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© March 2004; revised 29 July 2016 > HOME

Gallery Exhibit, Catalog Nos.  5 & 25 & 26 & 26B & 27 & 28 & 29 & 100 & 101 & 102& 103
& 104 & 105 & 106 & 107 & 108 & 109 & 110 & 111 & 143 & 144 & 145 & 146 & 147

Emblem of the Athenian Society, 1692

An even more ancient art than printing — engraving — received an emblematic treatment in the frontispiece to John Evelyn’s Sculptura (London, 1662). Evelyn, who did the design himself, personified the engraver’s art as a thoughtful young woman surrounded, as was typical, by identifiable tools of the trade. CAT. 107 CAT. 106

(above LEFT) 17th-century personification of Sculptura as chalcography (the art of engraving on copper or brass). Frontispiece engraving by A. Hertochs (fl. 1652–61) after a design by John Evelyn.

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(above RIGHT) Facing title-page to Evelyn’s Sculptura, or, the History, and Art of Chalcography and Engraving in Copper (London, 1662).

Evelyn’s crest is given at bottom, followed by the Latin motto: “XXXI. EXOD. XXXV. / Implevi cum Spiritu Dei, Sapientia, & Intelligentia, / & Scientia in omni Opere, &c.

The reference here is to the Christian bible’s Exodus, chapt. 31, verses 3–5:

“And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.”

and to Exodus, chapt. 35, verses 31–33:

“And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.”

The motto makes a fitting tribute to engravers and to the author about to celebrate them and their “divine labours.” As Evelyn explains in his History, engraving originates with divinity: in the story of Moses “we have the Tables of stone, engraven by the Finger of GOD himself” (15). Furthermore, engraving was a divinely-sanctioned Adamic art: “Bibliander will have Letters and Sculpture from Adam,” used by Adam to prepare “a Volume of Plants,” as described by Thomas Aquinas, “though whither these Books of his were so miraculously found out, and preserv’d by the renouned Trismegistus, we leave to the more credulous.” (17, 12) From Adam, the art “descended to the AEgyptians by Misraim, and so was communicated to the Persians, Medes and Assyrians, thence to the Greeks, and finally to the Romans from whom it was deriv’d to us” (17–18).

As such, the commandment “Thou shalt not make to thy self any graven image” does not prohibit the engraver’s art — only engraving that has degenerated into idolatry.

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Medallion portrait of A. Hertochs
(fl. 1652–61)

The image, and indeed the book itself, was intended to document “the dignity of these Arts” (Sculptura and Pictura), and to recommend that Sculptura be restored to its former glory as a Liberal Art, deserving of financial support and study by “Princes and Illustrious Persons,” male and female alike. (Evelyn 143) Evelyn’s book contains several passages with long lists of “examples sufficient to vindicate its dignity, and the value that has been set upon it” (132–3) by such recognized figures as Socrates and Plato, both of whom were learned in the “Art of Carving.” In one such passage (click here to open the text in a second window), Evelyn stresses the gentility and “universal” learning of the best engravers (both male and female), carefully noting that Sculptura was “of old so nobly reputed, that amongst the Greeks, a Slave might not be taught it.” (133) Here, and elsewhere, he couples verbal with visual rhetoric:

... it is worth the observation, that the Ages which did most excell in Eloquence, did also flourish most in these Arts, as in the time of Demosthenes and the same Cicero; and as they appear’d, so they commonly vanish’d together; and this remark is universal.
(John Evelyn, Sculptura 134)

using the longstanding status of the one to make more visible the important cultural role played by the other. Evelyn’s society was still phonocentric, and valued eloquence as the authentic sign of being — “speak, that I may see thee,” as the early 17th-century poet and playwright, Ben Jonson, nicely put it. Grammar dominated in the schools, and the role of the visual arts in building moral and mental character had become obscured. Evelyn knew it was important to remind his public that

Aristotle informes us that the Grecians did universally institute their Children in the Art of painting and Drawing, for an Oeconomique reason, there signified, as well as to produce proportions in the Mind ....
(Evelyn, Sculptura 132)

and he updated ancient wisdom for a modern audience by emphasizing that such an iconic aristocrat as the earl of Arundel, Thomas Howard (1585–1646), famed collector of the Arundel marbles and other treasures of antiquity, knew first-hand that noble character was born of training in the visual as well as verbal arts.

