Reproduction only for non-commercial use.
© March 2004; revised 12 November 2009
Emblem of the Athenian Society, 1692
13 verse sets at bottom of
A. behind ye scenes sit mighty we
nor are we known nor will we be
the world and we exchanging thus
while we find chat for ym they work for us
B. dy’e see that lady ine ye mask
wee’l tell ye what she comes to ask
tho an unconscionable task
us how her lover fast to bind
false as her selfe false as ye faithless wind
C. that other brings her fav’rite flea
with golden fetters lock and key
if t’has a sting our thoughts does crave
or only a tongue as other females have
D. thinking our notions too jejune
some take their aime at madam moon
some bring hard queryes which we crack
and throw the gazeing world ye kernels back
E. heres honest tarr who woud his crown afford
were he paid off ’ere he returns aboard
to know what he must ask in vain
when we shall be at ye french again
F. euclid where art tho ’twas before despaird
now maist thou have thy circle squar’d
but art is long and thou must stay
nor Rome was built nor athens in a day
G. we know sr, but too well your case
some powerfull faction right or wrong embrace
or starve and dye without a place!
H. avoid you rowt of noisy fools
once more you are not in our rules
could we but please ye learned few
which send from far, we could dispence wth you
I. whither, lost wretches! whither would you run
by guilt or by unhappy love undon!
what need you perish or despair
if you’d have aid an angel shows you where.
K. this query’s quickly understood
he only asks d’ye think his coffee good
yet woud croud in tho just by th’ door
or uowd heed take our letters in no more.
L. these dainty nutts i must not loose
nor burn my paws b your leave dear puss!
if those that put em there enquire
twas you not i that robb’d ye fire
how sweet is interlopers hire!
M. all englands rarityes are gatherd here
from unknown earth fire water air
thousands agree in such a glorious strife
or else a moments work wou’d last a life
N. with beak and talons i infest
those cuckoes that invade my nest
and if minerva yet supply
my ancient gift in prophecy
all scab’d and old they in some
hollow tree shall dye
As with today’s cyber-communities, the Athenian Society did not actually exist outside of the unique space created for it by ephemeral discourses.
Although this kind of imagined community located within a network of correspondence which may or may not have been faked (at least to start with) was dismissed in its day as a simple literary hoax, there is every reason to believe that John Dunton, bookseller, and his fellow collaborators created a real cultural phenomenon around the Athenian Society. For example, the antiquarian and naturalist, John Aubrey, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a close friend of both Robert Hooke and Thomas Hobbes, was an avid reader of the Athenian Mercury, even quoting from its pages in such manuscripts as his 1696 Miscellanies upon the Following Subjects.
In some ways, one could characterize Dunton’s picturing of this immaterial learned community as an early-modern exercise in branding. The emblem of the Athenian Society, which sold as a separate print and was prefixed to various Dunton publications, circulated much like a trademark. It essentialized the inessential, and gave a familiar look-and-feel to the strange literary dealings of the fictive society and its customer base (“the world and we exchanging thus / while we find chat for ym they work for us”).
In other words, the emblem helped build the Athenian Society brand, which had enough buzz attaching to it that more and more correspondents (including women) joined in the public dialogue.
The emblem’s success as a brand was registered by Elkanah Settle in his misogynistic burlesque of the Athenian Society and its growing middle-class female readership (which Settle typecast in the character of “Dorothy Tickleteat, the Islington Milkmaid”) a drama published anonymously in 1693 under the title
The new Athenian comedy: containing the politicks, oeconomicks, tacticks, crypticks, apocalypticks, stypticks, scepticks, pneumaticks, theologicks, poeticks, mathematicks, sophisticks, pragmaticks, dogmaticks, &c. of that most learned society.
Settle’s play was “more than a casual thrust at a successful periodical”; it was “the culmination of a carefully laid plot” (McEwen 77) designed to undermine the authority of the Athenian Society by means curiously similar to the 20th century’s “Sokal affair,” predicated on the publication of Alan Sokal’s hoax article in the journal Social Text in 1996.
Sokal’s piece purported to be a postmodern interpretation of the theory of quantum gravity; the fact that such “nonsense” was accepted for publication by a prominent journal was widely taken to demonstrate the prevalence in certain academic quarters of sloppy thinking about science.
(Jan Golinski, “Science peace?” n. pag.)
The 17th-century Settle affair began about two months before The New Athenian Comedy first appeared, when a letter from “Your Unknown Friend and Servant, W. T.” was published in the Athenian Mercury for Tuesday, 9 May 1693. With his correspondence, W. T. alerted the penny-sheet’s editors that an earlier published answer to a reader’s question “Whither the Wind goes after a Storm” had opened the Athenian Society to charges of blasphemy, and W. T. proposed to help “clear you from so malicious and undeserv’d Imputation” with a reasoned rebuttal of “this Mushrome Adversary” who so accused the Athenians. W. T. then argues on the Society’s behalf, bolstering his case with references to several published authors, including a particular passage on p. 48 of “the Learned Antiquary Mr. Ashmole in this Chymia Sacra.” In response, the unsuspecting editors of the Athenian Mercury published W. T.’s correspondence with grateful acknowledgment of “our Unknown Friends Civilities,” and the hoax was revealed in Settle’s New Athenian Comedy when the character, Freeman, establishes not only that the authorities cited in W. T.’s printed letters were fictitious, but that the editors’ “deep Athenian Universality ... your Boasted Antiquity-Wisdom,” which let such errors pass without comment or correction, had lost all credibility.
