In the guise of apparent Christian moral teachings 17th c. German theologian Daniel Cramer presents the yearnings of a heart more suited to secret alchemical doctrines than the theology of piety.
In the Germany of the turn of the seventeenth century, in times of tremendous religious struggles, the outstanding Lutheran theologian Daniel Cramer (1568-1637) writes a book with very unorthodox and controversial images even for the world of the Reform, but which passed as a theatrical and erudite form of meditation of the heart by a savant who had tried, as a young man, to make his way in the field of drama. But Cramer wasn’t Shakespeare.
Perhaps someone of the readers already knows that I, as a general rule, keep art and alchemic emblems separately. But this time I made an exception, as we are not before the overtly challenging conundrums I habitually see in the alchemical collections; in fact, Cramer’s “pitture” soon appear for what they are: hidden pieces of evidence prepared for those who have an eye to perceive, and, similarly to his contemporary baroque artists’ masterpieces, he seems caught up in the cultural wave of their time – the art and science of Hermes. Nevertheless, Cramer’s baroque age readers were meant to have no eye to it but, on the contrary, an ardent wish to follow the religious Orthodoxy.
While re-reading the article before publishing it, I decided to start from the planned conclusion instead to immediately offer to the reader the most outstandingly intriguing of the Cramer’s emblems of the first series, i.e. the number 42, as I wish to let the visual part to introduce this silent book, mutus liber, which, if started with words, would have been a tedious journey for historians of religions as an incipit. But soon after the hint, a thorough historical analysis can not be postponed. A complete gallery of the emblems is provided at the end of the article.
its turn rests on a dolphin that cruises the sea. The first heart, in hazardous stability, bears an obelisk on the tip of which a second winged heart tries to maintain a highly precarious equilibrium. The motto given by Cramer is “Alta Cadunt”, or from the above, they fall. But the author has conceived this extraordinary symbolic scene, as well as rich in savant erudition event, just to express the moral concept of remaining humble and content ourselves not to be ambitious? We know that obelisks, in ancient Egypt, were cypress-like pillars used to beautify palaces and temples for the reason of resonance. Yes, you have correctly read, for acoustics and not elegance. Providing the obelisks were installed with the minimal contact with the ground (commonly resting on four tiny rounded supports) they used to emit delicate sounds with just the difference of temperatures at dawn or when oscillating by the wind. Obelisks were huge tuning fork-like pieces of architecture, and incidentally also extremely elegant in their elongated shape. Perhaps few are aware of the importance of acoustics in the final steps of the alchemical works, on the other hand, it is known that we have to search for the “Light to be heard with the ears” in our operations. But why Daniel Cramer makes two winged hearts/inner solar centers communicating with each other through resonance? And why the first heart tries his best standing on a rhomboid with the least possible contact with a swimming dolphin, the clear alchemical symbol of a philosophical magnet in a huge mercurial sea/Spiritus Mundi/central Mercurius of everything under the sun? And why two hearts? A single one was not enough to suggest the alleged idea of keeping humble and not ambitious? Often we have heard of the theory of the “mirror” (see my FAQs), in which a single Mercurius cannot bring in neither descendants nor fruits. Mercurius must always have effects on another Mercurius. If not, they are both idle. But to try to answer, we must deepen on the theology of piety and the heart symbol.
Daniel Cramer’s bio tells us he was the son of a theologian, whose professional steps he followed to become a renowned university professor, safely embracing Martin Luther’s religious reform. And yet despite his background, Cramer was a controversial theologian and opposed not only by Jesuits, with whom he was in constant strife but also among Protestants.
Equally controversial is the publishing history of his Emblemata Sacra: hoc est, decades quinque emblematum ex sacra scriptura, de dulcissimo nomine & cruce Jesu Christi, figuris aeneis incisorum. Pars prior to Prime reveren. Dn. Danielem Cramerum SS. Theologiae doctorem collectio. Postea true Dn. Cunrado Bachmanno, hist. ………. Illustrata. Francofurti, Sumptibus Lucae Jennis I., 1674. There were several editions from 1617 to 1624, with the addition of new emblems, title pages, and polyglot translation. The 1624 edition presents one hundred emblems, eighty of which displaying a heart in the image. The edition I’m examining was dated 1674 and belonged to Carl Jung (supposing Jung was very well instructed by someone much deeper versed in alchemical bibliography than him, I believe, before a re-edition of the 1624 edition). The epigrams are by Cunrado Bachmann, the preface written by Lucas Jennis.
The massive presence of the heart symbol leads us to unquestionably identify the subject as the doctrine of the heart, a religious meditation phenomenon typical of European seventeenth-century Christian texts, and which represented a continuum of the so-called theology of piety and was not connected with the theological controversies of that period. Nevertheless, the protestant books presented a more popular and fresh use of concepts and imagery than the culturally older Catholics. The forerunner of the genre was Benedictus van Haeften’s Schola Cordis, or the school for the earth, in which the human earth was taught to be united with God, and it was both subject and recipient of the teaching. Van Haeften’s work relied heavily on the ancient established authors’ writings, to the point to be a mere series of quotations, in fact, the author preferred the term “school” rather than the concept of meditation. As time went by, the writers on the same subject became instead more mystic and passion oriented, especially the protestants, being more interested in religious discourse rather than in dogma. For instance, Christopher Harvey’s School of the Heart was a text all in verse.
Daniel Cramer’s Emblemata Sacra (sacred emblems) goes even further and appeared on the scene of the doctrine of the heart in an unexpected way: it was an all emblem text. To an extent to be assigned by modern historians a place within the range of emblem genre, such as Alciati Emblemata, 1661.
Cramer’s book consists of two groups of fifty images, each emblem with properly written part: a motto, pictura, subscription, quotation from the old and new testament, and four poems in Latin, German, French, and Italian offering variations on the motto and/or biblical quotation. But, admittedly, the literary part is scarcely determinant. We know the words of that age were extremely prudent, as the censorship was mainly applied to the written part. The images were bound to interpretation, so rather unencumbered. What soon becomes evident, in Cramer’s book, is the mismatch of words and images. In fact, the iconography of the heart is rather absent from the traditional Christian sources, there is no verse in either the Old or New Testament which explicitly cites the word “heart”. In Emblemata Sacra the utmost part of the variations on the mottos and/or biblical quotations are popular verses on common moral teachings, and the explicit biblical parts seem more adaptations of those popular verses, which, it is fair to say, more than often seem incongruously attached to the referred emblem. Hence the necessity of relying only on the images, or “pittura”, for the hidden meaning. Sometimes Cramer adopts some verses to add hints to the image, for instance when colors would be involved. For this reason, I have not fully translated the written part, but the few real hints given by the author. In the book title, it appears the author of the written part is Cunrad Bachmann, not Daniel Cramer though. So, Cramer was only involved in the scenery script of the images.
Lucas Jennis, Emblemata Sacra printer, and publisher, in the preface to the benevolent reader, explains the reasons of the preponderance given to images providing the example set by the ancient art of Egyptian hieroglyphics: ” ….. they revealed to each other their deep wisdom and the thoughts of their hearts through characteristic images of animal or other familiar and natural objects..”. What Lucas Jennis doesn’t say, and what perhaps was still unknown before the discovering of the Rosetta Stone, is that the hieroglyphics were a complete writing system, not just a fascinating series of emblems. But surely Jennis wasn’t new to censorship concerns as he was, beyond Cramer, also the publisher of many Alchemy treatises.