Jesuit Emblematics between Theory and Practice
(6,856 words)

Ralph Dekoninck

Last modified: April 2017

The contribution of the fathers of the Society of Jesus to the flowering of emblematic culture has by now been fully illuminated by a series of studies.1 This essay offers a historiographical overview of those studies along with an outline of the principal elements of this culture, one which only make sense in the wider context of the Jesuits’ relationships to images and to the arts. Recent historiography has played a significant role in reconsidering what had become commonplace: our own society of the image owes much to the Society of Jesus, that other society of the spectacle, which made use of the full range of visual means in its various fields of concerns. From the large baroque altarpiece to the small pious image, from the theatrical stage to the light shows of the nineteenth century, the Jesuits thus established themselves as the instigators of a visual culture that would make a lasting impression on our relationship to the image. Whatever the status of this “modernity” of the Jesuits, it is the great merit of a number of studies that have appeared in these two last decades to have broadened the inquiry by not dwelling simply on the Jesuits’ major artistic commissions, as historians of art had done hitherto, but by taking an interest in the different uses they made of the visible in general.2 In this way, it was possible for the originality of what is rightly called a spirituality and a pedagogy of and by the image to appear and to be appreciated as a rich dimension that came to expression in a special way in Jesuit emblematic culture.

But there is immediately the question of the highly unstable borders of the Jesuits’ contribution to the ars emblematica. The tendency has been to file rather too quickly under the heading of emblem a diverse, even disparate production whose sole common denominator is the use of an image that is of a symbolic nature and/or is the object of a symbolic interpretation. Conversely, there has long been a tendency to confine the emblematic to the restricted space of the book, although—thanks to the Jesuits in particular—it flourished widely in the space of ephemeral festivities as well as in enduring architecture. Accordingly, many researchers have endeavored to reveal the riches of this extremely prolific culture and its links with Jesuit spirituality and pedagogy, as well as with the Jesuits’ highly varied politico-religious interests.

A vital landmark in the recognition of the Jesuits’ importance in the field of the emblematic is the project of creating an inventory of emblem books, carried out from the 1970s on by Richard Dimler, who has accompanied this massive bibliographic research, performed for each Jesuit province, with a series of studies opening the way to yet further research.3 In collaboration with another specialist in the emblematics, Peter Daly, these early efforts resulted in the five volumes of the Jesuit series of the Corpus librorum emblematum which thus constitute today the indispensable tool for any appreciation of the breadth of Jesuit emblematic production.4 What emerges from this inventory is that the Jesuits produced no fewer than 1,700 publications, of which we note five hundred original publications, the remainder being reprints or translations. In the context of emblematic production in the early modern times, these figures show that the Jesuits were responsible for one third of this output, or thirty-four percent to be precise. We may therefore conclude that by putting so much effort into both the theory and the practice of the emblem they played an important role in the European fortunes of the genre. As Dimler and Daly conclude: “they produced more books in this genre than did any other identifiable group of writers, and second, they published in all major European vernacular languages as well as in Latin.”5

It should be emphasized, however, that Dimler and Daly’s bibliographic venture was based on a rather open-ended definition of the emblem, taking care to respect the very plural idea of the emblematic that was current at this time. More precisely, the term “emblem” is understood in the sense that Mario Praz understood it, that is to say as both a literary genre and as a way of thinking.6 From this it follows that their bibliography takes into consideration both emblem books stricto sensu (including collections of emblemata nuda, that is to say, collections without any engravings) and books of devotion and of theology illustrated with emblems, as well as commemorative works preserving memories of ceremonies or of festivities held on various occasions, and finally all the theoretical treatises on symbolic thought. A common denominator has been noted for these works: they all contain or deal with symbolic images, as understood in the widest sense of the term. Hence the utility of the typology they used. It may be questioned, but it has the great merit of bringing some order to a prolific and protean production. And so it becomes clear that there are three major categories of emblem books: the spiritual, the didactic and the heroic (individual or collective). These three categories in fact outline the three main fields of application of Jesuit emblematics: spirituality, teaching, and celebratory spectacles. I will examine them—at the same time introducing a clarification of the theory of the emblem—so as to take into account both the genesis and the development of Jesuit emblematics, which are rooted in the field of spirituality and then flourish in the field of humanistic pedagogy.


