July 21, 2007

Veridicus Christianus

Veridicus Christianus was the first Jesuit emblem-book. It was published in 1601 by Jan Moretus at the famous Plantin workshop in Antwerp. It had evolved from a catechism consisting of a hundred questions and answers written by Father Jan David, rector of the Jesuit Colleges at Courtrai and Ghent. An unillustrated version of the text, in Dutch, had previously been printed in Brussels, in 1597. David had the idea of accompanying these with a hundred engravings, a commission assigned to the studio of Phillips Galle, and probably executed by Philips’ son Theodoor.

1. Detail from 'Sin,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.'

*

2. Detail from 'Heresy, More Pernicious than Plague,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

The current images are courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. They have been reproduced from a Dutch-language edition of the Veridicus, entitled Christeliicken Waerseggher which Moretus published in 1603. (To see all of the emblems from the book, specify the Call Number “1603Davi” at the archive’s search page.) Looking at these engravings, it is easy to see why Theodoor Galle has also been credited with the authorship of the engravings in Barthélémy Del Bene’s Civitas Veri, given the two series’ similarities in style, and the deployment in both of ‘key letters’ at various points of the illustrations.

3. Detail from 'Demons,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

*

4. Detail from 'Devils and Heretics,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

One peculiar feature of the Veridicus was the inclusion of a ‘lottery plate’ near the end of the book ‘with a volvelle with four openings, which always revealed a number to one of the hundred proverbs or wise sayings from classical authors printed on the following pages,’ each of which ‘in its turn referred to one of the hundred emblems of the book.’ This gimmick merely formalised a common practice whereby emblem-books would be opened at random, with the selected emblem being interpreted for its relevance for the reader (source here).

5. Detail from 'The Insanity of the World,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

*

6. Detail from 'Indulgent Mother,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

Taking the present images in turn, fig. 1 illustrates Sin ‘juxtaposing sinful indulgences, including a sumptuous feast, with the image of a demon riding a human being like a beast of burden;’ while in fig. 2 we are shown Heresy, More Pernicious than Plague, where a gorgon-like figure stands at the mouth of hell, presenting a book bearing the word “heresy” to a fleeing crowd. Father David, we read, was particularly zealous in his condemnation of heretics. Depicted in fig. 3, Demons, is an alarming female figure with wings and horns, whose clawed hand brandishes a three-pronged sceptre. She is surrounded with animals, and a serpent’s tail protrudes from her skirt.

7. Detail from 'The Incautious Gaze,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

*

8. Detail from 'Nothing,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

In Fig. 4, Devils and Heretics, ‘A demon and a heretic pull a sledge—on which sits a skeleton and a group of naked men transfixed by a mirror from which peacock feathers sprout—into the mouth of hell.’ Fig. 5 shows us The Insanity of the World wherein a masked female figure stands before a scale, with the symbols of earthly pleasures & power (a cup, a crown, and money) are shown seeming to outweigh the cross, rosary book, chalice and whip on its left-hand side. In the foreground of Fig. 6 we see an Indulgent Mother and her spoilt child in the foreground, juxtaposed with cautionary background scenes, including one where ‘a mother kisses her son as he goes to the gallows.’

9. Detail from 'Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

*

10. Detail from 'Painting Jesus,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

Fig. 7 represents the Incautious Gaze where the head of a man is shown in the form of a house—this picture intriguingly echoes a drawing attributed to Arcimboldo. Fig. 8, Nothing portrays the nullity of wordly vanity, while fig. 9 depicts Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven. The final image, Painting Jesus, does not belong to the main sequence of emblems, but rather forms part of the title-page for the book’s closing section, comprising a sequence of a hundred prayers. Note in particular the unorthodox work-in-progress by the would-be artist at the bottom-left of the engraving.

Posted by misteraitch at July 21, 2007 03:21 PM
Comments

These are a lot of fun to unpack - there is so much infomation in each one (e.g. item B at the top on #8 is an illustration of the proverb "the mountain gave birth to a mouse"). There is probably a place in their crowded hell for Jesuits who indulged too much in the pleasure of image-making.

What is the meaning of the "art school" picture on the final title page?

It's too bad that the Pitts Theology Library staff scanned the prints as jpg. It makes no sense. I tried to save one of these as png and it shrank from 1,064 kb to 144 kb with no difference in quality.

Posted by: Michelangelo on July 23, 2007 02:58 PM

Michelangelo—I am not at all sure what is going on in the ‘art school’ image. Perhaps it’s illustrative of different people drawing inspiration differently from Jesus? Or warning against the ease & prevalence of misrepresentation? The first thought in my mind when I saw it was that it resembled a weird Renaissance press-conference/photo-opportunity/media circus… If I knew what the quote from Augustine below it meant, that might be a clue.

And yes, I found the presentation at the Pitts Library site to be quite counter-intuitive: it took me a while to figure out that the call number search would bring up the complete list of images.

Posted by: misteraitch on July 23, 2007 03:37 PM

Incredible images, I've seen one somewhere before but much smaller. I'll have to reference some of these in a future MB post concerning the motif of the gaping mouth of hell in art.

Posted by: Aeron on July 23, 2007 05:07 PM

"a future MB post concerning the motif of the gaping mouth of hell"? I am looking forward to that!

Posted by: Michelangelo on July 24, 2007 02:52 PM

Aeron, I'm also extremely interested in the motif of the gaping mouth of hell, too, and I look forward to seeing your post in http://www.monsterbrains.blogspot.com/

I've been collecting similar images for a long time - maybe I can post them somewhere. If so, I'll let you know.

Michelangelo - Thanks so much for your great posts.

Posted by: Fels Naptha on July 26, 2007 06:42 AM
Comments are now closed