Art, Controversy, and the Jesuits: The Imago primi saeculi (1640). Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts Series, volume 12, edited by John W. O’Malley, S.J.

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

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Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2015. Pp. x + 771 + dvd. Hb, $120.

How does an echo precede a sound? Although today this question may read like a Zen koan, it was the query the Jesuit Josse Andries (Jodocus Andreas, 1588–1658) sent in response to the request of Jan De Tollenaere (1582–1643), provincial of the Flemish province of the Society of the Jesus, when asked to provide a frank critique of the Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu (158, 174). The Imago was compiled to commemorate the first centennial of the Society of Jesus by an all-star team from the Flemish province under the principal editorship of Jean de Bolland (Bollandus, 1596–1665). Father Andries’s specific concern may have been the illogical sequence of a motto’s metaphor for Jesuit obedience (#192), but his riddle-like comment also captures the Imago’s preferred mode of presenting both a representational portrait, and to a degree, the reenactment of the historical performance of the order’s identity. As a book by Jesuits for Jesuits, few texts are as revealing of how Jesuits in early modern northern Europe understood themselves and what bound them together as a community in their first century of existence, when they numbered 16,000 members across forty provinces worldwide. At 952 folio pages in an intricate rhetorical blend of poetry, prose, and 127 emblems spread over six chapters, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, with highlights of the Society’s history arranged following the life of Christ, the Imago has resisted the scrutiny of a single monographic study until this book.

John W. O’Malley, S.J. has gathered together an august group of scholars to create a volume worthy of its illustrious predecessor by focusing on the Imago’s emblems as a lens through which to understand the book’s significance. Emblems were especially valued in Jesuit schools for the training they offered in sacra eloquentia, and an emblem-text dialogue was the manner by which the Society chose to portray itself in the festive Aristotelian epideictic style, or ceremonial oratory, that was used for memorial declarations and entertaining display, particularly self-display, as seen in the emblem-based paintings, or affixiones, that would decorate the Jesuit church in Antwerp for the jubilee celebrations. The present volume honors the original Latin version of the Imago with a magisterial (at almost 800 pages) folio facsimile critical edition and translation of the complete set of emblems by Michael C.J. Putnam from the Latin, Alexander Sens from the Greek, and James P. M. Walsh, S.J. from the Hebrew (423–705). It includes a dvd with high-resolution reproductions that will allow a new generation to have the experience of engaging with the emblems directly themselves.

Six essays offer a kaleidoscopic view of the Imago by placing it in its historical, rhetorical, artistic, emblematic, and linguistic context. O’Malley’s essay “The Imago: Context, Contents and Controversy” explores why the Jesuits undertook this monumental project and the immediate uproar it generated. To admirers of Cornelis Jansen (Jansenius, 1585–1638), Jesuits were overly optimistic about human nature and free will, advocated far too frequent reception of the Eucharist, reconciled Christianity a bit too easily with pagan antiquity and contemporary non-Christian Asian cultures (as in Japan, China, and Vietnam), adopted probabilism for moral reasoning, and seemed to exhibit an unbecoming pride and arrogance at every turn (20–21). By September 1640, the Augustinians at the Leuven Faculty of Theology had initiated an examination of the Imago, and opposition consolidated around the appearance of the Augustinus, the foundational book of Jansenists, in the same year.

But it was not simply Jesuit vs. Jansenist, Imago vs. Augustinus. The next two essays—Michael C.J. Putnam’s “The Frontispiece and the Opening Emblem of the Imago: A Translation” and Marc Fumaroli’s “Classicism and the Baroque: The Imago primi saeculi and Its Detractors” (translated by Paul J. Young)—delve deeper into these distinctions by revealing how the rhetoric of word and image heightened theological antagonisms. Rather grippingly, Fumaroli charts how these binaries were grafted on to the stylistic traits of Asianism vs. Atticism, Baroque and Classicism avant la lettre. For Asianists, it was not enough to persuade; a broad audience of readers had to be dazzled by the sheer onslaught of varied effects, in contrast to the morally stringent, plain style of Atticism where intellectual rigor convinced and the sublime was equated with the sober understatement of elite scholarship. Asianism’s espousal of the Ciceronian oratorical ideal evidenced in Brutus (or De claris oratibus, 46 bce) and Orator (46 ce) made this rhetorical method a natural choice for Jesuits who had modeled their schools’ pedagogy (the Ratio studiorum) on his writings. The emblem was the ideal form for this particular type of argumentation with its emphasis on novitas or novelty, admiratio, and ingenious wit, packed with atypical pictorial motifs, surprising combinations of word and image (significatum and significans), and subheadings beneath the image (subscriptio) that relied upon antithesis, paradox, oxymoron, and daring comparison (131).

