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Opicinus de Canistris (24 December 1296 - c.

1353), also known as the Anonymous

Ticinensis was an Italian priest, writer, mystic, and cartographer who generated a number
of unusual writings and fantastic cosmological diagrams.[1][2][3] Autobiographical in origin,
they provide the majority of information about his life. When his works were rediscovered in
the early twentieth century, some scholars deemed his works to be “psychotic” due to their
extraordinary theological musings and schematic diagrams. The merits of this
psychoanalytic interpretation, however, are currently under debate.

Northern Italy (1296-1329)[edit]

Opicinus de Canistris World Map, 1296-1300

Opicinus was born December 24, 1296, in Lomello, near Pavia, Italy. His family, which was
well known in Pavia, actively supported the Guelphs against the Ghibellines.
He went to school from the age of six. He then studied liberal arts and progressively
received an eclectic encyclopaedical training. From a very early age he was interested in
drawing. He had several temporary jobs to materially help his family.
The storming of Pavia by the Ghibellines on October 8, 1315 forced Canistris' family to take
exile in Genoa for three years. Opicinus then distanced himself from the Guelph part of his
family, especially following the death of his father and one of his younger brothers.
In Genoa he studied theology and the Bible in greater depth and developed his talent for
drawing. During this period he was able to see the first "sea maps" (incorrectly known as
"portolans"). When he returned to Pavia in 1318, he studied to become a priest, and from
1319 he drew up religious treaties. He was ordained in Parma on February 27, 1320, and in
1323 obtained a modest parish in Pavia (Santa Maria Capella).
Between 1325 and 1328, his autobiography doesn't mention any event. Towards the end of
this period, he wrote a treatise defending the supremacy of the papacy over the Empire (De
preeminentia spiritualis imperii) against the ecclesiological views of Marsilius of Padua,
then a close adviser to the emperor elect Lewis of Bavaria in whose hands Pavia had
fallen. It is probably this which lead him to leave the city, and find refuge in the nearby
Piemontese city of Valenza in the summer of 1329.[4]

Avignon (1329 – circa 1353)[edit]

Cathedral of Pavia from manuscript Vatican, Pal. Lat. 1993, 1335–50

Diagram with Crucifixion, 1335–50

During his stay in Valenza, he wrote a treatise on the issue of Christian poverty (which has
not been preserved). Arrived in Avignon in April 1329, where the Papal Court was located
he managed to present his treatise to Pope John XXII. Returning to Valenza, he revised
the De preeminentia spiritualis imperii and submitted to the pope. While awaiting for some
rewards for his efforts, Opicinus produced a description of the city of Pavia (De laudibus
civitatis ticinensis).
He eventually obtained a position as scribe at the Apostolic Penitentiary on December 4,
1330. However soon after, a suit was brought against him before the Rota, by the new
bishop of Pavia, Giovanni Fulgosi, as part of a wider effort to reorganize the local clergy.
Little is known about the suit, as in his writings, Opicinus is quite vague about its nature.

Illness and visions[edit]

On March 31, 1334 Opicinus suffered a serious illness in which he became comatose for
nearly two weeks. When he recovered, he discovered that much of his memory was gone,
that he could not speak and that his right hand was useless. He wrote,

On March 31, 1334 I fell sick. I received the sacraments and was near death through the
first third of April. When I came to I found my limbs out of action…I had forgotten everything
and could not even remember how the world looked outside of our dormitory…In the
consequences of the disease I was mute, my right hand was lame and I had lost in a
miraculous way a great deal of my literal memory.

Ultimately, Opicinus did recover his memory, speech and some function in his hand. He
attributed this healing to a vision he experienced on August 15 (coincidentally the date of
the feast of the assumption of the Virgin).

In the night of August 15, I saw a dream of the Virgin with the Child in her lap...and through
her merits she has given me back not the littera (knowledge) but a double spirit. Since
February 1, 1335, I began to retire, bit by bit, from the work in our office because of the
weakness of my hand.

Opicinus believed that his illness was the result of hidden sins that had corrupted his body.
However, he interpreted his recovery as spiritual gift that allowed him to reveal spiritual

In a spiritual work, however, this same hand proved stronger than before: since then it has
draw all these pictures without any human help. At present my lost literal knowledge is
replaced twofold by spiritual knowledge; my right hand is weak in worldly work, but strong
in spiritual endeavors.”

