1> Delivering sententiae to the masses in early-modern Europe was critical to governance and stability. But as the power élite was quick to discover, the spoken word from pulpits had limited impact; basic moral and ethical principles were conveyed more effectively through articulate images. Owing to low literacy rates and limited access to printed text, entire populations soon received instruction through the more stimulating sensory medium of the visual arts: paintings, sculpture, prints (woodcuts, etchings), emblem-books, symbols, historiated initials, and the like. The emblem was a particularly robust genre, and entire books of these enigmatic designs (early anthologies, really) soon established themselves as reliable guides, competing favorably with such specialized texts as bibles, missals, breviaries, hagiographies, and the perfunctory conduct manual. Emblems in printed books were not merely a species of decorative book arts, they were serious content of a higher order: emblems interpreted the world for readers, telling them what to value and avoid, telling them how to live. Emblems also offered readers maxims and principles for private meditation; and, of special interest, emblems exercised readers in the specialized art of deconstructing visual text.
From northern Europe’s most famous emblem book,
George Wither’s Collection of Emblemes
(London, 1635), Book 2, emblem 49.
In Peter M. Daly’s Emblem (2014), Figure 4.7, page 77.
With permission, Scolar Fine Art Ltd / Ashgate Publishing Group Ltd.
7> Owing to the breadth of Daly’s approach and his book’s many handsome illustrations, this book will attract the interest and respect of specialists and non-specialists alike. Specialists will admire its rigor, intelligence, and organization; generalists will appreciate Daly’s sensible guidance on the challenging process of emblem-reading. Applause, all around.