“No greater flaw than in those who are crazy for women”

Brune, Johan de (1588-1658), author; Van de Venne, Adriaen (1589-1662), artist.

Emblemata of zinne-werck: voorghestelt, in beelden, ghedichten, en breeder uijt-legginghen, tot uijt-druckinghe, en verbeteringhe van verscheijden feijlen onser eeuwe. Den tweeden druck met nieuwe plaeten en eenige zedespreucken vermeerdert

Amsterdam: Bij Abraham Latham, Boeckverkoper op 1661


Quarto: 23 x 17.5 cm. [8], 378 [i.e. 380] pages. Collation: *4, A-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa4, Bbb2


Bound in contemporary Dutch vellum (soiled, abrasion to lower edge). Printed on thick paper. A broad-margined copy, very clean, with just the slightest bit of marginal soiling to title and a few leaves, tiny rust hole to leaf C4 and Ee3, and •3 and Ii1 dusty at head. A very nice copy of this attractive emblem book.

The text is illustrated with 52 copperplate engravings by Christof Le Blon (d. 1665), Johann Gelle (d. 1625), Willem van de Passe (1598-1637), Albert Poel (active 1624), and Jan Gerrits Swelinck (b. ca. 1601), all after Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662). “Poet, propagandist, and painter in oil and watercolor, Adriaen van de Venne was also seventeenth-century Holland’s outstanding designer of book illustrations. His inexhaustible talent for presenting original, vernacular imagery in a compact, vivid composition distinguishes both his illustrations and the satirical grisaille paintings in which he also specialized.”(William W. Robinson) Each emblem consists of a motto, pictura, and epigram, followed by an extensive prose ‘explanations’ or ‘elaborations’.

Praz notes that Brune, like Cats, “took inspiration from proverbs and everyday life; his realistic emblems form a counterpart to genre painting and supply interesting evidence for the history of costume.”(Praz, Studies in 17th-cent. imagery,  p. 86) Among the more unusual emblems is one showing a pretzel being pulled by two hands (each using one finger only), a symbol of transient life and of spiritually twisted man who occupies a position between God and the devil. Another shows a rotting cheese wheel with maggots and the motto “Too much sharpness will maim”.

Brune’s “Emblemata” were first published in 1624. A “second edition” of 1636 was actually a re-issue of the sheets of the first edition with some additions at the beginning and end, most notably a 52nd engraving and an appendix of 52 moral proverbs (zedespreucken). This third edition, the work of two Amsterdam publishers, Jan Jacobszoon Schipper (publisher of Jacob Cats’ works) and Abraham Latham, is based closely on the 1636 issue and is therefore considered the “true” second edition (see Adams and van der Wei. p. 112). Although Schipper and Latham cooperated on this edition, they had separate title pages, Schipper’s with the date 1661, Latham’s with no date. For some time bibliographers dated Latham’s copies to 1688 but it’s true date was proven in 1988.

“In modern studies the emblem book of Johan de Brune is usually described as one of the finest examples of Dutch emblem literature. This flattering qualification is mainly due to the pictures, designed by Adriaen van de Venne (famous for illustrating the works of Jacob Cats), which are generally regarded to be of outstanding quality. Not only the pictures, however, deserve our attention. An extensive prose commentary follows each emblem. In these prose commentaries we see De Brune’s quality as a writer. He writes in a personal, vivid but learned style, creating a dialogue between himself and his readers…

An idea of Brune’s intended audience and his idea of how emblems function can be gleaned from his dedication to Steven Tenijs. “The dedication begins with a description of ‘a good man, burgher, and Christian.’ A good man knows how to compromise between being too strict and too lax. Virtue does not express itself in severity, but in sincerity and openheartedness. De Brune also regards his ‘Emblemata’ in this way: as a combination of outer beauty and inner virtue, of learning and amusement. His ideal reader is someone who represents this ideal of the ‘aurea mediocritas’, the golden mean. With his description of the good man, De Brune seems to give a portrayal of his intended reader…

