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Ten Solomonic Engravings Cut from Sudermann's Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen

Without assuming that Melville was aware of the 1622 publication by Sudermann from which ten of the images have been cut (he of course would have been aware of the source if he did do the cutting), I will present his images in the order in which they appear in that publication. Each new section of Sudermann’s text follows the standard format for the emblem book of his time.  First the author (in this case Sudermann) presents the “inscription” (in this case the verse from the Song of Solomon to be interpreted). Then the artist (in this case van der Heyden) presents the “picture,” an engraved visualization of the inscription. Then the author (again Sudermann) presents his “subscription,” a literary or theological meditation or elaboration on the inscription and picture combined. Sudermann’s German-language inscriptions from successive verses of the Song of Solomon are taken from Luther’s Protestant translation of the Bible, first published complete in 1534. The English-language text of each verse that I present as the bracketed title of each print is from the King James translation of the Bible as Melville knew it, first published in 1611 (here cited in the version published by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia). All engravings from the Sudermann text catalogued in this section can be examined in their original context in the complete facsimile electronic edition published by the Wolfenbüttel Digital Library in 2001.  Immediately below is the page on which CAT 50 appears (fig. 1).

wolfenbuttel 1622.jpg

Figure 1. Image of Melville's CAT 50 as it first appeared in Sudermann's 1622 emblem book

Nine of the engraving from this emblem book by Sudermann are approximately the same size (2 x 3 3/8 in). The tenth (CAT 59) differs in size as well as style. Stylistically, I had at first grouped it with CAT 60-63—until discovering it in the concluding section of Sudermann’s 1622 text. Several of van der Heyden’s images illustrate more than one commentary in Sudermann’s text (like those “wild card” capital letter Ds in the Tafeleren). For example, the image of the king and his queen in the enclosed garden which I present as CAT 56, appears on pages 34, 38, and 53 of Sudermann’s text, illustrating commentaries on verses from canticles 4, 5, and 7. I present it in connection with canticle 7 because the German text on the back of Melville’s image is from that leaf of Sudermann’s book. 

Melville’s ten “pictures” from the 1622 Sudermann / van der Heyden collaboration address multiple dimensions of the interpretive “enigmas” of the Song of Solomon. Many of the engravings depict scenes that refer in a literal way to the words of the poem itself: the female beloved as she washes her feet, sits on her bed, or wanders outside the city (50, 51, 54), the king as he speaks of his beloved (52) and joins her in the garden (56), the daughters of Jerusalem as they interact with both king and queen (52, 58). Three of the engravings, however, depict a Christian, allegorical dimension that has no literal source in the text: the lover/queen carrying a cross up the hill of crucifixion (55), the king and queen outside the temple with a heavenly city explicitly depicted in the clouds overhead (57), and the merging of the temporal and spiritual worlds when the king and queen, the city behind them, are crowned with the symbol of the holy spirit high above them (53). The last of the images in this group (59) enters directly into a more mystical realm, with the lover-archer about to launch his shaft in the direction of spiritual consummation. Whether or not Melville knew the published source of these ten engravings, the man who had written the “Prodigal” canto of Clarel would easily have seen, just by shuffling them around his hand, how these “pictures” of the enigmatic song combine the literal, allegorical, and mystical.   

Sudermann’s text is numbered only on the front of each leaf; its sixty-seven numbered leaves contain twice that number of pages to read. Sudermann’s commentary moves methodically through all eight chapters, or canticles, of the Song of Songs, nearly every numbered page beginning with an engraving by van der Heyden. Each engraving is presented in the conventional format of inscription—picture—subscription. The ten engravings collected by Melville are all from the second half of the Song: three from chapter 5, two from chapter 6, two from chapter 7, and two from chapter 8, the last being from a coda in which Sudermann treats the Song of Solomon more expansively in a holistic sense. On the left side of the above image from the Wolfenbüttel Digital Library, you can see the right edge of the commentary on the verso of the previous page of the original publication from which Melville's CAT 50 was cut.

  • Sources cited primarily in this section
  • Bloch, Ariel and Chana. The Song of Songs: A New Translation with an Introduction and Commentary. New York: Random House, 1995.
  • Goldberg, Michael. “Hortus Conclusis,” in The Song of Solomon: Love Poetry of the Spirit. Ed. Lawrence Boadt. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999. 31-34.
  • Schön, Erhard. “Book Illustrations, Part 1,” vol. l of Hollstein’s German Engravings, Etchings, and Woodcuts, 1400-1700. Rotterdam: Sound & Vision, 2001.
  • Sudermann, Daniel. Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen: uber die fürnembsten Sprüche desz Hohen Lieds Salomonis von der Liebhabenden Seele das ist, Der Christlichen Kirchen und ihrem Gemahl Jesu Christo. Frankfurt: Eberhardt Kieser, gedruckt und verlegt durch Jacob von der Heyden, 1622; Wolfenbüttel Digital Library, 2001, Digital copy of 1622 book is also available on HaithiTrust from the Getty Research Institute.
Ten Solomonic Engravings Cut from Sudermann's Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen