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Parting Thought on Melville's Cut-Out Engravings

Melville’s thirteen German engravings illustrating the Song of Solomon not only gave him visual interpretations of a Biblical text whose apparent marriage of Hebrew and Greek traditions from around 300 BC fascinated him. They also provided a window into German culture, visually and verbally, less than a century after Luther completed his 1534 Bible. Melville’s ancestors appear to have lived near the German town of Lippe (in Westphalia) before migrating to the Dutch city of Groningen at some unknown time before Herman’s maternal forefather Harmen Harmense van Gansevoort was settled in Albany, New York, by 1660 (Kenney 9). Melville's thirteen Solomonic engravings cut out from Sudermann’s German texts of the 1620s, like his twenty-five Biblical engravings cut out of Father Saurin’s Dutch Tafeleren of 1728, were windows into his own family’s ancestral history in northern Europe in the early seventeenth century. They provided direct access to pictorial images by which Melville’s northern European ancestors might have imagined their proto-Christian origins in eastern Mediterranean lands. If Herman did not cut out the prints himself, or acquire them from some nineteenth-century print dealer, perhaps he inherited them from some known or unknown Dutch or German ancestor.