Emblem and Spirituality

An important time in the recognition of the central role played by the Jesuits in the emergence of a religious emblematic culture was the conference of the Society for Emblem Studies, held in Louvain in 1996, its main theme devoted to Jesuit emblematics.7 This was followed up two years later by a further conference, this one held in Munich.8 The Louvain conference in particular made it possible to go deeper into what Dimler and Daly’s bibliographic inquiries had already highlighted: the important share of the contribution by the fathers of the Belgian province, divided in 1612 into the Gallo-Belgian and Flandro-Belgian provinces. Indeed, what emerges from the Corpus librorum emblematum is that of the 1,700 publications listed for the entirety of the Jesuit provinces, 350 were the work of Jesuits belonging to the Flandro-Belgian province, amounting to one fifth of the whole of Jesuit emblematic production. Taking into account the fact that the Jesuits were responsible for 34% of emblematic production in the early modern period and that, of the 16,000 members of the Society in 1640, 867 belonged to the Flandro-Belgian province, these 5% produced some 26% of all emblem books published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This shows the importance of the Jesuits of this province in the flourishing of emblematic culture in seventeenth-century Europe. Furthermore, one third of the seventy-two original publications (of the 350 identified) concerns the literature of devotion and of spirituality; this is by far the most represented category and is one of the distinguishing features of the Flandro-Belgian province.

The work of the author of this essay,9 as well as that of other colleagues,10 has been able to go deeper into what other researchers had already emphasized through study of a number of bestsellers, such as the Pia desideria of Herman Hugo (1588–1629)11 or the works of Jeremias Drexel (1581–1638);12 namely, the success of this emblematic production, not just at the level of the Low Countries, but more widely on a European or even global scale through the work of the Jesuit missions, as shown by all the translations, adaptations, and also imitations of these emblem books. Research in this field first of all raised the issue of the relationship between Jesuit spirituality and emblematic literature, between the ars meditandi and the ars emblematica, starting from the work of Ignatius of Loyola (c.1491–1556) in which researchers sought the spiritual foundations for the flourishing of such an emblematic culture.

“Seek and find God in all things”: this saying of the founding father of the Society of Jesus has served as the watchword for a form of spirituality seeking signs of the presence of God in this world. This idea that “the visible should be the sacrament of the invisible”13 was in fact very early on seen as an encouragement to the deployment of a symbolic culture in which the Jesuits were to become masters. Of course, nowhere in Ignatius of Loyola’s work is there any question of the symbolic. Even if a certain spiritual hermeneutic underlies his search for God in everyday experience, he does not invite the meditant to track the hieroglyphs of the creation. His spirituality is nourished rather by a vision of the world that is in some way “pragmatic,” in which each thing and each circumstance are the pretext for pious thoughts, which pursue a single aim: to praise and serve God in such a way as to save one’s soul. Hence the ideal of a meditation embedded in the world does not allow itself to be confused with a hermetic quest for the visible signs of God’s presence.

The fact remains that the heirs to Ignatius made his exhortation to use all things to serve God and to employ these to attain salvation the very mark of a spirituality inviting an emblematic reading of the world, in step with a symbolic conception of the image. On this ground, in truth, they were only aligning themselves with the argument tirelessly repeated by Catholic authors engaged in the debate with Protestants: before being as assemblage of forms and colors, the image is a sign referring to another thing. We must therefore be able to go beyond the phenomenal meaning, for simple visual apprehension is not sufficient to fathom the deep meaning of images, as with visible realities in general, which lead to the knowledge of divine mysteries.

Some have wished to go further in this analogy between Jesuit spirituality and emblematic culture in considering that the architecture of Ignatian meditation comes close to the tripartite structure of the emblem, composed of a motto, an engraving, and a subscriptio.14 This structure thus seems to have appeared very early on as one of the forms best adapted to putting into practice and to propagating the techniques of mental prayer, but also as the means of strengthening the theological framing of meditation. For the threefold device of the emblem might offer the possibility of a methodical transposition of the fundamental structures of the spiritual experience: its technical structure, which is based on the distinction between the three moments of the composition of place, of the consideration of the points, and of the colloquy; its psychological structure, which calls one after the other upon the three faculties of the soul (memory, intelligence, and will); its theological structure, which represents the spiritual itinerary of the Christian as the succession of the three stages of purgation, illumination, and union.

In this way some wished to see a proto-emblematic work in the foundational monument of Jesuit illustration, which was more or less inspired by the Spiritual Exercises: the famous Evangelicae historiae imagines published in Antwerp in 1593 by the Jesuits and accompanied, a year later, by Jerónimo Nadal’s (1507–80) Adnotationes et meditationes.15 This work, whose global diffusion is well known today, has quite naturally attracted the attention of researchers. The work of Pierre-Antoine Fabre and of Walter S. Melion in particular has revealed the exegetical and meditative procedures employed both by the artists who designed and created these engravings and by Nadal’s meditations, which make use of all their meaningful richness. In this respect, we might speak of an emblematic hermeneutic, the analogy with emblem books being reinforced by the tripartite architecture of the plates. In truth, Nadal’s work is evidence rather of a syncretism between several bibliographic genres: emblem books, books of hours, and “figures of the Bible.” Nevertheless, the Evangelicae historiae imagines would go on to inspire a series of Jesuit authors in the Low Countries who in turn would mine the vein of collections of meditations whose illustrations might take the form of narrative images or of symbolic images. It is this last category that demands our attention here.

