Medieval Futures: A Colloquium on Anticipation, Prognostication, Speculatio in Britain


Made in England in the late 12th century, this striking, schematic diagram traces the movements of the planets according to signs of the zodiac. The folio contains one of the many diagrammatic illustrations of astrological and cosmological relationships in a Cosmographical manuscript now in the Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, Walters Museum of Art, MS W. 73). These complex images accompany text describing the nature and operation of the universe according to preeminent medieval thinkers: Bede, Isidore of Seville, and Abbo of Fleury. Astrological and calendrical diagrams such as those in W. 73 reflect an intense medieval interest in organizing knowledge about the natural world in ways that would be generative for their viewers; these images operated alongside text to present the passage of time and the composition of the cosmos as calculable and suitable for interpretation. Together text and image explicate change on a cosmic scale, and provide a system for recording and tracking the cosmological present as it relates to a imminent, predictable future.