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Gallery Exhibits, Cat. 7 & Cat. 8 & Cat. 9 & Cat. 31

This is the 2nd of four portraits in the Gallery Exhibit on Melancholy. Links to the introduction and other three parts of the exhibit are located towards the bottom of this page.
Portraits of Melancholy — II
Burton’s Anatomised Melancholy, 1628
Burton's Anatomised Melancholy, 1628
ROBERT BURTON’S ENCYCLOPEDIC The Anatomy of Melancholy (Holbrook Jackson’s modern edition runs about 1,400 pages) is unquestionably one of the most witty and erudite medical treatises ever published. And the book’s literary dissection of disease was brilliantly carried over into graphic format with the emblematic frontispiece added to the second edition of Burton’s Anatomy in 1624. I reproduce here the engraved title page from the edition of 1628.
     As Burton himself glossed the title page emblem in his “Argument of the Frontispiece,”

Ten distinct squares here seen apart,
Are joined in one by cutter’s art.

Thus did the engraver and the anatomist join to cut a full-bodied figure of what Lois Potter has aptly called “the plural I.”
     The 10 panels of the frontispiece give allegorical representations — “Symbols are these; I say no more,” explains Burton in the accompanying verses — of the different aspects of the melancholic self. Here we find Burton’s melancholic identity multiply figured as Democritus Junior (Burton, himself), Zelotipia, Inamerato, Superstitiosus, Borago, Solitudo, Hypocondriacus, Maniacus, Helleborus, and Democritus Abderites (the Greek natural philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, ca. 470 BCE).
     Each of the 10 panels is then wittily glossed in “The Argument of the Frontispiece” (see left sidebar) and anatomized anew (this time, into 12 stanzas) in the separate prefatory verses titled “The Author’s Abstract of Melancholy” (open a second window with the complete text of the “Author’s Abstract”).
     Burton’s poetically- and graphically-anatomized plural I — “Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically opened & cut-up” as the sub-title of his book phrases it — with its conflicted consciousness and ambiguous character, was unprecedented. But the depth, breadth, and intensity of psychological portraiture it epitomized was not. Michel de Montaigne’s self-portraiture in the Essais (1580, 1588), still considered the age’s canonical introspective study of human nature and human conduct, initiated the genre. And numerous readers have commented, like Sainte-Beuve, on the dynamic, visual nature of Montaigne’s discourse: “Thought and image, with him, it is all one” (Sainte-Beuve); “Abstract notions live and move and breathe under his pen” (Montaigne’s early-20th-century editor and translator, Donald Frame).

BURTON’S BOOK, while far more scholastic and multiply-voiced than Montaigne’s, similarly delineates the paradoxical nature of the human condition. Holbrook Jackson gives a good character of the plural Robert Burton (1577–1640) that emerges from his book:

The Anatomist is, indeed, somewhat of a paradox. Like most interesting men, he is not quite consistent. He preaches the happy mean and does not practise it. His book is always excessive. He overloads every statement. It is the most sententious book ever written, yet it reads trippingly as a novel. It is packed with common sense and uncommon nonsense. He is never tired of apologizing for his long-windedness, and immediately starts expatiating again. He fears that he will go too far in his exposition of love-melancholy, and does. He was never married, but marriage has no mysteries for him. He laughs at humanity and weeps over the sorrows and stupidities of men. He is scientifical and superstitious at one and the same time. He is as frank as a pornographer and as mincing as a prude. He mixes facetiæ with theology. He is not a deliberate humorist, yet he is often funnier than the professional wag. He is most frivolous when he is most earnest; and when he is frank and colloquial he is most profound. Like Whitman, he is large and multitudinous. He spills himself and the whole of ancient learning into his book and adroitly turns the medley into an ordered theme which, because of its great size, may weary his reader but never bore him.

(Jackson 1932, viii)

     Burton’s particular style of capacious, multi-layered subjectivity drew on several other conventions of print culture besides the famous Essays of Montaigne. There are echoes of emblem literature in Burton’s self-fashioning. Emblem books, with their serial juxtaposition of scores, if not hundreds, of human traits, similarly presented readers with multiple figurations of the individual. Emblem books tended to emphasize the many contradictory facets of human nature that had somehow to be balanced over the course of a life (as with the depiction of double-faced and triple-headed composite figures, or varying representations of the clothed and naked body), and Burton’s book had a similar message about the whole point of human life and learning: “to compose our character” and “to live appropriately,” as Montaigne expressed it. The verse argument, favored by Burton, was also an emblematic formula.

View an enlarged 802 x 1309 pixel JPG image (285KB)
“The Argument of the Frontispiece”
(bound in with the front matter
to Burton’s book)

TEN distinct squares here seen apart,
Are joined in one by cutter’s art.


