In the ensemble that decorates the main hall of Colégio de Santo Antão-o-Novo, in Lisbon, the panel with the representation of a gear system that lifts the weight of the Earth is one of the good examples of transposing an erudite knowledge to eighteenth-century tiles. It is also a great example of how to compose a new emblem from tradition.
The figure of the angel that makes the gears move repeats an emblem of the work Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu. To highlight the theme, the figure in the book was accompanied by the famous maxim attributed to the Greek philosopher Archimedes: Fac pedem figat, et terram movebit [Give me a footrest, and I will move the Earth].
As the historian Michael Gorman precisely identified, the emblem uses a drawing that illustrated one of the public lectures presented by Christoph Grienberger, the emeritus professor of the Roman College, in the first decades of seventeenth-century. In his work, the Austrian Jesuit astronomer had calculated that, with the composition of 24 gears, even if the globe was composed exclusively of gold, it could be displaced by the strength of a small coin.
In this way, a scientific culture was transferred to the erudite universe of emblems, extolling the activity of the Society of Jesus, principal responsible for the Christian conversion of kingdoms and communities across the globe.
On the tiles, in Lisbon, as it could not fail to be, the emblem received a national purpose with the addition of the ships and the well-known verse of the Lusíadas de Luís de Camões: “por mares nunca d’antes navegados” [over seas never sailed before].
With some fairness, since Christoph Grienberger, at the beginning of his career, taught in the Aula da Esfera, the tiles praise the important role of Jesuit science and mathematics in the missionary voyages to all continents.
BOLLAND, Johannes; TOLLENAERE, Jean de; HOSSCHE, Sidronius de; WALLE, Jacques van de & FRUYTIERS, Philip. Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu: a prouincia Flandro-Belgica eiusdem Societatis repraesentata. Antuérpia: Balthasaris Moreti, 1640.
GORMAN, Michael John. Mathematics and Modesty in The Society Of Jesus. The Problems of Christoph Grienberger (1564-1636) in The New Science and Jesuit Science: Seventeenth Century Perspectives. Edição de Mordechai Feingold. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003, pp.1-120.
LEITÃO, Henrique. A ciência na “Aula da Esfera” no Colégio de Santo Antão 1590-1759. Lisboa: Comissariado Geral das Comemorações do V Centenário do Nascimento de São Francisco Xavier, 2007.