Tabula of Cebes

Tabula of Cebes

Paris and Cambridge (France, United Kingdom) — 1506–1507

The turmoil of human life on the winding path to the garden of felicity: Filippo Alberici's humanist adaptation of the Pínax of Cebes with intriguing illuminations of the temptations, vices and virtues

  1. In 1506, the Mantuan humanist Filippo Alberici translated the so-called Tabula of Cebes into Latin hexameters

  2. The original Greek text was written in the 2nd century AD and is an allegorical description of the turmoil of human life

  3. Alberici dedicated his autograph to the English King Henry VII and had it decorated with six full-page miniatures

Tabula of Cebes

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Description
Tabula of Cebes

Filippo Alberici's Tabula Cebetis is not only a wonderful gem in the British Library's Arundel Collection, but also a magnificent testimony to the radiance with which the humanist spirit of the Italian Renaissance spread throughout Europe around 1500. Alberici translated the ancient Tabula of Cebes about the turmoil of human life on the path to felicity into Latin hexameters, which Jean Coene IV illuminated with six gold-decorated, full-page miniatures. Alberici dedicated the work, written in his own hand, to the English King Henry VII, at whose court in Cambridge he hoped to be employed. However, a trip to England was unsuccessful, but resulted in several artful additions to the manuscript, including a text on 'how to die well'. The gripping story of its creation makes this little cimelia, whose content and pictorial decoration alone are intriguing, all the more appealing.

Tabula of Cebes

Around the 2nd century AD, a work known as the Kébetos Pínax (Tabula of Cebes), formerly attributed to the Socratic disciple Cebes of Thebes, literally paints a picture with words: An elderly man explains to some strangers an allegorical painting on the walls of an ancient temple of Kronos. The painting shows the human path of life, which is led down crooked paths by numerous distractions in the form of vices, bad behavior, but also false education and the pursuit of external happiness. The goal of life, however, is the achievement of felicity through true education and the striving for virtue.

A Humanist Adaptation of the Ancient " Allegory of Life"

In 1506, this Greek text was adapted by the Mantuan humanist Filippo Alberici, who was in Paris at the time. He translated Cebes' work into Latin hexameters and had the text, which he had put on paper himself, illuminated with six full-page miniatures by the Parisian illuminator Jean Coene IV (active around 1500). The resulting small manuscript Tabula Cebetis was intended to be an ornate demonstration of his talent, as he hoped to obtain an employment at the court of the English King Henry VII (1491–1547) with it as a gift. To this end, he preceded the Tabula with a Dedication to the King and traveled to Cambridge in the summer of 1507.

Dashed Hopes of a Widely Traveled Artist

However, a royal audience was probably never granted, so that Alberici's hopes were quickly dashed. Thereupon he added another poem of praise for Henry VII as well as his own work De mortis effectibus (On Dying Well). The latter 'completes' the content of the ancient work with advices for a good end of life (according to Christian ideas). Alberici also had an illuminator from Cambridge add a further miniature to this text, which is stylistically based on those of Coene. Finally, he assigned this gradually developed and therefore all the more captivating manuscript to Joachim Bretoner, the seneschal of King's Hall.

A Royal Owner

In 1608, Elizabeth Stuart (1596–1662), daughter of King James I, appears as the next owner, who entered a note with her name and date on one of the back pages of the manuscript. Via the Earl of Totnes, George Carew (1555–1629), the codex finally came to Thomas Howard (1585–1646), the founder of the famous Arundel Library, most of which is now kept in the British Library, where the autograph is located today.

Allegorical Illuminations

Jean Coene IV, who had previously worked for the French royal family, provided Alberici's Tabula Cebetis with six wonderful illuminations, which visualize the text for the reader in an exquisite palette of colours. The full-page miniatures introduce the respective sections, beginning with the scene in front of the ** temple of Kronos**. This is followed by depictions of the three rings of human life with all their personified confusions and distractions, a picture of the gate of true education leading to the garden of felicity shown in the sixth miniature. The gold-decorated images are complemented by magnificent borders and elegant initials and complete this impressive manuscript, which is an artistic testimony to the radiance with which the humanist spirit of the Italian Renaissance spread throughout Europe around 1500.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Tabula Cebetis
Kebetos Pinax
Table of Cebes
Bildtafel des Kebes
De mortis effectibus
Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù
Size / Format
60 pages / 20.5 × 14.0 cm
Origin
France
Date
1506–1507
Language
Script
Humanistic Cursive Square Capitals
Illustrations
7 full-page miniatures, 9 decorated initials, 2 elaborate borders
Content
Poem in honor of the English King Henry II about an imaginary painting and a poem about the inevitability of death ("De mortis")
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Joachim Bretoner; Elizabeth Stuart, Electress of the Palatinate and Queen of Bohemia; Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel; Henry Howard, Duke of Norfolk; Royal Society (Great Britain); British Museum

Available facsimile editions:
Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù
Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2023
Limited Edition: 500 copies

Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù
Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani – Rome, 2023
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Tabula of Cebes

The Beginning of the Human Path of Life

Before people enter the first ring of life, they appear symbolically as naked, innocent and unwitting children. With a wooden spoon, they are first given advice by Genius, who is depicted as an old man with a book. Opposite him, Deceptio, the deception, is already waiting, offering the children a tasty potion in a golden vessel, which, however, makes them forget all of Genius' wise counsel for their future path through life.

Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù
Single Page

Tabula of Cebes

The Seat of Virtue

Personified by an enthroned allegory with a book and sword, the Seat of Virtue is located in the Garden of Bliss. She is flanked by Aeternitas and Gloria. The three figures are turned towards the viewer and - in accordance with the text - invite them to search for them and to align their own life with finding bliss.

Accordingly, the garden is reminiscent of Christian paradise iconography such as the Hortus Conclusus and the Garden of Paradise, in which otherwise one encounters the Virgin Mary and/or a unicorn. The flower meadow is enclosed by a hedge of blooming rose bushes and a marble balustrade. The entrance in the form of a rose arch is guarded by Studius and Mars.

Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù
Facsimile Editions

#1 Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù

Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2023

Publisher: Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2023
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Leather binding with gold tooling. Facsimile and commentary volume come together in a protective case.
Commentary: 1 volume by Dieter Röschel
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#2 Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù

Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Brown leather binding with gold tooling. Facsimile and commentary volume come together in a protective case.
Commentary: 1 volume by Dieter Röschel
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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