In setting the scene for the Athenians’ eventual unmasking as inauthentic scholars, Settle has the character Obadiah Grub (a caricature of Samuel Wesley) describe the Society’s new brand of “Universall Learning,”
... we must say for our Society, that we are (take us together) the whole Bodlaean of Learning, Universall, as you well observe, being the very Crest of our Scutcheon.
(Elkanah Settle, The New Athenian Comedy 21)
the quality of which is indicated by specious references from its professors of poetry (Grub is listed in the Dramatis Personae as “Divinity and Poetry Professor of the Society”) to such weighty alchemical treatises as Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, as when Grub avers:
As for Mr. Ashmole, that more modern English Pen, I am of opinion that nothing has made so Elaborate an Extraction of the quintessence and spirit of Divinity as his Chymia Sacra have done.
(Settle, The New Athenian Comedy 21)
It is, of course, quickly revealed that the Society’s “Universall Learning” whereby “no Art nor Mystery, Depth nor Shallow, Writer or Authour comes amiss to you” (Settle 21) is all a fraud an “errant Romance.”
Judging by the thrust of his play, Elkanah Settle was most troubled by the Athenian Society’s successful promotion of a faceless universality. The Society’s redistribution of learning from anonymous sources to Everyman and Everywoman the Athenian Mercury was marketed to “all men and both Sexes,” both the apprentice and the servingmaid via a new communications technology which concealed the identities of those who asked the questions and those who answerered them, brought to the fore cultural anxieties about uncontrolled public speech and its potential for political dissent. The Athenian Mercury’s impersonal “ask-the-experts” format was a popular innovation that threatened educational hierarchies along with traditional controls over what was learned, why, and by whom.
In Volume I, No. 1 of the Athenian Mercury, Dunton explained the new information brand:
The Design is briefly, to satisfy all ingenious and curious Enquirers in to Speculations, Divine, Moral and Natural, &c. and to remove those Difficulties and Dissatisfactions, that shame or fear of appearing ridiculous by asking Questions, may cause several Persons to labour under, who now have opportunities of being resolv’d in any Question without knowing their Informer.
(Athenian Mercury I.1; qtd. in McEwen 23)
Questions were invited by means of the following notice:
All Persons whatever may be resolved gratis in any Question that their own satisfaction or Curiosity shall prompt ’em to, if they send their Questions by a Penny Post Letter to Mr. Smith at his Coffee-house in Stocks-Market in the Poultry, where orders are given for the Reception of such Letters, and care shall be taken for their Resolution by the next Weekly Paper after their sending.
(Athenian Mercury I.1; qtd. in McEwen 26)
Just one week later, the editors were purportedly so deluged with letters from correspondents that they asked readers, in No. 2 of the Athenian Mercury, to hold back on their questions:
In this number, the second and last of the weekly issues, appeared the first of many requests to the readers to wait for further notice before sending any more questions, hinting that there was a backlog of four thousand. Three weeks and six numbers later, new questions were once more invited (I.8, Sat 18 Apr 91). Whether the editors were actually so swamped at such an early date cannot be ascertained, but their request gave the impression of a wide circulation and great public interest.
(Gilbert McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House 267)
Elkanah Settle rightly located Dunton’s clever consolidation of the new educational brand in the Athenian Society’s emblem, which Settle explicitly critiqued in the Preface to his New Athenian Comedy:
’Tis true our generous Athenians have lately vouchsafed to give us some small Lineaments of theirs in Miniature, in a Sculp before their Young Students Library. But there alas, they are pleased to wrap their Faces in Mosaic Veils, very magisterially intimating that they are Persons that daily converse so near with Divinity, that their shining Faces are too dazling for humane View, and therefore no less kindly than modestly, thus like Bays his Morning Pictur’d in a Cloud. I confess Mr. Engraver has made a pretty Jolly Company of ’em: but there indeed the Painter is a little too poetical; and our Athenians have a little strain’d a point: For when the true Muster Roll of that not overnumerous Society shall be examined, for supply of that defect, you must consider that the Veil’d Faces are by way of Faggots to fill up the Troop: And in that fair Convention of divine Enthusiasts you must not take ’em all for the Boanerges of Wit, the Organs of Thunder, but like Guns in a Fireship, a Tire of painted wooden Tools to make up the Show.