Alongside illustrated meditations on the life of Christ, Jesuit emblematics was to flourish above all in the ground of the “immaterial things” or of the “invisible realities” to which Ignatius devoted the entire first week of the Exercises. In general, his successors did not preserve this chronological distinction. On the other hand, they did retain the two modes of the composition of place: on the one hand, that of the “corporeal things, or some story,” and on the other hand that of “spiritual things, without body and which cannot be imagined.”16 For these “spiritual things” we need to be helped “by some resemblance very close and conforming to the nature of the matter; for we can conceive of spiritual things only in the manner of corporeal things.”17 We thus leave here the domain of the allegoria in factis, that it to say the domain of the symbolism of historical events recounted by scriptures that an exegete such as Nadal strives to fathom, to enter into the field of the allegoria in verbis, or the domain of images created from the human imagination with a view to reporting on the invisible, “poetic fictions or material resemblance”18 in which the symbolic relationship is no longer established between two referents (the Old and New Testaments) but between what is said or painted and what is meant.

If the composition of the res incorporea seeks the same goal as that of the res corporea—namely, that of disposing the spirit to apply itself to the matter on which it must meditate—it differs as to its mode of figuration, a difference which has important repercussions on the nature and the ends of the meditation. In order to grasp invisible realities, the spirit makes of them a representation that makes no claim whatsoever on resemblance to the thing signified, any more than letters give an image of the thing they denote. While this is a higher mode of understanding than the simple consideration of visible things, the methods of prayer often warn against the excesses of the imagination, which is all the more free when it works on invisible realities. The imagination runs the risk at all times of “building castles in Spain” (Jean Bourgeois, 1574–1653), of taking “illusory phantoms for the things themselves” (Luis de la Puente, 1554–1624). Even more than in the case of visible contemplation, the material image must therefore restrain the flights of the imagination as well as support its weaknesses. Its main function is to teach by incarnating ideas: “This manner of simulating and painting is highly suitable for teaching: for it puts the thing before the eyes by giving it body.” And this view also helps the memory “through the vivid impression it engraves in the soul.”19 To the mnemonic and didactic functions, Louis Richeome (1544–1625)  adds that of the delight taken “from the imitation and the representation of an invisible thing.”20 Although more understated in spiritual literature, this last function must not be neglected if we are to understand the interpretative games invented by Jesuit authors and their illustrators with the aim of teaching at the same time as delighting.21

It was in this vein that a number of Jesuit authors of the Flandro-Belgian province were to distinguish themselves. Among them, we may mention a precursor, Jan David (1546–1613),22 who would be followed by Antoine Sucquet (1574–1627) and Herman Hugo, the latter orientating this spiritual production in a more clearly emblematic direction, as also would other works from the Jesuit colleges of Antwerp and Brussels. A special place must be reserved for Heman Hugo, whose bestseller, the Pia desideria, has already been the subject of many studies.23 This production demonstrates great inventiveness, takes many liberties in relation to the genre of the emblem and has been distributed on an international scale. Rather than review it, as Daly and Dimler do in their survey,24 it seems more relevant here to give an account of the thinking on the subject of the symbolic image that underlies this production and came to be theorized by the Jesuits themselves.25


Theory of the Emblem

Indeed, the main theoreticians of the ars or philosophia symbolica in the seventeenth century were to be found in the ranks of the Jesuits (Richeome, Nicolas Caussin [1583–1651], Athanasius Kircher [1602–80], Maximilian van der Sandt [1578–1656], Jakob Masen [1606–81], Claude-François Ménestrier [1631–1705], to name only the leading figures). The work of Dimler, Spica, Vuilleumier, Dekoninck, and Loach, among others, has made it possible to identify more clearly their contributions to this field.26 These authors have shown the way in which Jesuit iconological thought had its starting point in reflection on the original language of the world as identified with the image: the infancy of language is the image, an image which at the very beginning formed one body with the world, pure reflection of the divine, before the fall threw a veil of mystery over the creation. In this archaeological perspective, it was possible to see the hieroglyph as the form closest to the ancient Adamic language. As the means of access to divine truths, hieroglyphic writing, a scripto-visual compound, represents the most faithful vestige of this sublime language. But rather than seeking to recreate this language, the Jesuits aimed rather to found, on the model of the perfect sign that the hieroglyph represents, a lingua universalis which would gain recognition through its greater eloquence. Here we touch on an essential point in the Jesuit contribution to the theory of the symbol, a contribution that makes them, on the one hand, the heirs of the early humanists who were already inspired by this ideal of the perfect language based on the construction of a logical symbolization, and on the other the initiators of a more clearly rhetorical conception of the symbol, whose effects would henceforth count for more than ontological or hermeneutic value. Their speculations on divine language and its mode of transmission by the hieroglyphic sign are in fact directed less towards the contemplation of truths revealed beneath the veil of divine symbols, present in nature or in scripture, than towards the constitution of a new language, based on the model of ancient meaningful images and turned towards effective action in the world.

