Sixteenth-Century Praise Emblems

Ursula Georges

Table of Contents

Introduction and Techniques
The Emblem Genre
Composing Mottoes
Composing Poems
Printing Text
Designing and Printing Images
Individual Emblems
Nos Cedamus Amori
Regina Scitharum
Vidit Ulixes
Cotonea
Luna Crescens
Perpetui Frondis Honores
Bibliography

Introduction and Techniques

The Emblem Genre

Emblems were a popular sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art form which combined a picture, a motto (usually in Latin), and an explanatory poem. They depicted a universal moral truth in allegorical form. Emblems first appeared in Andrea Alciato's Emblematum Liber in 1531. The book was extremely popular, and editions appeared in many European countries. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems.")

I designed six emblems based on sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English emblems. My main models were the emblems in Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, which was published in 1586, and Henry Peacham's book Minerva Britannica, which was published in 1612.

Several of Peacham's emblems were based on imprese from tournaments in honor of Queen Elizabeth, several years before. Like emblems, imprese combined a motto, a picture, and an explanatory poem or song. Unlike emblems, however, imprese commemorated a particular occasion: they were expected both to compliment the ruler presiding over a tournament and to express the bearer's personal aspirations on that day. A few emblems followed the imprese genre in complimenting a particular person. For example, Whitney's Choice of Emblemes begins with a poem about Queen Elizabeth. A number of Whitney's emblems are dedicated to specific people, such as the thirty-eighth emblem, "Non locus virum, sed vir locum ornat" ("The place does not adorn the man, but the man the place"), which is dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems: Whitney's Choice of Emblemes," I and XXXVIII.) One of Peacham's emblems uses Sidney's tournament impresa to compliment him; thus, Sidney's martial boast is converted into a tribute. (Young, Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, p. 132.) My six emblems praise the King and Queen of An Tir and important figures in my barony, Madrone.

Composing Mottoes

Quotes from classical Roman poets such as Ovid and Vergil were often used in Renaissance emblems and imprese. For example, in his 1605 book Remaines . . . concerning Britain William Camden quotes an impresa with the motto "Amor est medicabilis herbis," which refers to Ovid's Epistulae. (Camden.) Similarly, Whitney uses "Latet anguis in herba," a quote from Vergil's Eclogues, as the title for one of his emblems. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems: Whitney's Choice of Emblemes" XXIV; Vergil, Eclogues III.93.) Educated readers were expected to notice the borrowings, and perhaps analyze the details of the adaptation. I based several of my title mottoes on quotations. When I composed my own mottoes, I used Latin dictionaries to check that words and idioms were common in Latin literature which was popular during the Renaissance, such as the poetry of Ovid and Vergil and the writings of Cicero.

Composing Poems

The poems in Choice of Emblemes and Minerva Britannica are written in English and use the same rhythm and rhyme scheme: several stanzas in iambic pentameter of the form ABABCC. Like most of the poems in Choice of Emblemes, and like the poems in Minerva Britannica of which I had images, my poems consist of two stanzas in iambic pentameter. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems: Whitney's Choice of Emblemes"; Young, Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, pp. 132-133.) I matched the emblem poems' style by using strong rhythm and fitting the ends of lines to the ends of ideas, and I used the Oxford English Dictionary to ensure that each of my poems had a vocabulary appropriate to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.

I also chose subjects and themes appropriate to emblem poetry. Mythological allusions were common in emblem poetry: for example, one of Alciato's emblems features Icarus, another discusses the heroes Odysseus and Diomedes, and an emblem in Minerva Britannica contrasts the pen and the sword by referring to the gods Mars and Pallas. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," XVI and CIV; Young, Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, p. 133.) I used allusions to mythology and classical history for both compliment and contrast.

The comparison of a person to a celestial object is another common emblem theme. Imprese and emblems often compared rulers to the sun, and their subjects to plants growing in their warmth. For example, Marguerite of Navarre and Mary Queen of Scots both used an impresa which depicted marigolds turning toward the sun; this impresa was later incorporated in Paradin's emblem book Devise Heroïques. (Young, English Tournament Imprese, Figure 12.) Similarly, Dehn-Rotfelser recorded an impresa with the motto "Dum splendes floreo" (While you shine, I flourish), which showed the sun shining above a rose. (Young, English Tournament Imprese, no. 100.) My poems incorporate comparisons between well-known figures in Madrone and the sun and moon.