(Settle, The New Athenian Comedy a1v)
Van Hove’s engraving did indeed put an institutional “face” on the Athenian Society which was, in reality, a self-organizing learned society, convened by a bookseller a small
... club of self-styled learned men who met at Smith’s coffee house ... made up of Dunton, Wesley, and a third brother-in-law, Richard Sault, with Dr John Norris making occasional contributions.
(Helen Berry, n. pag.)
What role Dunton’s beloved wife and savvy business partner, Elizabeth, who managed her husband’s bookshop, played in the Society is not known, but her influence was surely a factor in Dunton’s decision to become “the first bookseller to realize the market potential among female readers” (Berry, n. pag.), some of whom are pictured in the emblem. The Duntons would go on to publish a woman’s book of poetry in 1696 (Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s Poems on Several Occasions), and Rowe earlier contributed poems to the Athenian Mercury, by whose editors she was styled “Philomela, the Pindarick Lady.”
With his critical prefatory remarks, Elkanah Settle links the power of the printed image with the demagoguery of Boanergism, arguing that the Athenian Society emblem encouraged a mass audience to “build Alters to the Unknown” (The New Athenian Comedy a1v). This suspicion of the persuasive role of unexamined images was an inevitable outcome of the age’s rhetorical training, with its stress on visual memory.
According to Lord Bacon, Emblems are of use in the art of memory, as sensible objects strike the mind stronger than what is intellectual. Thus, it is easier to retain the image of a sportsman hunting a hare, of an apothecary ranging his boxes, an orator making a speech, a boy repeating verses, or a player acting his part; than the corresponding notions of invention, disposition, elocution, memory, and action. Works abr. Vol. 1. p. 136. and Vol. 2. p. 475. Vol. 3. p. 106.
(1753 Supplement to Chambers’ Cyclopaedia,
Playwrights and poets such as Settle who himself staged elaborate public spectacles, tapping “the contemporary vogue for heroic and operatic drama” with his extravagant production of operas during the 1690s; producing a series of popular entertainments at Bartholomew Fair; and, in his capacity as London’s “city poet,” designing the annual pageants for the lord mayor’s show in 16915, 16981702, and 1708 (Abigail Williams, n. pag.) were all too aware of the way in which a well-presented and widely-circulated image took hold in the social psyche.
As Dunton himself would later observe, Settle’s play, which lacked any competing spectacle of its own, was no match for the power of the Athenian brand, which veiled the identity of the Athenians and their correspondents in seductive mystery and promised consumers a constant supply of “novelties” (Dunton repeatedly defined “Athenianism” as the love of novelty).
This Play was a poor Performance, writ however, on Purpose to expose us, but fail’d so far in the Design of it, that it promoted ours. ... Mr. Settle’s Genius was quite run out toward the conclusion of the Third Act, and cou’d not carry it an Inch farther....
(John Dunton, Life and Errors 2578;
Significantly, the Athenian Mercury had launched without any accompanying brand, which was Dunton’s inspired creation over time as his “Athenian Project” took shape in dialogue with a growing audience:
The Athenian Society as a public image did not exist at the very beginning. There was no mention in the Mercury of a learned society until the periodical had existed for over a year, and then only after two “outsiders” had provided the basis for it. The first was Jonathan Swift, whose Ode to the Athenian Society he sent to Dunton on St. Valentine’s Day, 1692; it was published in the Fifth Supplement, most probably on All Fool’s Day. The second was Charles Gildon, whose anonymous History of the Athenian Society, published late in May 1692, expanded and ornamented the myth of an all-knowing Athenian Society, first celebrated by Swift’s Ode as the “great Unknown ... far exalted Men,” Protean in the “Variety of Shapes” they assumed “to please and satisfie Mankind.”
For the first year, however, Dunton and his two principal writers worked anonymously, not yet having been “identified” as the Athenian Society. Neither questions nor answers were signed. In the columns of the Mercury Dunton was referred to as “our Bookseller,” and at the bottom of the verso page the publisher was indicated as “P. Smart,” from Volume One, No. 1, through Volume Two, No. 15.
The periodical first mentioned the qualifications of its writers on Tuesday 5 May 1691 (I.13), when it was announced that “We have now taken into our Society a Civilian, a Doctor in Physick, and a Chyrurgeon, on purpose to be more serviceable to the Age; wherefore we think fit to give Notice that all the most nice Physical, Chyrurgical, Anatomical, and Law Questions ... shall also have their Answer either in Single Numbers, or at the end of every Volume.” Medical and legal questions, never became numerous, however, and seldom required or received a highly technical answer. The original three writers were certainly “masters” of this part of the design, as well as of their obvious specialties, and the legal and medical Athenians were most probably fictitious.
To Wesley fell questions on religion, history, “chronology,” and literature; to Sault, those on mathematics, surveying, physics, and astronomy. Questions on courtship, marriage, and social behavior were no one’s special domain, nor were those on apparitions, witchcraft, and other manifestations of the supernatural and the marvelous. Contributions by Dunton himself are sometimes recognizable by their style and subject. He was sympathetic toward the problems of apprentices, and interested in all kinds of social questions.
(McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House 2425)
It was not until a year later, in May 1692, that the folio-sized “An Emblem of ye Athenian Society,” with its creative appropriation of ancient and modern icons of learning (Athens, Rome, Oxford, and Cambridge), first appeared as the frontispiece to Dunton’s Young Students Library. The emblem, which was well cut and printed, made clever use of conventional forms of mockery and Restoration-era wit. The comedies of manners attacking “the corrupt Custom of the Age” (as Charles Gildon phrased it) which had flourished on the Restoration stage were here given new visual form. Similarly, the cavalier contempt for the crowd (“you rowt of noisy fools”) that we find in much of the age’s popular literature especially from hack writers and journalists and dramatists was both stimulated and constrained by the contradictory need to please the “rowt” as well as “ye learned few” (verse set H). By century-end this sort of social satire had become a commonplace literary conceit which audiences most likely expected and knew how to interpret.
The Athenian Society emblem also effectively incorporated familiar topoi from astrology and the ever-popular almanacs. While acknowledging that some correspondents “bring hard queryes which we crack / and throw the gazeing world ye kernels back” (verse set D), the Athenian Society’s style of sociable science primarily catered to correspondents’ interests in prognostication and the desire for expert guidance on matters of daily life. This was the stock-in-trade of the astrologers, many of whom were skilled mathematicians. In a world of vicissitude a state of being which was never far from public consciousness throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods predictions of what the future might hold, or of the probable outcome of a particular course of human action, were sought after by peasant and prince alike. From the low-born to the high-born, everyone had need of helps for preparing oneself to meet changing circumstances.
In addition, there was the rich visual culture of the emblem genre itself to be tapped, and the Athenian Society print drew effectively on this as well. Emblems, with their didactic juxtapositions of visual and verbal symbolic languages, were still a popular genre in the 1690s, and were used to encode everything from political dissent, to a synopsis of the arts & sciences, to the most profound moral lessons in the art of living well.
While the Athenian Society’s emblem would hardly constitute what Edgar Wind has called a “great symbol” (see below), it was a good symbol, I think, and serviceable to the commercial enterprise for which it was designed. Furthermore, with its clean use of lettered callouts and extensive (albeit suitably ambiguous) gloss, it contributed to the evolution of iconographic methods then underway.
The Emblem Tradition
The emblem tradition was launched in 1531 with Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber. Alciato (14921550) was a distinguished Milanese legal scholar and jurist whose book of emblems passed through over 150 editions by the end of the 18th century, and inspired so many imitations that there were over 2,000 editions of emblem collections published in Europe before 1700.
As conceived by Alciato, the emblem had a tripartite form, combining a title or motto with an image and a moralizing, epigrammatic verse. Luce Giard has argued that emblematic literature, with its complex interplay of visual and verbal and “compounding of levels of abstraction within the order of representation,” helped promote the “new configuration of knowledge whence would come our modern cast of mind.” With the emblem, writes Giard,
... the image is king. It speaks and makes sense, while the secondary, illustrative role now goes to the text which accompanies it. Eye and spirit engage in extraordinary mental gymnastics, an incessant coming and going between two registers of signs: figures and words. The emblem’s compounding of levels of abstraction within the order of representation is something on which all sides drew: Counter-Reformers made use of it, and so did the Reformers, despite their hostility towards the cult of images. The Jesuits did not hesitate to turn emblems into a pedagogical and apologetical tool and taught their pupils how to compose them.... The success of emblem books was only one of the routes by which the printed image established a hold on intellectual life. Images of all sorts abounded in Renaissance publications: their readers had grown accustomed to study texts which were inseparable from their illustrations. The discourse of words finds an answer in that of the image, in a series of visual prompts which participate in the construction of meaning. The eye learns to move between two systems of signs, images are now an integral part of a knowledge.
(Luce Giard, “Remapping Knowledge,
Alciato borrowed the threefold form of the emblem, along with much of its content, from earlier Quattrocento arcana, which Alciato was determined to demystify. While retaining earlier artists’ use of cryptic symbols to suggest a thought by withholding it, Alciato trivialized the ancient mysteries these images unfolded by reformatting the whole as a series of moral anecdotes, idylls, and epigrams.
In effect, the Renaissance emblem became a genre of reification. Alciato’s introduction of explicit moralizing within a conventional literary frame converted what was supposed to be a life-long process (of self-discovery and accompanying initiation into divine truths) into a set of fixed platitudes, abstracted from the complex and changing totality of an individual’s lifepath. The reified moral could be studied, like all other things, in isolation.
As Edgar Wind has complained, after the emblem, symbolism became an “irritating sort of learned game,” whereby readers such as the busy Politian, whose list of “little employments” included “the invention of cryptic symbols for lovers, which would be understood by the lovers only, and ‘exercise in vain the conjectures of others’” (Wind 164) sought to invent and decipher aenigmata.
