This week, we are taking a look at the first Jesuit emblem book, Veridicus Christianus (Antwerp, 1606), currently on display in our Archives and Special Collections gallery. This volume emphasizes the Society’s investment in thinking in, though, and about visual images that exemplify the supreme mystery of God. Published as a tool of devotion and meditations, it features one hundred chapters that encompass a wide range of topics for reflection. Each chapter centers on an emblem comprising three parts — motto, picture, and epigrams (in Latin, Dutch, and French) — and incorporates an extensive commentary that interprets the emblematic image. Let’s look at one emblem in particular.
Emblem 45 forms part of an extended discussion of the Eight Beatitudes in which the main protagonist is the central figure (labeled A) of Mundus (The Terrestrial World). The epigram’s focus is on Mundus’s actions and attitude:
Latin: “It is not the case that the World spurns these things as mere play-things. She raves, neither seeing what’s true, nor judging what’s just.”
Dutch: “The World mocks such things, construing them as base and low. The world’s a fool who knows not what she says.”
French: “However much the race of men chases away this hateful voice. The world goes on wittering, and her foolish humor respects no laws.”
The things Mundus is seen to spurn are Eucharistic implements (missal and chalice) and arma Christi (scourge, whip, and cross, labeled B) in the pan at left, none of which she has any intention of grasping, as her open handed gesture makes evident. Meanwhile, with her left hand she pushes down on the pan at the right, signaling her preference for its ‘weighty’ and, in this sense, momentous contents (crown, scepter, goblet, die, coins, and moneybag, labeled D). The covetous demon emerging from hell’s mouth to seize these items echoes Mundus’s gesture of reaching and grasping, and thus impugns her delirious and injudicious choice of worldly things. She is presented in a stark contrast to the humble Virgin (E) whilst her action of pressing down is set against St. Michael’s of bearing down upon Lucifer (F).
What do you think? We’ll share a few more emblems on our Instagram feed later this week. Maybe you can help us explain them!