The Planetary Gods

Diana, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Apollo, Jupiter and Saturn are sometimes referred to as the seven planetary gods, since their name also designates the main seven planets of the Ancient and Early modern cosmos. They are not only divinities of planets but also some key figures of the Greco-Roman pantheon. Their afterlife, facilitated by astronomy and astrology, encompasses a wide range of activities and disciplines.

The Warburg Library is specifically designed for retracing the many paths through which the Classical tradition has been transmitted from late-Antiquity to modern times. Thus the following is a introduction to the survival of these seven deities in European culture as recorded by Early Modern illustrated books kept in the various subject areas of the Library. It proceeds floor by floor and may serve not only as a point of access to anyone interested in aspects of the survival of the Greco-Roman pantheon, but also as an example of the ways in which the Library classification is particularly suited to tracking the paths of ideas, themes and images across various disciplines, and across time and space.



1st Floor (28 mb) - 2nd Floor (28 mb) - 3rd Floor (25 mb) - 4th floor ( 35 mb)

Each of these four plate corresponds to one of the four floors of the Library. The size of the plates, averaging between 20-30 mb, means that download time can take up to one minute or more depending on the speed of your data connection They are best viewed on larger screens and were initially designed for classroom use with a data projector. Click each caption to access the bibliographic record and the pdf facsimile of the book from which the images come.

In each plate the larger images are group representations of the gods. The other sets of images come from digitized illustrated books on each floor of the Library. These are arranged in the traditional order of the planets: Moon or Diana, Mercury, Venus, the Sun or Apollo, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In astrology and its related fields, illustrations of the planetary gods come almost invariably in sets of seven. In all the other disciplines images of the planetary gods appear in very irregular ways along countless other illustrations. Hardly any illustrated book provides a complete 'set' of seven. Saturn and Mars, for instance, are more or less absent in emblems and fable book and rarely appear in literature on engraved gems or antique oil lamps. In fact images of Saturn are the rarest, although, of couse, many of the features of this dark god survived as the allegorical of Time.

Thus these plates provide representative samples of the polymorphous and uneven printed afterlives of seven important Ancient deities. They also offer tools for setting these images in their broader historical context. Thus clicking each title opens the bibliographic record of each book, from which you can navigate by subject, keyword, author etc..., as well as access the electronic facsimile in pdf format. 
For a broader view, clicking the classmark and subject areas in red opens a browser window with the subject-classification of the Library linked to the catalogue and to corresponding online resources.

The plates also include links to the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database. These links can be used to display the corresponding holdings of the Photographic Collection and provide further means of setting these Early Modern book illustrations in the context of the broad visual tradition.

The Library's collections range from the fifteenth century onwards with hardly any original medieval material. There are of course plentiful sections on the medieval world but all these images are under copyright. This is also reflected in the plates, which display illustrations ranging from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. 

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The Planetary Gods Floor by Floor

1st Floor and Basement

Pre-Classical to Post-Classical Art
Plate (22 mb)

The post classical re-emergence of images of the ancient gods is particularly conspicuous in two large sections of the first floor covering the rediscovery of classical art and the main European schools of painting from the late Middle Ages to the 18th century.

While the written sources of ancient mythology circulated more or less uninterruptedly from Classical to pre-modern times, their Classical images resurfaced slowly from the late fourteenth century onwards. By the sixteenth century the remains of Antiquity were avidly studied, collected and broadcast in sketches, prints and casts.

Gérard Audran’s Proportions du corps humain is particularly representative of the reception of classical art in academic education. It presents the Medici Venus and the Belvedere Apollo as models of style and proportion to study and imitate.

One large section of the Library documents the various stages of the rediscovery and diffusion of ancient art through the medium of the printed and illustrated book. It covers topics such as ancient monuments, catalogues of early modern collections of antiquities, coins, gems, sculpture and painting.

The Ancients honoured Diana, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Apollo, Jupiter and Saturn with temples and images frequently illustrated in anthologies of prints representing the main monuments of Rome (ill). They feature also in the Deorum Capite, a collection of the heads of the main gods taken from Ancient coins and medals, each surrounded by elaborate Renaissance all’antica ornamentation. Apollo and Venus are the only planetary gods to feature in Enea Vico’s book on gems and cameos (ill). We encounter them again in Ancient oil lamps – another modest media avidly collected for its iconographical interest. In Bellori’s catalogue, all the planetary gods appear - with the exception of Saturn (ill).

Private collectors of lesser means than Popes and Cardinals acquired more modest and sometimes blunt figurines. Statuettes of Mercury, Apollo, Jupiter and Venus feature in private collections of Ancient objects amidst a miscellany of statuettes, gems, antique lamps and pots. Two examples illustrated here come from the early catalogues of the Musellio collection (Verona) and the Wilde Museum (Amsterdam).

Domenico de’ Rossi’s Raccolta di Statue Antiche is one in a long tradition of anthologies of prints after the most famous and most copied statues of Antiquity. In this context, images of some of the ancient gods appear randomly in the company of such famous sculptures as the Spinario, the Laocoon, the Farnese Hercules and even some contemporary masterpieces such as Michelangelo Moses.

The second main section of the first floor follows the history of Western art from late-Antiquity to the medieva periodl. Once the chronological stream of the books reaches the first millennium it is divided topographically. Thus we move from the European Middle Ages to the national schools of painting: Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, English, German and East European.

Through these sections it is possible to retrace the various advances of mythology in Western art, from the world of manuscript illumination to that of large Renaissance pictorial cycles which in turn provided models for several centuries of European art. The frescoes of Raphael and his school, at the Villa Farnesina, stand out among the most influential recreation of the Ancient Gods. Images like the Council of the Gods show how Raphael and his team absorbed Classical art and produced a style that shaped European art-education for centuries. Further examples illustrate the European spread of mythological imagery in political and civic cycles. Rubens’ Marie of Medici Cycle, for instance, features Marie and King Henri IV as Jupiter and Juno and presents Mercury as messenger. We encounter all the planetary gods in Van Campen’s decorative cycles for the Amsterdam Town-hall.

The last section of the first floor follows the applied arts and provide further threads to study images of the gods in furniture, cassoni, pottery, glass, textiles, embroidery, lace, tapestry, leather and goldsmith work, enamel, metal-work, arms and armour, engraved gems, medals, ivory, amber and town and garden planning. 

WORD (2nd Floor
Language & Literature
Plate (28 mb)

The second floor comprises two large sections. The first covers European national literatures from Ancient Greece to pre-modern Germany. The second section encompasses a larger variety of topics and disciplines. The main sequence runs as follows: Medieval & Humanistic Literature, Survival of Classical Literature, Classical & Medieval Themes in Literature, Pictorial Symbols, Mnemonics, Encyclopedias, Libraries, Manuscripts, Book Printing & Illustration, History of Education, Cultural Exchanges, Travels. Allusions to and uses of classical mythology are present in most sections of this floor. Images feature principally in four subsections:

Illustrated editions of Ovid's Metamorphoses
Pictorial Symbols

Most important is the section on mythographers (NEH) of which the principal titles have been digitized (see this page). Not all texts are illustrated. Boccaccio’s Genealogia includes genealogical tables but no images (ill). Gyraldi de Deis Gentium is not illustrated. Later editions of Cartari’s Immagini and Natale Conti’s Mythologiae share the same set of woodcuts. The illustrations from Vincenzo Cartari's Imagini record the standard features of the ancient gods as well as their multiple variations across the Ancient world transmitted by literature and the visual arts (ill).

The gods also appear occasionally in the world of fables to interact with mortals, or simply as the recipient of their prayers. Their presence is relatively modest (ill).