As the Rules of Measure and Proportion have an universal influence upon all the Actions of our lives; it was a memorable, and noble saying of a great Person of our Nation, discoursing to us once concerning the dignity of Painting, and the arts which attend it: That one who could not Designe a little, would never make an honest man ....
(Evelyn, Sculptura 103)

As such, the Greeks and Romans held “men of Art” in

... special veneration; but in none of their Courts, were men of Science carressed to that degree, as in that we have read of the Emperours of Japons at present, who does not only entertain, and nobly accommodate them, but never stirs abroad without their company. These great men sayes my Authour (meaning Physitians, Painters, Sculptors, Musitians, &c. quos propio nomine appellant Contuberniam Caesaris) march before the King whither he go forth in Litter or on Horseback; and being elected of Persons of the greatest birth in his Dominions, they alwayes continue at his Court, richly appointed with sallaries; but otherwise, to bear no office whatsoever which may in the least importune them ... as being therefore only chosen, to recreate and divert the Prince with their excellent conversation: These being men of the rarest parts, and endowments in his Empire, have pre-eminence in all places next the King ....
(Evelyn, Sculptura 114–5)

According to Evelyn, artists are similarly venerated by the Chinese, whose art of sculpture and chalcography (printed records engraven either on copper plates or cut into tablets of wood) is believed to date back 3700 years (from Evelyn’s point in time ca. 1662). Chinese “mastery” of the art is greatly esteemed by all, we are told, and chalcography “is yet in such esteem amongst them” that the artisan who compounds the ink for the press is not considered a “mechanick,” but is dignified with a liberal salary and “particular privileges.” (33)

Moreover, engraving is

... found in Mexico, and other places of the new world, where they Hieroglyphiz’d both their Thoughts, Histories and Inventions to posterity, not much unlike to the AEgy[p]tians, though in lesse durable, and permanent matter: The same likewise Jo. Laet affirmes of the Sculpture among the Acadiae, and those of Nova Francia; so natural (it seems) and useful was this art, even to the least civiliz’d amongst the Heathens.
(Evelyn, Sculptura 34)

Closer to home, Evelyn finds evidence of a traditional respect for “men of Art” in the courts of enlightened princes:

... the greatest Princes of Europe, have erected Academies, furnished with all conveniencies, for the exercise, and improvement of the Virtuosi: Such illustrious and noble Genius’s were Cosimo di Medicis, Francis the First, Carlo Borromeo, and others, who built, or appointed for them, Stately Appartiments even in their own Palaces, and under the same Roofe: procuring Models, and endowing them with Charters, Enfranchisements, and ample Honoraries; by which they attracted to their Courts, and Countries most of the refin’d, and extraordinary spirits in all the Arts and Sciences that were then celebrated throughout the World....
We know not how this Instance may in these days be interpreted; but certainly the Courts of Princes were in former Ages, compos’d of men of the greatest virtue and talents above the rest, and such as possess’d something of extraordinary (besides the wearing of fine cloaths, and making the bone mine) to recommend them. We insist not on Sculptors, and painters only, especially, as such men are now for the most part Vitious, or else of poor and mechanick spirits; but as those Antient and Noble Genius’s were heretofore accomplish’d; and such as of late were Raphael, Durer, Leon Alberti, Da Vinci, Rubens, and at present, Cavalier Bernini, &c. persons of most excellent endowments, and universally learned ....
(Evelyn, Sculptura 113–5)

This idea that the graphic arts degenerate when practiced without understanding (“universal learning”) by “mechanick spirits” is given visual form in Evelyn’s allegorical personification of Sculptura. Following Roman tradition, Evelyn’s frontispiece uses a female figure to elevate what had become a “mechanical art” to a fine, or “liberal art.” The gendered concept — nicely captured in a Michael Evans title, “Allegorical Women and Practical Men: the Iconography of the Artes Reconsidered” — served to decouple an art from “the realm of the material and of manual labor,” and to recast it as “an intellectual or spiritually significant activity”: “an abstract essence superior to the existence of [the] mere artists” who practiced it. (Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi 342) As Garrard notes, “It must remain an open question how female personifications originally came into being” (342), but the topos must have drawn its initial significance from a gendered division of labor whereby the bulk of publicly visible artisans in a given field were male. The female figure had to be a rare and unfamiliar sight in order to symbolize an Art, and not just represent artists.

