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The Iconologia of Cesare Ripa - Introduction

The Iconologia of Cesare Ripa was conceived as a guide to the symbolism in emblem books. It was very influential in the 17th century and went through a number of editions. There were 9 Italian editions -1593, 1603, 1611, 1613, 1618, 1625, 1630, 1645, 1764-7 and 8 non Italian editions in other languages, 1644 French, 1644 Dutch, 1699 Dutch, 1704 German, 1709 English, 1760 German, 1766 French and 1779 English. Both the text and the emblems included in these editions varies greatly, and later editions use Ripa's idea, rather than following his text. The Introduction transcribed here by Rawn Clark is an extract taken from a manuscript in the British Library Ms. Add 23195.
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Introduction to the Iconologia
or Hieroglyphical figures
of Cesare Ripa, Knight of Perugia,

Where in general is treated of diverse forms of figures
with their ground Rules.

The figures that are made to express a thing different from that which we behold with our eyes, have no surer nor more common rule than the imitation of the thoughts, and of those things which are found in books, medals, and carved marble stones; whether they be done by the diligence of the Latins, Greeks, or by the most ancient who have been inventors of this art. Therefore it appears most commonly, that they who employ themselves without this imitation, do err, either through ignorance or that he undertakes too much. Which two blots, frighten many of those who, by their own, labor and care to attain to praise and glory. Therefore, not to be suspected of this fault, I have judged it convenient and necessary; because I have purposed, of all these figures, to compile as great a number, as by diligence may occur unto me, of the most ancient things. Also to invent some things to it, as also to receive some new ones. And to enlarge the same according to verity. And to treat something about the ordering and forming of the same. And to expound in the beginning of this work, the signification of the figures. Which perhaps by many friends, with a great desire is expected: to satisfy whom, I find my self highly obliged. Omitting then the figures which the Orator uses, and of which Aristotle treats in the 3rd book of the Art of Eloquence, I will only speak of those which belong to the Art of painting; or of those which by colors, or any other visible thing may be represented; or who differ in something, and yet have some likeness with the other; for as the painted figures by the eye persuade something, also moves the art of eloquence the mind by words. For as the Art of painting takes notice of the likeness of things which are without a person, also it takes notice of those things which are joined therewith, and which in reality are called Essential. In the first sense they are often used by the ancient, inventing many figures of the gods. Which are nothing else but dressings and clothings to cover that part of Philosophy which treats of procreation and putrefaction of natural things, of the form of the heavens and the influence of the stars, of the solidness of the Earth, and other such like things. Which, by long diligence, are found out to excel the ordinary people by this in knowledge. And that not together, the learned and unlearned should understand and be grounded in the causes of these things, they speak by the means of these figures covertly together. Leaving also unto their successors the knowledge of these secret figures, because they should in this excell others in dignity and wisdom. And hence proceeded the great multitude of fables of the ancient writers, which gave utility and knowledge unto the learned, and a recreation of pleasant narrations unto the ignorant. Wherefore, many eminent men have judged that it was well worth their labor to expound those things which they found hidden in these fables. Leaving unto us in writing, that by the figure of Saturn, they understood Time; which gave being unto years, months, and days, and who took them away; because he devoured and ate up his own young ones, which were his children. Also by the lightning Jupiter, they understood the most purest part of the Heavens from whence all high heavenly workings proceed. Also they understood by the figure of the Beautiful Venus, the appetite or desire of the first matter or stuff, to the form or figure which gives her perfectness, as the Philosophers call it. And for those who believed that the world was a moveable body and that all things came to pass by the government of the stars (according to what Mercurius Trismegistus relates in his Pimander), they invented the shepherd Argus, who with many eyes could see on all sides. The same they also represented by Juno, who hung on the hand of Jupiter in the air, as Homer saith. As also innumerable other figures, by which they have already filled many books and wearied many Authors, yet with the profit of wisdom and learning.

The second manner of figures concerns those things which are in man itself, or which have great communion with it; as there be Conceptions or imaginations, and the Habiti, or habits, which proceed from imaginations, with a number of many particular actions. And the concepts or imaginations, without any further judgment, we call all that which by words may be expressed. Which fitly may be distinguished in two parts.

The one part, is which acknowledges another's case or denies it. The other part does not so. And with this they adorn their artificial work, who may express princely Devices or mottos, wherein with few bodies and few words only, an object or intention is signified. So do they also, who make Emblemata or emblems, wherein are more objects, and more words and bodies are represented. With this then the art of other figures adorned, which belong to our relation, and through the uniformity which they have with their limitations, which only embrace virtue or vice, or all things which have with them of those things some equality, without acknowledging or denying any thing. And because they only are denying of any thing, or naked things which consist in essence, they are very fitly expressed by humane figures. For as the whole man is particular, as the limitation is the measure of the thing limited, also may in the same manner, the accidental form, which outwardly of him is represented, be an accidental measure of the limitable qualifications, howsoever they may be; whether they are put together of the soul only, or of the whole man. Let us therefore take heed that we call not this a figure in our object, that has not a humane form; because the figure is badly distinguished when the principal body does not in some measure its office, which that generation does in its limitations.