Old Democritus under a tree,
Sits on a stone with book on knee;
About him hang there many features,
Of cats, dogs, and such-like creatures,
Of which he makes anatomy,
The seat of black choler to see.
Over his head appears the sky,
And Saturn, Lord of melancholy.


To the left a landscape of Jealousy,
Presents itself unto thine eye.
A kingfisher, a swan, an hern,
Two fighting-cocks you may discern,
Two roaring bulls each other hie,
To assault concerning venery.
Symbols are these; I say no more,
Conceive the rest by that ’s afore.


The next of Solitariness,
A portraiture doth well express,
By sleeping dog, cat: buck and doe,
Hare, conies in the desert go:
Bats, owls the shady bowers over,
In melancholy darkness hover.
Mark well: if ’t be not as ’t should be,
Blame the bad cutter, and not me.


I’ th’ under column there doth stand
Inamorato with folded hand;
Down hangs his head, terse and polite,
Some ditty sure he doth indite.
His lute and books about him lie,
As symptoms of his vanity.
If this do not enough disclose,
To paint him, take thyself by th’ nose.


Hypocondriacus leans on his arm,
Wind in his side doth him much harm,
And troubles him full sore, God knows,
Much pain he hath and many woes.
About him ports and glasses lie,
Newly brought from ’s apothecary.
This Saturn’s aspects signify,
You see them portray’d in the sky.


Beneath them kneeling on his knee,
A Superstitious man you see:
He fasts, prays, on his idol fixt,
Tormented hope and fear betwixt:
For hell perhaps he takes more pain,
Than thou dost heaven itself to gain.
Alas poor soul, I pity thee,
What stars incline thee so to be?


But see the Madman rage downright
With furious looks, a ghastly sight.
Naked in chains bound doth he lie,
And roars amain, he knows not why.
Observe him; for as in a glass,
Thine angry portraiture it was.
His picture keep still in thy presence;
’Twixt him and thee there’s no difference.


Borage and Hellebore fill two scenes,
Sovereign plants to purge the veins
Of melancholy, and cheer the heart,
Of those black fumes which make it smart;
To clear the brain of misty fogs,
Which dull our senses, and soul clogs.
The best medicine that e’er God made
For this malady, if well assay’d.


Now last of all to fill a place,
Presented is the Author’s face;
And in that habit which he wears,
His image to the world appears.
His mind no art can well express,
That by his writings you may guess.
It was not pride, nor yet vainglory
(Though others do it commonly),
Made him do this: if you must know,
The printer would needs have it so.
Then do not frown or scoff at it,
Deride not, or detract a whit,
For surely as thou dost by him,
He will do the same again.
Then look upon ’t, behold and see,
As thou 1ik’st it, so it likes thee.
And I for it will stand in view,
Thine to command, reader, adieu.

INTERSUBJECTIVE SELF-FASHIONING was also evident on most allegorical title pages of scientific books before and after Burton, where, as Lois Potter phrases it, “an individual voice raises from the chorus of tradition.” Ficino’s title pages had pictured this kind of intertextual self, as did the title page engravings for later alchemical and mystical texts such as Oswald Croll’s 1609 Basilica Chymica. Croll (ca. 1560–1609) was a German disciple of the Swiss medical reformer, Paracelsus, and had a medical practice in Prague, where he “moved on the fringes of the distinguished circle of ‘occult’ physicians and philosophers which surrounded the court of Emperor Rudolf II” while simultaneously serving as personal physician to the emperor’s arch political enemy, Prince Christian I of Anhalt-Bernburg. As Owen Hannaway remarks,

This had certain political advantages for Anhalt, who used Croll for delicate diplomatic negotiations in and around the imperial city in furtherance of his project for an Evangelical Union of Protestant Princes. In return for these services Christian provided financial support for Croll’s chemical researches. The Preface of the Basilica Chymica is dedicated to this renowned champion of Protestant Europe.

(Hannaway 1975, 2)

Croll’s Basilica Chymica, published in the same year as his death, developed and systematized the chemical techniques and preparations of the new spagyric pharmacy, making it far more accessible to modern readers than the writings of Paracelsus himself. Partly because of this, several of Croll’s chemiatric preparations found a permanent place in standard pharmacopoeias well into the 19th century.
     Despite its more modern methodology, Croll’s textbook of medical chemistry was still infused by the spirit of the Paracelsian collective. The engraved title page depicts Croll’s own voice as a ventriloquized mix of the earlier voices of Roger Bacon, Hermes Trismegistus, Raymond Lull, Paracelsus, and Geber (the great Arabian alchemist, Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, ca. 721–815). Croll’s vision of the chemical arts is shown as explicitly multicultural, fusing the alchemical teachings of Egypt, Rome, Spain, Arabia, England, and Germany within a new unity.