Nonetheless, Wind has also described the lasting rhetorical value of an emblem skillfully deployed as a “sophistic device,” arguing that the best examples of the art form are capable of releasing “a counterplay of imagination and thought by which each becomes an irritant to the other, and both may grow.” In skilled hands, Wind argues, allegory can be so much more than simply “what it is reputed to be an artifice by which a set of ideas are attached, one by one, to a set of images”; hence, “persuasive allegory” does more than just duplicate.
If a thought is intricate and difficult to follow, it needs to be fastened to a transparent image from which it may derive a borrowed simplicity. On the other hand, if an idea is plain there is an advantage in tracing it through a rich design which may help to disguise its bareness.
(Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance 27)
For Edgar Wind, the medallion crafted for the Florentine humanist, Leon Battista Alberti (14041472), was a fine example of the symbol raised to a universal art form: “the image has an inherent eloquence ... it speaks the universal language of the imagination,” especially to “experienced men,” even if they have chosen to reject it. With this claim, Wind was responding to E. M. Forster’s contention that “if a work of art parades a mystifying element, it is to that extent not a work of art, ‘not an immortal Muse but a Sphinx who dies as soon as her riddles are answered’.” Countered Wind,
Certainly there are symbols which fit this admirable description. They disturb us as long as we do not understand them, and bore us as soon as we do. The winged eyes and ears that flutter around an Allegory of Fame by Filarete, who associated them with the “winged words” of Homer, are a good example of what Mr Forster means. But Alberti’s winged eye is a contrary instance. It shows that a great symbol is the reverse of a sphinx; it is more alive when its riddle is answered.
(Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance 235)
mystical images, because they retain a certain articulation by which they are distinguished as “hedges” or umbraculae, belong to an intermediate state, which invites further “complication” above, and further “explication” below. They are never final in the sense of a literal statement, which would fix the mind to a given point; nor are they final in the sense of the mystical Absolute in which all images would vanish. Rather they keep the mind in continued suspense by presenting the paradox of an “inherent transcendence”; they persistently hint at more than they say.
(Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance 206)
Even with the emblem’s defining preference for detailed explication, there is a sense in which all early-modern emblematic art, because rooted in an aesthetic of mystery, continued to function as a rhetoric of suggestion. In general, 17th-century print culture mirrored the age’s preference for a double rhetoric of conceal+reveal, where truths could be veiled but still communicated by being made so obvious that they were overlooked (still a sound principle of cryptography) and multiple audiences could be addressed at different levels with the exact same message because the symbolism unfolded different meanings to different groups.
A good example of this would be the expert manipulation of political symbolism in the famous emblematic frontispiece, designed by William Marshall, for the best-selling Eikon Basilike or the Portraiture of His Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings, published in 1649. Purportedly authored by Charles I himself, the Eikon Basilike was widely held to be an extraordinarily moving and persuasive account from the royalist point of view of the regicide.
Title-page (letterpress) for Elkanah Settle’s The New Athenian Comedy
The drama was published anonymously in 1693, with the Epistle Dedicatory signed with the initials “E. S.” There is no record of any performance, and Gilbert McEwen argues that “The wordiness of the text and its lack of the kind of ‘spectacle’ found in Settle’s more successful works, such as the Fairy Queen (1693), an operatic version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, suggest that the author did not have performance in mind.” (77)
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Frontispiece portrait of John Dunton (16591732), printed with The Life and Errors of John Dunton in 1705
Engraved by M. Van der Gucht, after a drawing by E. Knight.
Integrates the emblem of Dunton’s propagandistic newspaper, Pegasus with News (40 numbers published in 1696, during the hiatus separating vols. 19 and 20 of the Athenian Mercury), in the lozenge at bottom center. As conceived by Dunton, the Pegasus brand combined news told from a Williamite (vs. Jacobite) political perspective with the occasional literary essay, its particular mix of political journalism and entertainment symbolized by a messenger who could go through the air, riding on Pegasus, yet still call at Parnassus “and oblige the lovers of the Nine Sisters with a line from the Muses, to let the World know the sentiments of that Speculative and Sublime Society, as to the Publick Transactions” (I.1; qtd. in McEwen 212).
The verses below Dunton’s portrait read: “ATHENIANISM was John Dunton’s thought. / And in these features to Perfection brought; / For Knight and Gucht that Mystick Art did find, / To paint John’s PROJECTS person, and his Mind. / They with the likeness, warmth and Grace do give, And make his Picture seem to think and live: / And’s Heraldry he from the Muses farms, / For PEGASUS shou’d be a Poet’s Arms.”
The Pegasus brand shared its central theme with the Athenian Mercury, which Dunton described in a 1691 issue as “signifying a Messenger” “Mercuries” being a “proper Title for the single Papers, which run about to Coffee houses and elsewhere, to seek out Athenians” (Athenian Mercury I.12.1; qtd. in McEwen 28). (In Greek/Roman mythology, Hermes or Mercury, the “loyal messenger,” is also the god of eloquence, intellect & imagination.)
