De Temperamentis

*Please note, this is not intended as a full summation of the painting, merely as an indicator of some of the meaning behind some of the elements. 


I believe in the flesh and blood of my protagonists, their complete psychic reality. It can’t simply be an exercise in imaginative figurative portraiture that’s a pleasant thing to do. I have to believe in their naked, wondrous souls as real and vulnerable as mine. If not, how can I expect a viewer to?

The four temperaments were a protopsychological classification from Hippocrates who believed the concept of humourism and incorporated those four temperaments into the four bodily fluids (“humours”). The humours were believed to affect human behaviours and personality traits. In the image we see three humours, Yellow Bile, Blood and Phlegm. There is a reference to an imbalance with the absent of Black Bile which is located elsewhere in the painting. A page-turning automata reveals the “Four Humours” (Quinta Essentia), which is Leonard Thurneysser’s depiction of how the elements, alchemy, and the alchemist create a union. The illustration is used here to reveal ‘black bile’ as a representation of the melancholic nature of the protagonist. Thurneysser shows how through the alchemical process, a person can become the Great Work themselves. So the protagonist seeks to transmutate herself, firstly by balancing the four humours, namely black bile.

The lower subterranean figure is the un-integrated Jungian Shadow of our protagonist; a disruptive figure concealed within the lower recesses of her host’s mind. She generates the psychic imbalance in her higher self. She is the interior saboteur who manipulates the ratio of the Four Humours, notably through the excess production of Black Bile within the spleen, thereby causing a melancholic disposition. Our protagonist wants liberation from all that binds; she desires equilibrium in her world, and ultimately, release from her belligerent Shadow and the disequilibrium caused.

The book depicted contains an illustration revealing a half male and half female figure. The figure portrays the Four Humours: flegmat (phlegmatic), sanguin (sanguine), melanc (melancholic) and coleric (choleric) respectively. The artwork is from the Book of Alchemy by Leonard Thurneysser (1531 – 1595). The melancholic (melanc), aspect of the illustration has been highlighted to symbolise the protagonist's peculiar psychic disposition.

The proto-psychological theory of the Four Humours/ Temperaments redresses bodily imbalances through phlebotomy (cupping, leeches or cutting a vein), purging (emetics or laxatives), or applying the Theory Of Opposites. Purging, the favoured remedy for excessive Black Bile, is applied to the protagonist to negate her melancholia.