of the 16th and 17th century there existed only a handful of allegories whose nakedness had a morally positive reference instead of an erotic allusion. Such is the Sacred love on Titian’s painting whose unadorned nakedness is a counterpoint to the luxurious clothing and make-up of the Profane love, and a similar relationship is between naked Modesty and lavishly adorned Vanity on the painting of Giovanni Stradano.

Titian: Sacred and Profane love, 1513-14 k. Rome, Galleria Borghese (detail, click for the complete image)

Giovanni Stradano (Jan van der Straet): Modesty and Vanity, 16th c. Louvre

In Ripa’s Iconologia we can only find three such allegories: Truth, Clarity and Beauty. However, while the naked figures of the two latter ones are borrowed in an unaltered form from Pierio Valeriano’s Hieroglyphica (1556), one of the most important Renaissance dictionaries of symbols, the source of the nakedness of Truth was a composition of much higher authority, whose best known version is the Calumny of Botticelli.

Botticelli: Calumny, c. 1494. Florence, Uffizi

Detail of Calumny: Truth and Penitence

The source of the composition was the description by Lucian (On Calumny, 4-5) on the picture painted by the Ephesian Apelles who had been unjustly accused before King Ptolemy, but as truth emerged in time, he escaped the sentence of death. The painting itself has not survived, but due to Lucian’s detailed description, it became a compositional topic called “the Calumny of Apelles” and provided with an extraordinary authority both by the fact of having been invented by the most eminent ancient painter and by having been proposed by Leon Battista Alberti to his fellow painters as a model of ekphrasis in his fundamental work De pictura (On Painting, 1435). *

“On the right of it sits a man with very large ears, almost like those of Midas, extending his hand to Slander while she is still at some distance from him. Near him, on one side, stand two women—Ignorance, I think, and Suspicion. On the other side, Slander is coming up, a woman beautiful beyond measure, but full of passion and excitement, evincing as she does fury and wrath by carrying in her left hand a blazing torch and with the other dragging by the hair a young man who stretches out his hands to heaven and calls the gods to witness his innocence. She is conducted by a pale ugly man who has piercing eye and looks as if he had wasted away in long illness; he may be supposed to be envy. Besides, there are two women in attendance on Slander, egging her on, tiring [dressing] her and tricking her out. According to the interpretation of them given me by the guide of the picture, one was Treachery and the other Deceit. They were followed by a woman dressed in deep mourning, with black clothes all in tatters—Repentance, I think her name was. At all events, she was turning back with tears in her eyes and casting a stealthy glance, full of shame, at Truth, who was approaching.”

Giuseppe Cades: Alexander the Great in the workshop of Apelles, 1792. The Hermitage

In the following three centuries several artists created a version of the composition either as a self-standing painting or as an illustration of Lucian’s text.

Andrea Mantegna: Calumny of Apelles, 1504-6. British Museum

Pieter Brueghel the Elder: Calumny, after Mantegna, 1565. British Museum

Rembrandt: Calumny, after Mantegna, 1565 k. British Museum

Federico Zuccaro: Calumny of Apelles, 1572

A large number of these images represent Truth naked, although the original Greek text did not tell anything in this respect. The reason, as Franca Magnani has pointed it out, * was that the Latin (1435) and Italian (1436) translations in Alberti’s De Pictura attributed the expression pudica (“full of shame”) – in the original referring to Repentance – to Truth. Some later illustrations setting out from a more accurate Latin translation of Lucian, like Mantegna’s influential drawing (1500-4) already represented Truth dressed, but by then the topos of “naked Truth” put firm roots, surviving until today as a common saying.

The figure of Truth proposed by Apelles could have such a great influence on Renaissance iconography also because this was the first representation of Truth in Renaissance art. In the Middle Ages, as far as we know, this concept was not represented, only the cardinal virtue of Justice – defined by Cicero as “the intention of giving to each that is due to him” –, mostly with the scales and the sword, as we still see her on the facades of town halls and law-courts. In the 16th century some attempts were made to visually harmonize the two concepts – the decorations of the town hall of Lille for example represent the usual figure of Justice with the caption “Veritas” * – and from the middle of the 1600s several law-courts in France were decorated, as a subtle warning to judges, with the scene where Apollo presents Truth to Justice. *

Allegory of Truth/Justice in the former Town Hall of Lille

When comparing Ripa’s allegory of Truth to the image of Ithika, we see that although their posture and main symbols match each other, nevertheless they differ in several details, primarily in the fact that the illustrator of Ithika clothes the naked Truth of Ripa. We do not know whether this was a minimum dress required by local decency – for even so the figure wears a much more airy and skintight vestment than those on the other illustrations of the book – or it was so because the Renaissance idea of naked Truth, established two centuries earlier, was completely missing from the Orthodox tradition. She has no palm in her hand and no globe under her foot. And the book which in Ripa represents scholarship, is unambiguously transformed into the source of the truth of faith by the inscription “Word of God”. Perhaps this was also the result of an assimilation of the allegory to the Orthodox concept, for in contrast to Ripa’s period, Orthodox literature almost completely lacked scholarly publications, of which Ithika, the first Russian work of philosophy, was one of the earliest representatives. * In this context the book as the source of truth meant necessarily the Word of God, the Gospel.

Let us see now what is added to the meaning of this image of Ithika by the four verse poem printed under it. We will examine this in the next chapter.

1 comentario:

anagasto dijo...

This must be why Churchill thought that Truth was so beautiful that she should never go naked. And didn't Goethe say that she resembled an onion? That is, the many layers do not hide anything at all? I believe that Proust and Machado said the same. And the modern physicists?