With its focus on emblems, the present study directly addresses topics of interest to historians of Netherlandish art. This contribution is due to the significant production of emblem books by Dutch and Flemish authors, to widespread emblematic pedagogy in the Low Countries, and to the intersection of visual and textual strategies across sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European, but most particularly in Netherlandish, art. Enenkel’s volume is comprehensive, spanning the time from 1510, that is, prior to the publication of Alciato’s Emblematum Liber in 1531, to 1610, when he concludes with an investigation of Otto Vaenius’ Emblemata Horatiana. The volume is very well illustrated with literally hundreds of black and white and color images. The chapters represent a collection of individual investigations with a pronounced focus on Neo-Latin emblematics, which is understandable, since the volume resulted from a sub-group by this name in the so-called excellence cluster “Religion und Politik” at the University of Münster. It is an important publication for emblem-adjacent fields.
The volume has an outline-style table of contents, which allows the reader to locate topics and subtopics easily. The organization, however, brings a disadvantage: it only implies connections among the chapters, but the volume lacks transitions to explain them. The preface outlines the questions that gave rise to the study and provides a brief overview of recent scholarship in emblem literature pertaining to Alciato, with which Enenkel frames his study, including recent publications by Pierre Laurens, Florence Vuilleumeir, Charles Hennebry, Robert Cummings, and Andreas Bäßler. These names reappear consistently in the Alciato chapter, as Enenkel tests his own ideas, often contradicting theirs. He correctly notes that the study of emblems has not attracted many Neo-Latin scholars and finds it a weakness of the discipline, especially in light of the predominance of Latin in emblem books, particularly during the sixteenth century. While emblems remain a key source for transmission of the knowledge of antiquity into Renaissance Europe, Enenkel’s broad knowledge of humanism in relation to the genre recognizes the “innovative transmittive potential” [sic] of this bimedial genre with both texts and pictures (xiv).
The volume has seven chapters, divided into four parts. Part I consists of a single, albeit lengthy, chapter, “The Emblematization of Nature and Alciato’s Epigrams” (pp. 5–124). Here Enenkel brings his Neo-Latin erudition to Alciato’s epigrams. The long section in this chapter on curiosities of nature leads directly to a discussion of ekphrases, before moving on to animal poems drawn from the Greek Anthology and the Metamorphoses. Enenkel then demonstrates how Alciato represented various human character types through animals. This chapter, rich in examples and descriptions, concludes that for Alciato two things were particularly important: 1) the small brilliant poems; and 2) the meaning that these poems created. An exploration of why concision and creativity were so important to Alciato would have strengthened his abundant argument. Enenkel concludes that “Comparisons of Alciato’s interpretations with his sources brings to the fore the surprising results that Alciato’s interpretations are often less inventive, individualistic, and novel than those of his sources” (122). A long section on curiosities of nature conveys the author’s penetrating knowledge of zoology and provides a partial bridge to the later chapter, “Early Modern Zoology as a Mirror of Princes: Joachim Camerarius’ Quadrupedes (1595),” which could have been made more explicit. This kind of philological study of Alciato will feed future research in the coming years.
Part II consists of two chapters on the German humanist Johann von Schwarzenberg, each focusing on one of two of his vernacular works: 1) Memorial der Tugent (ca. 1510–1512, published 1534); and his emblematized version of Cicero’s De Officii (1531) as a mirror of political virtues. While others have previously studied Schwarzenberg, Enenkel succeeds in interjecting Schwarzenberg’s works into emblematic discourses, convincingly arguing that the humanist’s manuscript “Memorial der Tugent” was “an emblem book before Alciato” (127). Because Steyner published in Augsburg both of Schwarzenberg’s works as well as the first Alciato edition, Enenkel makes a strong case for the deep interconnection between them as well as the illustrated edition of Alciato’s epigrams in 1531.