Firstly, there was the category of representing Painting and Sculpture in the abstract. The earliest representations, from the thirteenth century onwards, showed men at work. But from the early sixteenth century onwards, Painting and Sculpture were personified as women holding suitable attributes ....
(Catherine King, “Looking a Sight” 382)

Significantly, Evelyn’s History turns from allegorical personifications to actual women sculptors, several of whom are listed among “the most renowned Gravers and their works.” Thus, the internationally-celebrated, “stupendious” Anna Maria van Schurman is mentioned multiple times (pp. 77, 83, and 132), along with her teacher Magdalena de Passe (p. 87), the “Florentine Sculptress” Propertia de’ Rossi (p. 52), Anna Vaiana (p. 58), Isabella Parasol (pp. 56–7), and Princess Louise (pp. 132–3). Evelyn’s list of women engravers is relatively short, of course, but is significant for its inclusion, and for the fact that Evelyn presents these women as “examples” of genteel practice — model artists to be looked to not only by other women, but by men as well. Evelyn agrees with earlier critics that the graphic arts should be “part of the Ladies Education” (132), and that the arts & sciences conceived, learned and performed as spiritual exercises (“divine labours”) are essential to human development.

Ornament from Capt. John Smith's publications

The emblematic imaging of right conduct and practice took multiple forms, and the possibilities for the genre still have not been exhausted. Two suggestive models are found in Achille Bocchi’s Symbolicarum Quaestionum de Universo Genere (which first appeared in 1555) and Johann Amos Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus (Nuremberg, 1658).

Bocchi (1488–1562), a Bolognese bureaucrat and academic who was knighted and created Count Palatine for his skill in the management of public affairs, never intended his emblematic interpretation of ancient mysteries for a popular audience. Nonetheless, his book, imbued with the spirit of old-style Quattrocento symbolism, became widely known, in large part due to the elegance of its illustrations. Bocchi’s emblems were in an altogether different vein than those found in the standard iconologies of Ripa or Alciato.

Bocchi’s Symbolicarum Quaestionum de Universo Genere is a carefully crafted manual in the art of living, full of unfolding instructions for developing one’s full potential while on the life journey. Prudentia (wisdom applied to practice) was always held to be an indispensable habit of mind for those on this journey, and was imaged in four different forms by Bocchi: Prudentia Augusta, Prudentia circunspecta, Prudentia ex praeteritis, and Prudentia imperat libidini. (In contrast, Alciato required 13 emblems to explain the various attributes of Prudence, and still never achieved the clarity of Bocchi’s vision.) Of Bocchi’s four Prudentia emblems, Prudentia circunspecta, where a woman personifies the Renaissance moral ideal of adventurous prudence, is my favorite, and is reproduced below. CAT. 145

Engraver of the Sculptura frontispiece prefixed to Evelyn’s Chalcography, and of a later version of the emblematic frontispiece to Eikon Basilike.

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Engraved portrait of Anna Maria
van Schurman (1607–1678) CAT. 108

Frontispiece to The Learned Maid; or, Whether a Maid May Be a Scholar? (London, 1659).

This was the 1st English translation, printed in London, of Anna Maria van Schurman’s Amica Dissertatio inter Annam Mariam Schurmanniam et Andr. Rivetum de capacitate ingenii muliebris ad scientias (Paris, 1638). Schurman’s influential work — a discourse upon the fitness of female genius for learning and for higher letters — was first Englished and printed in Leiden, 1639.

The frontispiece to the 1659 London edition is based on one of van Schurman’s engraved self-portraits, and purports to show Schurman at age 52, in 1659.

The Latin inscription — Cernitis hic picta nostros in imagine vultus: / Si negat ars forma, gratia vestra dabit. — was part of Schurman’s original portrait etching (dated 1640), and translates: See my likeness depicted in this portrait. May your favor perfect the work where art has failed.

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Another engraved portrait of
Anna Maria van Schurman
(1607–1678), grouped with 2
other famous Dutch painters,
Rembrandt van Rijn
and Jacob Bakker CAT. 109

The woman Evelyn referred to as “the Learned Anna Schurman” is here shown with an owl — an emblematic attribute of the goddess Minerva.

