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Sapience

The right half of Figure 33 is devoted to the personification of Sapience, Theoretical or Philosophical Wisdom. As noted above, Sapience represents a different type of knowledge from that of Art or Prudence, better termed Practical Wisdom. For


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Aristotle, Philosophical Wisdom, "the union of intuition and science," is "directed to the loftiest objects," such as "the heavenly bodies." Theoretical Wisdom encompasses not only philosophy but also mathematics and natural science. "Contemplation of these subjects," as discussed in Book X of the Ethics , is "in Aristotle's view the ideal life for man."[18]

Oresme follows Aristotle's definition of wisdom and identifies the highest of the intellectual virtues with metaphysics "qui considere les principes generals de toutes sciences et les causes principalx de toutes choses et les meilleurs et plus dignes choses qui puissent estre, comme sont Dieu et les Intelligences" (which considers the general principles of all sciences and the causes of all things, and the best and most worthy things that can ever be, such as God and the Intelligences).[19] In neither text nor gloss does Oresme allude to the traditional medieval identification, established by St. Augustine, of Wisdom and Christ, the second person of the Trinity.[20] Oresme is, however, not original in recognizing the classical Aristotelian definition of wisdom as knowledge "of first causes and principles" and in acknowledging metaphysics "as an autonomous human wisdom, independent of theology and naturally acquired by man without the aid of grace."[21] Thomas Aquinas had made these vital distinctions in the Summa theologica and other writings.[22] Aquinas, however, distinguishes between two types of wisdom. The metaphysical kind is close to Aristotle's definition. But the theological type is superior to the metaphysical, inasmuch as the former embodies a type of knowledge revealed by and known by God himself, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Theology "is a revealed knowledge of divine things, a human participation in the Word, which is Wisdom itself and an intellectual participation in the illumination and stability of the Ideas of God."[23]

The representation of Sapience in Figure 33 probably reflects this definition of theological wisdom advanced by Aquinas and other Christian thinkers. Chapters 7 and 8 of Book VI of Oresme's translation discuss the virtue of Sapience without any Christian reference. The personification of Sapience is clad in a blue mantle and a white, widowlike headdress (see Pl. 4). Facing right, she sits before a lectern holding an open book with her right hand. She gazes upward toward a bust-length cross-nimbed Christ and a group of angels in blue clouds. Her pose suggests that her knowledge of God and the first principles, equated with Christ and the angels, results in direct, visual communication with them. Christ looks down at Sapience, revealing that he is both the source and the subject of wisdom.[24]

The theological character of Sapience thus seems to lack a textual source. Moreover, the iconography adds to the ambiguity of the content. Sapience's reading of a book may indicate that the source of her knowledge is the present or a related text by Aristotle, such as the Metaphysics , that studies God and the first principles. More likely, her vision comes from reading the Christian doctrine inscribed in her book. Her pose, rooted in antique author-muse portraits, is common to various medieval types of personifications: the reading Evangelist and vita contemplativa are just two among many possibilities.[25] The context of the miniature, in which the left half is devoted to an active scene of physical work, indicates that the vita contemplativa figure is a more direct source. Since the contemplative life


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had a Christian interpretation during the Middle Ages, it is likely that this tradition influenced the miniaturist.[26] In short, the extratextual associations of Sapience with Christian interpretations of wisdom suggest that a secular characterization of the virtue may have simply been judged unintelligible or unorthodox.

The illuminator emphasized essential aspects of the scene by use of color. In contrast to the more subdued tones of the left scene, the right half stands out. The vivid red of the background and Christ's mantle, as well as the gold of the angels' forms and the bright blue of the clouds, signify the heavenly realms. The quiet scene of contemplation of the divine shines forth in splendid hues, while the earthly labors of Art reflect the muted character of mundane toil. The psychological contrasts between Art and Sapience are well served, too, by their spatial separation and opposing orientations. As Kolve puts it: "The enterprises of art and wisdom are quite properly shown side by side, but they are also distinct from each other: two people are engaged in them, as it were in different rooms."[27]


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