More fundamentally, we see here a displacement of hermeneutic reflection on the original language towards a reflection on the eloquence of the symbolic image, which now has no more than a tenuous link with the prisca theologia, that is to say, this primordial knowledge granted by God to men and transmitted in obscure fashion after the fall. Assimilated to the figures of discourse, the symbolic image thus steadily leaves the theological and exegetical field of the biblical figura to reach that of rhetorical persuasion, adapted to the new goals which have become those of a conquering church, totally engaged in the propagatio fidei. Whatever form the “figure of similitude” takes (symbol, enigma, emblem, parable, apologue or hieroglyph) it constitutes the touchstone of eloquence. The symbol is no more than an ornament set in discourse to increase its splendor, splendor which no longer offers itself as the distant reflection of the divine word so much as the mark of human inventiveness seeking to clothe the truth rather than unveil it, in such a way as to make the truth as pleasant as possible and by that very quality as persuasive as it can be. In other words, the symbol is no longer a mode of being for the truth, but a pleasant means of revealing it. The symbolic image solicits the imaginative power of the spectator-reader, his free “penetration of spirit,” inviting him to a reading of the world that is no longer metaphysical but poetic, whose ambition remains fundamentally moral, an ambition which no longer has much in common with the gnosticism of the sapientia hieroglyphica. It has become a means, not an end. It acts on the senses so as to deliver all the better the sense, understood at one and the same time as both meaning and direction, for it must be just as effective as it is meaningful. We thus move away from a neo-Platonic conception that places high value on intuitive knowledge of the truth revealed by the image, and draw closer to a conception that is logical and rhetorical. If there is a theoria of the symbol, it is therefore no longer in the etymological sense of a contemplation of the truth that would incarnate itself in it attributes, but in the sense of a construction of a knowledge that is no longer of or on the image, but by the image.

The imago figurata, to employ Masen’s generic category, incarnates fairly well this new tendency, which was to find one of its main fields of expression in the emblematic. By playing on paradoxes and oppositions, by introducing a tension between the simile and the dissimile, the emblem retains a relative obscurity, the main effect of which is to take hold of the gaze so as immediately to incite it to the ingenious deciphering of the significationes translatae. For rather than immobilizing the gaze, fascinated by the obscure beauty of the object represented, the figured image helps it pass over appearances, helps it discover the intelligible sense beyond the sensible. It is true that, through an excess of obscurity, the effect of fascination may be such that the gaze cannot release itself from the mystery of the image, which is the reason why the obscurity must remain relative, that is to say, leave a corner of the veil lifted in order to allow a glimpse of the hidden truth. The ingenuity of symbolic compositions, whose purpose is above all persuasive, must never win out over the clarity demanded by the transmission of the hidden-revealed truth. The major concern of Jesuit iconologists was no longer to address, in the manner of the priests of ancient Egypt, a public of initiates, alone able to understand the mysteries hidden beneath the veil of symbols, but to offer a universal message dispensing, in a pleasant and witty form, a teaching that was essentially moral in nature. For it is to a reform of life, both interior and exterior, that the creation and interpretation of symbols must lead, not to some ecstatic revelation of ultimate truths. The aesthetic of the figure is always subjected to an ethical goal. The pleasure aroused by the jeux d’esprit must in the end contribute to docere and ducere, to the teaching of the truths of the faith and to the conduct of a Christian life in the world.

The authors of the Society thus contributed to laying down the foundations of a modern iconology that aims to implement the synthesis between ancient heritage and Christian tradition, between profane symbolism and sacred symbolism. Their works are marked by a notable displacement of hermeneutic, or even hermetic, preoccupations towards considerations of an aesthetic and ethical nature. We move imperceptibly from a sacred science to a profane art, one which consists in inventing and in composing images intended to stimulate the ingenuity of the decipherer and to demonstrate the talent of the creator. From an exegetical science of the comprehension and explicatio of the divine signs written in the creation and in scriptures, we slip towards a “poetic” art offering to the eye of the spirit, but also of the body, images that are pleasing and loaded with a high truth, images of which the world and the Bible offer no more than models.

This theorization of the emblem and of the symbolic image in general developed concomitantly with growth in the practice of the emblematic in the Jesuit colleges, where the rhetorical and humanist anchoring was much more charged than in emblematized spiritual literature.


