Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus a statue of Venus to warn them against the danger of infection with syphilis. Engraving by Jan Sadeler I, 1588/1595, after Christoph Schwartz.
- Schwarz, Christoph, approximately 1548-1592.
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Credit: Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus a statue of Venus to warn them against the danger of infection with syphilis. Engraving by Jan Sadeler I, 1588/1595, after Christoph Schwartz. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
About this work
Left, a fountain, in which stands a statue of Venus and Cupid. Water flows from Venus's breast into a cistern and thence into a stream. The stream passes under the body of a seated woman, elaborately coiffed and clothed, who plays a lute. Her words are those of the first of three Latin distichs engraved at the foot of the print, translated by Panofsky as "Come here and join your limbs with me in a desirable embrace while my husband is absent, while there is no fear!", a paraphrase of Proverbs VII, 19. The stream then passes under a dog (centre), which urinates in the water, and finally towards a shepherd (right), identified by Panofsky as Syphilus, who bends down to drink the polluted water from his cupped hand. Behind him, a man holding a spear, identified by Panofsky as the Syrian hunter Ilceus, gestures towards the shepherd, saying, according to the third distich, "He who burns for Venus does the same as does he whom thirst compels to wet his mouth with whatever he finds first", a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes XLII, 11 (except that the latter refers to a woman, not to a man, Panofsky, op. cit. pp. 29-31). In the centre, an elderly man wearing a hat and a long coat and holding a book, points towards the fountain on the left: he is identified by Panofsky as Fracastoro holding his poem 'Syphilis sive morbus gallicus', and saying, in the middle distich, "Let not the ways of the whore seduce you, but drink, alone, the pure liquid from the proper source", a paraphrase of Proverbs V, 15-21 Syphilus is the mythical shepherd invented by Fracastoro and described by him in book III of his poem 'Syphilis': having offended Apollo, Syphilus is afflicted with disease and is cured with the aid of the bark of the guaiacum tree. Ilceus, described as a Syrian gardener and hunter (verse 287 "sectatorem ferarum") appears in book II of 'Syphilis': his disease is cured by mercury treatments Panofsky's interpretation of the iconography stands, as no better interpretation has been suggested. However, the depiction seems to testify better to popular notions of the source of syphilis, shot through with Biblical precepts on chastity, than to Fracastoro's ideas about the disease as expressed in his poem. Fracastoro does not say that the disease is venereal, as implied by the statue of Venus in the print, but that it has its origin in the air, from which it insinuates itself into the body (book I, vv. 121-124, "necesse est, Principium, sedemque mali consistere in ipso Aere ... Qui nobis sese insinuat per corpora ubique"). He does not impute it to drinking infected water, which is simply Ecclesiastes' metaphor for promiscuity, nor, in the poem, does Ilceus ever meet Syphilus. Ilceus is introduced as one whose illness is cured by mercury baths, while Syphilus is introduced as one who is cured by the wood of the guaiacum tree: neither of these themes appears in the print
Huc ades optatis mecūque amplexibus artus Illiga; abest dū vir, dū metus ōnis abest. Pruer VII. Ne te seducat meretricis semita; solus De proprio pura at fonte fluēta bibe. Prouer: V. Ardēs in Venerē facit hoc, quod quē sitis urget Inuentis primò proluere ora vadis. Ecles: XXVI. S.B. Duc: chalcogr: Joā Sadeler author scalps: Christoph. Schwartz figuravit Monachii
[Munich] : [publisher not identified], [1588/1595]
1 print : engraving ; platemark 24.1 x 30.5 cm
F.W.H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts, Amsterdam, Sadeler no. 492
Erwin Panofsky, 'Homage to Fracastoro in a Germano-Flemish composition of about 1590?', Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 1961, 12: 1-31, fig. 9
Wellcome Library no. 524739i