Printed in Jacob Campo Weyerman’s history of Dutch painting, De Levens-Beschryvingen der Nederlandsche Konst-Schilders en Konst-Schilderessen, met een uytbreyding over de schilder-konst der ouden, door Jacob Campo Weyerman, konst-schilder. Verrykt met de Konterfeytsels der Voornaamste Konst-Schilders en Konst-Schilderessen, cierlyk in koper gesnede door J. Houbraken (’s Gravenhage, 1729).

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Magdalena van de Passe,
“Sculptrix Celeberrima”
(1600–c.1638) CAT. 147

Portrait of Magdalena van de Passe in 1630, age 30, engraved by her brother, Simon van de Passe (c.1595–1647), both of the famous Utrecht family of engravers.

On a pedestal, in a lettered oval in cartouche with background drapery, held open on left by the goddess Athena, and on right by a female personification of the graphic arts (Sculptura?), who holds the various tools of Magdalena’s trade in her left hand. The lettering in the oval’s border reads “MAGDALENA DE PAS [·] CRISPIANI FILIA [·] SCULPTRIX CELEBERRIMA: Æt 30.” Additional lettering within the wreath at top of the cartouche pays tribute to the divine inspiration guiding Magdalena’s art and success.

Evelyn writes of the van de Passe family: “Chrispinus de Pas and his sister Magdalen (whither French or Dutch) have engraven many excellent things after Breugle; especially Landskips; the persecution of the Prophets and Apostles, with several more” (Sculptura 87–88). Unlike her brothers Simon and Willem, Magdalena never worked in England, but she did (with her brother Willem) engrave numerous plates for Henry Holland’s famous Heroologia Anglica (Arnheim, 1620), a 2-vol. folio dedicated to James I (vol. 1) and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford (vol. 2), with 65 portraits of English notables, from Henry VIII through Thomas Holland (including the seafaring explorers Sir Martin Frobisher and Captain Thomas Cavendish), plus 2 engravings of monuments (of Prince Henry and Queen Elizabeth).

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Princess Louise Hollandine
(1622–1709) CAT. 146

Self-Portrait as a Gypsy.
Created 1641. Oil painting on wood.
73.3 x 59 cm.

Richard Lovelace included a poem celebrating the artistic talents of Princess Louise of Bohemia in his Lucasta (London, 1649). Click here for an HTML transcription of the poem (opens in a second window).

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Engraved portrait of Achille Bocchi (1488–1562) CAT. 103

Frontispiece to Bocchi’s Symbolicarum Quaestionum de Universo Genere (1555)

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(87KB) CAT. 28 CAT. 28

Symb. CVIII, Prudentia circunspecta. Pp. 228–9 from Achille Bocchi’s Symbolicarum Quaestionum de Universo Genere (Bologna, 1574).

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With its two mottoes — “Cognosce, Elige, Matura” and “Acumine, Ratione, Diligentia Bearier Quiuis Potest” — Bocchi’s Prudentia is a rich concept, indeed. There are the familiar motifs associated with the Renaissance ideal of elasticity of conduct: the stormy sea of life, or changing circumstance; the careful weighing and balancing of cube (wisdom) and sphere (chance, or to use the preferred rhetorical term, occasion); the chain with a heart for a pendant, signifying spiritual love and the interconnection of all things, and from an understanding of this, the ability to give wise counsel; and finally, the double-faced Prudence herself, riding gracefully into the future on an unbridled dolphin, while directing her watchful gaze at the past.

It is an image that continues to unfold its lessons long after the initial decoding.

The same is true, I think, for Comenius’ Prudentia, taken from his picture-book for children, which in general stressed many of the same visual themes as did the emblem books for adults. CAT. 29 CAT. 29

No. CX, Prudentia. Pp. 224–5 from Charles Hoole’s English translation of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus, published in 1659.

The English-language gloss reads:

Prudence, 1. looketh upon all things as a Serpent, 2. and doeth, speaketh, or thinketh nothing in vain.

She looks backward, 3 as into a looking glass, 4. to things past; and seeth before her, 5. as with a Perspective-glass, 7. things to come, or the end; 6. and so she perceiveth what she hath done, and what remaineth to be done.

