Love Games

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love Games

The 17th century engravings below come from a book of love emblems that is variously categorised around the traps as erotic and pornographic - it will help if you are trilingual and have a (very) good imagination. (I've omitted the French poetry pages to tone down the salaciousness)

Affrica monstrorum non tanta mole..

17th century tennis match engraving

illustration of early form of croquet

engraved scene of Renaissance-era game of bocce or bowls

Early Modern domestic scene - standing man + woman playing backgammon

engraved outdoor Renaissance scene of volleyball-like game

medieval tournament scene - jousting variation

baroque engraving of table shuffleboard scene

book illustration of 17th cent. outdoor ice-skating scene

death's dance (garlanded Roman skeleton) visits baroque household

sinner taken to hell outside domestic nobility scene

short king climbing ladder up to kiss queen (engraving)

baroque indoor scene - man pokes stick into barrel containing people

Early modern scene - woman surrounded

'Le Centre de l'Amour, Decouvert Soubs Divers Emblesmes Galans et Facetieux' (sic) was first published (by Chez Cupidon of course!) in about 1650 and was uploaded by U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign to the Internet Archive.

The 'gallant' and 'facetious' in the title lend an air of humour or mockery in relation to this Renaissance/Baroque publishing genre of embelemata, which is usually treated with a modicum of seriousness. The theme of games or sport has been deployed as a metaphor in the illustrations for the difficulties and sensitivities encountered in the negotiation of a relationship.

The book's readers are meant to contemplate the illustrations in conjunction with mottoes in Latin and German underneath, and the short, French epigrammatic verses appearing on the accompanying pages. In this way, they will be eventually able to decipher the true meanings of the visual scenes. Personally, I often find it difficult to divine the underlying message in illustrations from the era, because there was a very different mindset in relation to allegory and hidden meanings in objects and pictures back then (I touched on this phenomenon in a bit more detail once before: The Odd Baroque). However, I do find the visual mystification - only one facet of the trope - to be a charming dimension to that artistic era.

We see examples or precursor equivalents of such games as tennis (jeu de paume), croquet, bowls, shuffleboard, volleyball, jousting and backgammon. Music and the playing of instruments is presumably included within the same rubric for allegorical purposes in the emblems. Although there isn't anything overt in the erotic sense in the images above, there are a few scenes (especially those not shown) in which it is very easy to pick the double meanings and lurid allusions, even if the engravings themselves are ostensibly innocent.

Peter Rollos (active from about 1619 to 1644) was a German engraver who worked in Frankfurt, Prague and Berlin. Two of his notable publications (in which the illustrations seen above first appeared) were 'Vita Corneliana' and 'Euterpae Suboles' from the 1630s.

Embelmata posts on BibliOdyssey previously : these contain a wealth of related and background links that I won't bother to repeat here, save for Love Emblems.

Oh, a(n) (incomplete) copy of this book sold at auction in 2005 for over $10K.

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