Printing Text

Since I don't have access to a printing press with a sixteenth-century style typeface, I used a modern computer printer to imitate sixteenth-century typesetting. I chose Jeff Lee's JSL Ancient font, which is based on typefaces used by the printers Edward Jones in 1685 and J. Redmayne in 1668. The font is very similar to the typeface used in Minerva Britannica; for instance, both have a long s that looks almost exactly like the f, down to the serif on the foot. My printed text incorporates this long s, as well as the s-t and c-t ligatures. I also followed the italicization and punctuation conventions of Minerva Britannica, italicizing proper names and titles, and using commas where modern orthography would place a colon or semicolon.

I printed my emblems on 100% cotton watermarked paper. Most printed sixteenth- and seventeenth-century emblem books were made of paper. Many editions were interleaved with blank sheets to allow commentary and autographs, and some editions re-used sheets from earlier editions. One Dutch emblem book printed in 1608 used three different kinds of paper, each with a distinctive watermark. (Barker; Rawles p. 108.) Though linen paper was probably more common, cotton paper was produced in Europe as early as the twelfth century. (Mazzaoui, pp. 270-271.)

Designing and Printing Images

Sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century emblem books were illustrated with woodcuts. In the sixteenth century, the blocks used to print woodcuts were usually about 7/8 of an inch thick. These thin blocks could be inked and placed in a printing press along with type. (Hind, p. 12.) Thus, without a printing press, I had to alter my methods of producing and printing images, as well as my methods of printing text. I experimented with carving both wood and linoleum. I decided to use linoleum blocks for my final emblems, because I am currently able to produce more detailed images in linoleum than in wood. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, pear, apple, cherry, sycamore, beech, and occasionally box woods were all used for woodcuts. (Hind, p. 8.) Of course, linoleum is softer than these woods, and does not have a grain. The main tools used for cutting wood blocks were a knife and a graver; the tools for linoleum are almost identical, though smaller and lighter. (Hind, pp. 7-8.)

Different people designed and cut woodcuts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: the designers were often painters, while the cutters belonged to guilds of carpenters. (Hind, p. 30.) Surviving blocks show that designs were drawn directly on the surface; for instance, Dürer designed several blocks for an edition of Terence, but the edition went unpublished and the blocks were never cut. (Hind, p. 17.) I drew my own designs on the surfaces of my linoleum blocks.

Woodcut images were not always original. Whitney's Choice of Emblemes reused woodblocks from a number of earlier emblem books to illustrate its pages; the most popular source was Alciato's Emblematum Liber, from which Whitney borrowed eighty-seven woodblocks. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems: Whitney's Choice of Emblemes.") Less direct borrowings also occurred. Sometimes woodcuts were printed onto blank blocks; small variations in fifteenth-century illustrations of Aesop's Fables show that designers also made freehand copies. (Hind, p. 17; Lenagen, pp. 26, 234-236.) I based each of my images on a different woodcut from the Emblematum Liber. Like the Fables illustrators, I drew freehand copies, altering the details to suit my chosen symbolism.

Since I do not have access to a printing press, I printed my blocks by stamping and rubbing the back of the paper. This is an older woodcut printing technique, which was popular during the second and third quarters of the fifteenth century. Rubbed prints may have used iron-gall ink; deeper blacks were obtained using carbon or extra oil. (Hind, p. 5.) I used a modern oil-based ink.

Individual Emblems

Nos cedamus amori

This emblem is dedicated to King Skeggi Hrafensfuri.

The Motto

The motto, "Nos cedamus amori," means "Let us surrender to love."