Emblem and Pedagogy

While most work in the studies devoted to Jesuit art has sought to give an account of the roots of artistic practices in the soil of Ignatian spirituality, favorable to the flourishing of a visual and sensitive piety, interest in a broader visual culture, impregnated with humanism and closely linked to the Society’s pedagogical work, has only more recently become apparent. In particular, such an interest intensified with the rediscovery and the examination of manuscripts preserving the memory of the thematic exhibitions of emblems (affixiones) held once a year in the Jesuit colleges by students of poetry and rhetoric on the occasion of what today would be called “open days,” shop windows of Jesuit pedagogy facing toward the town.27 It is thanks in particular to the exhibition held in Brussels in 1996 on the occasion of the Society of Emblem Studies conference that attention was drawn to one of the richest collections of manuscripts preserving the memory of these affixiones.28 This unique collection, which covers the period from 1630 to 1685, constitutes a mine of information of almost 2,000 emblems and the same number of accompanying texts. It testifies not only to the importance of ephemeral emblematic culture, to which we will return, but also to the role played in the Jesuit curriculum by a certain pedagogy of and by the image.

These exhibitions were designed to reveal a doctrinae specimen—that is to say, a sample of the quality of Jesuit teaching—to the parents of pupils but also to high political and ecclesiastical dignitaries, as well as to all the inhabitants of the town.29 As Karel Porteman shows, the practice of emblematic composition was above all “an academic event.”30 As such, it aimed first of all to teach students a multitude of skills that emblematic composition alone made it possible to reconcile. More precisely, as the Ratio studiorum shows,31 pupils in the colleges had to learn, on the one hand, to put into images the maxims of Christian and ancient wisdom as well as the truths of moral and speculative theology and, on the other hand, to transpose into language these same images as well revealing their meaning; and all this was to be done while respecting the logical rules of Scholasticism as well the oratorical rules of rhetoric. The pupil therefore had to apply himself to translating one medium into another, starting from the principle that all truth offers itself to be seen, and that the visible offers itself to be heard and understood through eloquent speech. In fact, in order to increase in visibility and hence in persuasive force, truth must be clothed by rhetoric. Now, this principle is much more than a simple pedagogical recipe; it is rooted in an entirely incarnated Christian faith and in the Aristotelian credo according to which “nothing can enter the soul except through the senses.” To these theological and epistemological truths must be added the strictly rhetorical and ancient principle of the utile dulci: the pleasing must be joined to the useful with a view to teaching at the same time as amusing; an alliance of docere and of delectare, of knowledge and pleasure, the pleasure of knowledge which seeks to test itself and express itself in this culture of the symbolic image that the Jesuits not only adopted but promoted and diffused widely throughout Europe. The master word of this emblematic practice is alacritas (vivacity, ingenuity, enthusiasm), coupled with copia and with varietas; that it to say, the two pillars of a flowery rhetoric that seeks to surprise through varied and unexpected metaphors.

The most representative monument in book form of this humanist practice of the emblem is without doubt the famous Imago primi saeculi Societatis Jesu celebrating the first centenary of the existence of the Society of Jesus. Since this is a vital landmark in the history of Jesuit emblematics—even if this is not just an emblem book—and even more so in the history of the Society of Jesus, it has quite naturally attracted the attention of many researchers.32 It allows us to bring this article to a conclusion since it is nicely positioned at the crossroads between several traditions, just as it testifies to a dimension that has only recently been revealed: namely, that the emblems it contains were the subject of an affixio during the festivities of 1640. It is thus representative of this culture of the spectacle that the Jesuits would promote, developing in it the use of the emblem in all its forms—the term “emblem” often being used in the literature of the period to describe a wide variety of combinations between texts and images—and for ends that were both religious and political, to such an extent that it has been possible to consider that emblems were “at the origin of the Jesuit festival tradition first of all because of their performing and decorative role in ephemeral events.”33

For the 1640 Antwerp festivities, the emblems created by the teachers and pupils of the college took the form of actual paintings, some vestiges of which have been found in the church of Saint Charles Borromeo (formerly the church of Saint Ignatius) in Antwerp.34 They reproduce in color a number of the emblems of the Imago, adding putti that symbolize Amor divinus. Documents from this period tell us that these paintings were arranged within each bay of the nave and that each one was supported by angels, whose wax heads had been modelled on the faces of the college’s pupils and in a style that resembled the angels painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) on the ceilings of the church’s side aisles. The account adds that the resemblance was so strong that parents could even recognize their own children. We thus discover the way in which these emblems came to life, so to speak, by mingling with other ornamental devices and with other figurative media, not to mention the spoken words of the pupils giving a commentary on the emblems.