“De Brune treats a diversity of subjects in his ‘Emblemata’, ranging from the cleansing effects of tears to the virtue of being grateful, taking his examples from the fermentation of cheese and wine to the newly invented spyglass. Often these are subjects that could appeal to men and women in the same way. But when sexual morality is involved, seventeenth-century ethics show a different approach for men and women. In the ‘Emblemata’ we read that women are not supposed to take the initiative in matters of love; a woman who does is portrayed as a sinful temptress. A man can and even should take the initiative, but, on the other hand, he should beware not to get carried away and lose his head in adoration of the woman, who is certainly not worth all his praise. De Brune is not unlike most of his contemporaries in his point of view when it comes to sexual morality. His view of women as inferior to men does not in itself imply anything about his readership; he could just as well write didactic texts about sexual morality for women as for men. But the content of his lessons would differ according to his intended readers. For women, the lesson would be to be chaste and obedient; for men, that they have to be careful and self-controlled, and shoulder their responsibilities.

“When De Brune writes about the role of the woman, he never does so in the form of advice. The women are usually described as negative examples, but the descriptions are not aimed at improvement; women are not urged to change their behaviour to a better way of life. When men are described, the text usually does involve a lesson or advice. This can be illustrated with two emblems mainly dealing with courtship and marriage.

“The first of these, Emblem 35 shows a man pushing a woman on a swing. The motto of this emblem is ‘Haest u langhsaem' ('Hasten slowly', the Dutch equivalent of festina lente). The verse starts with a comparison of the woman with a swing; then De Brune turns to the man who is courting her. 

‘It is truly a swing, on which you are sitting here,
Now with a humble and meek heart, then again very proud,
Now willing, then not; now behind, then ahead;
Now needing a bridle, then a spur.
When you, young man, push her, you see her fly away from you,
And do not push her too much, or she would deceive your hope.
Your words not too saucy, (but) artful and with measure,
And if you love, love coolly, or indeed not too hot.’

“In the first part of the verse De Brune compares the woman to a swing: like a swing she changes constantly. One moment she is willing, the other moment she is too conceited to give in; sometimes she needs to be restrained, and sometimes she needs to be urged on. In the second half of the subscription De Brune addresses the man. In order to win the favor of a woman he should be careful to be moderate: his love has to be shown, but never too clearly. We see that although the negative characteristics (fickleness) are attributed to the woman, De Brune gives his advice to the man. In the prose commentary we also see that the actual lesson is meant for men, not women. De Brune writes: ‘The actual purpose of this emblem mainly comes down to this: that the young man should be very careful on the road that leads to the place where two people cannot unless by their death, be separated.’

“Women are fickle and moody. Might a woman sometimes seem to be willing, at another time she might just as well refuse the lover’s advances. The young man should not be taken aback by this, but be modest in his love and act carefully to win the woman’s heart. We see that although De Brune attributes all kinds of bad qualities to the women (fickleness, bad temper, arrogance, conceit) his advice is not aimed at improving them, but at warning the men so that they can deal with the bad sides of the women in a better way.”(Van der Weij, Emblems of the Low Countries: A Book Historical Perspective, p. 111 ff.)

Further reading: Van der Weij, “Johan de Brune’s ‘Emblemata’” in Living in Posterity: Essays in Honour of Bart Westerweel, p. 333 ff.

Verkruijsse, 1054: "De druk van Jan Jacobsz. Schipper van 1661 baseert zich op de aangevulde titeluitgave van 1636: het is daarvan een regel-voor-regel herdruk." (p. 52); Landwehr, Emblem Bks., 32c ; Praz, p. 30, no. 78: "(...) these realistic emblems form a counterpart to genre painting and supply interesting evidence for the history of costume."; De Vries, Nederlandsche Emblemata, 116; McGeary & Nash. Emblem books at the University of Illinois, B43; Beijers I, no 242.