Emblematic Literature in the 17th Century (Agnès Guiderdoni – Elise Gerardy)


General objectives

The main objective of this work package is to bring to light the scholastic foundations that underpin emblematic and symbolic literature in the 17th century in order to complement and thus revise all the processes at work in emblematics, so far mainly understood as either peculiar to the emblematic field (internal features of the genre) or driven by more general poetical and philosophical paradigms such as the Ut pictura poesis or Neo-Platonism (external features of the genre).

We will work on two different corpuses, which we will systematically confront to contemporary scholastic literature: first a corpus of theoretical texts (either as full treatises or as prefaces), and second, a corpus of paradigmatic motives, drawn from the vast body of emblem and device books.

Part I  - Agnès Guiderdoni

Part II – Elise Gerardy

So far, the majority of the research considering the emblematic field has taken for granted the Neo-platonic dimension of allegorical and symbolical representations in the Renaissance, neglecting other major trends of the period, such as the scholastic tradition. However, scholasticism seems to bring new relevant elements, especially because it can help to integrate emblematics into an alternative general theory of the sign, attached to a theory of knowledge.  In particular, the issues concerning relations between text and image and the process of emblems’ signification receive a new philosophical perspective.

Our approach will consist in searching for the scholastic terminology which was used in a large panel of treatises and prefaces for the description of emblematics. We will then examine the possible adaptation / hybridization of notions taken from scholasticism, and the way in which they can provide new tools to understand the “emblematic process” and the supposed effects of emblems and devices on the reader’s soul. Our approach will also clarify the exact status of the Ut pictura poesis “doctrine”; it should thus help to provide a new definition of the emblematic field.

To achieve these goals, we will work on a theoretical corpus written during the seventeenth century. We will pay a particular attention to the work of the Jesuit Claude-François Ménestrier, whose Aristotelian background has been suggested by Judi Loach. His treatises can be considered as both the apogee of emblematic theoretical literature as well as the turn towards its decline. They also coincide with the beginning of the decline of scholastic thought. It is thus a good vantage point to observe the continuities and discontinuities of the issues identified in the project.

Philosophia imaginum

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