The volume of the Imago thus fixes for posterity an ephemeral, living emblematic practice, one in which the Jesuits were to become masters and that Ménestrier would theorize in the second half of the seventeenth century, while employing this practice in celebrations both political and religious. This really is one of the most fertile areas of emblematic production, an area whose breadth and richness we are only now beginning to come to terms with. Such a practice attests to the vitality of the emblematic at a point in history when humanist and Christian symbolism were about to become subject to criticism35 that would end, in the eighteenth century, by winning out over this ars symbolica. The Jesuits would then be accused, first by the Jansenists and later by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, of being like the “obscure” symbols they had cultivated for more than a century—as if this symbolic culture had now become an indelible part of their image.

For more bibliographical information, consult Boston College Jesuit Bibliography: The New Sommervogel Online (NSO).


^ Back to text1. For a general historical and historiographical synthesis, see Anne-Elisabeth Spica, “Les jésuites et l’emblématique,” XVIIe siècle 237 (2007): 633–51 and G. Richard Dimler, “Jesuit Emblem Books: A Selective Overview of Research Past and Present,” in Dimler, Studies in Jesuit Emblem (New York: AMS Press, 2007), 4–54. Dimler, “Jesuitische Emblembücher: Zum Forschungsstand,” in Sinnbild-Bildsinn: Emblembücher der Stadtbibliothek Trier, ed. Michael Schunck (Trier: Die Bibliothek, 1991), 169–74. For a recent and quite complete bibliography on the Jesuit emblematics see Peter M. Daly and G. Richard Dimler, The Jesuit Emblem in the European Context (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2016). G. Richard Dimler, The Jesuit Emblem: A Bibliography of Secondary Literature with Select Commentary and Descriptions (New York: AMS Press, 2005).

^ Back to text2. See among others Pierre-Antoine Fabre, “Histoire des arts visuels,” Revue de synthèse 120 (1999), 462–68. Gauvin Alexander Bailey, “Le style jésuite n’existe pas: Jesuit Corporate Culture and the Visual Arts,” in The Jesuits: Culture, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540–1773, eds. John W. O’Malley, et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 38–89. Evonne Levy, “Early Modern Jesuit Arts and Jesuit Visual Culture: A View from the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Jesuit Studies 1, no. 1 (2014): 66–87, doi: 10.1163/22141332-00101005. For a larger bibliography on the topic, see Ralph Dekoninck, Ad imaginem. Statuts, fonctions et usages de l’image dans la littérature spirituelle jésuite du XVIIe siècle (Geneva: Droz, 2005).

^ Back to text3. The majority of his articles devoted to the Jesuit emblematics are gathered in G. Richard Dimler, Studies in Jesuit Emblem (New York: AMS Press, 2007). See also the Festschrift dedicated to him: Pedro F. Campa and Peter M. Daly, eds., Emblematic Images and Religious Texts. Studies in Honor of G. Richard Dimler, S.J. (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2010).

^ Back to text4. Peter M. Daly and G. Richard Dimler, Corpus librorum emblematum: The Jesuit Series; Part One (A–D), (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997); Part Two (D–E) (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000); Part Three (F–L) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); Part Four (L–P) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005); Part Five (P–Z) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).

^ Back to text5. Daly and Dimler, The Jesuit Emblem in the European Context, 23.

^ Back to text6. Mario Praz proposed the first attempt of a synthesis and a bibliography devoted to the Jesuit emblematics in his Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1964), 134–69.

^ Back to text7. John Manning and Marc van Vaeck, eds., The Jesuits and the Emblem Tradition: Selected Papers of the Leuven International Emblem Conference (18–23 August, 1996) (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999).

^ Back to text8. Peter M. Daly, G. Richard Dimler, and Rita Haub, eds., Emblematik und Kunst der Jesuiten in Bayern: Einfluss und Wirkung (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000).

^ Back to text9. See in particular Ralph Dekoninck, Ad imaginem: Statuts, fonctions et usages de l’image dans la littérature spirituelle jésuite du XVIIe siècle (Geneva: Droz, 2005).

^ Back to text10. See the publications by Agnès Guiderdoni and especially her forthcoming book: De la figure scripturaire à la figure emblématique: Emblématique et spiritualité (1540–1740) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, forthcoming).

^ Back to text11. Mark Carter Leach, “The Literary and Emblematic Activity of Herman Hugo S.J. (1588–1629)” (PhD diss. Michigan University, 1987). Gabriele Dorothea Rödter, “Via piae animae”: Grundlagenuntersuchung zur emblematischen Verknüpfung von Bild und Wort in den “pia desideria” (1624) des Hermann Hugo S.J. (1588–1629) (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992).

^ Back to text12. Heribert Breidenbach, “Der Emblematik Jeremias Drexel S.J. (1581–1638) mit einer Einführung in der Jesuitenemblematik und einer Bibliographie der Jesuitenemblembücher” (Phd diss., Urbana University, 1970).

^ Back to text13. Jean-Marie Valentin, Les jésuites et le théâtre (1554–1680): Contribution à l’histoire culturelle du monde catholique dans le Saint-Empire romain germanique (Paris: Desjonquères, 2001), 36.