She proposeth an Honest, Profitable, and withal, if it may be done, a pleasant End to her actions.

Having foreseen the End, she looketh out Means, as a Way, 8. as leadeth to the end; but such as are certain and easie, and fewer rather than more, lest anything should hinder.

She watcheth Opporrtunity, 9. (which having a bushy forehead, 10. & being bald-pated, 11. and moreover having wings, 12. doth quickly slip away) and catcheth it.

She goeth on her way warily, for fear she should stumble or go amiss.

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Comenius, who noted the rhetorical nature of all symbolic language by making “Hieroglyphicks” one of the attributes of the allegorical figure, Rhetorica, pictured a more conventional Prudentia than did Bocchi. The two-faced female figure given in Comenius is standard in Ripa’s iconology (while Alciato favored the two-faced male Janus), and is a more appropriate image for a children’s primer. Plus, Comenius introduced numbered callouts in his emblem, in order to clarify references and relationships between res and verba.

In his Sculptura, Evelyn, who was a zealous supporter of Comenian pedagogy with its “use of Pictures in Order to the Education of Children,” expressed dismay over the especially poor quality of the engraving in Hoole’s translation:

What a specimen of this [i.e., a “Hieroglyphical Grammar”] Jo. Amos Commenius in his Orbis sensualium pictus gives us in a Nomenclator of all the Fundamental things and Actions of Men in the whole World, is publick, and I do boldly affirm it to be a piece of such excellent use, as that the like was never extant; however it comes not yet to be perceived: A thousand pitties it is, that in the Edition published by Mr. Hoole, the cuts were so wretchedly engraven: I do therefore heartily wish that this might excite some gallant and publick minded person, to augment and proceed farther upon that most usefull design, which yet comes greatly short of the perfection it is capable of, were some additions made, and the prints reformed and improved to the utmost, by the skillfull hand of some rare Artist.
(Evelyn, Sculptura 139–40)

As far as I know, no one stepped up to the task, and the existing copper-plates continued to be used until they became indistinct and were replaced by wood-engravings, of coarse execution, and often of changed treatment. Thus, Comenius’ 19th-century editor, C. W. Bardeen, criticized 18th-century substitute graphics for, e.g., the original cut of the human soul (a stippled figure, lacking discernible bulk, shown standing in front of a drawn curtain).

Engraved portrait of Johann Amos Comenius (1592–1670), shown at age 50 in 1642 CAT. 104

Engraved by T. Cross when Comenius was brought to England by Samuel Hartlib, in hopes of actually establishing Francis Bacon’s “Salomon’s House” (as envisioned in Bacon’s posthmously published New Atlantis), and printed as the frontispiece to Charles Hoole’s English translation of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus (London, 1659).

The same copper plate was reused for the many English reprintings of Comenius’ popular book throughout the 17th century, and by the time Hoole’s translation was reprinted in 1689 by J. R. for the publisher Abell Swall (doing business under the sign of the Unicorn, in the west end of St Paul’s Churchyard), all the retouching of the plate had caused noticeable changes in Comenius’ facial structure. By this point, his beard and clothing had become Comenius’ (aka John Amos Komensky) most consistently identifiable features.

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No. XLIII, Anima Hominis. Pp. 88–9 from Charles Hoole’s English translation of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus, published in 1659.

The English-language gloss reads:

The Soul is the life of the body, one in the whole: Only Vegetative in Plants. Withal sensitive in Animals; And also Rational in man.

This consisteth in three things;

In the understanding whereby it judgeth, and understandeth a thing good and evill, or true or apparent;

In the will, whereby it chooseth, and desireth, or rejecteth or misliketh a thing known.

In the Mind, whereby it pursueth the good chosen, or avoideth the evill rejected.

Hence is hope, and Fear, in the desire and dislike;

Hence is love and joy, in the fruition;

But Anger, and Grief, in suffering.

The true judgment of a thing is Knowledge; the false is Error, Opinion, and Suspicion.

To view an enlarged facsimile of the original 2-page spread,
click here for the verso page 88 (133KB) and click here for the recto page 89 (120KB).