Jeffrey Muller’s “Jesuit Uses of Art in the Province of Flanders,” an abridged version of his 2006 article in The Jesuits ii: Cultures, Sciences and the Arts, 1540–1773 (ed. John W. O’Malley, S.J., Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Steven J. Harris and T. Frank Kennedy, S.J.), offers a visual equivalent to the Asianists’ delight in verbal variety. He explicates the twelve Herculean labors of the Society in Flanders in the Imago’s Book Six in light of a book published in the same city and year, Guilielmus Steegius’s De Christelycke Leeringhe (Christian doctrine) (Antwerp, 1640), to underscore the diversity, innovation, and broad reach of the Jesuit contribution to the revolution of Catholic Reformation visual culture.

The encyclopedic essay “The Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu as Emblematic Self-Presentation and Commitment,” by three scholars from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven—Marc Van Vaeck, Toon Van Houdt, and Lien Roggen—then pushes the principle of multiplicity to its extreme by tracing the iconography of the Imago’s emblems past and present across media (painted affixiones, stained glass windows, polychrome reliefs, and a sculpted retable) and great distances (Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina, and Colombia). The appeal of this article lies in how the authors rely on a wealth of detail painstakingly harvested from close looking to pinpoint the intericonicity of the Imago across shifting alliances of images. They concretely demonstrate how Jesuits honed a protean ability to re-purpose ideas by developing a cumulative, layered aesthetic of montage and collage, made all the more impressive by its reliance upon only a relatively small, finite stock of books, and the fact that neither emblem nor object was an exact copy of its original, like the Dutch edition of the Imago, which was published in a smaller, quarto format with only 104 emblems. The afterlives of the emblems testify to the Imago’s function as an Ignatian “imaginotheca,” a veritable sourcebook or library of ideas for mixing and matching motifs to endow messages with ever more rhetorical force. More discoveries may well prove that the Imago emblem paradigm enjoyed as much popularity as Jerónimo Nadal’s Adnotationes et meditationes in evangelia (1593) on missions around the world. If the Imago functions as an “image” of the Jesuit order, it does so in a characteristically Baroque, sensory-crossing rhetorical manner as an echo that anticipated its sound.

Lastly, variety was also a linguistic ideal in the Imago, with its 124 Latin, seven Greek, and four Hebrew poems. In the final essay, “Introductions to the Latin, Greek and Hebrew Poetry,” Putnam, Sens, and Walsh conclude that if the level of the authors’ Greek was amateurish, rife with rather obvious Homeric phrases and mistakes in word choice, diction, morphology, and syntax, and their Hebrew passable thanks to Christian Hebraists and the vibrant shtetl of seventeenth-century Antwerp, their use of Latin was quite sophisticated, frequently citing the works of Virgil, Ovid, and Horace in a virtuoso display of eleven different poetic meters. After the facsimile (and translations) of the emblems and a list of the “Jesuit Provinces and Houses, 1626, 1640,” the scholarly apparatus includes a solid bibliography and an index, in addition to the welcome glossary of neo-Latin rhetorical terms at the end of the Leuven essay. Readers should not be deterred by the weight, size or number of pages of this magnificent volume; it is an essential addition for every Jesuitica collection. And as a special bonus, steadfast and sharp-eyed supporters of the Journal of Jesuit Studies will recognize the original context to which the cover emblem of this journal—a man at a printing press (# 571, 606–7)—pays tribute every quarter.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00303008-02

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Art, Controversy, and the Jesuits: The Imago primi saeculi (1640). Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts Series, volume 12, edited by John W. O’Malley, S.J.

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

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