^ Back to text14. See Jean-Marc Chatelain, “Lire pour croire: mises en texte de l’emblème et art de méditer au XVIIe siècle,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartes 150 (1992): 348–49.

^ Back to text15. Jerónimo Nadal, Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia quae in sacrosancto missae sacrificio toto anno leguntur… (Antwerp: Martin Nutius, 1594). I am only referring here to the major monographs on the topic: Pierre-Antoine Fabre, Ignace de Loyola: Le lieu de l’image; Le problème de la composition de lieu dans les pratiques spirituelles et artistiques jésuites de la seconde moitié du XVIe siècle (Paris: Vrin/EHESS, 1992), 163–239 and 263–95. Paul Rheinbay, Biblische Bilder für den inneren Weg: Das Betrachtungsbuch des Ignatius-Gefährten Hieronymus Nadal (Egelsbach: Hänsel-Hohenhausen, 1995). Maj-Brit Wadell, Evangelicae historiae imagines: Entstehungsgeschichte und Vorlagen (Göteborg: Acta Univ. Gothoburgensis, 1985). Walter S. Melion, “The Art of Vision in Jerome Nadal’s Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia,” in Jerome Nadal, Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels, vol. 1 : The Infancy Narratives (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2003), 1–96. Walter S. Melion, “‘Quis non intelliget hoc voluisse Christu’: The Significance of the Redacted Images in Jerónimo Nadal’s Adnotationes et meditationes in evangelia of 1595,” in Jerome Nadal, Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels, Cumulative Index (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2014), 1–99. Walter S. Melion, The Meditative Art: Studies in the Northern Devotional Print, 15501625 (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2009). Andrea Catellani, Lo sguardo e la parola: Saggio di analisi della letteratura spirituale illustrata (Florence: Franco Cesati, 2010).

^ Back to text16. Jean Bourgeois, Mystères de la vie, passion et mort de Jésus Christ Nostre Seigneur, réduits en devotes méditations et aspirations (Antwerp: Henry Aertssens, 1622), 21.

^ Back to text17. Ibid.

^ Back to text18. Jakob Masen, Speculum imaginum veritatis occultae (Cologne: J.A. Kinckius, 1650), 74.

^ Back to text19. Louis Richeome, Trois discours pour la religion catholique: Des miracles, des saincts et des images (Bordeaux: S. Millanges, 1597), 577.

^ Back to text20. Ibid.

^ Back to text21. See Ralph Dekoninck, “Beauté et émotion: Du statut incertain du plaisir dans la littérature spirituelle illustrée des seizième et dix-septième siècles,” in The Stone of Alciato: Literature and Visual Culture in the Low Countries; Essays in Honour of Karel Porteman, ed. Marc Van Vaeck, Hugo Brems and Geert Claassens (Leuven: Peeters, 2003), 945–60.

^ Back to text22. See the forthcoming book by Walter S. Melion, Imago veridica: The Visual Form, Function, and Argument of Joannes David, S.J.’s Four Latin Emblem Books (Leiden: Brill, 2017).

^ Back to text23. See note 11.

^ Back to text24. Daly and Dimler, The Jesuit Emblem in the European Context.

^ Back to text25. While this vast field of Jesuit symbology has been the subject of occasional studies, it still awaits a major overview. See for a first attempt: Karl Enenkel, Walter Melion and Wietse de Boer, eds., Jesuit Image Theory, 15401740 (Leiden: Brill, 2016).

^ Back to text26. Anne-Elisabeth Spica, Symbolique humaniste et emblématique: L’évolution et les genres (15801700) (Paris: Champion, 1996). Florence Vuilleumier Laurens, La raison des figures symboliques à la Renaissance et à l’âge classique: Études sur les fondements philosophiques, théologiques et rhétoriques de l’image (Geneva: Droz, 2000). Dekoninck, Ad imaginem, 19–136. Richard Dimler, “Jakob Masen’s Imago figurata: From Theory to Practice,” Emblematica 6 (1992): 283–306. See also Walter S. Melion, Introduction: The Jesuit Engagement with the Status and Functions of the Visual Image, in Jesuit Image Theory, 15401740, 1–49. Gérard Sabatier, ed., Claude-François Ménestrier, les jésuites et le monde des images (Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2009). Sophie Conte, ed., Nicolas Caussin: Rhétorique et spiritualité à l’époque de Louis XIII (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2007). Annette Kappeler and Nicola Gess, eds., “Images d’action”: Claude-François Ménestrier’s Theoretical Writings on Images: Excerpts, Translations, and Commentary; Die bildtheoretischen Schriften Claude-François Ménestriers; Auswahl, Übersetzung und Kommentar (Munich: Fink, 2017).