Another engraved portrait of Johann Amos Comenius (1592–1670), with his autograph added below

In an edition of 1755, Comenius’ figuring of Anima hominis was replaced with a picture of an eye, about which Bardeen comments:

... it is difficult to recognize in this an expressive psychological symbol, and to explain it.
(C. W. Bardeen, The Orbis Pictus of John Amos Comenius iii)

And in a 1779 edition of Comenius’ picture-book published in Vienna, the original illustration of heaven is augmented by a new cut directly under it

in which the earth is revolving about the sun; and after the statement of Comenius, “Coelum rotatur, et ambit terram, in medio stantem” interpolates: “prout veteres crediderunt; recentiores enim defendunt motum terrae circa solem” [as the ancients used to think; for later authorities hold that the motion of the earth is about the sun.]
(Bardeen, The Orbis Pictus of John Amos Comenius iv) CAT. 105

Portrait printed as the frontispiece to the German edition of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus (Nuremberg, 1658).

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(95KB) CAT. 111 CAT. 111

No. IV, Coelum. Pp. 10–11 from Charles Hoole’s English translation of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus, published in 1659.

The English-language gloss reads:

The Heaven 1. is wheeled about, and encompasseth the Earth 2. standing in the middle.

The Sun 3. wheresoever it is shineth perpetually, howsoever dark Clouds 4. may take it from us; and by its rayes 5. it causeth light, and the light, Day.

On the other side over against it is Darkness 6. and thence Night.

In the Night, shineth the Moon, 7. and the Stars 8. glister, and twinckle.

In the Evening 9. is Twilight, In the Morning, 10. the breaking, and dawning of the Day[.]

To view an enlarged facsimile of the original 2-page spread,
click here for the verso page 10 (79KB) and click here for the recto page 11 (115KB).

Bardeen disapproved of such inharmonious updates to the original, as I suspect Evelyn would have also.

Ornament from Capt. John Smith's publications

In a way, the emblematic tradition of Prudentia is a backdrop for the Athenian Society emblem of 1692. After all, the underlying concern of the Athenians and their correspondents was still the universal human quest for wisdom, good counsel, and what Comenius called in his gloss “pleasant ends.” Throughout the 6-year, 20-volume run of the Athenian Mercury, “the rule of prudence is almost always present.” (McEwen 157)

The Athenians, in the Preface to Volume Eighteen, expressed their irritation with “trifling and impertinent love questions,” and hoped that sometimes they had talked “as gravely and usefully” as they could on subjects of a higher nature. In spite of this pious wish, the great bulk of questions in the Mercury are social rather than philosophical. If the last decade of the [17th] century was indeed the inception of the age of “prudent mediocrity,” as A. O. Lovejoy has called it, the Athenians helped at its birth, for except in facetious passages, they counselled prudence above all.
(McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House 144)

That later ages allowed Prudentia to inspire only mediocrity can not be blamed on popular literature, although Alexander Pope intimated as much in his The Dunciad, in Four Books (London, 1743), a poem about “the Restoration of the Empire of Dulness in Britain,” according to Pope’s literary executor and editor, William Warburton. In Pope’s Dunciad, the goddess Dulness presides in “clouded majesty,” her throne supported by the “Four guardian Virtues” (the Christian church’s cardinal virtues) Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence — “whose [perspective] glass presents th’ approaching jayl” (Bk. I, l. 51) — and (Poetic) Justice.

The Athenian Society and Mercury take several hits in The Dunciad, as does emblem literature, especially the productions of Francis Quarles (1592–1644). We know from a remark in Chambers’ early 18th-century Cyclopaedia that there was a cultural divide within the emblem tradition as it developed in Britain:

The Emblems of Alciatus have been in as much Reputation among the more learned, as those of Quarles among the Vulgar.
(1728 edn. of the Cyclopaedia, vol. 1,
p. 297, sv Emblem)

Francis Quarles’ Emblemes (1st edn., London 1635; with known 17th-century reissues in 1639, 1643, 1658, 1660, 1663, 1669, 1676, 1683, 1684, and 1696) was illustrated by William Marshall, who did the allegorical title-page and many of the plates for the first books (the almost 350-page Emblemes is divided into 5 books), and others. Quarles favored a traditional emblem format, combining a paraphrase from a passage of Scripture, such as

Psal. CXLII. VII. Bring my soule out of prison, that I may praise thy Name.

