9759 ALLEGORY OF ARITHMETIC JONAS ARNOLD (ULM 1606-1669) Dated 1651. Measurements: Height: 20 3/4″ (52.5 cm) Width: 14 1/4″ (36 cm)
Oil on canvas. Signed “J.A. 1651”. Depicting a woman seated at a table and writing the calculation of a sum, representing Arithmetic, one of the seven Liberal Arts.
The present painting by Jonas Arnold of Ulm, Germany, depicts a 17th century allegory of Arithmetica. Arnold (d. 1669) was a designer and engraver, and court painter to Count Starhemberg in Linz. His portraits of the participants in the Count’s yearly carnival constitute a valuable cultural and historical record.
In this allegory, the figure of Arithmetic is seated at a table holding her defining attribute, a tablet covered with figures on which she is writing (occasionally she is shown with an abacus instead). She is dressed in sober period garb, complete with pomander, the silver vase filled with perfumes hung around the waist by a chain. The wall behind her is made up entirely of shelves, drawers and slots; the slots are labeled with the alphabetized names of cities in Germany and Italy and contain letters or papers. The shelves containing red ledgers are labeled above “New Debit Ledgers,” “Old Debit Ledgers,” etc. To the right is a pipe organ, which may serve as a reminder of the mathematical basis in Music. On the left, a screw press sits on the floor. Similar to the Dutch stamper press, these machines were typically used for oil extraction. However, the screw press also resembled rudimentary versions of the printing press and was furthermore used in book binding, which appears to be its function in this painting.
The seven Liberal Arts— Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, and Astronomy— were introduced in classical antiquity as the fields of study appropriate for a freeman’s education. From the Middle Ages, the Liberal Arts constituted the curriculum at Western universities, their focus on intellectual discourse distinguishing them from the practical arts of craftsmen and laborers. Artistic depictions of the Liberal Arts were based on an allegory by the fifth-century writer Martianus Capella called On the Seven Disciplines or Satyricon, in which the seven Arts were personified as maids serving the bride Philology upon her marriage to Mercury. Other early depictions of Arithmetica include a late 15th century fresco by Pinturicchio in Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican (figure 1); an illustration in Gregor Reich’s 1503 work Margarita Philosophica (figure 2); and the 16th century engraving Allegory of Arithmetic by Hieronymus Cock (figure 3)