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Title-page (letterpress) for the Athenian Society’s 1692 publication, The Young-Students-Library
This encyclopedic introduction to the new science (“from the year sixty five, to this time”) included the Athenian Society emblem as its frontispiece.
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Impresa (or personal device) of the Florentine humanist, Leon Battista Alberti (14041472)
The winged eye is glossed in the typically cryptical style of Florentine Neoplatonism, employing the Ciceronian device, QUID TUM (in English: What Then?), to powerful effect as a memento to live mindfully.
Centuries later, Robert Hooke would describe Alberti as “the Vitruvius of his Time: He being a Scholar, an excellent Painter, Sculptor and Mechanist, and an excellent Architect.”
Medallion portrait of William Marshall (fl. 16171649)
Despite the considerable popularity and influence of Marshall’s emblematic print, Horace Walpole dismissed Marshall as “a coarse engraver” too often “employed in the drudgery of booksellers” (A Catalogue of Engravers, 2nd edn., 1765, pp. 423).
Following John Evelyn and Joseph Ames, Walpole did not consider the Eikon Basilike frontispiece part of Marshall’s oeuvre, attributing it to the engraver “A. Hertocks” instead.
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Reinforcing the visual arguments of the Eikon Basilike emblem was the bilingual gloss directly below (with Latin on the left, English on the right).
The English verses read:
Lois Potter has identified the royalist codes at play in this best-known and most influential of all images then in circulation of Charles I: the motif of light shining in darkness, and the intermingling of favorite royal and Christian paradoxes (the palm tree which grows the more for being weighed down; the rock unmoved in the stormy sea; the crown of thorns which will become a crown of glory). Plus, Marshall’s design made adroit use of an emblematic style (newly out of favor with such portrait artists as Sir Peter Lely) which placed the contradictory concepts side-by-side, “exploiting the grotesqueness that results from their coexistence.” (Potter 68)
This particular layout was new with some of the 1649 editions of Eikon Basilike. None of the 1648 editions include the “Explanation of the Embleme” and some of the editions of 1649 feature different layouts of graphic and gloss more suited to what we now call a “landscape” page orientation.
On page 81 of his Chalcography, Evelyn notes: “... Nor must I here forget Mr. Hertoc who has grav’d the Frontispiece for EIKON BAZ. in fol. and that of this Treatise [Evelyn’s Chalcography], with many other.” Evelyn here anticipated Joseph Ames, Horace Walpole, and others who would associate A. Hertochs with the frontispiece engraving to the Eikon Basilike, originally designed and engraved by William Marshall.
Both attributions Marshall and Hertochs are correct, since the best-selling Eikon Basilike was reprinted 57 times, requiring several new plates for the frontispiece. We know that Marshall himself re-engraved it seven times, and Robert Vaughan re-engraved it once.
Hertochs’s double-page plate was included with prominent late-17th- and 18th-century editions of Eikon Basilike (e.g., Almack 61, Almack 66, Almack 69) and was thus better known to Evelyn, Ames, and Walpole. Hertochs altered Marshall’s original design some, as did Robert White for a reprinting of the Eikon Basilike (published by H. Hindmarsh) in 1697.
Portrait of Robert White
White’s principal activity was as a portrait engraver: “no man perhaps has exceeded Robert White in the multiplicity of English heads.” (Horace Walpole, A Catalogue of Engravers, 2nd edn., 1765, p. 102) “What distinguished him was his admirable success in likenesses, a merit that would give value to his prints, though they were not so well performed.” (Walpole 1012) White usually engraved the portraits after his own drawings, which he made from life in black lead on vellum, and which 18th-century connoisseurs such as Walpole thought “superior to his prints.” (Walpole 102)
But White’s output of prints was huge and varied, including frontispieces, book-plates (one made for Samuel Pepys), almanacs, architectural views, processions, and other events of topical interest to consumers.
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The different engravers surrounded Charles I with different symbols of royal prerogative and martyrdom (e.g., Robert White’s engraving shows a ship of state, blown about by wind-heads, in place of the weighted down palm tree), but all retained the central Christian motif of the king on bended knee, holding a crown of thorns (for Marshall and Hertochs, held in Charles’s right hand; for Robert White, in his left hand).
Of note, the Dutch presses also released a stream of pamphlets, “mostly translations from the English,” about the events culminating in the royal martyrdom of 1649. For the Dutch translations of the Eikon Basilike, and its companion-piece Engelandts Memoriael a work describing the trials and executions of Strafford (22 May 1641), Laud (10 January 1645) and Charles I (30 January 1649) the Dutch publisher Joost Hartgers commissioned new plates (including, e.g., a portrait of Charles I and an execution scene), while Jansz’s competing duodecimo publication of Engelandts Memoriael appeared in 1649 with “the addition of no fewer than six copper-engravings” (Johan Gerritsen, “The Eikon in Holland” 141).
