Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Codex Seraphinianus (Luigi Serafini)

Posted by Charley Parker at 2:09 pm

The Codex Seraphinianus - Luigi Serafini
When you were a child, and your parents first exposed you to that wondrous medium of information storage and dream exchange known as a “book”, it was an object that was only moderately intelligible.

As a pre-reading age child, the pictures may have had immediate meaning, but the other marks, which you would later come to know as letters and words, did not. They were simply marks or patterns on the page.

Gradually these became meaningful in ways too deep and astonishing to be fully appreciated; opening into other worlds and adding layers and layers of richness to this one.

What a great combination that was, though — fascinating images and mysterious marks, somehow related and holding the promise of meaning, yet withholding that meaning for now, leaving you to guess and wonder.

Italian artist, sculptor, designer and architect Luigi Serafini is best known for his Codex Searphinianus, an art book project that in many ways recreates that state of fascinating images juxtaposed with systematized markings that look like they have meaning, but withhold that meaning.

A “codex” is essentially just a book, in the folded and bound format familiar today. It was first brought into common use by the Romans, for whom it was an adjunct or replacement for the scroll as a form for storing written information. More specifically it refers to the interior pages of a book minus the cover, which was called a “case”. The term codex is now used more specifically to refer to hand-written manuscripts created prior to the advent of movable type. The most famous example is the codex of Leonardo da Vinci, formerly known as the Codex Hammer, renamed as the Codex Leicester by Bill Gates when he purchased it in 1994.

Created over a period from 1976 to 1978, Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus is a 360 page book appears to be an encyclopedic description of an alternate world, illuminated with drawings of wonderfully strange creatures, objects and architecture.

All of it is accompanied by what is apparently a cryptic language, a systematic collection of marks that is presumed to be “asemic writing”, or writing without meaning, a false language (as opposed to an invented language that does have meaning, like Esperanto or “Klingon”). The writings are hand lettered in a decorative script and accompany the images as though in explanation of them.

The illustrations are imaginative, fanciful, bizarre, lovingly drawn and detailed, with an eye to classic drawings of real flora and fauna. (For a wonderful counterpoint, see some of the real thing, often tending to the bizarre, on BibliOdyssey.)

The Codex Seraphinianus was released in 1981 in a limited edition art book of 5,000 copies, and quickly became a sought after collectors item. Another limited edition was released in the 1990′s. A more widely printed general release of The Codex Seraphinianus was published in 2006. It is out of print but can still be found as a used book.

I don’t know of an online repository for the entire work, but there are pages available at various places on the web.

[Suggestion courtesy of Guy Haddon-Grant]

Posted in: Illustration   |   11 Comments »

11 comments for The Codex Seraphinianus (Luigi Serafini) »

RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Comment by Don Forrester
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

    Well, it was the Ed Binkley post that got me. I’ve favorited your blog and added you to my weekly checklist.

    You’ve brought some amazing art and artists to my attention, for which I thank you. Keep up the great reporting!!!


  2. Comment by Charley Parker
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

    Thanks, Don. I’ll do my best (grin).

  3. Comment by Pseudonym
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

    I’ve come across this work before. I can’t help be reminded of the Voynich Manuscript.

  4. Comment by Charley Parker
    Sunday, January 31, 2010 @ 12:35 am

    Wonderful. I wasn’t aware of it. Thanks!

    For the benefit of other readers, here is a site devoted to the Voynich Manuscript.

  5. Comment by Nate Wilson
    Sunday, January 31, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    I know my school has a copy in its art reserves. The book is huge and would take hours to look through.

  6. Comment by Li-An
    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 @ 3:46 am

    Very nice concept but very expensive :-(

  7. Comment by Charley Parker
    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 @ 9:05 am

    Yes. We might hope that they will reprint the popular edition.

  8. Comment by CEDE
    Saturday, February 13, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Thanks a lot lines and colors. Thanks to you I am now out 350 dollars. I had to immediately buy this book. It’s fantastic!

  9. Comment by Charley Parker
    Sunday, February 14, 2010 @ 12:40 am

    Always glad to be of service (grin).

  10. Comment by Greg Marshall
    Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    I saw this post last week and had to come back to it. Really it does capture a similar type of fascination that a child might have. So good.

  11. Comment by CEDE
    Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    I have been thinking of recording a flip through of the book, then people could perhaps pause the video at pages they like.

    It’s really an incredible book.

Leave a comment


(required but not published)

Display Ads on Lines and Colors (1st tier): $25/week or $75/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.
Display Ads on Lines and Colors (2nd tier): $20/week or $65/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.

Donate Life

The Gift of a Lifetime
Donate Life