^ Back to text27. See Ralph Dekoninck, “‘La chose elle-même aide bien mieux que ne le font les mots’: La Bildung jésuite au regard des affixiones du collège bruxellois,” in Quatre siècles de présence jésuite à Bruxelles: Vier eeuwen Jezuïeten te Brussel, ed. Alain Deneef and Xavier Rousseaux (Brussels: Prosopon, 2012), 139–52. Bruna Filippi, “Le théâtre des emblèmes: Rhétorique et scène jésuite,” Diogène 175 (1996): 63–78. Judi Loach, “The Teaching of Emblematics and Other Symbolic Imagery by Jesuits within Town Colleges in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century France,” in The Jesuits and the Emblem Tradition, 161–86. Karel Porteman, “The Use of the Visual in Classical Jesuit Teaching and Education,” Paedagogica historica, 36/1 (2000): 179–96. Alison Saunders, “Make the Pupils Do It Themselves: Emblems, Plays and Public Performances in French Jesuit Colleges in the Seventeenth Century,” in The Jesuits and the Emblem Tradition, 187–206. Alison Saunders, The Seventeenth-Century French Emblem: A Study in Diversity (Geneva: Droz, 2000), 109–60.

^ Back to text28. Karel Porteman, Emblematic Exhibitions (affixiones) at the Brussels Jesuit College (16301685): A Study of the Commemorative Manuscripts (Royal Library, Brussels) (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996). See also Grégory Ems, L’emblématique au service du pouvoir. La symbolique du prince chrétien dans les expositions emblématiques du collège des jésuites de Bruxelles sous le gouvernorat de Léopold-Guillaume (16471656) (Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain, 2016). Grégory Ems, “Manuscript Circulation in the Society of Jesus: Student Emblems from the Brussels Jesuit College,” Emblematica 21 (2014): 161–205. Grégory Ems, “Variété des ‘mises en scène’ emblématiques dans la province jésuite flandro-belge au XVIIe siècle,” Dix-septième siècle 269 (2015): 705–34. Ralph Dekoninck and Grégory Ems, “Former l’image, former à l’image: Emblématique et pédagogie jésuite au XVIIe siècle,” in Images et enseignement: Perspectives historiques et didactiques, ed. Florence Ferran, Ève-Marie Rollinat-Levasseur, and François Vanoosthuyse (Paris: Champion, 2017). Grégory Ems, “Un nouvel an chez les jésuites: Étude du manuscrit emblématique conçu à l’occasion de la visite de Léopold-Guillaume le 1er janvier 1650 au collège bruxellois de la Compagnie de Jésus,” Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 93 (2015): 693–729.

^ Back to text29. Ratio atque institutio studiorum Societatis Iesu (1586, 1591, 1599), ed. Ladislaus Luckács (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1986), 137.

^ Back to text30. Porteman, Emblematic Exhibitions, 107.

^ Back to text31. See Regulae praefecti studiorum inferiorum, 3 ; Regulae professoris rhetoricae, 12, 15 et 18 ; Regulae professoris humanitatis, 10 ; Regulae academiae rhetorum et humanistarum, 3 et 7.

^ Back to text32. Lydia Salviucci Insolera, L’Imago primi saeculi (1640) e il significato dell’immagine allegorica nella compagnia di Gesù: Genesi e fortuna del libro (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2004). John W. O’Malley, ed., Art, Controversy, and the Jesuits: The Imago primi saeculi (1640) (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2015).

^ Back to text33. Rosa de Marco, “From parts to whole and back again: The emblem system in the French Jesuit Festivals,” in Emblems: Their Origins and Their Impact; Selected Proceedings of the 10th International Conference of the Society for Emblem Studies (27 July – 1 August 2014 Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel), ed. Ingrid Höpel and Simon McKeown  (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017), 801–22.

^ Back to text34. See Marc Van Vaeck, Toon Van Houdt and Lien Roggen, “The Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu as Emblematic Self-Presentation and Commitment,” in Art, Controversy, and the Jesuits, 127–99, see in particular 175–81. Lien Roggen, “Celebration Time: ‘The Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu’ and its Dutch translation as Part of the Festivities of 1640 commemorating the Jesuit Order’s Centenary,” in The InternationalEmblem: From Incunabula to the Internet, ed. Simon Mckeown (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 170–200. Ralph Dekoninck and Caroline Heering, “La société du spectacle: Jésuites et Jansénistes face aux arts éphémères et spectaculaires,” Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa 50 (2014): 515–20.

^ Back to text35. The Imago primi saeculi will crystalize these criticisms. See Salviucci Insolera, L’Imago primi saeculi, 61–83.

Cite this page
Ralph Dekoninck, “Jesuit Emblematics between Theory and Practice”, in: Jesuit Historiography Online. Consulted online on 26 June 2017 <>
First published online: 2016

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