Skip to main content

Meditation “Von der Tochter Sion”

CAT 60 van der Heyden Song of Solomon Tochter Sion Suderman 1622 BA 69.jpg

CAT 59. Jacob van der Heyden. Meditation “Von der Tochter Sion” in Daniel Sudermann, Hohe geistreiche Lehren und Erklärungen: uber . . .  desz Hohen Lieds Salomonis. Frankfurt: Eberhardt Kieser, 1622, p. 65. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Here, in a more mystical way than in CAT 55, the space between the secular world and the spiritual one is vanishing. The female beloved is about to leave the material world entirely behind. Her figure is labeled “Gebett” (prayer), with a chalice near her body. The heavenly archer is labeled “Liebe” (love), with an arrow in his hand. He is about to launch her soul into the mystical realm of the Host of Hosts, the elevated Son of God surrounded by concentric circles of angels in adoration. The German-language commentary on the verso of Melville’s copy is in double columns of verse without any headings or numerical breaks. Words prominent in the right column include “Wein,” “Wasser,” “Jungfrau,” “Sion” (wine, water, virgin, Zion), all of which are central components in translating the specifically non-religious language of the Song of Songs into a religious, and specifically Christian, allegory.

This image is embedded in one of two codas which Sudermann provides to his sequence of commentaries on individual verses of the Song of Songs. One coda, with no illustration, reproduces a text from the German philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327). The other, with two illustrations, features Sudermann’s meditation addressed “Von der Tochter Sion” (Concerning the Daughters of Jerusalem). After a very long subtitle, Sudermann presents a passage from Song of Solomon 1:4, attributed to the male beloved, as the inscription to the first of two engravings; its King James equivalent is “Draw me, we will run after thee.” The engraving immediately below that verse, with the same rectangular dimensions used throughout the series, shows the female beloved in the canopied bed conversing with the daughters of Jerusalem arrayed before her. This domestic interior scene resembles those seen earlier but with one important difference: each of the “daughters” is this time labeled with an abstract quality such as knowledge, love, belief, etc. These labels make the allegory of the entire series verbally explicit within the visual image for the first time. Similarly, the engraving acquired by Melville from the third page of Sudermann’s concluding commentary features the words “Gebett” and “Liebe” applied to the female beloved and the male archer; these make much more explicit the transition from the allegorical to the mystical realm, an impression that is admirably enhanced by van der Heyden’s endless rings of concentric congregants among the Host of Hosts.

Whether or not Melville knew of the specific source of these ten images in Sudermann’s 1622 emblem book, he would have seen, simply by viewing the images themselves and looking at the German-language fragments on the verso of each one, that these engravings are designed to explore the literal, allegorical, and mystical dimensions of the Song of Songs.