A Renaissance Liberal Arts

Dedication page. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Figure 1. Click for a larger image. Dedication page. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Jurisprudence. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Figure 2. Jurisprudence. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Music. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Figure 3. Music. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Cosmography. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Figure 4. Cosmography. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Geography. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.
Figure 5. Geography. Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104.

Tableaux accomplis de tous les arts liberaux represents the master work of sixteenth-century French nobleman and humanist Christophe de Savigny. His ambitious project includes setting out tree diagrams of all the elements of various fields of learning, predating Francis Bacon’s use of this technique by two decades.

Only about a dozen copies survive of the 1587 first edition of Tableaux, including the Newberry’s. In it, de Savigny expands the usual seven liberal arts. He begins with pages on the classical trivium—grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Then the fields of the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astrology—include optics slotted in after geometry, and cosmography alongside astrology. Seven additional fields follow: geography, physics, medicine, ethics, jurisprudence, history, and theology (this last one drawn and signed not by de Savigny but by a M. Bergeron, an official of the Parlement of Paris).

The book’s dedication page (figure 1) shows de Savigny presenting the book to a seated Louis Gonzaga, the duke of Nevers, to whom the work is dedicated. The intricate woodcut includes de Savigny’s arms and motto on the door behind him, and the Nevers arms on a tapestry in the background.

The diagram for jurisprudence (figure 2) illustrates the model used for each field of endeavor. The tree’s elements begin at the left, with a balloon labeled “Jurisprudence simply concerns:.” You then follow lines to the next level of elements. Thus “Actions” splits into “Private” and “Public.” “Public” leads to “Crimes” and “Punishments”; “Crimes” to “Capital” and “Non-capital,” and so forth. Each diagram is surrounded by an oval border filled with figures illustrating its topic; in this case, a series of seated judges interspersed with personifications of Justice (holding a balance), Law (Moses with the tablets), Truth, Peace and Concord, Loyalty, and Equity.

The page for music (figure 3) is perhaps the most fun, with a border consisting of some twenty musical instruments—stringed, woodwinds, drums, keyboards, even a bagpipe. The diagram itself also includes copious illustrations, with a Guidonian hand, a mnemonic device to help people learn to sightread music; examples of musical notation showing the pitch, duration, and rhythm of notes; and a line of chant for a psalm, with a row of bells in descending size strung below.

The pages for cosmography (figure 4) and geography (figure 5) highlight the interesting moment in time the book was written. The cosmography page includes an illustration of a geocentric universe, with the earth in the center and the sun circling around it, between the orbits of Venus and Mars. While 1587 was nearly forty-five years after the death of Copernicus, Galileo was only fourteen years old that year, and the heliocentric model had not yet been accepted. But the geography page includes North and South America, though rather rudimentary in outline. The borders of both of these pages include such images as the four winds as cherubs blowing with puffed-out cheeks, oceans with sea creatures and monsters, and landscape scenes.

The Tableaux appears to have been published after de Savigny’s death (though he is known to have been alive in 1585), as the preface to the work refers to his “absence.” It was published in Paris by the Gourmont brothers, well known printers and woodblock artists. A second edition was published in 1619 by another Parisian printer, Jean Libert (call number Newberry Case oversize B 485 .788). It includes two additional diagrams, on poetry and chronology, possibly based on notes left by de Savigny.

Full citation: Christophe de Savigny, c. 1530 – 1608. Tableaux accomplis de tous les arts liberaux, contenans brieuement et clerement par singuliere methode de doctrine, vne generale et sommaire partition des dicts arts, amassez et reduicts en ordre pour le soulagement et profit de la ieunesse. À Paris par Jean & François de Gourmont, freres, demeurants ruë Sainct Iean de Latran, 1587.

Call number: Newberry Wing oversize ZP 539 .G74104

Posted by Karen Christianson, associate director, Center for Renaissance Studies

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