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Visual Guide to the Notory Art Figures of Angelic Magic, Part I

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

The magical figures of the Ars Notoria hold a strange fascination over the viewer. The magical figures are key to unlocking the doors to the disciplines of knowledge. The most sought after disciplines of the medieval practitioner included the seven liberal arts - grammar, logic/dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Other disciplines included necromancy, astrology, and theology. Through angelic assistance and inspecting the figures by the art of memory, the practitioner is able to acquire the knowledge he or she seeks in a short amount of time.


I have chosen a selection of notory art figures associated with grammar and logic/dialectic to examine here. Here you can study the evolution of the following notory art figures as they pass through the three main phases of the Ars Notoria's textual tradition from Version A to Version A2 to Version B. For more on these three phases of the Ars Notoria, see my other blog post entitled, "Where are the Original Latin Texts of the Ars Notoria Tradition?" For those interested in a deeper exploration and analysis of what is written within these figures, see my new English translation Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon: A Medieval Treatise on Angelic Magic & the Art of Memory published by Inner Traditions (2023).


Here is the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version A). A single large circle which encompasses three interlocking smaller circles.


Caption: The first figure of logic/dialectic from Carpentas, MS 0341, f. 45v.


Below here is the notory art figure of the entire art of grammar (Version A2). In Version A, the art of grammar is assigned three figures (Latin: notae), but here the entire art of grammar is contained. Notice the essential elements of this figure: (1) three triangles, (2) a tree diagram of a single circle branching out to smaller circles, (3) the block design containing eight little tree diagrams pointing to individual letters, and (4) the four geometric figures at the bottom (the pentagram, the square, the triangle, and the mandorla (the almond-shaped aureola created from the vesica piscis)). Each of these geometric figures bears a relationship with letters of the Latin alphabet. The pentagram has the vowels, the square has the mutes, and the triangle has the semi-vowels. The mandorla is special in that it is the vesica piscis ("bladder of the fish") of two intersecting circles of the same radius. One circle represents the Latin alphabet and the other circle represents the Greek alphabet, and so the mandorla symbolizes those Greek letters, y and z, which are added to the Latin alphabet in order to be able to spell Greek names with them. These design elements will remerge in the first figure of logic/dialectic of Version B.



Caption: The figure of the entire art of grammar from London, British Library, Sloane 1712, f. 36.


Also from Version A2, there is the nota of logic for dialectic skills. Here we see a merging of the design elements from the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version A) with those of the figure of the entire art of grammar (Version A2). See the two triangles and the tree diagram of the entire art of grammar figure and the two large circles from the first figure of logic/dialectic below. In fact, the enclosed figure of the two triangles and tree diagram might be thought of as one of those original circles from the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version A), which has now been expanded upon in its expression of ideas about logic, dialectics, and grammar.


Caption: The nota of logic for dialectic skills. London, British Library, Sloane 1712, f. 36v.


Here is a Parisian manuscript labeled NAL 1565 titled Art de la Memoire (The Art of Memory), which might be classed as either a Version A or Version A2 manuscript of the Ars Notoria. The Ars Notoria has also called itself an art of memory for that is the practice necessary for the inspection of the figures during ritual.


Caption: On the left are four wheels which become known as "the four wheels of all knowledge" in the Parisian manuscript labeled Latin 9336. At the upper right, there is the first figure of logic/dialectic. At the lower right, there is the figure of the entire art of grammar. Paris, BnF, NAL 1565, f. 15v.


In NAL 1565, a duplication and/or an extraction of ideas about logic and grammar are now separated from the notory art figures, creating four wheels. These four wheels become known as "the four wheels of all knowledge" in the Parisian manuscript labeled Latin 9336. They contain essential information of logic, dialectics, and grammar for studying the notory figures. In a sense, they are not notory art figures themselves, but act as a kind of reference for study.


Here is the first figure of logic/dialectic according to Version B. Now we can see how this Version B figure is composed. Do you see the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version A) as the central wheel? Do you see that it is joined to the figure of the entire art of grammar (Version A2) below it? At the far left are the four wheels of all knowledge.


Caption: Oxford, Bodley 951, f.10v.


The following images are close-ups of the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version B).



In conclusion, we have studied the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version A), the figure of the entire art of grammar (Version A2), the figure of logic for dialectic skills (Version A2), and the first figure of logic/dialectic (Version B), observing common elements shared amongst these figures and how these changed over the course of time in the textual tradition of the Ars Notoria.


[This article is an expansion upon a passage from my Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon (Inner Traditions, 2023).]


This digital edition by Matthias Castle, Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.

Please do not copy this text to your website, or for any purpose other than private use.


Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle, published by Inner Traditions International and Bear & Company, © 2023. All rights reserved. http://www.Innertraditions.com Reprinted with permission of publisher.




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