Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

The Body-Worlds of Opicinus de Canistris, Artist and Visionary (1296-ca.1354)


This dissertation explores the drawings of a fourteenth-century Italian priest, Opicinus de Canistris, who is emerging as a critical figure for medieval art history. His drawings contradict numerous assumptions of how scientific curiosity, space, allegory, gender and humor operated in medieval visual culture. Opicinus combined maps with human bodies to create complex allegories of the natural and spiritual world. These drawings defy traditional art-historical classification; they relate closely to contemporary maps and sea-charts, religious pictorial imagery, medical drawings, and cosmological diagrams, but belong to none of these categories. This study examines his drawings in relation to medieval epistemology, science, cartography, allegory, and gender, as well as modern theoretical approaches to mapping and the diagrammatic mode.

This study also explores Opicinus's process of experimentation and making. To gain a greater understanding of what Opicinus was trying to convey through the creation of embodied maps, the maps, themselves, are explored first - their empirical basis, conditions of use, geometric techniques, and visual qualities - seeking what it was in them that so fascinated Opicinus. The next chapter explores vision and allegory in the drawings, probing the interactions between cartographic form and theological content that created his meanings. The third chapter questions the relationship between Opicinus's body-world drawings and contemporary conceptions and pictures of cosmic relationships and their relation to the body, and the final section examines how Opicinus used gender binaries and graphic sexuality as structural devices and metaphors.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View