"The one on the cover?
With the boots and the funny hat?
Is that Benedetto Blanis himself?"
(Click Cover to Enlarge)
More than almost anything in the world, I wish we had an authentic likeness of Benedetto—but that is asking for a very great deal. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Italian Jews seldom had their portraits done. Few could afford them—and those who could seemed to shun "graven images".
The full title, in fact, is Portae lucis haec est porta tetragrammaton (The Gate of Light, which is the Portal of the Tetragrammaton) — referring to the “four letters” that comprise the unspoken name of God. Paolo Riccio, a German Jewish convert to Catholicism, published his translation in
Augsburg in 1516. (Riccio eventually settled at the University of Pavia and is usually known by his Italian name.)
One of Benedetto Blanis' proudest achievements was borrowing and copying a fine Tree of the Sephirot for his great patron Don Giovanni dei Medici (see Jews and Magic, Chapter Seven, “Knowledge and Power”.) This was meant to guide them in their arcane pursuits (see Chapter Nine, "The Mirror of Truth") and after Don Giovanni's death, it was found among his most prized possessions. (His Medici cousins, no lovers of the occult, soon destroyed it. See Chapter Twelve, "Prison".)
Riccio also incorporated another archetype—the Wandering Jew. Temple priests normally went barefoot on sacred ground, but Gikatilla is lumbered with heavy traveling boots (he also carries a pouch and a utility knife). He is a miracle worker in exile—empowered yet powerless—embarked on a long journey of cosmic exploration.
Benedetto Blanis certainly knew Gikatilla’s book and he presumably knew Riccio’s translation (it was much favored by his Christian patrons). When the Inquisition seized Benedetto’s library in the winter of 1619-20, they found another Kabbalistic work by the same author—the Ginat Egoz or
. (See Chapter Eleven, “Curious and Forbidden Books”.) Garden of Nut Trees
- Priests in Regalia from the Ancient Temple (Charles Foster, History of the Bible, Philadelphia 1884).