The “pictures” he refers to are a complex series of maps and schematic diagrams in two
manuscripts currently held at the Vatican library, Palatinus 1993 and Vaticanus 6435.
These drawings were a means for Opicinus to chart the spiritual realities that he believed
were the underpinnings of the physical world.
Much scholarship has interpreted Opicinus’s illness as psychosomatic, specifically the
product of schizophrenia. however, whatever symptomotology can be gleaned from
Opicinus’s abstruse writings seems to suggest that he suffered a stroke in addition to
potential psychotic episodes.
He died in Avignon around 1353.

Writings prior to 1334[edit]
These are treaties without drawings and known by the authors friends. Only De
preeminentia spiritualis imperii (The primacy of spiritual power) and De laudibus Papie
(Pavia eulogy) have survived to date in the form of copies.[5] Their content is classical.

 1319: Liber metricus de parabolis Christi

 1320: De decalogo mandatorum
 1322: religious treaties
 1324: Libellus dominice Passionis secundum concordantiam IIII evangelistarum
 1329: De paupertate Christi, De virtutibus Christi, Lamentationes virginis Marie, De
preeminentia spiritualis imperii
 1330: Tractatus dominice orationis, Libellus confessionis, De laudibus Papie
 1331: Tabula ecclesiastice hierarchie
 1332: De septiloquio virginis Marie
 1333: De promotionibus virginis Marie
Work after 1334[edit]
Opicinus is best known for the two manuscripts he created following his illness, "BAV, Pal.
lat. 1993" and "BAV, Vat. lat. 6435." These two manuscripts contain a variety of
autobiographic drawings and writings which chart Opicinus's life and illness.
The Vaticanus latinus 6435 manuscript[edit]

Vatican Lat. 6435 folio 79v.

Opicinus wrote the Vaticanus latinus between June and November 1337 and subsequently
inserted addita (the last in December 1352). This manuscript, which was only identified on
the eve of World War II, was recently fully published and translated by the medievalist
Muriel Laharie as well as several studies by the psychiatrist Guy Roux – a multi-disciplinary
collaboration essential to examining this singular work.
The Vaticanus comes in the form of a paper codex with 87 folios, with only written text in
the first half, text and drawings (often map based) in the second half. It is a very dense
This codex looks similar to a journal written in chronological order. However its
polymorphous content which is difficult to decipher bears witness to the encyclopaedic
culture of its author. Opicinus used all his knowledge to construct a cosmic identity
appearing in numerous guises; he is God, the Sun, the Pope, Europe, Avignon, etc. Its
colour anthropomorphic maps of the Mediterranean area, precise and curiously organised,
illustrate "good" and "bad" characters and animals on which he projects himself and his
enemies. The use of symbols, his taste for dissimulating and manipulating (words,
numbers, space), and his attraction to the obscene and scatological are omnipresent and
relate strongly to similar themes found broadly in medieval culture.
The Palatinus latinus 1993 manuscript[edit]
The Palatinus latinus, first identified in 1913, was the subject of a study by Richard
Salomon in 1939, with a partial edition of the document and comments.
With 52 large colour drawings on parchment (often used on both sides) and covered with
notes, Palatinus, 1993 apparently relies much less on a cartographic format ; yet, invislbe
maps of the Mediterranean are underlying most of the diagrams, with sometimes only a few
places expressed. The drawings are extremely schematic, using human figures covered in
circles and ellipses. Opicinus also included a plethora of biblical quotations, calendars,
astrological charts and medical imagery.
Some scholars (M. Laharie and G. Roux) claim that these drawings were produced later
than the Vaticanus, with no firm basis. Only two diagrams are dated or connected to the
1350 Jubilee. Other evidences rather point to an early production of most of the other
drawings, in 1335 or 1336, before the Vaticanus.


