If the panels of the Mnemosyne-Atlas form two types: those mapping the conditions that enable the formation of the Western iconological mind and those closely following this mind on particularly decisive paths, then panel 48 is perhaps the paradigmatic case of the latter group. In exhibiting the revival of the Roman goddess Fortuna from the 14th-century efforts of Boccaccio to more Baroque incarnations in the 17th-century, the panel delimits nothing less than the coming-into-being of the Renaissance human and of related methods of comprehending the world. Despite this aim and despite its title, the panel does not provide a clear ‘anthropology,’ but rather traces how the iconology of Fortuna changed and comments on the causes of these changes as the symptoms of a deeper shift in cultural practices. It continues the thematic interest of the previous panels (43-47) in the interaction between art and types of Renaissance humanity; but it also deepens this theme by emphasizing Fortuna’s incomparable significance in this regard. With her name meaning at once “storm,” “luck,” and “fate,” and with her originary relation to the way the world operates and to mantic practices, Fortuna regulates the activities most crucial to the becoming of the ‘self-liberated’ Renaissance person: trading, choosing, and understanding, all of which coalesce to make up the “merchant” Warburg designates in the panel title. Especially when touching upon the practices of understanding, e.g., in evoking the new print medium, the panel reflects on the act of interpreting images, not only in the early modern period, but for the Mnemosyne-project as well. In either case, according to its hypothesis, Fortuna proves to be powerful when spectator and image, subject and object coalesce to bring about meaning – whether for a Renaissance individual or for an early 20th-century art historian.
Most of the panel’s 31 images can be ordered into five groups which correspond to the five steps of this pathway: (1) The antique and late-medieval state of Fortuna at the threshold of the Renaissance; (2) the Renaissance imagination of Fortuna; (3) particular Renaissance persons that invoked Fortuna; (4) universal invocations regarding historical events, fortune-telling and comprehension; and finally (5) Fortuna’s influence on human emotions.