Authorship of the immensely popular Eikon Basilike continued to be disputed for decades after its sensational publication within a few days of the king’s execution in January 1649. In 1692, Anthony Walker’s
A true account of the author of a book entituled Eikon basilike or, The pourtraiture of His Sacred Majesty in his solitudes and sufferings: proved to be written by Dr. Gauden, late Bishop of Worcester. With an answer to all objections made by Dr. Hollingsworth and others. Published for publick satisfaction, by Anthony Walker, D.D. late rector of Fyfield in Essex. With an attestation under the hand of the late Earl of Anglesey to the same purpose....
was printed for the London bookseller, Nathanael Ranew, operating under the sign of “the Kings-Arms in St. Paul’s Church-Yard,” and claimed to have settled the question of the work’s authorship once and for all. But that was not the end of the matter. Thomas Long soon after responded with his Dr. Walker’s True, Modest, and Faithful Account of the Author of Eikon Basilike, Strictly Examined, and Demonstrated To Be False, Impudent, and Decietful &c. (1693). And Richard Perrinchief’s newly-issued biography of Charles I in 1697, The Life and Death of King Charles the First, Written by Dr. R. Perinchief: Together with [Eikon Basilike] ... And a Vindication of the Same King Charles the Martyr. Proving Him to be the Author of the Said [Eikon Basilike], Against a Memorandum of the Late Earl of Anglesey, and Against the Groundless Exceptons of Dr. Walker and Others, kept the issue alive.
But by then, the Eikon Basilike print had taken on a life of its own. It had become a potent cultural symbol, and was still capable of inspiring political passions, on all sides.
Yet another style of emblem developed to allow memorable synopses of the various arts & sciences, along with other common practices and cultural values authors wished to popularize. Typically, such emblems would be themed, and published in a single book, as in Alciato, where emblems were originally organized into 19 categories: virtues, vices, nature, astrology, love, fortune, honor, the prince, the republic, life, death, friendship, enmity, vengeance, peace, knowledge, ignorance, marriage, and trees. These books of symbols were a forerunner of the collections of icons, themed images, and clip art that graphic designers purchase today, and they dominated the print culture of the day, as certain (loose) standards began to form around the widely disseminated symbols. The stock image of Prudence, for instance, or of History, was discernible in just about every variation on the theme.
The visual canon developed around Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593; illustrated, 1603), another book of symbols which would be repeatedly adapted for the next two centuries. Ripa’s original handbook, which passed through seven Italian editions during his own lifetime, continued to be issued long after his death, with editors adding more and more allegories to Ripa’s starting set, until they numbered over a thousand.
The influence of Ripa’s handbook on the visual culture at large was enormous. The “figvres hyerogliphiques” it contained “des vertus, des vices, des arts, des sciences, des causes naturelles, des humeurs differentes, & des passions humaines” were advertised as indispensable visual aids for all “oratevrs, poetes, sculpteurs, peintres, ingenieurs, autheurs de medailled, de deuises, de ballets, & de poëmes dramatiques” who wished to appropriately embellish their discourses, as Jean Baudoin put it on the title-page of his French edition of the Inconologie in 1644.
Certainly, no designer could ignore the newly-established canon. Robert Hooke, for instance, had recourse to the Arundel Library’s “Cesari Ripa of Iconologia” in April 1673, and no doubt, what he found there, had some influence on his later design of an identity for the Christ Church Hospital Mathematical-School for Boys in January 1674. Hooke described his graphic design for this ill-fated institution in a diary entry for 21 January 1674:
With Lem at Sessions house. At Christ Church hospitall. Delivered in design for badge. Which was two in compassing a prospect with a crown over and a Labell under in the CC was written Ambit et fovet in the Label a Carolo II data fuit in the prospect was a blewcoat boy attended by Geometry Arithmetic and Astronomy with hac via itur ad astra. At a distance the Herculean piller past through with a ship and trans . . . . . . . . over and far off terra incognita. At Mr. Garway with Mr. Hill who came and Read over my paper. DH....
Two days later, Hooke records that “My badge agreed upon and proposalls.”
While various Italian editions of Ripa’s Iconologia circulated in England, the first English edition of Ripa’s book of emblems did not appear until 1709, as edited by Pierce Tempest and illustrated by Isaac Fuller. Tempest’s edition of the Iconologia included “Three Hundred Twenty-six Humane Figures, with their Explanations,” representing his choice selection of the “Virtues, Vices, Passions, Arts, Humours, Elements and Celestial Bodies; As Design’d by The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Modern Italians,” all advertised as “Useful for Orators, Poets, Painters, Sculptors, and all Lovers of Ingenuity.”
The following emblem for the art of printing (“Stampa” in the original Italian) is from Tempest’s 1709 English edition of the Iconologia. The image was one of four on a page, with gloss on the facing page.
In 1650, Virginia Ferrar (along with her older cousin, Mary Collett, and her father, John Ferrar) bound 200 printed copies of the popular Eikon Basilike in the workshop at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire. The books were intended for sale in the Americas, especially the British colony of Virginia.