Among the number of other things, we ought to take notice of all the essential parts of the thing itself. And hereof it shall be be necessary that we narrowly regard the position, or action, and the qualification.

The position or action of the head shall be either high or low, merry or sad, and according to the diverse other passions or affections, which as in a theater are discovered in the countenance of the face of a man. Also we must regard the position or action of arms, hands, legs, feet, locks of hair and garments. As also of other things. And of the distinct and well ordered action, which every one easily by himself may distinguish without having need to speak any otherwise of it. Taking an example by the ancient Romans who have regarded the like actions, and more particularly in the medal of the emperor Adrianus in which is figured the rejoicing of the people under the name of "Hilaritas", with their hands on their ears. The common wish or prayer, stands with both hands lifted up to heaven, as if they would pray or desire something. We find also other figures in the medals with the hand on the mouth. Others sit, leaning with the head toward the right side. Others kneel. Others stand upright. Others stand ready to go. Others with one leg or foot on high. With many other actions, which are described by Adriocco.

Concerning the qualifications, they shall be white or black; well proportioned or disfigured; lean or fat; young or old. Or such like things which cannot be easily separated from those things wherein the same are grounded. And this must be taken notice of: that all these parts together make such an agreeing concord, that in the declaring of the same, they give us satisfaction to know the uniformity of the things, and the good judgment of those who knew to contrive them in such a manner that a thing is brought forth which is delightful and perfect.

Such are all, along the figures of the ancient and also of the moderns, which are not made by chance, and because the Physiognomy and colors are noted by the ancient. Every one may follow in this the Authority of Aristotle, whom every one (according to the opinion of the learned) ought to believe: as who alone in this, as also in the rest, completes all what may have spoken of this matter. And we shall often omit or declare something (and satisfy ourselves with what, once or twice among so many things, has been related) of what distinctly in every figure is described. Especially because the diligent observers may go to Alexander ab Alexandro, in his 2nd book in the 19th chapter, where he, in a learned epitome [abridgment or summary], relates many hieroglyphics with their expositions, belonging to all limbs and colors.

The written limitation, for all the same be comprehended in few words: it seems that the same, in the art of painting for imitation, ought to be done in few words. It is therefore, not amiss that we have regard unto many propounded things. Because out of many, we may chose the least and best, which will best agree with our purpose. Or that they make a composition which, according to the description of Orators and Poets, is more useful than the proper limitation of the Dialecticians. Which, perhaps, may more fitly come to pass when the art of painting, more in her self and in the rest, with this easy and delightful art, is completed; than with those which are difficult and obscure. Yet this is a clear case: that among the ancient we see things, as well of the one as the other sort, which are very beautiful and done with great judgment.

Being, it appears now, that these sort of figures may easily be brought to a likeness in their limitation, we shall say that as well from those, as from the four head materials, or principal causes, may be drawn; whereby the order may be taken to prepare the same. And these are, in the school, as expressed by their usual names: viz, from the Matter or stuff; from the Efficicus or working; from the Forme or figure; and from the Fine or end. From which diversity of principal parts, arises the diversity which authors often keep to limit a thing. Also the diversity of many figures which are made to express one thing only, and which every one for himself may apprehend from these figures; which we, out of diverse ancient Authors, have gathered together. Where these four together have been used only to express one thing; for all that, we find this in some places all together; then this must principally be noted to represent a hidden case, or an unusual manner; that the same, by an ingenious invention, be made pleasant. And it is commendable that we do that in one thing only, to cause no obscurity or displeasure, to keep too many things in memory.

In those things then, wherein the last difference, if there be any, may be represented, this shall be sufficient to make commendable our most perfect figures. Or for want of the same, which is yet united with the same thing, it is distinguished if we use the common. As all those things are, which being put together represent the same, which alone by themselves, they should do.

After, when by this way we distinctly know the qualification, the causes, the property, and accidents of a limitable thing; to make up a figure, it is necessary to seek the likeness, as we have said, in those things which consist in stuff, or matter, which the figure shall have; instead of speech, or of the limitation of the orators. And that of things which consist in an equal proportion and signification, having had distinct things of the same for one thing alone; which is different from both taking that which is least. As by comparison, for strength we take a column or pillar: because the same in a building bears all the stones and timber which is built upon it, without stirring or moving. Signifying, that such is the strength in men: to carry the ponderousness of all troubles and difficulties which may cause upon him. And by comparison, for the Art of Eloquence, we put a sword and a shield. For as these instruments defend the soldier's life and hurts his enemy; so the Orator, by his proofs or imperfect conclusions, maintains his good cause and puts back the contrary party.

