The symbolic meaning of the distinctive geometrical and mathematical design will lead us to the understanding of the use of the quincunx, or geometric patterns of mystical mathematical symbolism based on the Chinese magic square and used famously in Christian art and architecture of the Middle Ages (and now thanks to this discovery, used in early Roman times as well). But first, before we dive into the mathematical model for time and space, let’s go over a little background, or provenance, of this mosaic from Caligula’s ship.
Caligula was a famous Roman emperor who reigned from A.D. 37-41. His decadent tastes led him to build giant ships, not for travel, but for entertainment and retreat from reality. These ships were anchored on Lake Nemi – a circular volcanic lake outside Rome. Following Caligula’s assassination, the ships were sunk. Mussolini, between 1929 and 1932, had the lake drained and the ships hauled ashore. This mosaic was discovered and placed in a museum especially built for the artifacts recovered in two of Caligula’s ships in 1936. By the end of World War II, the museum was burned down and many of the artifacts were damaged or destroyed but this mosaic survived undamaged leading some to speculate that the mosaic was removed before the destruction of the museum.
In a rare sighting of the stolen artifact, the mosaic was spotted in a gallery in Rome and was photographed in the 1960s. In 2013, an Italian expert on ancient marbles, Dario Del Bufalo, was lecturing a group of art historians and dealers in New York and displayed the photo. The mosaic was recognized by some of the people at the lecture as being on display at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fioratti of New York. Evidently, an Italian aristocratic family who possessed the mosaic sold the piece to the Fiorattis in the late 1960’s thru a broker, an Italian police official known for recovering looted art by the Nazis.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had a judge issue a warrant to seize the mosaic on September 18, 2017 on the basis that the authorities have evidence that the piece was stolen from an Italian museum before World War II. The mosaic was returned to the Italian government October 19, 2017. Mrs. Fioratti offered no resistance.
The Caligula mosaic demonstrates the typical design used by the early church in art and architecture during the Middle Ages. The cross-in-square represents the four cardinal directions and intersects in the center, or axis mundi, where Heaven, earth, and humankind co-exist. The cross-in-square pattern creates the four quadrants where we can see four circular figures. The cross-in-square represents Heaven and the four circles represent earth. This is typical of quincunx geometry, or four objects arranged around a central object. However, the relevance is mystical mathematical symbolism which incorporates Heaven, earth, the center or axis mundi, and humankind. In addition, when we consider the Chinese magic square, we also incorporate the concepts of math, the right-angle triangle theorem (or Pythagorean Theorem) and the numbers of the calendar.
As described many times before in this blog and in my book Number Time Archetype, there exists a formula to apply to the Chinese magic square that will lead to a set of magic squares called “magic squares in the Luo Shu format”. These magic squares reveal a Pythagorean triplet of numbers at the heart of each square – a reference to the Pythagorean Theorem – which represents the describing of space in mathematical terms. In addition, these magic squares will always have a cross of odd numbers thru the vertical and horizontal axis which creates the four quadrants. Upon closer examination of the mosaic, one can see within the cross-in-square pattern a grid and within this grid exists a second quincuncial arrangement of four gnomon shapes or right angles around an identifiable center, a clear reference to the gnomon, a keeper of time, and the right angle or carpenter’s square, a symbol of time and space. And the number 365, the number associated with the solar cycle, appears at the center of the 27x27 magic square, which represents time. These squares, a gift from Heaven, had special reverence to the ancient Chinese a thousand years prior to their adoption by the Romans and Christians.
However, the provenance of the magic square is Chinese and is known as the Luo Shu. The Chinese used the magic square as their template for temple design as well as for city layouts and royal tomb design (see Alfred Schinz, The Magic Square: Cities in Ancient China and Lars Berglund, The Secret of the Luo Shu: Numerology in Chinese Art and Architecture).
The Quincunx as a Cosmic Symbol
Paloma Pajares-Ayuela sums it up best in her book, Cosmatesque Ornament:
The center symbolizes the beginning, the origin, the starting point, the pure being, the absolute, the transcendent; in three dimensions, the center corresponds to the axis, which unites a point with the zenith (the North Star), indicating verticality. The circle–in space, the sphere–represents the infinite, transcendent, and complete, in sum, the divine, God. The square–in space, the cube–is the symbol of the material, of the finite, non-transcendent, limited, solid; it is the symbol of the earth, connected in its order to the four cardinal points. The cross marks the four points of the compass; it stems from joining the center with each one of the points, establishing the orientation of the point in space and in time (solstices and equinoxes; change of seasons). The cross is the mediating symbol that connects heaven and earth.