with his own verses on the theme, supplemented by relevant passages from the Christian Fathers, a concluding epigram of 4 lines, and a picture (the engraving for the above-cited emblem 10 of Book 5 shows a youth in a birdcage on the ground, arm stretched out towards the heavens, while an angel picks the lock on the cage door; this particular image, along with the other 44 plates in the last three books, was borrowed from the Pia Desideria [Antwerp, 1624] of Herman Hugo). Quarles’ verses for emblem 10 of Book 5 begin:

My Soule is like a Bird; my Flesh, the Cage;
Wherein, she weares her weary Pilgrimage
Of houres as few as evill, daily fed
With sacred Wine, and Sacramentall Bread;
The keyes that locks her in, and lets her out,
Are Birth, and Death; ’twixt both, she hopps about
From perch to perch; from Sense to Reason; then,
From higher Reason, downe to Sense agen:
From Sense she climbes to Faith; where, for a season,
She sits and sings; then, down againe to Reason,
From Reason, back to Faith; and straight, from thence
She rudely flutters to the perch of Sense;
From Sense, to Hope; then hopps from Hope to Doubt;
From Doubt, to dull Despaire; there, seeks about
For desp’rate Freedome; and at ev’ry Grate,
She wildly thrusts, and begs th’untimely date
Of unexpired thraldome, to release
Th’afflicted Captive, that can find no peace:
Thus am I coop’d within this fleshly Cage,
I weare my youth, and wast my weary Age,
Spending that breath which was ordain’d to chaunt
Heav’ns praises forth, in sighs and sad complaint:
Whilst happier birds can spread their nimble wing
From Shrubs to Cedars, and there chirp and sing,
In choice of raptures, the harmonious story
Of mans Redemption and his Makers Glory: ....
(Francis Quarles, Emblemes 281–2)

Quarles’ strained poetic conceit is no match for Comenius’ simple explication of the human soul in No. XLIII of Orbis Sensualium Pictus or for Evelyn’s more profound intermingling of the divine spirit with everyday life and human activities throughout his Sculptura. The one saving grace of Quarles’ Emblemes was its pictures:

... where the pictures for the page attone,
And Quarles is sav’d by Beauties not his own.
(Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, Book I, ll. 139–40)

Since Quarles’ Emblemes was devoted to biblical themes,

An Embleme is but a silent Parable. Let not the tender Eye checke, to see the allusion to our blessed SAVIOUR figured, in these Types. In holy Scripture, He is sometimes called a Sower; sometimes, a Fisher; sometimes, a Physitian: And why not presented so, as well to the eye, as to the eare? Before the knowledge of letters, GOD was knowne by Hierogliphicks; And, indeed, what are the Heavens, the Earth, nay every Creature, but Hierogliphicks and Emblemes of His Glory? I have no more to say. I wish thee as much pleasure in the reading, as I had in the writing. Farewell Reader.
(Quarles, “To the Reader” in Emblemes, sig. A3r)

it includes no emblematic treatment of Prudentia or other classical and Christian virtues. On the other hand, Comenius’ treatment of the cardinal virtues expanded their number to 8 — Prudence, Diligence, Temperance, Fortitude, Patience, Humanity, Justice, Liberality — all of which were emblematically pictured and located in the section of Orbis Sensualium Pictus on Moral Philosophy. Before this came the section on Natural Philosophy, and after it, the section on civil society, with its discussion of family and social structures (e.g., “Society betwixt Man and Wife,” “The Society betwixt Parents and Children,” “The Society betwixt Masters and Servants,” “A City,” “The Tormenting of Malefactors,” “Merchandizing”). So in Comenius’ picture-book for children, Prudentia is firmly situated in the everyday, but still retains enough of her mystery that the concept is neither reduced nor lessened.

The Athenian Society emblem similarly drew on traditional emblematic iconography, and like Comenius, transformed it for use in an updated educational context.

