Codex Seraphinianus

We at CatSynth have been fascinated with the Codex Seraphinianus long before this beautiful edition made its way to CatSynth HQ.

The Codex is a masterpiece of book art by Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini. It is an illustrated encyclopedia as a handwritten manuscript with hand-drawn color illustrations depicting a surreal imaginary universe of objects, creatures and concepts.

Most interesting of all, it is written in a completely invented script.

The script, consisting of squiggles and dots, sometimes detached and sometimes cursive, resemble a Western, Semitic or South Asian script, but one entirely of Serafini’s own imagination. It is easy to pick out repeated letters, such as the “E-like” character with one dot in its lower section; and curve-on-a-stem that appears to serve as a singular character in many portions of the first book.

Even without knowing the full meaning of the script or the illustrations, one can start to discern meaning. For example, on this page it is pretty clear that this creature tends to wilt (perhaps even suffer) in rain, but thrives in sunshine. (This is something I can sympathize with.)

Serafini himself has declared the writing in the Codex to be asemic, without a specific structure or meaning. And while I take him at his word, one cannot help but construct meaning from both the images and the writing. I have long been fascinated by other alphabets and writing systems and been able to find patterns (and even learn them to some degree) independent of the languages they represent. For example, I was able to learn a bit of the Tamil script when traveling in South India in my youth, though I never learned the sounds or the language. Similarly, I began to pick up Sinographic characters in my time in China but with no knowledge of how to pronounce most of them.

It is in this vein that I have begun to read the Codex from its start, treating it as a pure work of art with text and illustration as its medium. It’s actually a pleasurable and captivating experience to pour over the text and spot the patterns without being confined by the need for meaning. I made it through the first book (plants and anthropomorphic flora) and a bit into the second (animals). It is the fourth book (physics, chemistry) and the fifth (machines) that I most curious to “read” in depth, but I will take my time to get there.

CatSynth Pic: Cat Playing the Organ

Cat playing organ

Cat playing the organ [Walters, W. 438, 15th c.].  Posted by Damien Kempf on Twitter and spotted by astute reader @endlessscribe.

The image comes from a 15th century prayer book in the collection of the Walters Museum based in Baltimore.  From the museum’s digital library:

This late fifteenth-century Prayer Book was made for the Use of Rome and illuminated by followers of Willem Vrelant of Bruges. The manuscript was probably created for the couple depicted in two full-page miniatures (fols. 13v and 103r). The representation of the bride in the full-page miniatures, as well as references to her in suppliant prayers, indicates that the manuscript was commissioned primarily for the bride’s use. Further evidence of this is the prominence of women throughout the illuminations and drolleries, from one who was caught in adultery being brought before Christ, to Veronica extending her veil to Christ as he carries the cross. The decorative aspects of the manuscript stray from the typical border designs of this time period, focusing more on illusionistic Ghent-Bruges’ illumination (post-1475) and less on the Vrelant acanthus-floral borders. Among the number of full-page miniatures, fol. 229v stands out as an exceptional example of an imitation of a late fifteenth-century panel painting.

Interestingly, I did not see the cat among the includes samples.