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“This thy stature is like a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes” (Song of Solomon 7:7)

CAT 57 van der Heyden Song of Solomon 7.7 Taferelen.jpg

CAT 56. Jacob van der Heyden. “This thy stature is like a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes” (Song of Solomon 7:7) in Daniel Sudermann, Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen: uber . . .  desz Hohen Lieds Salomonis. Frankfurt: Eberhardt Kieser, 1622, p. 53. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Here we see the king and queen together in an enclosed garden, he with his personal sword or staff, she with her distinctive tresses again flowing down to the right, both crowned. The garden is carefully laid out with trees of many varieties; the honeycombs in the custom-made enclosure on the left give further evidence of cultivated husbandry. This engraving resonates with the garden imagery of the entire Song of Songs—and especially with the comparison of the beloved to a “garden inclosed” and “a fountain sealed” in 4:12. In that enclosed garden the “plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, / Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices,” into which the speaker invites the beloved to “come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits” (4:13-14, 16). 

Van der Heyden’s image of the enclosed garden was in fact first used on page 34 to illustrate Sudermann’s commentary on the above passages in canticle 4. It was used again on page 38 in connection with the beginning of canticle 5: “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice, I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey” (5: 1). Here the perfection of the metaphorical garden is enhanced by the presence of the lovers within it; and the honeycombs in the engraving have their counterpart in the poetry itself.

The cutout image of this scene that Melville collected is from its third appearance in Sudermann’s emblem book, on page 53, where it relates to line 7:7: “This thy stature is like a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.” Van der Heyden has conspicuously included two palm trees within the enclosed garden. He has also positioned the king and queen in the spirit of line 7:10: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” This is the textual passage that is visible on the verso of Melville’s print, as the subject of yet another commentary by Sudermann, this one in prose rather than poetry. 

Pictorially, this representation of the king and queen in the enclosed garden shows significant affinities with Erhard Schön’s depiction of The King of the Song of Songs with his Bride in the Biblia of Lyons in 1519, 1520, and 1521 (reproduced in Schön, fig. 14.63, pp. 83, 102, 106). Schön’s depiction of King Solomon’s face, hair, crown, and clothing are quite similar to that of Solomon in this engraving (and also to a somewhat lesser degree in CAT 54 and 58). The bride in Schön’s engraving differs in countenance, dress, and posture from the one in Melville’s sequence of engravings, but Schön’s treatment of her long, curling tresses is very similar to that found throughout the entire group of engravings acquired by Melville.