The universe of pictorial symbols, principally imprese and emblems, is another field where the ancient gods make only sporadic appearances. Apollo and Diana feature frequently as the planets sun and moon; Mercury and Venus seem most frequently present while Mars and Saturn are virtually absent. The impresa, a personal emblem made of a compound of text and image, tends to avoid the human figure. Nevertheless images of the planets and of the attributes of some gods, such as Mercury's caduceus, occasionally feature in Imprese (ill). Sometimes they populate the ornamental margins of imprese, as for instance in an early edition of Paolo Giovio's Sententiose Imprese where featuring Venus and Love (ill). Other examples from Italian and German emblem books - Bocchius, Maccio - include the Sun, the Moon, Mercury and Jupiter.

The section on Mnemonics contains images of the Gods. The most important of such memory systems is Giulio Camillo’s Teatro del Mondo, illustrated here in Frances Yates' reconstruction. The seven planetary gods herald each of the seven gang ways of an Ancient amphitheatre subdivided in seven grades corresponding to the seven layers of the Universe, from the gods and the planets to the sub-lunar world of humans.

The Nuremberg Chronicle presents the Ancient gods as medieval rulers. Its author, Hartmann Schedel, follows a trend from Late-Antiquity called evhemerism, in describing the Ancient gods as important historical figures deified by later generations. These images, however, are not specific to each god since the same woodcut served for other kings and rulers. Together with some early astrological illustrations, these are rare examples of printed medieval imagery of the planetary gods, soon replaced by more classically inspired forms.

Illustrated editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses are the most important literary genre to provide such a variety and abundance of images of the Ancient gods. These vary from country to country and change across time. The Library holds an extensive collection of these, many of which have been digitized. In contrast to the illustrations of mythological dictionaries, which tend to be static, illustration of Ovid represent the gods in action. Two themes are particularly conspicuous: the love of the gods and the punishment of mortals. The illustrations selected here come from Italian, Dutch and French editions of the text.

Religion & Philosophy
Plate (25 mb)

The third floor covers Religion and Philosophy. It is the only floor for which one might encounter difficulties in finding enough images to build an introductory portal.

Of interest for the study of planetary-gods are the subject areas encompassing the religions of Rome and Greece, subdived into sections devoted to the cult of individual deities. There Jupiter, Venus and Apollo rub shoulders with the cosmopolitan pantheon of divinities worshipped in the Roman Empire: Eleusine, Demeter, Mithra, Isis. Next follows Christianity which, at least in the first centuries, destroyed rather than preserved images of the Ancient gods. The section spans from early Christianity to the Counter Reformation. This tradition generated much polemics with Ancient religions - merged in the generalizing appellation of Paganism - but very few images of the ancient gods.

It is nevertheless in the Counter-Reformation that images of the ancient Gods appear sporadically in Christian publications such as Gallonio's graphic treatise on the pains inflicted on Christians by Romans, where three of the 47 prints include an image of Jupiter (ill).

Planetary divinities featured in Arabic and Indian astrology but not in religion. It is however through a style based on Classical art that some of the first images of non-European religions were broadcast in the Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (ill). The representation of an Amerindian wedding involves, for instance, a figure clearly derived from Antique images of Mercury while the image of the Indian Ganesh gives the elephant god the contraposto of an Apollo and the lunar attribute of Diana. Similarly a North American procession derives obviously from Classical relief. Thus, if according to researchers classical form and contents were re-united in the Renaissance, the 'Classical' style had such impact on artistic education that it became the medium for representing non-classical religions.

The other main section of the 3rd floor, Philosophy, involves much elaboration on Classical mythologies, especially from the Renaissance, with the revival of Neoplatonism initiated in fifteenth-century Florence. While much has been written on Neoplatonism and the arts, the fact remains that philosophical literature is seldom illustrated. Giordano Bruno is perhaps one of the few philosophers to have images printed in his work. His Spaccio della Bestia is an imaginary dialogue expelling the gods from the sky, while the great wheel of his De Umbris Idearum is a mnemonic system using all the resources of ancient mythologies to expand or synthesis knowledge.

