By William Flexner
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8 It is sobering to realize that these words were written thirty-one years before Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, thus ushering in the Reformation, one of the bloodiest, most intolerant, and pessimistic periods in European history. But it is even more sobering to realize that shortly after he had written his “Oration” and before his premature death in 1494, Pico became a follower of the fiery Dominican preacher and moralist Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) and planned to enter a monastery.
Bosch’s Garden offers one of the most intense artistic evocations of the incoherence of early modern life, but he was not alone in his assessment of his times. In her book on seventeenth-century Dutch art, Svetlana Alpers argues that fragmentation becomes a recognized part of seventeenth-century art: “Fragments are prized. . ” 61 She cites the rage for “peep-boxes” and still-life paintings of objects from multiple perspectives as an indication of this fascination with multiple and conflicting viewpoints: The peep-box, for example, was a construction that also offered various views adding up to make a single world, as do the frequent mirrors or mirroring surfaces; still life obsessively topple containers and peel lemons, or cut pies or open watches to expose multiple aspects to view.
The realization that the past was different from the present, in other words, an understanding of the concept of history, was a product of biblical and legal scholarship as well as the literary and philological studies of Humanists. Such an understanding of history and historical change was pivotal in the transition from medieval to modern ways of thinking, for it introduced the idea that both law and literature, whether divine or human, was a cultural and historic product and not necessarily valid for all times and places.
Introduction to Parapsychology by William Flexner