April 06, 2005

Théâtre d’Amour

The estimable Taschen Books have recently published a volume entitled Théâtre d’Amour, which reproduces a collection of coloured love-emblems and other prints compiled by an unknown hand some time around 1620. The book includes several series of engravings on various more-or-less amatory themes, including ‘The Trades of Cupid, The Seven Deadly Sins, The Seven Virtues, The Muses, The Loves of the Gods, and The Five Senses.’ The first and longest series in the book, however, comprises the twenty-four images from Daniël Heinsius’s Quæris Quid Sit Amor? (‘You Want to Know What Love Is?’), which was, when it was published in Amsterdam in 1601, the first emblem-book solely devoted to the vexed subject of love.

Coloured engraving by de Gheyn from folio 9 of 'Théâtre d'Amour, 'Inter Omnes (Among all the Rest).'

Quæris Quid Sit Amor?, also known as Emblemata Amatoria, gave birth to a distinct sub-genre of its own, and in the years that followed numerous other books of love-emblems appeared in the Netherlands (notably Otto Vænius’s 1608 Amorum Emblemata, and Jacob Cats’s 1618 Sinne- en minnebeelden), and elsewhere in Europe. A new edition of the book was published in 1608, and, in 1616, its emblems were incorporated into Heinsius’s Nederduytsche poemata. In the preface to this latter work ‘it becomes clear that Heinsius [1580-1655] was not the only author of the love emblems [and] was in fact presenting the work of a group of (unidentified) Leiden humanists who wrote the subscriptions of the emblems in cooperation.’ The book’s engravings were the work of one Jacques de Gheyn (1565-1629).

Coloured engraving by de Gheyn from folio 18 of 'Théâtre d'Amour, 'A Autruy Mort, a Moy Vie (What Death is to Another, Life is to Me).'

The book was scarcely less derivative, however, than it was influential, and in many cases Heinsius and his friends, the poets, and de Gheyn, the artist, were recycling imagery from earlier works. Mario Praz, in his Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery, devotes a chapter to tracing some of the origins of these emblems. The first and fourth of the present images, for example, have antecedents in Maurice Scève’s Délie, a volume of love-poetry published in Lyons in 1544, illustrated with fifty allegorical woodcuts. The conceits in Scève’s poetry owed a great deal to Petrarch, writes Praz, and more remotely, by way of the Mediæval Latin poets, and Provençal troubadors, to Ovid.

Coloured engraving by de Gheyn from folio 21 of 'Théâtre d'Amour, 'Mes Pleurs Mon Feu Decelent (My Tears Disclose my Fire).'

The fifth of the images I’ve re-presented here is drawn instead from the original book of emblems, Alciato’s, wherein it is used as an illustration of friendship, rather than love. Returning to the Taschen edition, Carsten-Peter Warncke, the book’s editor, explains in his essay The Garden of Love and its Delights, that in that compilation, Heinsius’s compositions have been replaced by ‘by anonymous French verses which are not translations but commentaries in their own right.’

Coloured engraving by de Gheyn from folio 23 of 'Théâtre d'Amour, 'Te Stande Virebo (While you Stand, I Flourish).'
This was characteristic, Prof. Dr. Warncke continues, of publishing of the day, when book production was dominated by reprints, revised editions and compilations from earlier manuscripts given a new interpretation—by no means always authorized. This type of intellectual exchange, practised across national and linguistic boundaries, finds one of its finest expressions in the emblem literature of the 16th and 17th centuries. Its products also demonstrate a concept of wit and intellect quite different to the modern belief that originality lies in what has never been seen or known before. Holding sway in those days, by contrast, was the ideal of the “ingenious invention,” the extraction of something new from what was familiar and established, and which consequently already held authority.
Coloured engraving by de Gheyn from folio 26 of 'Théâtre d'Amour, 'Ni Mesme la Mort (Not Even Death).'

Click on the images above to see them enlarged… By way of an afterthought: Cupids, putti, ‘loves;’ those arrow-happy mites once buzzed through the air of Baroque Europe like so many flies—but since child labour has been outlawed, and pubic health initiatives have driven vermin ever further out of view, how few are stung by Cupds in these, our enlightened times?

Posted by misteraitch at April 6, 2005 11:09 AM

You always have great images and interesting things. :)

Do you mind if I link this later?

Posted by: Bibi on April 7, 2005 07:47 PM

Thanks Bibi: by all means link to this or anything here that catches your eye.

Posted by: misteraitch on April 7, 2005 09:29 PM

The resemblance may be only skin deep; but you can kind of see where William Blake came from, visually that is.

Posted by: matthew on April 8, 2005 03:17 AM

I agree about Blake. The resemblance is striking.

It reminds me that styles, or manners of expression, don't always die, even if they "disappear" from our histories or even from public comment.

Posted by: Oscar Chamberlain on April 13, 2005 04:36 PM
Comments are now closed