As glossed by Owen Hannaway
in The Chemists and the Word: The Didactic Origins of Chemistry (1975):

“The principal themes of Croll’s exposition of chemical philosophy are illustrated in the plate opposite. The realm of the light of grace is depicted above the title, that of the light of nature below. The focal point of the former is the ineffable name of God (Yahweh) at the center of the equilateral triangle representing the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The corresponding triangle in the light of nature has as its center the ‘adamic earth,’ from which Adam’s body was created and which contained all the virtues of nature, thereby making man the center of the natural world. The apices of this latter triangle are denoted by the alchemical symbols of the three principles of mercury, sulphur, and salt, corresponding to the Persons of the Trinity. Other triads depicted in nature are those of the three kingdoms — animal, vegetable, and mineral; soul, body, and spirit; and the elements fire, water, and air. The three sciences of man are denoted as theological Cabala, medical alchemy, and astronomical magic. The zodiacal band of stars in nature corresponds to the orders of angels in the realm of grace. The kneeling figure above the furnace seeks light from the Hebrew letters of the divine name of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the unique link between the light of nature and the light of grace. The lute opposite this figure is an allusion to the Orphic mysteries. The whole page is framed by portraits of notable alchemical philosophers with quotations from their writings.”

Engraved title page for Basilica Chymica, 1609
View an enlarged 897 x 1143 pixel JPG image (230KB)

     Burton was steeped in the literature of Paracelsianism, and a believer in their chemical therapeutics (e.g., citing Croll’s Basilica Chymica for its recommended use of “salt of corals” to purify the blood), although when it came to melancholy, Burton disagreed with Paracelsus’ sweeping claim that every disease could be cured by chemical arts. For all their contributions to the definition and systematization of medical science, neither Burton nor Croll ever lost sight of the ultimate power of symbolism. For both men,

Nature was not a complexity of entities with their own inherent and interdependent cycles of becoming and passing away which in their constancy and regularity provided fixed parameters by which man located himself in space and time. Rather, nature was the vehicle of divine messages, which revealed knowledge appropriate to every age. It was in part on this basis that the Paracelsians rejected so confidently in their rhetoric, if not in their practice, the doctrines of past ages — not only were these for the most part founded on erroneous principles, but any practical value they may accidently have contained had ceased to be relevant. One of the most constant justifications for the innovative Paracelsian therapy was that these medicaments were the novel and appropriate response to the “new” diseases which had been revealed by nature in contemporary European society. The elect had to be ever attentive to the renewal of the message of the Word in the Book of Nature and to be prepared to bear witness in their own self-renewal and in their works.

(Hannaway 1975, p. 114)

Compare this with Burton writing on the “discovery” of America in his fascinating essay, “Digression of Air”:

... I could have ranged farther yet, but I am an infant, and not able to dive into these profundities or sound these depths, not able to understand, much less to discuss. I leave the contemplation of these things to stronger wits, that have better ability and happier leisure to wade into such philosophical mysteries; for put case I were as able as willing, yet what can one man do? I will conclude with Scaliger, Nequaquam nos homines sumus, sed partes hominis; ex omnibus aliquid fieri potest, idque non magnum; ex singulis fere nihil. Besides (as Nazianzen hath it) Deus latere nos multa voluit: and with Seneca, cap. 35 de Cometis, Quid miramur tam rara mundi spectacula non teneri certis legibus, nondum intelligi? Multæ sunt gentes quæ tantum de facie sciunt cœlum; veniet tempus fortasse, quo ista quæ nunc latent in lucem diei extrahat longioris ævi diligentia; una ætas non sufficit, posteri, etc.; when God sees His time, He will reveal these mysteries to mortal men, and show that to some few at last, which He hath concealed so long. For I am of his mind, that Columbus did not find out America by chance, but God directed him at that time to discover it: it was contingent to him, but necessary to God; He reveals and conceals to whom and when He will. And which one said of history and records of former times, “God in His providence, to check our presumptuous inquisition, wraps up all things in uncertainty, bars us from long antiquity, and bounds our search within the compass of some few ages”: many good things are lost which our predecessors made use of, as Pancirolli will better inform you; many new things are daily invented, to the public good; so kingdoms, men, and knowledge ebb and flow, are hid and revealed, and when you have all done, as the Preacher concluded, Nihil est sub sole novum ....

(Anatomy of Melancholy, Pt. 2, Sec. 2, Mem. 3)

The kind of composite self that Burton (or Croll) constructs from scientific tradition was related to, but different in kind from, the explicitly political composite figurations that would dominate the print culture of royalist writers mid-century. Perhaps the best known early-modern portrait of the composite body politic was the famous frontispiece to Hobbes’ Leviathan.