In the History of the Athenian Society (p. 6), [Charles] Gildon associates Dunton’s choice of the word Athenian with Acts 17.21: “For all the Athenians and Strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some News.” For Dunton, if not for his collaborators, the scriptural emphasis upon novelty was appropriate. The notion of answering questions without revealing who had asked or answered them was truly unique in a periodical. Commonplace as it is today, in Dunton’s time it was an innovation to be guarded jealously ....
(McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House 27–8)

Other innovations associated with the Athenians’ new information brand included an incremental rejection of familiar gender stereotypes. Unlike many conduct books earlier in the century, the editors of the Athenian Mercury did not simply recycle tired canards about feminine nature (no doubt, here inspired by their own experiences with learned women and wives). Typically, they recommended a single ethical standard for the sexes, holding men as well as women responsible for a failed marriage, and asserting that even “the highest Bond of Friendship” (traditionally limited to men only) could develop between a man and a woman:

For things are, as they are in their own Nature, and not what prejudices of Custom, and the groundless Opinions of the Age represent ’em ....
(Athenian Mercury IV.23.3; qtd. McEwen 145)

But the Mercury was never a mouthpiece for radicalism. There was, e.g., no discussion of woman-to-woman friendship capable of achieving the same intellectual depth or generosity of spirit as that between men. Indeed, the editors never pushed themselves or their readers beyond the bounds of decorum or the touchstone of experience. “News” was always fitted to existing values and ideas about things, and in such manner, more readily consumed.

The Athenians in their answers to social questions provide in the greater part an early example of journalists’ customary adherence to conventional attitudes. Their wit was most often at the expense of those who would depart from convention, their guide lines were those of established religious doctrine and civil law, and their advice even to the most despairing of correspondents was to accept life as it was ordained to be. They were not cold to human suffering, however, as they showed especially in their expressed wish for fair treatment of delinquent debtors and bankrupts, and on this subject they departed most radically from conventional views. Their recommendation of a single standard of morality in marriage was also unconventional. But they wished more for the reformation of people than of laws and institutions. The effect, therefore, of their advice, on the whole so much more rational than sensitive, was more educational than consolatory.
(McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House 160–1)

Indeed, all emblematic and allegorical art of the period was intended to educate (and in the case of the emotive, polemical prints of the English Revolution, inflame), not console.

Whether the lessons needed to live well among the middle classes were to be found in discourse with the Athenian Society or through self-directed labors in the arts & sciences remained an open question which, to its credit, the Athenian Society emblem never attempted to finesse.

Ornament from Capt. John Smith's publications

Quarles is believed to have gotten the idea for his plates in the Emblemes from Edward Benlowes, who had a rolling-press installed at his Essex mansion known as Brent Hall, and experimented with printing his own high-quality graphics.

“Benlowes lived in the style that his wealth easily afforded him. Never married, he was able to devote himself to lavish patronage of the arts, especially of poetry.... Benlowes ... befriended Francis Quarles and almost certainly provided him with copies of the two Jesuit emblem books Pia desideria and Typus mundi to which Quarles’s Emblemes (1635) is indebted. Benlowes probably acquired books such as these during his continental journey and he bestowed many of them, with numerous other gifts, including two globes, on St John’s College. Benlowes delighted in emblem books, rich engravings, fine bindings, metaphysical conceits, and witty expressions of all kinds, including obscure puzzles and anagrams. He had acquired a rolling press that he installed in Brent Hall, on which he was able to produce plates of exquisite beauty to embellish the works of his friends and his own major work, Theophila, or, Loves Sacrifice (1652)....

“Benlowes’s most important occupation during the civil wars was the composition of his epic poem on the soul’s desire for and subsequent union with God. He had already written commendatory verses for The Purple Island and also for Quarles’s Emblemes, as well as a Latin echo poem (praised by James Howell) in denunciation of the pope, Papa perstrictus (1645); he would continue to write occasional verse after completing (and then revising and expanding) his monumental Theophila.” (ODNB entry for Benlowes by P. G. Stanwood, n. pag.)

• another spread from Comenius’ children’s primer, Orbis Sensualium Pictus, showing a bookseller’s shop (or “library”), like John and Elizabeth Dunton’s shop at the sign of the Black Raven in The Poultry, on the top-level LIBRARY page, directly below the Table of Contents listing

• a digital edition of Gunnar Swanson’s “Graphic Design Education as a Liberal Art: Design and Knowledge in the University and the ‘Real World’” — a thoughtful essay, first published in 1994, which revisits some of the same themes and issues raised by John Evelyn over 3 centuries ago


This Web page was last modified on:  07/29/2016 6:08 PM.