Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Fate and the Entire Cosmos of Medieval Life

Keeping the Wheel of Fortune turning



О Fortuna!

Like the Moon

Fickle in her state of being

Always waxing

Also waning

Fate thus unfettered

And so fearful

Wheel keeps rolling on and on

Evil state

In vain our fate

Wreaking our dissolution

Shadowed darkly

Veiled so thickly

Now on me you do descend

Now you play

Оn my bare back

Bent to you, I bear the brunt.

          "Fortuna imperatrix mundi" chorus from Carmina Burana


The opening bars of Carl Orff's
manuscript for Сarmina Burana, 1936


"Carmina Buran

(MP3 format)

Fire and smoke: The mechanical wheel and the Wheel of Fortune in the open-air stage production of Carmina Burana,
directed by Walter Haupt, 1996



Drums pound as the choral music swells to a crescendo: "O Fortuna!" The first two words of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana are a cry of helplessness under the lash of destiny. The name of this powerful work, "Songs from Beuern", conies from Benediktbeuern, a Benedictine monastery in Upper Bavaria. It was there, in 1803, that a manuscript containing 318 medieval poems was found. Originating from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries from South Tyrol or Austrian Styria, this manuscript proved to be the most important collection of medieval profane lyric poetry. Most of the texts were written in medieval Latin by anonymous scholars and itinerant priests, but there are also works by major German poets, including Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170—с 1230) and Neidhart von Reuenthal (c 1180—с 1250).

In sensuous, humorous, and graphic terms, this collection of poems offers us a candid picture of medieval life: one tells of a drunken abbot, carousing with cronies and dice players, while another of a roasted swan, complaining about its sufferings. Here, conventional morality rubs shoulders with mocking satire, virginal love with obscene songs to Venus. Verses on the Crusades, replete with mythological allusions, clerical games and tender poetic songs round off this fascinating poetic assemblage. Panoramic in scope, it unveils the entire cosmos of medieval life, and enthroned above it all is Fortuna. the goddess of fate.

For Carmina Burana, Carl Orff composed a musical score which synthesised twenty-four of these lyric poems, taking fate as the unifying theme: Fortuna, whose name derives from the Latin Vortumna. She turns the wheel of the seasons, bringing good and bad to kings and commoners alike: one day on top of the wheel (regno, I rule) the next at the bottom (regnavi, I have ruled). And yet, for those who ultimately end up at the bottom (sum sine regno, I am without rule), there is still hope (regnabo, I will rule). As with Tarot (another New Age fad drawn from the Middle Ages), where the Wheel of Fortune adorns the card marked "X", the basic tenor of Carmina Burana is ambivalent; it can also be interpreted optimistically, for it is always possible to begin again.

The Wheel of Fortune is ubiquitous in medieval art and architecture. It appears in the form of a rose window in Gothic cathedrals, as a mechanical wheel in Fecamp monastery in Normandy, as a floor design in Siena Cathedral and as a motif in illuminated manuscripts. It is a wheel that will always turn: "O Fortuna! Like the Moon, fickle m her state of being, always waxing, also waning ..."


Wheel of Fortune with Christ Enthroned in Judgement Instead of the Goddess Fortuna
12th-13th century
From the illuminated manuscript
Carmina Burana
Found in Benediktbeuern, Upper Bavaria Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich


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