1. ^ Salomon, Richard (1953). "A Newly Discovered Manuscript of Opicinus de

Canistris". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 16. The Warburg Institute.
pp. 45–57. JSTOR 750226.
2. ^ Quaglino, Gian Piero, Romano, Augusto, & Bernardini, Riccardo, "Opicinus de Canistris:
some notes from Jung's unpublished Eranos Seminar on the medieval Codex Palatinus
Latinus 1993". Journal of Analytical Psychology, 55(3), 2010, pp. 398–422
3. ^ Harding, Catherine. “Open to God: The Cosmological Diagrams of Opicinus de Canistirs,”
in Zeitscherift für Kunstgeschichte, 61 (1998): 18-39
4. ^ Piron, Sylvain (2015). Dialectique du monstre. Enquête sur Opicino de Canistris.
Brussels: Zones sensibles. pp. 62–65.
5. ^ De preeminentia spiritualis imperii (1329). Cf. SCHOLZ (R.), Unbekannte
Kirchenpolitische Streischriften aus der Zeit Ludwig des Bayern (1327–1354), Rome, Verlag
von Loescher & Cie, vol. 1, 1911, p. 37-43, and vol. 2, 1914, p. 89-104. De laudibus civitatis
ticinensis (1330). Cf. GIANANI (F.), in Opicino de Canistris, l’Anonimo Ticinese, Pavia, EMI,
1996, p. 73-121; and AMBAGLIO (D.), Il libro delle lodi della città di Pavia, Pavia, 1984.

Further reading[edit]

 Camille, Michael. “The Image and the Self: Unwriting Late Medieval Bodies,”
in Framing Medieval Bodies. (ed.) Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin. New York, NY.
Manchester University Press, 1994
 Gurevich, Aron Yakovlevich. “L'individualité au Moyen Age: le cas d'Opicinus de
Canistris,” in Annales ESC: économies, sociétés, civilisations: (later Annales - Histoire,
Sciences Sociales) vol. 48:5, pp. 1263–1280, 1993
 Kris, Ernst. “A Psychotic Artist of the Middle Ages,” in Psychoanalytic Exploration in
Art. New York, NY. International Universities Press, 1952
 Laharie (M.), Le journal singulier d’Opicinus de Canistris (1337 - circa. 1341), Vatican
City, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, 2008, 2 volumes, LXXXVIII + 944 p., 47 ill.
 Laharie (M.), "Une cartographie ‘à la folie’ : le journal d’Opicinus de Canistris",
in Mélanges de l'École française de Rome (Moyen Âge), Ecole française de Rome,
119, 2, 2007, p. 361-399.
 Morse, Victoria, A Complext Terrain: Church, Society and the Individual in the Thought
of Opicino de Canistris. Unpublished dissertation completed at the University of
California-Berkeley, 1996
 Morse, Victoria. “Seeing and Believing: The Problem of Idolatry in the Though of
Opicino de Canistris,” in. Orthodoxie, Christianisme, Histoire. (ed.) Susanna Elm, Eric
Rebillard, and Antonella Romano. Ecole Francois de Rome, 2000 pp. 163-176
 Morse, Victoria. “The Vita Mediocris: The Secular Priesthood in the Thought of Opicino
de Canistris,” in Quaderni di Storia Religiosa pp. 257-82 Verona, Cierre Edizione, 1994
 Piron, Sylvain. Dialectique du monstre. Enquête sur Opicino de Canistris, Bruxelles,
Zones sensibles, 2015, 208 p.
 Roux (G.), Opicinus de Canistris (1296–1352), prêtre, pape et Christ ressuscité, Paris,
Le Léopard d’Or, 2005, 484 p.
 Roux (G.), Opicinus de Canistris (1296–1352), Dieu fait homme et homme-Dieu, Paris,
Le Léopard d’Or, 2009, 310 p.
 Roux (G.) & Laharie (M.), Art et Folie au Moyen Âge. Aventures et Énigmes d’Opicinus
de Canistris (1296-1351 ?), Paris, Le Léopard d’Or, 1997, 364 p., 94 ill.
 Salomon (R.G.), Opicinus de Canistris. Weltbild und Bekenntnisse eines
Avignonesichen Klerikers des 14. Jahrunderts, London, The Warburg Institute, 1936, 2
volumes; reprint. Lichtenstein, Kraus Reprints, 1969, 292 p. + 89 ill.
 Tozzi (P.), Opicino e Pavia, Pavia, Libreria d’Arte Cardano, 1990, 76 p.
 Whittington, Karl. Body-Worlds: Opicinius de Canistris and the Medieval Cartographic
Imagination. Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2014, xii + 212 p, 45 ill.