On the outskirts of Graz (Austria), built by Familia Eggenberg a century before the residence at Würzburg that Tiepolo decorated, sits their cosmological palace. It is the symbolism and extensive allegory of this elaborate estate and its decoration, rather than the family’s political, social and economic circumstances, that will principally occupy us here. Suffice it to say that a learned son, in the second generation of the upwardly mobile Eggenberg dynasty, designed and oversaw the execution of his own cosmological plan, which was further implemented by generations of powerful and wealthy descendents, only to suffer neglect finally from their precipitous decline, brought about by a loss of the family’s wealth and concomitant power.
The exterior of Schloß Eggenberg, along with its courtyard, were designed to be unostentatious and utilitarian in the manner of the late Renaissance palazzo fortificato, symbolic of the family’s political and economic power and their superior moral bearing in the community. Its decorations were likewise planned for moral edification, keyed to virtues that had long since been codified in antiquity, medieval tradition and the continental European Renaissance.
Designs for the wall and ceiling decorations of the Hall were copied from emblem books and other illustrated ethical treatises. The owner’s purpose, like that of his architect and court painter, was to construct and embellish a four-square temple of virtue.
Our purpose is to contrast, implicitly, Schloß Eggenberg, embellished with such a largely predictable system of myths, legends and histories, of symbols, moral emblems and above all allegories, with the more unpredictable and natural fluency of the palace at Würzburg, whose design Tiepolo’s decorations implemented, and, by extension, with the natural, dynamic, evolutionary allegory of Madison Morrison’s Sentence of the Gods.
But first let us cite a few parallels and other similarities between the structure, numerology and allegory of the earlier and the later works, with emphasis not upon Tiepolo’s frescoes, which the visitor may examine in digital reproductions and study with the help of the notes provided on the originary web site, but rather upon MM’s cosmological epic.
Ulrich von Eggenberg decreed that his palace be symbolically comprehensive: its 365 windows correspond to the number of days in the year, as does MM’s SOLUNA, with its 365 manuscript pages, which for him symbolize the Magnus Annum. Sleep, the first book in the Sentence, and thus in its solar and lunar phases, SOL and LUNA, has 52 pages; the Schloß Eggenberg, 52 doors, the number corresponding to the number of weeks in the year. As in SOLUNA, so in the Schloß, solar and lunar symbolism is predominant. The four sides of the palace reflect the rising sun and the midday sun, the rising moon of dusk and the reigning moon of night. Other quaternions (the cardinal directions, the seasons) are reflected in its four sides, as intermittently in the major tetralogies of the Sentence: LUNA, ARES and HERA.
Even the palace’s duodecimal features (details that number twelve or multiples thereof, such as the twelve plus twelve details of the inner courtyard that equal 24, or the 60 windows that form a group within the 365) are echoed in such individual parts of Sentence of the Gods as “Changes,” the tiny calendrical poem in Sleep, or the first twelve poems of O, or the twelve chapters of Revolution. Likewise, Second incorporates the 24 books of Homer’s Iliad and the 24 of his Odyssey; Divine, the twelve books of Vergil’s Aeneid. Unlike Schloß Eggenberg, however, where the twelve signs of the zodiac form a major part of its allegorical program, twelve is neither a constant nor important number in the overall symbology of MM’s universal epic, whose summative numbers are instead seven, eight and nine.
The Hall of Planets at Graz depicts the seven heavenly bodies: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, as follows:
The Sun (for Sunday), followed by the remaining six planets and their corresponding days.
Click on the images above to enlarge them (again to enlarge them further) and to pull up commentaries including interesting anecdotes about these divinities, who correspond to the seven days of the week, if not to their precise sequence, as in Sentence of the Gods. The court painter whom Ulrich employed emphasized a permanent repertory of moral values, occasionally with considerable critical sophistication, if not with unusual painterly skill (and certainly with none of the imaginative genius of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo).
Likewise Sentence of the Gods embodies the sun and the moon and the five fixed stars or planets, plus the seven divinities that govern them all:
SOL, LUNA, ARES, HERMES, HERA, APHRODITE, EL
Though Madison Morrison is a highly ethical writer, here the similarities between Ulrich’s palace and MM’s epic end. For the decorator of the Hall of the Planets received from his patron a commission to execute seven panels according to accepted models, which he was free to imitate all at once. In doing so he exercised considerable ingenuity and subtlety of variation, but he neither invented nor departed from the plan that he had received.
As MM’s account, in “An Extended Bio-Bibliography,” makes clear his allegorical plan evolved quite differently. He began with a first book, then a second, until the scheme for the first six books emerged. Suddenly, in the midst of composing the seventh book, a plan for all 26 books was given him by inspiration, but only in its barest outline, not in its final richness of allegorical detail. MM composed most of the first thirteen books in the 26-book sequence consecutively; since this early period in the epic’s development, however, he has jumped ahead to fill in books of APHRODITE and EL, to reconceive Every Second, and to solve problems posed by the difficult book, Her, the first in HERA/HERMES. It remains for him to complete the epic by moving about to complete its remaining books.
In this process of composing Sentence of the Gods MM has worked with “subtexts” and “pretexts,” with “intertexts” and “hypertexts,” but unlike the court painter at Eggenberg he has never literally traced a model. All his books are of his own invention and so along with them, we might say, are the major sequences of the Sentence, which have evolved and been implemented according to a natural dynamic. (For “natural allegory” see “Allegorical Details in the Sentence.”) As important as “natural allegory” is to MM’s method of composition, especially to its in situ description, the dynamic process whereby the epic’s meaning is modified as each new unit is superadded has perhaps even greater importance. We await a mature scholar with a thorough grounding in the allegorical tradition to elaborate this point.