Besides this, there belongs to this another sort of likeness: viz, when two distinct things, in one alone, differing from them, do agree. As to express magnanimity, they take the Lion, wherein magnanimity is for the most part discovered. Which method is not so commendable as it is useful; and that, for the easiness of the finding and the exposition of it. And these two sorts of likeness, are the sinews and force of a well made figure. Without which, as the figure has little trouble of invention in it, it abides also unsavory and deridable.

This is, by some new Authors, little observed, who show the working action to represent the essential qualifications. As they do, who, to represent despair, paint one who hangs himself by the throat; for friendship, two persons who embrace one another; or other things of little ingenuity and little commendation. It is true, as I have said, that it will be commendable to put these accidents, which necessarily follow the significant thing of the figure, when we put them distinctly and in naked places. As in particular, those which belong to the physiognomy and to the form of the body: so to signify the domain, which the first qualifications have in the composition of men and which govern his outward accidents, and which bow towards these passions or affections, or towards them that are uniform with the same. As if we would paint melancholy, or heaviness, thoughts, repentance and other such like things; we shall do well to make the same with a withered visage, lean, pale, entangled and wild hairs and beard, and of flesh color not too fresh. But delight, pleasure, mirth, and other such like things; must be painted beautiful, wanton, fresh colored and laughing. And, for all, this knowledge takes little place among the number of such; nevertheless, it is sufficiently in use. And this rule of the accidents and workings, as already is said, will not always follow. As in the painting of beauty, which is a thing without the apprehension of commendableness. And for all in the figure be an equality of drawing and colors; yet therefore, the figure is not well expressed, because it is too beautiful and well adorned. For that should be a declaration of the same, by the same; or rather, of an unknown, by a less known thing: as if we would light a candle to behold the sun directly, so that the figure should have no likeness which is yet the soul of it. It could also bring no delight, because she has no changableness in an object of such moment: whereof we should particularly take notice. Wherefore we have painted beauty, in her place, with her head in the clouds and with other fitting circumstances. To make then, the likeness and action, what in every object is fittest and becoming, we shall take notice of what the Rhetorici or orators warn us: vis, that by known things we must seek the high things -- by Laudible, the Illustrious; by despised, the foul or base; by commendable, the splendorous. From which things, every one will see such a multitude of imaginations increase in his understanding, if he be not too stupid. That he, by himself, of one thing only, which shall be propounded to him, shall be fit to give delight and satisfaction unto the desires of many, and unto diverse understandings, to paint a figure in diverse manners and always well.

Besides this advertisement, which in truth might be expounded with more diligence, I see no more worthy to relate, concerning the knowledge of these figures. Being indeed, instructions first descended from the superfluity of Learning of the Egyptians, as C. Tacitus testifies. And that they afterwards in time, have been adorned and beautified, as Jean Geropius Becannus relates. So this knowledge may be compared unto an understanding man who has lived many years naked and bare in solitude. And afterward, conversing in the conversation of men, he new clothes himself; because others, by the external beauty of the body which is the figure, being enticed, may long to know entirely the qualifications which gives the ornament unto the soul; which is the thing signified, and which was solitary while he lived in solitude, and which was courted by few strangers. Only we read out of Pythagoras, that he, out of a right love unto wisdom, with great pains traveled through Egypt, where he learned the secret of things which were concealed in these riddles. Wherefore, returning poorer, older and wiser, he deserved that after his death, his house was made a Temple which was dedicated unto the dignity of his wisdom. We find also, that Plato has taken a great part of his doctrine out of the secrets of Pythagoras, under which also the holy prophets covered their Doctrine. And Christ, who was the fulfilling of the Prophesies, concealed a great part of his divine secrets under the shadow of his comparisons.

The Egyptian wisdom then, was like unto an ugly evil clothed man who, by time and counsel of experience being adorned, showed that it was evil to hide the signs of the places in which the treasures were; because every one, employing himself herein, by this means might arrive at some steps of felicity.

The clothing, was that the bodies of the figures were painted with distinct colors according to the uniformity of many alterations; with a fine keeping and of an excellent beauty, as well of the art as of the thing itself. Of which was never a one who, at first view, was not moved with a certain desire to search wherefore these were represented in such an order and posture.

This curiosity increases yet, when they find the names of things written under the figure. And some think that we should regard the subscription of the names; except when they shall be in the manner of a riddle. For without knowledge of the name, we cannot open unto the knowledge of the signified thing; except if with ordinary and common figures, which by every one through use, at first sight, are commonly known. My intent rests upon the custom of the ancient, who in their medals expressed the names of the signified figures. Wherefore we read in the same, the words of: superfluity, concord, fortitude, felicity, peace, prudence, blessedness, hale, certainty, victory, virtue, or valiantness, and a thousand other names which stand round about their figures.

This much I thought good to write for the satisfaction of the benevolent reader. If it be that in this, or in the rest of this work, my ignorance might be blamed, I shall be contented to be instructed by their diligence.

For a conclusion, I will only say this: that as I have written this book for the honor of God and the profit of the Reader, that he will also use it for that end. For that would be an ungrateful and unthankful mind, that would not give thanks to God for all what, by a second cause, for his good is propounded.

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