The phrase is the second half of a line from Vergil's Eclogues; the first half of the line is the more famous motto "Omnia vincit amor" or "Love conquers all." (Vergil, Eclogues X.69.) "Omnia vincit amor" is the title of the first emblem in the Dutch emblem book Quaeris quid sit Amor? or Do you ask what Love is?, which was published in 1601. The Dutch emblem shows a winged Cupid riding a lion. ("Emblem Project Utrecht: Heinsius".) Because I wanted to allude to subjects who surrender to a good ruler, I chose the half of Vergil's line which refers to surrender rather than to Love conquering.

The Image

One of Alciato's emblems shows Cupid driving a chariot drawn by lions; another shows Marc Antony driving lions in his triumphal car. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. XXIX, CVI.) A Dutch love emblem shows Cupid riding a lion bareback. ("Emblem Project Utrecht: Heinsius".) Thus, images of reined-in lions could refer either to Love or to a conquering ruler like Antony. I chose to conflate the two ideas, comparing the King to Love itself. Thus, rather than using explicit Cupid imagery, I drew just a hand tugging a lions' reins.

The Poem

The poem's text follows:

In the sixteenth century, the word "ghostly" referred to any spirits, not just phantoms of the dead. (OED s.v. ghostly.) The poem treats Love as a powerful yet intangible (invisible) force, and compliments the King's strength and magnanimity by comparing him to Love.

Regina Scitharum

This emblem is dedicated to Queen Taisiia of Ma Elring.

The Motto

"Regina Scitharum" means "Queen of the Scythians." Boccaccio used this phrase to describe the legendary Queen Tomyris in his book De Mulieribus Claris. (Boccaccio.) Since Queen Taisiia has a Scythian persona, this motto seemed particularly appropriate.

The Image

Several Renaissance artists painted pictures of the Scythian Queen Tomyris, including Andrea del Castagno, Jodocus van Winghe, and Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens and van Winghe show Tomyris looking at the severed head of the Persian King Cyrus. ("Andrea del Castagno," "Jodocus van Winghe," "Peter Paul Rubens.") I borrowed the motif of Tomyris with the severed head. My figure of Tomyris was based on a statue of Isis in one of Alciato's emblems; since the Greeks viewed Isis as an Eastern goddess, using Isis' Eastern dress to represent a Scythian is reasonable. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. VII.)

The Poem

The poem's text follows:

The Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of Queen Tomyris. When King Cyrus of Persia attacked her land, she defeated his armies, and took his head in revenge for her son's death. (Herodotus.) During the Renaissance, Tomyris was a model for female heroism; for instance, the inscription at the bottom of Castagno's painting of Tomyris reads "Vindicavit se defilio et patriam liberavit suam," "She avenged her son's death and freed her country." ("Andrea del Castagno.") Thus, a comparison to Tomyris is a good way to compliment a powerful and strong-minded woman.

Vidit Ulixes

This emblem is dedicated to Baron Ragnarr of Madrone.

The Motto

The motto, "Vidit Ulixes," means "Ulysses saw." The motto is taken from a speech in Book XI of Vergil's Aeneid which details the trials of the Greeks after the Trojan war. (Vergil, Aeneid XI.263.) Ulixes or Ulysses is another name for Odysseus, the mythological hero famous for his lengthy journey.

The Image

Whitney's emblem on the motto "Marte et arte" ("With Mars and art") features the mythical characters Ulysses (also known as Odysseus) and Diomedes. The image shows Ulysses in a flowing robe and Diomedes carrying sword, shield, and spear. (English Emblem Tradition, p. 136.) Whitney borrowed the motif from one of Alciato's emblems, which also shows a cloaked Ulysses and Diomedes in martial array. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. XLI.) I based my image on Alciato's image of Ulysses.

The Poem

The text of the poem is as follows:

Whitney's "Marte et Arte" emblem is dedicated to one Sir William Standley, Knight. The poem discusses "Ulisses wise" who subdued "his foes with witte". (English Emblem Tradition, p. 136.) Like Whitney, I used the motif of wise Ulysses to compliment a worthy knight.

Cotonea

This emblem is dedicated to Baroness Bergdis of Madrone.

