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2004-2005 Visiting Fellows

Tamara A. Goeglein
Franklin & Marshall College

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of Princeton University Library holds one of the world's best collections of emblem books, a collection indebted to the Princeton Emblem Project begun in 1977 by William S. Heckscher and later catalogued by him and Agnes B. Sherman in Emblem Books in the Princeton University Library Short-Title Catalogue (1984). In May 2004, I was able to use this collection through a Friends of the Princeton University Library Research Grant that was funded by the Council of the Humanities, and, in what follows, I will report on my research.

I am now writing a series of essays on early modern emblem books, and, over the course of this series, I am trying to discover how early modern readers read them. These emblem books exploited the new print medium by juxtaposing symbolic pictures with epigrams in order to create a multi-media experience for their readers. The link between the visual text and the verbal text was often a puzzle, not unlike what we find today in a good political cartoon where the caption sends its readers back up to the drawing to discover the visual punch line. But, such a blithe analogy between our ways of reading and earlier ways of reading can be deceptive and can conceal more than it reveals about past reading practices and the habits of mind that cultivated them. My long-term research is trying to recover what articulations there may be between an emblematic modus legendi and other visual literacies embedded in early modern intellectual culture.

For the period of my research fellowship, I focused on the extent to which emblem books are explicitly and implicitly related to the art of memory (ars memorativa), which was one of the five parts of classical rhetoric that enabled an orator to remember accurately his long speeches by cultivating visual mnemonic techniques.

The art of memory has a long, venerable history as it moves from ancient Greece and Rome into the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. Memory systems are based principally in vivid images (imagines) and visualized spaces (loci). Memory treatises, such as such as Gulielmus Gratarolus' Castel of Memorie (1562), John Willis' Art of Memory (1621), and Thomas Watson's Compendium Memorić Localis (1585), instructed their readers to imagine a memorial space, a location such as an amphitheater into which those memorial objects (imagines) symbolizing portions of an oration could be placed. The orator would systematically place the symbols in his space, and, later, as he delivered his speech, he would imaginatively retrace his steps, remembering the order and the substance of his speech as he encountered one symbol after the next. The way mnemonic images are supposed to operate in "memory theaters," as they were called, is similar to the way emblematists propose their pictures work, because emblematic literacy requires remembering the picture as the mind circulates through it and the words on the page.

The questions that guided my research at the Princeton University Library were these: to what extent might a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century reader of emblem books transfer the arts of memory to his experience of emblems? To what extent was he encouraged to do so by the emblematists? What, if anything, do emblem theorists say about the role of memory in fashioning and interpreting emblems? What metaphors for remembering are explicitly adopted in emblem books or implied by emblematic modes of reading? How might the emblematic mise-en-page replicate the imaginative circuit traveled by the orator as he recovered the speech inscribed in his memory theater?

It is possible to trace a connection between the ars memorativa and the ars emblematica at the level of metaphor since both use metaphors of drama to describe their habits of mind. "Memory theater" is as commonplace in memory treatises as it is in emblem book titles, such as Jean Jacques Boissard's Theatrum vitae humanae. William Heckscher notes in his Princeton Alciati Companion that "theatrum" often referred to a Renaissance lecture hall for visual instruction, such as an anatomy lesson, or to a place for visual display, such as a museum. Theatrum was also synonymous with pegma ("showpiece"), which was often used to describe dramatic scaffolding, such as a stage. The portable memory theater pictured in John Willis' memory treatise looks like a pegma drawn straight from the pages of a modern-day "do-it-yourself" carpentry book. Pegma also referred to a mobile structure for display, such as a curiosity cabinet, or to a piece that fastened something together, such as a clasp or a "collection" of emblems, or even to a bookshelf. An early modern theatrum likewise referred to a library or, by extension, to a quiet retreat for contemplation. These metaphors of dramatic display and visual education highlight modes of thought figuratively associated with the art of memory and with emblem books, namely reading, reflecting, and remembering.

