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  • Die Domänen des Emblems: Außerliterarische Anwendungen der Emblematik
  • Simon McKeown
Gerhard F. Strasser and Mara R. Wade, eds. Die Domänen des Emblems: Außerliterarische Anwendungen der Emblematik. Wolfenbütteler Arbeitskreis für Barockforschung 39. Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz Verlag, 2004. 308 pp. index. illus. €74. ISBN: 3-447-05066-7.

In 1522, nine years before the appearance of the first emblem book, Emblematum liber, its author, Andrea Alciato, explained in a now-famous letter to Francesco Calvo that he had compiled a collection of epigrams entitled Emblemata: [End Page 1270] these literary exercises, he said, might assist painters, goldsmiths, and founders in designing trademarks or badges to be fixed upon hats. A quarter of a century later, with Alciato's emblems having become a publishing phenomenon, the idea of a wider function for the emblem arose again in the preface to the first posthumous edition of the book (1550). His emblems were recommended for "anyone [who] wishes to fill out what is empty, adorn what is bare . . . inscribe or engrave on the walls of his house, the glass in his windows, on curtains, hangings, pictures, vases, statues, signet rings, garments, a table, the back of a couch, armour, a sword, in short on every piece of equipment, anywhere at all."

Die Domänen des Emblems: Außerliterarische Anwendungen der Emblematik focuses upon just such uses of the emblem in contexts the editors define as "beyond the book" (7). In taking this approach, the volume redresses the imbalance evident in older evaluations of the emblem by Mario Praz, Rosemary Freeman, Arthur Henkel, Albrecht Schöne, and others in which printed books were valorized as principal conduits for this visual-verbal genre. The thirteen essays in this volume, eleven of which are written in German and two in English, survey an impressive range of what have been termed "angewandte Emblematik," embracing the use of emblems in architecture, painting, mnemnotechnics, propaganda, and the decorative arts. What is refreshing about the studies is their concern to go beyond straightforward source hunting for applied emblematic schemes. Indeed, one contribution, Sabine Mödersheim's essay on emblems painted in the Goldenen Saal of the Nuremberg town hall, describes how symbols designed as denotative of the relationship between burghers and citizens only came to be later engraved and published in two emblem books, an unusual case of applied emblems enjoying primacy over their printed counterparts.

Nuremberg is also the backdrop to Mara R. Wade's investigation into the role emblems played in that city's peace festivities marking the end of the Thirty Years' War. Wade's analysis of one recurrent motif in particular, that of the rainbow arching over the city, is a subtle and sensitive dissection of how emblematic invention could consolidate civic identity through tendentious typological and iconographical nuances. Carsten Bach-Nielsen presents a fascinating account of the competitive impulse in seventeenth-century Danes when interpreting Norse runes as "the hieroglyphs of the North" (158), beginning with the work of the celebrated historiographer Ole Worm. Of interest too are the protoemblematic activities of the enigmatic Adam van Düren, an itinerant stonecarver who yoked proverbial word and symbolic image together in a fashion redolent of later emblematic methodology.

Claudie Balavoine addresses the vexed matter of how far motifs within paintings should be open to emblematic reading, taking as case studies two portraits by Hans Holbein. Her analysis of one, the Longford Castle portrait of Erasmus of 1523, succeeds in overthrowing earlier readings of the carved capital surmounting the pillar bedside the seated Erasmus. Balavoine demonstrates that what has been thought to be a siren, and therefore emblematic of Erasmus's eloquence and spirit of amicitia, is in fact a phytomorphic figure inspired by the Domus Aurea in Rome [End Page 1271] and mediated through the 1521 illustrated edition of Vitruvius. Less convincing is her discussion of the carafe standing on the bookshelf behind Erasmus. This she associates with paraphernalia found in images of Saint Jerome in his study, suggesting that Erasmus may have wanted to masquerade "as a secular St Jerome" (108), a strained conclusion that seems indebted to Lisa Jardine's well-known book, Erasmus, Man of Letters: The Construction...


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