The Motto

The motto, "Cotonea," means "Quince-tree." Alciato has an emblem on the quince-tree which uses the same motto. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. CCIV.) Emblem writers did borrow mottoes from each other, especially simple mottoes; for example, both Alciato and Whitney used the motto "Temeritas" ("Recklessness") for an emblem. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems: Whitney's Choice of Emblemes.")

The Image

I based my image on the spreading quince-tree in Alciato's emblem. Alciato's "Cotonea" emblem includes a figure in a short tunic and a winged Cupid carrying a basket of fruit. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. CCIV.) Since I wanted to emphasize regal rather than amatory symbolism, I omitted the human figures, and substituted simple baskets of fruit based on the basket Cupid is carrying.

The Poem

Here is the text of the poem:

Alciato's "Cotonea" emblem refers to a law passed by Solon that brides should eat quinces on their wedding-nights, because quinces are pleasant and make the breath sweet. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. CCIV.) The story about Solon's law is taken from Plutarch's Lives. (Plutarch.) I have used allusions to pleasant and sweetening quinces to draw a grander moral about the way one good person's actions can make everything around her more pleasant.

Luna Crescens

This emblem is dedicated to Sir Fiach CuCool Ulfredsson.

The Motto

The motto, "Luna Crescens," means "Waxing, growing, or rising moon." This is a standard way to describe the moon in classical Latin; the phrase appears in the writings of Cicero and of the naturalist Pliny, among others. (Lewis and Short s.vv. cresco, luna; Pliny the Elder.)

The Image

I based my image on the moon, stars, and clouds in the corner of Alciato's Emblem CLXV. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. CLXV.) Whitney has four different emblems with images of full or crescent moons, including one with a baying dog very similar to Alciato's emblem. (English Emblem Tradition, p. 393.)

The Poem

The text of the poem is as follows:

Like this poem, several of Whitney's emblem poems incorporate compliments on constancy. For instance, his emblem "Dum potes, vive" ("While you can, live"), which is dedicated to George Salmon, praises the man who can "constant stande, abyding sweete or sower." (English Emblem Tradition, p. 195.)

Perpetui Frondis Honores

This emblem is dedicated to Mistress Anne-Marie d'Ailleurs.

The Motto

The motto, "Perpetui Frondis Honores," means "Everlasting honors from leaves." It refers to the laurel tree, which is evergreen. I adapted this motto from Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which the god Apollo unsuccessfully pursues the nymph Daphne, who transforms into the first laurel tree; the laurel then becomes Apollo's tree, and wreaths of its leaves are used to honor favored mortals. Since Anne-Marie d'Ailleurs is a member of the Order of the Laurel, I felt this motto was particularly appropriate.

I have simply changed the grammar in my quotation: the original line is "Tu quoque perpetuos semper gere frondis honores," "You, also, bear always everlasting honors in leaves." (Ovid, Metamorphoses I.565.) Sometimes the adaptations were more complicated: in the case of "Amor est medicabilis herbis" (Love can be cured by herbs), the original text implies that herbs and potions cannot cure love. (Camden.)

The Image

I based the image on the laurel tree in Alciato's "Laurus" Emblem. ("Alciato's Book of Emblems," no. CCXI.) Since I used a rectangular block rather than a square one, my laurel tree is more compact than Alciato's. An image of a laurel tree also appears in Jan van der Noot's emblem book A Theatre for Worldlings, which was printed in London in 1569. (English Emblem Tradition, p. 10.)

The Poem

The text of the poem is as follows:

Apollo is a familiar emblem character: he appears in at least four of Whitney's emblems. (English Emblem Tradition, p. 405.) The particular story of Apollo and Daphne appears in Tudor tournament imprese. For instance, Johann George Dehn-Rotfelser's 1611 diary records an impresa displayed at Whitehall with the motto "Heu sub umbra Daphnes" (Alas, beneath the shade of Daphne). (Young, English Tournament Imprese, no. 160.) My first stanza's retelling of the story explains the motto and elaborates on its meaning, referring to Apollo's status as a patron of art, particularly music. The second stanza reinterprets the first: Apollo may be god of the sun, but we have our own sun and our own laurels.

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By Ursula Whitcher, alias Ursula Georges