Part III dazzles with its exploration of commentaries, a topic which has occupied Enenkel in several other publications. This third section consists of two chapters: one on Stockhammer’s commentaries on Alciato (1551/1556); and one on Hadrianus Junius’s commentaries in his Emblemata (1565). These chapters make excellent reading and work very well together as they embody two different approaches: Stockhammer commented on Alciato’s emblems, while Junius commented on his own. Thus emblem commentaries created encyclopedias of textual, and I might add pictorial, knowledge and thus participated in more widely spread humanist practices. The “why” of this explosion of emblem commentaries could be further developed: these compendia of texts and images, and their sources and related literature, also served as handbooks to create more emblems, as evidenced in the massive emblem encyclopedias of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Part IV joins two somewhat incongruous topics. Chapter 6 discusses “Early Modern Zoology as a Mirror of Princes: Joachim Camerarius’ Quadrupedes (1595),” and Chapter 7 “The Transmission of Knowledge via Pictorial Figurations: Vaenius’ Emblemata Horatiana (1607) as a Manual of Ethics.” Because the former chapter recently appeared in a volume edited by Enenkel in Brill’s series Intersections (2017) and appears here “only with small alterations” (313), this chapter could have been omitted, or else revisions, or a stronger introduction would have provided readers with the greater context of the volume’s overarching themes.
Perhaps of greatest interest to scholars of Netherlandish art is Chapter 7, which provides abundant examples of Vaenius’s profound understanding of his emblematic subjects as both a humanist artist and writer. Largely remembered as the teacher of Peter Paul Rubens, Vaenius (or Otto van Veen) was one of the most influential practitioners of emblems of the century, as attested by the many editions, reprints, and translations of his emblem books: Emblemata Horatiana (1607), Amorum Emblemata (1608) and Amoris Divini Emblemata (1615). Enenkel has shown that working with a contemporary anthology of proverbs, Senteniae et proverbia ex Poetis Latinis (Lyon: Gryphius, 1541), rather than directly with the Horatian texts, provided Vaenius with a flexible and rich foundation for his ever-popular emblems, which were adapted in turn for paintings, engravings, and decorative arts during this period. Enenkel demonstrates vividly how Vaenius translated words into images. It is striking how many of Vaenius’s emblems depict the exact moment of making a decision (373). Enenkel makes the strong argument for the painter’s ability to depict motion in the emblem figures and personifications through gestures, poses, and facial expression. These form a clear link between the artistic expression of motion and the intellectual motion of making a decision – a topic that could be explored more fully in future studies. The final example, Vaenius’s emblem 67, pales in comparison to the preceding, much stronger, interpretations of emblems 13 and 70, which contain paintings within the emblematic images. There Enenkel is at his best. In this chapter he offers excellent micro-studies in his knowledgeable interpretation of select emblems, based on the poetic texts, the draft images, and the final engravings.
Errors in language usage should unfortunately also be mentioned. Only a few are mentioned here to illustrate the point. For example, “Furthermore, they added all kinds of details and, on the opposite, left out details….” should probably substitute “in contrast” or some such wording (132). Similarly, “the underlaying strategies…” should read “underlying strategies…” (131). The following sentence “… all equipped with woodcut images, short poems, and an overseeable portion of prose text…” (230) suggests that the prose text is of manageable size, not too long, or compact in the sense of “überschaubar.” Likewise, “Clearly the open flat of his right hand… should read “the open palm of his right hand…” (422). These errors distract from the high quality of ideas presented here.
This book provides a wealth of material and insights, where Karl Enenkel, an outstanding scholar of Neo-Latin, has brought his knowledge to bear on these topics. This volume is useful, particularly in view of the increasing scholarly exploration of artists with a strong humanistic background. I believe that this compendium will help to explain the networks, studied elsewhere, among European artists and authors of the period. Because the entire volume has no formal conclusion, to draw this cornucopia of examples, individual interpretations, and insightful descriptions together, the reader is left wanting more. A conclusion would have integrated the various chapters more fully and explicitly, and it could have synthesized the main points in this transmission of knowledge. This rich book will be mined by future scholars.
Mara R. Wade
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign