O Fortuna Devi

tumblr_mj93inm96Q1rqxd5ko1_1280A multi-armed Goddess of fortune, wealth and prosperity. Typically depicted wearing a red dress embroidered with golden threads and lavishly opulent décor.

This could apply both to the Hindu goddess Lakṣmī and the above depiction of the roman goddess Fortuna. However, that is as far as the comparison goes. Apart from a few references to South Asia in the context of trade, import and export, there was barely any cultural crossover between 15th century Europe and Hindu iconography. So, no, they are not related. The above image comes from Giovanni Boccaccio’s ‘Des cas des nobles homes et femmes’, a 1410 French translation by Laurent de Premierfait (Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. fr. 190/2, fol. 30v).

So why, then, does she have so many arms? And why are they lop-sided? Unfortunately the complex mystery of the Fortuna’s snaggle-limb will forever remain an enigma, reminding us of our crippling alienation from the past (I suspect the artist miscounted). The other question is much easier to answer. Here are a couple of other contemporary depictions of the goddess:

CarminaBurana_wheel ForutuneWheel

She is seen here spinning the ‘wheel of fortune’. Her multiple arms are spokes for a wheel that she alone can control.

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