Making Marvels – Faking Matter: Mediating Virtus between the Bezoar and Goa Stones and Their Containers

Fricke, Beate (2017). Making Marvels – Faking Matter: Mediating Virtus between the Bezoar and Goa Stones and Their Containers. In: Göttler, Christine; Mochizuki, Mia M. (eds.) The Nomadic Object. The Challenge of World for Early Modern Religious Art. Intersections: Vol. 53 (pp. 342-367). Amsterdam: Brill 10.1163/9789004354500_013

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What exactly is the origin of the effects that marvellous objects and talismans are purported to have? Both types of objects are often said to affect a person through a force described with the abstract noun ‘power’ (virtus). In the context of Renaissance art theory the term ‘virtus’ has been extensively studied in regard to the artist’s power to create works of art. However, this article’s analysis of the use and manufacture of bezoar stones since the medieval period suggests that the meaning of ‘virtus’ ought to be understood differently in relation to talismanic and marvellous objects. In this context, i.e. in descriptions of their effect and power found in alchemical recipes, it refers to the way in which religious or quasi-religious objects straddle the threshold between the visible and the invisible. The unique powers, in fact, of such objects appear to originate from their position at this juncture. Its source resides in the juxtaposition of mimetic and anti-mimetic qualities that defines this threshold at which the visible appears to emerge from the invisible, while at the same time threatening to be engulfed by it. Simultaneously, it imbues such objects with the ability to extend their power beyond this threshold. The origin of their virtus, however, remains invisible and thus makes manifest the transformation of a vector of energy from the invisible into the visible, or non-mimetic into the mimetic. This connection of the visible and the invisible, and the mimetic and anti-mimetic is emphasised in their artfully designed containers, and seems to originate mysteriously ‘in’ the threshold between an object and a person. But how are they perceived to be infused with this power in the first place? Several stunning examples of bezoar stones have survived in museums with collections that were initially built in the context of courtly, early modern Kunst- and Wunderkammern and even more bezoars are to be found in the inventories of such collections. These mysterious objects were thought to possess curative capabilities and were often housed in sumptuous containers lavishly decorated with golden filigree. Yet, in spite of their striking visual character, analyses of bezoar stones have tended to skirt questions about their powers and perceived efficacy, focusing instead on the production and the economic history of their trade. This article, therefore, pursues a different line of inquiry by interrogating the visual relationship between the stones and their containers. This relationship can be seen as articulating how people perceived the stones to work, to unfold and enclose their virtus.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)

Division/Institute:

06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Art History > Ancient and Medieval Art History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Art History

UniBE Contributor:

Fricke, Beate

Subjects:

700 Arts

ISSN:

1568-1181

ISBN:

9789004354326

Series:

Intersections

Publisher:

Brill

Language:

English

Submitter:

Beate Fricke

Date Deposited:

16 Aug 2017 13:36

Last Modified:

19 Dec 2019 07:57

Publisher DOI:

10.1163/9789004354500_013

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.98843

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/98843

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