Reproduction only for non-commercial use.
© April 2004; revised 7 August 2006 > HOME

Gallery Exhibit, Cat. 11 & Cat. 38

This is the 4th 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 — IV
Emblems for Melancholy & Pensiveness, 1709
IN 1709, Pierce (aka Peirce) Tempest issued the first English edition of Ripa’s Iconologia, with illustrations by Isaac Fuller.
s explained in the book’s expanded title, the intent of the Iconologia was to visually encode ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythography — as reinterpreted through the lens of Quattrocento neoplatonism — for an early-modern English audience. Tempest would do much the same things two years later when bringing out an updated edition in 1711 of the multilingual (captioned in English, French, and Italian) pictorial work, The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life, in 74 Copper Plates. First published in 1688, the Cryes of London was no longer current in its depiction of London social life and customs some 20 years later, and Tempest decided to have some of the plates altered to bring the costume into the fashion at the time of republication.
     Given that Burton’s verbal anatomy of melancholy ran over 1,000 pages, it is hardly surprising that Tempest’s Iconologia followed the Italian in dividing the humor into two emblems, or what I’ve been calling a plural I: Melenconico (Melancholy) and Malinconia (Pensiveness). Of note, Melenconico (associated with scholarship) is now personified as a dark-skinned man, while Malinconia (associated with judicious political actions and publicly performed “Words and Deeds”) is personified as an older woman.
     Together, the two emblems construct a highly ambiguous image of the gendered melancholic, far from the idealizations of Elizabethan and Jacobean portraiture, but well in line with the alternative portraits of Dürer, Burton, and even Margaret Cavendish.

Engraved title page for Pierce Tempest’s English edition of Ripa’s Iconologia in 1709
Design by Isaac Fuller
View an enlarged 1000 x 1298 pixel JPG image (357KB)
The above gloss reads:

Fig. 59. Melenconico, per la Terra: MELANCHOLY

   Of a brown Complexion, placing a Foot upon a Cube, holds, in his left Hand, a Book open, as if he would study; his Mouth is mufled; in his right Hand a Purse close shut, and, on his Head, a Sparrow.
   The Muzzle denotes Silence, proceeding from Coolness; the Booke, melancholy Men addicted to study: The Sparrow, Solitariness, it not conversing with other Birds; the Purse, Covetousness, reigning amongst melancholy Men.

Fig. 59, Melancholy (Melenconico, per la Terra)
Pg. 15 and facing from Pierce Tempest’s Iconologia: or, Moral Emblems, by Caesar Ripa (London, 1709)
The above gloss reads:

Fig. 217. Malinconia: PENSIVENESS

   An old Woman full of Grief, in pitiful Cloths, without Ornament; sitting upon a Stone; her Elbows upon her Knees, and both Hands under her Chin; a Tree by her, without Leaves.
   Old, because Youth is jovial; she is poorly clad, which suits with the Tree, without Leaves. The Stone shews that she is barren, in Words and Deeds; but though she seems listless in the Winter, in politick Actions, yet in the Spring, when there is need of wise Men, then pensive Men are found, by Experience, to be judicious.

