March 29, 2004

Proscenium Vitæ Humanæ

I do enjoy perusing the enigmatic engravings of the kind found in old emblem-books, and am delighted whenever I happen upon one of these volumes as scanned or photographed and presented on-line. I was very happy indeed, then, when I discovered that the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, have, as part of their Emblemata Online project, digitised several dozen emblem-books from their extensive collection and have made them available for all to browse.

Emblem III from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Discordia (Discord).


Emblem IV from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Pertinacia (Obstinacy).

The present images are a small handful I lifted from one of these books: Johann Theodor de Bry’s Proscenium vitæ humanæ sive Emblematum Secularium, which was published in Frankfurt, in 1627. This one caught my eye first only because I was familiar with De Bry’s name, having read about him, and his association with the physician, alchemist and author Michael Maier in Yates’ The Rosicrucian Enlightenment and in Klossowski de Rola’s The Golden Game.

Emblem VI from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Casus ubique valet (Luck affects everything, or Chance always applies).


Emblem VII from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Incuria (Neglect).

As is the case in the books that De Bry published for Maier, and for Robert Fludd, the engravings here are very finely-executed, and are highly-charged with allegorical meanings which, although guessable in some instances, are at least as often bafflingly opaque. Some of them echo that particular kind of weirdness one associates with Brueghel and Bosch: look closely at the seventh of these emblems, in particular.

Emblem VIII from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Amor habendi (Love of possessing).


Emblem XV from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Lerna malorum (A Lerna of evils - lake Lerna being where Hercules destroyed the Hydra - i.e. a very great evil).

Click on the images to open larger, pop-up versions of the same. Click on the pop-ups, in turn, to link back to the relevant pages at the Herzog August Library site.

Emblem XVI from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Sors priorum (? - I couldn't quite figure this one out).


Emblem XXVI from de Bry's 'Proscenium': Est in Amore dolor (In Love there is Pain)


Posted by misteraitch at March 29, 2004 04:29 PM | TrackBack

very cool!

Posted by: Troy on March 30, 2004 09:14 PM

Oh yes, Wolfenbuettel is a A+++ location - if you ever have the chance, do stop by there. The interest in emblemata falls in the same time as the increased interest in astrology and demonic beliefs etc. A highly interesting period indeed.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. on April 3, 2004 10:47 PM

I guessed well that you had seen this. That figure (in particular) just above the '16' in the 2nd last image is very very suggestive of one of the Pantagruel/Deprez grotesqueries.

This is my sort of emblem book!

Posted by: peacay on November 26, 2006 04:58 PM
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