Courtliness, Piety, and Politics: Emblem Books by Georgette de Montenay, Anna Roemers Visscher, and Esther Inglis
In spite of the popularity of emblem books in France, England, Germany, and especially the Low Countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, few women wrote in this genre.1 Yet the increasing availability of emblem books in the vernacular would suggest that they were accessible to women who could read. Michael Bath reminds us that the emblem had an important place in the fine arts, including painting and embroidery.2 Recent studies have emphasized the emblematic and often public nature of messages encoded in needlework, comparing needlework to the manuscript as a type of publication that is located somewhere on a spectrum between public and private expression.3 Glass engraving and
1 The only work by an early modern woman listed in John Landwehr’s Emblem Books in the Low Countries 1554-1949: A Bibliography (Utrecht: Haentjes, 1970) is Bloemhof der Doorluchtige Voorbeelden (Anthology of Excellent Examples, 1647) by Maria Heyns (1604?–c.1647); it is however a collection of prose translations rather than an emblem book. No obviously female names in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries appear in John Landwehr’s German Emblem Books, 1531-1888: A Bibliography (Utrecht: Haentjes, 1972) or in his French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Books of Devices and Emblems, 15341872: A Bibliography (Utrecht: Haentjes, 1976). An exception recently brought to my attention by Dr Sabine Mödersheim is a 1650 emblem book by the Carmelite nun Isabella de Spiritu Sancto, who was born in Antwerp and moved to a convent in Germany in the early 1630s. The work consists of three “Herzbücher” (Heartbooks), with emblems in the Jesuit tradition.