- Museum number
First Cause; a diagram of the universe in concentric circles proceeding from the central core of the earth enclosed by bands of water, air and fire, to the seven circular bands denoting the planets; inscribed at lower left: 'A', at lower centre: 'PRIMA CAVSA XXXXX' and at lower right: '50'; encircled by a frame of diamonds. c.1465
Engraving, with touches of grey-green wash
- Production date
- 1465 (circa)
Height: 178 millimetres
Width: 100 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The print belongs to the first version (called 'E series') of a group of fifty engravings traditionally known as the 'Tarocchi Cards of Mantegna' (for this set see the entry for Hind E.I.1a: P&D 1895-9-15-1). It is one of ten images in the fifth and last group of the set marked with the letter "A" and illustrates the ' Firmaments of the Universe'. The seven circles of the sun, moon and planets are followed by the sphere of the fixed stars, the Prime Mover and the First Cause (the dwelling place of God). The iconography of this images is based on the Libellus de imaginibus deorum, a treatise composed by an anonymous author around 1400, in its turn related to the Ovide Moralise.
The First Cause (or Empyrean), an immovable sphere of fire and light, was believed to be God himself. The image follows a long established tradition of cosmographical imagery found, for instance, in the thirteenth-century 'Sphera mundi' of the English astronomer Johannes Sacrobosco (John of Holywood).
The 'S series' master added in the corners of the image the symbols of the four Evangelists.
Other impressions of the print are in Vienna; Paris; Boston; Florence (Galleria degli Uffizi), Florence (Biblioteca Nazionale); Chantilly; in the Chicago Art Institute; Darmstadt (Hessisches Landesmuseum); in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; in the Cleveland Museum of Art; in the Rothschild collection (Louvre, Paris); Naples (Museo di Capodimonte); in the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe (Rome); Pavia (Raccolta Malaspina, Museo Civico); in the National Gallery of Art (Washington); and elsewhere.
The BM has a reproduction of the impression of the same subject from the 'S series'.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number