The two facing C’s used by Hooke recalled a monogram of King Charles II. Alexander Pope made a less flattering reference to the same royal brand when, half a century later, he signed a mock proclamation to his Dunciad (titled “By Authority”) with back to back C’s.
The above gloss reads:
Fig. 282. Stampa: P R I N T I N G
A Woman in a white chequer’d Habit with the Letters of the Alphabet on it; holds a Trumpet in one Hand, round which is a Scroul inscrib’d UBIQUE; and in the other, the Sempervive, or House-leek, with the Word SEMPER on it: a Printing-press by her, with some Implements.
White shews that the Impression should be pure and correct. Chequer’d, to signifie the little Boxes for the Letters. UBIQUE signifies its being Famous EVERY WHERE.
There is not enough detail to tell whether the wooden press pictured here is of the old style, or the new style introduced for the “Publick benefit” to an English audience by Joseph Moxon in his Mechanick Exercises on Printing. Moxon described his “New-fashion’d” wooden press as the invention of Willem Janszoon Blaeu (15711638), the famous Dutch printer-bookseller and publisher of geographical charts and maps, who had 9 such presses in his printing-house, each of which was named after one of the 9 muses:
But before I proceed, I think it not amiss to let you know who was the Inventer of this New-fashion’d Press, accounting my self so much oblig’d to his Ingeniety for the curiosity of this contrivance, that should I pass by this oppertunity without nameing him, I should be injurious to his Memory.
It was Willem Jansen Blaew of Amsterdam: a Man as well famous for good and great Printing, as for his many Astronomical and Geographical exhibitions to the World. In his Youth he was bred up to Joynery, and having learn’d his Trade, betook himself (according to the mode of Holland) to Travel, and his fortune leading him to Denmark, when the noble Tycho Brahe was about setting up his Astronomical Observatory, was entertain’d into his service for the making his Mathematical-Instruments to Observe withal; in which Instrument-making he shew’d himself so intelligent and curious, that according to the general report of many of his personal acquaintance, all or most of the Syderal Observations set forth in Tycho’s name, he was intrusted to make, as well as the Instruments.
And before these Observations were publish’d to the World, Tycho, to gratify Blaew, gave him the Copies of them, with which he came away to Amsterdam, and betook himself to the making of Globes, according to those Observations. But as his Trade increased, he found it necessary to deal in Geographical Maps and Books also, and grew so curious in Engraving, that many of his best Globes and Maps were Engraved by his own Hands; and by his conversation in Printing of Books at other Printing-houses, got such in-sight in this Art, that he set up a Printing-house of his own. And now finding inconveniencies in the obsolete Invention of the Press, He contrived a remedy to every inconvenience, and fabricated nine of these New-fashioned Presses, set them all on a row in his Printing-house, and call’d each Press by the name of one of the Muses.
(Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises, or, the
Many a poet would have no doubt been dismayed by Blaeu’s worldly appropriation of the artist’s source of genius and divine inspiration, but the allegorical framework was already in place and widely available to all, largely because of the prevalence of emblematic discourses. In Greek mythology, the Muses were 9 inferior divinities (the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne) who presided over the fine and liberal arts:
Blaeu’s symbolic integration of the fine arts into his printshop, and their embodiment in the technologies of his trade, gave a significant spiritual coloring to the printer’s art and activities. Blaeu was one of the great early printers, passing on his values to the next generation along with his tools and inventions. In 1664, Filips von Zesen remarked on the “Nine Muses” in the workshop of Blaeu’s son, Joan. (Davis & Carter, Mechanick Exercises 48)
If Harold Bailey is correct in locating the traces of a primitive Gnostic symbolism in the emblematic printers’ marks and paper-marks associated with the Huguenot-run paper mills (and Bailey argues that in Europe, paper-making was primarily a French art, introduced into England and Scotland by French refugees), there were doubtless other visual messages, beyond those being explicated for commercial purposes, hidden in the above emblem for Printing.
Even with the reduced mystery of the fixed gloss, which Ripa and his subsequent editors compiled from the writings of the usual list of authorities, there was still an ethical imperative inscribed in the very practice of the trade itself, which our modern iconography has since lost. As Tempest’s title clearly stated, the Iconologia was first and foremost a collection of “Moral Emblems.” In a holdover from the earlier symbolism, human labor in the arts & sciences continued to be represented as a moral, and potentially redeeming, act.
Today, the standard icon for printing has become a miniature laser printer. The one appearing on the toolbar of the software program I’m using now is a little green rectangle, set in perspective, with a sheet of lined paper issuing from the top. With the advent of cheap desktop printers, printing is no longer the complicated, communal practice it once was, and our modern icon encodes this fact: the human printer has been displaced by her technologies. Still, the age-old moral questions attaching to human labor in the arts & sciences persist, even as they have become less visible.
This Web page was last modified on: 07/18/2016 10:30 AM .