A number of emblematic theoretical writings underscore the memorial virtue of the emblem. Claude Mignault of Dijon, whose critical commentary was eventually printed with Andreas Alciato's Emblemata (Antwerp: Plantin, 1577), states:

We approve an orator, poet, historian, philosopher, or any other writer if he sparkles and shines with notable maxims like stars, which on being read somewhere are marked with the sign of a finger or horizontal pen so that they are more easily committed to memory, and come to mind more readily when they are needed. Mignault goes on to compare this kind of memorial marking with an emblematic picture accompanied by its textual inscription, though he argues that emblematic memory is not impressed by the visual mark alone. Mignault suggests rather that the juxtaposition of image and word-the emblematic unit-enables the mind to remember its moral lesson:

The emblem, either because of the picture, which is the subject, or through the explanation given by the poem or through the inscription, has some facility in which the mind can be at ease. Mignault, as many early modern emblem theorists, underscores the bimedial semantic of the emblem, namely that it is composed of a word and an image together. The word in an emblem was often called the "spirit" and its image the "body," as Mignault writes, "the analogy between the spirit and the body should be appropriate. (By 'spirit' I mean the motto, contained in one, two, or, at most, a few words; by the term 'body' I wish to designate the image itself.)" This body-spirit metaphor structures the design of the religious emblem book Ashrea (London, 1655), whose title page explicitly links emblems to the art of memory: "Ashrea: Or, The Grove of Beatitudes, Represented in Emblemes: And, by the Art of Memory, To be read on our Blessed Savior Crucifi'd: With Considerations and Meditations suitable to every Beatitude, and to the holy time of Lent." Opposite the title page is pictured a crucified Christ on whose body the reader is to impress Ashrea's arboreal emblems just as an orator is to inscribe his memorial space (locus) with mnemonic images (imagines). Not only has the body of Christ become a memorial space for pious meditation, but the overall scheme of Ashrea also adapts the emblematic spirit-body metaphor to its subject matter-the Word (spirit) made Flesh (body) in Christ. This conceptual transference of emblem theory to Christian theology can be seen, literally, because the emblematic body of Christ is labeled from head to foot with banners textually inscribed with the spiritual beatitudes that are then keyed to specific tree emblems found in the book. The act of reading the tree emblems amounts to planting a symbolic grove of trees that serves as a contemplative garden and as a memorial space to return time and again. The complex emblematic scheme of Ashrea could only be bizarre, if not incomprehensible, to a reader unfamiliar with the art of memory.

Most emblem books are neither as explicitly related to the art of memory as Ashrea nor as theoretically concerned with how emblems work as Claude Mignault. Still, my research in Princeton's emblem collection is leading me to believe that an emblem book invites its reader to enter into its "perspective field," which smacks of a memorial location (locus), and to transfer its "prepackaged" emblematic pictures (imagines) into the reader's own memorial space.

Religious emblem books most obviously place their reader in a meditative posture: the emblems in Herman Hugo's Pia Desideria, for example, are imagined as the "divine addresses" of the reader. Many emblematic pictures, moreover, are framed by elaborate scrollwork that underscores the image as an object, as an object that can placed within the reader's own memory to serve as the catalyst for an interior monologue or as a conversation with the divine. The three theological virtues-faith, hope, and charity-appear repeatedly as a visual motif in religious emblem books and require readers to interpret their iconography as a meditation on St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Emblematic frontispieces of books invite their readers to enter into the dramatic space and thus into the spiritual realm pictured before their eyes. A good example of this is the frontispiece to the Bishops Bible (1568) which pictures Queen Elizabeth as Hope flanked above by Faith and Charity-this bible is currently displayed in the Princeton University Library exhibition, "The Bible in English: Before and After the Hampton Court Conference, 1604," mounted in the Main Gallery of The Firestone Library. While such Tudor royal iconography undoubtedly signals the "hope" Queen Elizabeth brought to the religious turmoil of the English Reformation, it also evokes the dramatic architectural space of memory theaters. Readers confronted with such emblematic frontispieces are positioned much as an orator walking through his memory theater recalling his speech from the symbolic images. The frontispiece of George Wither's Emblemes (London, 1634-35) goes so far as, I believe, to picture the reader inside the emblematic landscape. At one point in his journey to the top of the mountain where vistas of spiritual truth await him, an allegorical figure, poised with hand over heart, seeks the aid of the personified Faith, Hope, and Charity. We might say that an actual reader of Wither's Emblemes is to emulate this allegorical double ganger even as he is to memorize this heuristic frontispiece. In his memory treatise, John Willis specifically recommends title pages and emblems as good mnemonic devices, because emblematic pictures and words enable an orator to remember both conceptual and verbal ideas: "For in all Emblemes, the picture occupying the vpper part of the table, is a Relatiue Idea; and that which is written vnderneath, a Scriptile." Although the act of reading leaves few traces, I am increasingly confident that the art of memory informs the early modern experience of emblem books, and I am grateful to the Friends of the Princeton University Library for awarding me a research grant to study this history of reading.


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