Science - Cultural & Political History
Plate 35 mb

The 4th floor houses  the last part of Orientation (history of science) and Action (cultural & political history). For reasons of space the other two parts of Orientation - Religion and Philosophy - are shelved on the 3rd floor.


In alchemy and chemistry the planetary gods lend their names to metals. Their effusive interactions are representative of the metallic phenomena visible in Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens, a set of emblems describing the various operations of alchemy (ill). Moving from Alchemy to Magic we encounter the planetary gods as objects of invocation and find their images on talismans and talismanic literature (ill).

 The planets are sometimes interlocutors with the practitioners of divination and prophecy. They also feature in the ludic universe of fortune-telling books (ill). In Sigismondo Fanti's Trionfo di Fortuna the names of prophets and astrologers radiating around the images of each god guide the players towards the final stage of the game where some oracular verses will unveil their future. Surrounding these images of the gods are images of famous sculptors, architects, philosophers, soldiers and writers (ill). 

Illustrations from Robert Fludd's Utriusque cosmi maioris bring the central theme of the microcosm and macrocosm into focus, setting the fabric of humans in correspondence with that of the universe (ill).

The section on Astrology covers the main texts relating to the science of the stars, from its Babylonian earlier sources, moving to Rome and Ancient Greece, to the Arabic world, its re-emergence in the Western medieval world and its survival up to the 20th century. Illustrations selected include excerpts of Abu Maschar's Flores Astrologiae, the important and popular work of an Arabic scholar credited for merging philosophy and astrology. The medieval period is represented by the frontispiece of Pierre d'Ailly's Concordantia astronomiae cum theologia while illustrations from the Temporal des weitberümpten M. Johann Künigspergers provide some of many examples of sixteenth-century illustration displaying the planetary gods clad in classical dress. The genre of the children of the planets associates various professions and trades with each of the seven planetary divinities and is another example of the diffuse impact of science of the stars on cultural history (ill). The surrounding sections further expand this aspect by covering such fields as calendars, almanacs, time measuring, chronology, meteorology, astronomical instruments, globes, nautical instruments.


Four planetary gods, Diana, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, feature prominently in the first section, psychology, thanks to their association with the four temperaments. The Ancient medical theory of the temperaments associates psychological and physiological identity with the influence of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and the Moon. The planets also leave their trace on the palm of the hand (ill) and shape types illustrated in treatises on physiognomy such as Giambattista della Porta's Fisionomia dell'uomo (ill).

The following sections on Anthropology and Folklore hold many non-classical deities; Music and Theatre include some illustrated books, many opera libretti on mythological subjects, but very few with images of the planetary gods. The theme of the harmony of the spheres nevertheless inspired some important imagery, exemplified by the frontispiece of Gaffurius' Pratica Musice (ill).

The section on Festivals is an eloquent witness to the medieval and Early-Modern afterlife of the ancient gods. It provides records of numerous Early Modern triumphal processions and plays in which participants paraded as the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons. Examples illustrated here show plates from the naval battle that took place in Florence on the Arno in 1612 and involved the fleet of Diana, Mercury, Apollo and Jupiter. In spite of its Italian focus, the collection includes striking visual examples of festivities in France, Holland and Germany. The frontispiece of one such event displays the god Mercury.

The next sections on Technology, Transports, Trade, Public Opinion, Law, Sociology and Political Theory are not particularly fertile for illustrations of the Ancient gods. A similar point can be made of the second half of this floor dedicated to political history. Mythological figures, particularly demi-gods such as Hercules, or figures from the Trojan legends, participate to the foundation myths of most European countries.

The Planetary Gods in the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database
Follow this links for images of Gods & Myths in the Iconographic Database