June 25, 2004

Father Cats

Jacob Cats (1577-1660) was a Dutch jurist, diplomat and poet. He was a prolific versifier, whose didactic yet homely works won him much respect and popularity (he became known, among his countrymen, as ’Father Cats’), but whose stolid humourlessness meanwhile attracted some ridicule. Cats was inspired by the international popularity of Andrea Alciati’s Emblematum Liber to produce an emblem-book of his own, but one in the vernacular, such that his less well-educated countrymen could still profit from the moral insights that emblems could encapsulate. Cats’ first emblem-book was published in 1618. The current images are lifted from a later publication (1627) entitled Proteus Ofte Minne-Beelden Verandert In Sinne-Beelden.

Emblem IV from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.


Emblem V from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.

Helpfully, besides the usual Latin, and Cats’ Dutch, this 1627 edition also includes translations into French and, in a separate section, into English. Even supplied with the translations, though, it can still be difficult to figure out what is happening in some of the images, and just how they are supposed to complement the texts. For example, the Englished version of the motto for the first image, above, cryptically states:

In true love there is no lack
All is the bride nover so black

Presumably ‘nover’ is a misprint for ‘never’, but, even so, I have no idea what that means. This couplet from the accompanying verse seems to shed a little more light on the matter:

What blynd-folde doltinge love is this, appearinge in our sigt
How that the ape takes in her younge such wonderfull delight.

The second image, which depicts the God Pan recklessly embracing the flames, is complemented by texts advising against over-hasty marriage.

Emblem VIII from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.


Emblem X from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.

The English mottoes for two preceding emblems are as follows:

In outwarde show, appeares no wounde,
but inwardly, my grieffe is founde.
If that thyne eyes be conquered, sure,
Then loves torments thou must indure.

And, for the two emblems below:

T[h]ough clamorouse tongues both curse and blame,
A constant harte is stil the same.
Who unto Idlenesse doth yielde,
is as a but in Venus fielde.

A couplet from the relevant verse may help clarify this last motto a little:

The spyder will not once come neare the serpent him t’offend.
When she perceaves hee busie is, or watchfully doth tend.
Emblem XXIII from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.


Emblem XXXVII from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.

The final two images below both strike me as quite obtuse. The motto of the first of them boils down to a simple ‘love conquers all’, but the image, with the piper and the dancing apes, seems to have nothing to do with that, but rather puts together some of the images in the final lines of the accompanying verse:

The Ape in dauncinge soone forgetts, true measure for to keepe,
As soone as he preceave the nutts came trinlinge too his feete.

Similarly, the motto for the second image below is a straightforward platitude:

True love increaseth day by day,
and knows no bounds whereat to stay.

So why the crocodile and the creepy guy? In this case, the verse more readily provides an explanation - just like true love, a crocodile will never stop growing, until, that is, it meets with Death…

Emblem XLII from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.


Emblem XLVI from Jacob Cats' 'Proteus'.

My source for these images is yet another of the fine on-line editions presented by the Herzog August library in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, although this time around I arrived there via a different route, through the emblem-books indexed as part of the Mnemosyne project. See also my previous entries here, here and here.

Posted by misteraitch at June 25, 2004 02:22 PM | TrackBack

Great one! Thanks very much. i\It was nice to read and admire the pictures. Do You know that this blog had been noticed by russian TV chanel "Culture"? Here`s the link:

Posted by: kriestik on June 28, 2004 11:44 PM

Thanks for your kind words kriestik, and thanks for explaining where those Russian referrals were coming from: I had wondered about that!

Posted by: misteraitch on June 29, 2004 11:57 AM

Interesting research. I wonder where I can find the original works by Jacob Cats. That might help me understand the sense of his verse.

Helen, translator

Posted by: Helen on August 21, 2004 01:24 PM

The full text of Cats' 1627 volume has been transcribed at the Emblem project Utrecht (Dutch, French, Latin and English text): http://emblems.let.uu.nl/emblems/html/c1627front.html. I'm afraid the commentary is in Dutch though. We also have a partial edition of the earlier (1618) version

Posted by: Peter on September 21, 2004 04:01 PM

Many thanks for the link, Peter - this is a great resource.

Posted by: misteraitch on September 22, 2004 03:16 PM

Did cats always use the same illustrator?

How long did he live in Dort? His works were reprinted in Dort. What relations did he have with Jacob Braat?

Posted by: Frances Luttikhuizen on August 22, 2005 09:24 AM

Frances—Mario Praz, in his book Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery, mentions that the emblems in Cats’s Proteus (the book discussed above, 1627) were nearly all signed J. S. (Jan Swelinck). Praz supposes that Swelinck was also responsible for the engravings in Cats’s Silenus Alcibiadis (1618) and Maechden-plicht… (also 1618). In both the latter cases, the engravings, writes Praz, probably followed designs by Adriaen van Venne. In Cats’s 1632 Spiegel van den Ouden…, the 127 emblems are apparently engraved by several different hands (Theod. Matham, W. Hondius, C. van Queboren, D. v. Bremden and Swelinck), again following designs of van Venne’s.

I’m afraid I can’t help you with your other queries: Praz cites Anne Gerard Cristiann de Vries’s 1899 De Nederlansche Emblemata as the most detailed bibliography of emblem-books ever made. Perhaps you could consult a copy of that, or alternatively you could direct your questions to the people behind the Utrecht Emblem Project (see Peter’s comment above).

Posted by: misteraitch on September 3, 2005 11:27 AM
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