Fig. 217, Pensiveness (Malinconia)
Pg. 55 and facing from Pierce Tempest’s Iconologia: or, Moral Emblems, by Caesar Ripa (London, 1709)
     The depiction of Melancholy (Melenconico) as a racialized body was not new with Tempest, although as far as I know, his is the first picturing of this.
     Already in 1654, Richard Flecknoe had racially categorized black Melancholy as properly an Ethiopian character trait in a passage of theater criticism, part of the “Preface to the Reader” for his play Love’s Dominion.
     Flecknoe’s play, “full of excellent moralitie,” was “written as a pattern for the reformed stage.” He fully intended that the ideas outlined in his preface be critically discussed by the “divers noble personages” (“persons of the greatest honour and quality”) to whom his works were always directed. And the preface was well enough received by patrons such as William and Margaret Cavendish that Flecknoe eventually re-worked it into A Short Discourse of the English Stage, to be published, along with the earlier morality play, in 1664 under the new title, Love’s Kingdom: A Pastoral Trage-Comedy. Both the play and the treatise were dedicated to William Cavendish.
     In the original 1654 Preface to the Reader, Flecknoe had critiqued what he termed the “sullen” approach to moral instruction favored by “that Fanatick Spirit” (his phrasing in the 1664 Short Discourse) so representative of “these latter times.” By “joyning example to precept, and the pleasure of seeing to that of hearing,” the theater had as “its chiefest end ... to render Folly ridiculous, Vice odious, and Vertue and Nobleness so amiable and lovely, as, every one shu’d be delighted and enamoured with it” (A Short Discourse). But such moralizing, Flecknoe felt, should be insinuated by design and by action.
     Instead, the contemporary English stage had become heavy-handed about “teaching Virtue, reproving Vice, and ammendment of Manners.” Following the late civil wars, English performance arts (both on the stage and from the pulpit) showed all too well “That the main reason why Virtue is no better followed, is, because tis no more delightfully perswaded, which also may be the reason, why more sleep at Sermons than at these [stage] Representations.” Hence the need for reforms that would restore English theater “to its former splendor.”
     How much more, Flecknoe marvels, do

those precepts move the mind more forcibly and efficaciously, which besides the allowance of the Ear, have a powerfull recommendation of the Eye; And sure that Antient meant somewhat like the Stage, when he said, That could Virtue be seen but by mortal Eyes, it would ravish all with its love and admiration, &c.
     Especially we may hope it now, when we are rid of our sullen Masters, of so Cynick a devotion, as they would enforce men to serve God spight of Humanity, and shake us into Religion with fear and trembling, not remembring that we are oftner invited to it (in the Holy Scripture) with rejoycing and jubilation, chearfulness having been always accounted the exterior mark of true piety and devotion. And it is that [which] for my part I labour to introduce, as a thing no doubt more acceptable to Almighty God ... than to see us go about his service with a sad countenance, and sullen chear. Mean time, let who’s list take the black melancholy spirit, give me the light chearful one, which has hitherto been accounted the better one I am sure, and wil be still, unlesse we all turn Ethiopians.

(1654 Preface to the Reader, Love’s Dominion)

Whether such metaphorical representations of pigmentocracy — nobility of spirit linked with light-colored skin and righteous action, while the more “vulgar” English classes of the Interregnum are stigmatized as black melancholics — were then commonplace, or peculiar to Flecknoe, is unclear to me. The Preface was published in 1654, within four years of Flecknoe’s return from his formative travels to Africa and South America. The Negroes and “Molato’s or Mungril Negro’s” with whom he associated in Brazil had a lasting impression.
     But such simplistic equations of black humor with black skin color surely contained the seeds of a scientific racialism that would justify bigoted attitudes and categories for centuries to come.

» next (Introduction)
» Portraits of Melancholy  (Introduction)
» Portrait I   (Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514)
» Portrait II   (Burton’s Anatomised Melancholy, 1628)
» Portrait III   (Cavendish’s “Studious She is and all Alone” frontispiece, 1655)
Related Links

• a GALLERY exhibit on the emblem tradition, with discussion of another Tempest/Ripa emblem (Printing), and another visual-verse allegory of scientific inquiry

• complete text of Richard Flecknoe’s 1648 letter describing his voyage to Brazil in the LIBRARY

• more prejudicial associations of black skin color with the dark phantasms of melancholy in Robert Burton’s “The Author’s Abstract of Melancholy” (see the second-window sidebar for the Portraits of Melancholy — II Gallery exhibit). The relevant verses (lines 41–48) read:

Methinks I hear, methinks I see,
Ghosts, goblins, fiends; my phantasy
Presents a thousand ugly shapes,
Headless bears, black men, and apes,
Doleful outcries, and fearful sights,
My sad and dismal soul affrights.
     All my griefs to this are jolly,
     None so damn’d as melancholy.



search this site

top of page | upper-level GALLERY page | HOME page | support this site

This Web page was last modified on:  07/18/2016 10:57 AM.