Attributes in Paintings May Stem from Mnemotechnics Dating from Ancient Greece

As I delve into the history of mnemotechnics, I suspect that attributes in paintings originally stem from memory techniques that date from Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 – 468 BCE) and potentially earlier through the oral tradition.

As I delve further into the ancient history of mnemonics and mnemotechnics, I  strongly suspect that attributes in paintings (like those frequently seen in depictions of Christian saints) originally stem from memory techniques that date from Simonides of Ceos (Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος; c. 556 – 468 BCE) and potentially earlier by means of the oral tradition.

The National Gallery has a short little primer on paintings of saints and recognizing them by means of their attributes. As an example, in the painting below Saint Genevieve of Paris holds the candle which she miraculously relit. On the brooch at her neck are the alpha and omega signs. Saint Apollonia of Alexandria’s brooch shows pincers: she was tortured by having her teeth extracted.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472 - 1553 Saints Genevieve and Apollonia 1506 Oil on lime, 120.5 x 63 cm Bought, 1987 NG6511.1 This painting is part of the group: 'The St Catherine Altarpiece: Reverses of Shutters' (NG6511.1-NG6511.2) http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6511.1
Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472 – 1553
Saints Genevieve and Apollonia (1506) Oil on lime, 120.5 x 63 cm
Bought, 1987; NG6511.1
This painting is part of the group: ‘The St Catherine Altarpiece: Reverses of Shutters’ (NG6511.1-NG6511.2)
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6511.1
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Brief Review: The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

My brief review of The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (2004, Dial Press)

The Rule of FourThe Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice little thriller about an obscure text from the Renaissance (quattrocento) set in modern times. This falls into the genre of historical fiction that’s similar to Dan Brown‘s Robert Langdon series or films like the Nicolas Cage National Treasure series, though not quite as “rompish.” I have to imagine that those who liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Gentlemen and Players, and The Thirteenth Tale will enjoy this quite a lot.

Those who are fans of historical fiction, cryptography, puzzles, books about books, and history in general, are sure to enjoy it.

Spoilers follow:

The Vincent Taft character could have been a better “heavy” but was pretty functional in the story given his limited appearances in the actual plot. I saw the Savonarola portion of the plot a mile away, but to most unaware of this part of history this will be an interesting historical diversion/lesson. I thought the ending was a bit too literary given the more plot-motivated feel of the rest of the narrative, but in all, it was relatively satisfying given Tom’s full back-story. I can see this being adapted into film, but it will take some creative ideas to better linearize the plot and to make the ending a bit bigger for the screen.

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