The divine revelation of America to those explorers open to receiving it (not an unusual conceit for the Baroque mind) had personal play for Burton, whose own brother, George, had travelled to England’s new American colony of Virginia in 1608.

When Captain John Smith re-issued his Map of Virginia for publication in the 1624 edition of his Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, he added new placenames to honor persons of influence in his life, among them: Democrites Tree and Burtons Mount.

Burtons Mount was named for George Burton, who had accompanied Smith to Werowocómoco in late December, 1608.

Democrites Tree was named for Robert Burton, whose Anatomy of Melancholy (written under the pseudonym “Democritus Junior”) was also revised and reprinted in 1624. Given Burton’s express pleasure (Partition 2, Section 2 of the Anatomy of Melancholy) in pouring over maps and reading tales of travel and discovery, he no doubt appreciated Smith’s symbolic gesture.

Detail of plural I image from
Leviathan title page engraving

View an enlarged 865 x 747 pixel JPG image (132KB)
Title page engraving for Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, 1651
Symbolizes Hobbes’ ideal commonwealth — the tempering of monarchy and democracy — in which the people elect to join as one in the sovereign authority of Leviathan, thus empowered to wield crown, sword and scepter.
View an enlarged 710 x 1090 pixel JPG image (172KB)

Lois Potter has pointed out that Hobbes’ symbolic Leviathan was in a slightly different spirit yet than the earlier more absolutist composite figures popularized by Jean-François Nicéron, which also created one face out of many.

As glossed by Lois Potter in Secret Rites and Secret Writing: Royalist Literature, 1641–1660 (1989):

“The picture visible to the unaided eye depicted the face of Christ surrounded by the faces of various former popes. When the spectator looked through a special glass, facets of each portrait (here indicated by dotted lines) combined to become the face of the current pope, occupying precisely the part of the picture formerly occupied by Christ. The political/religious message of this picture is obvious ... the individual faces existed only for the sake of their role in the composite picture .... Nicéron’s art symbolises ... the absolutism which absorbs and transcends all the power of its separate components.”

Tab. 50 of Jean-François Nicéron’s La Perspective Curieuse, 1638
Drawing showing how facets of different heads of former popes were combined to make up a composite head of the present one, as reproduced in Potter 1989, p. 86.
View an enlarged 893 x 944 pixel GIF image (231KB)

Such clever composites were popular in Paris during the 1640s, and well known to the English royalists (among them, the Cavendishes and Thomas Hobbes) then residing there. The ability to conceal+reveal the royalist message in such potent symbols was not lost on those such as Sir Richard Fanshawe (1608–1666), who pointedly referred in the dedication of his Il Pastor Fido, the Faithfull Shepherd, published in 1647,

... to a picture in Paris made up of small faces (the ancestors of the Chancellor) which, through a perspective glass, revealed itself as “a single portrait in great of the Chancellor himself, the Painter thereby intimating, that in him alone are contracted the Vertues of all his Progenitors; or perhaps by a more subtile Philosophy demonstrating, how the Body Politick is composed of many naturall ones”.

(Potter 1989, p. 87)

In “A letter from Dr William Oliver to the publisher, giving his remarks in a late journey into Denmark and Holland” (published in a 1702–3 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London), Oliver described what he took to be the most notable “Artificial Curiosities” on display in the eight “Kings Chambers of Rarities ... built over the Royal Library” at Copenhagen. Among these was another artist’s ingenious rendering of the royalist plural I:

A Perspective of the late King of Denmark’s Family, the Queens Face being in the middle, and eight Princes and Princesses round her, yet all Club to make the Face of the King, thro a hole of a Glass Tube.

(Philosophical Transactions,
vol. 23, no. 285, p. 1404)

By the time Margaret Cavendish took on the identity of singular melancholic in 1655, there were numerous emblematic images of the aristocratic plural I from which to choose.

Aubrey lists Jean-François Nicéron as among the “learned familiar friends and acquaintances” of Thomas Hobbes.
» next (Portrait III)
» Portraits of Melancholy   (Introduction)
» Portrait I   (Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514)
» Portrait III   (Cavendish’s “Studious She is and all Alone” frontispiece, 1655)
» Portrait IV   (Emblems for Melancholy and Pensiveness, 1709)
Related Links

excerpts from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy describing the pleasures of pouring over maps and reading tales of travel and discovery in the LIBRARY

• the complete text of Burton’s “Digression of Air” (from the Anatomy of Melancholy) in the LIBRARY

• GALLERY exhibit with digital facsimiles of Captain John Smith’s Map of Virginia in its various states

• an IN BRIEF topic on Montaigne’s gay she-philosopher



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