Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

January 1994


Published in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, Vol. XXI, No. 40 (1994), pp. 31–44. Copyright © 1994 Gunter Narr Verlag Used by permission.


While full comprehension of the divine image in La Ceppède’s Théorèmes is at times quite remote, understanding of the human image is often more accessible. I will argue that many of La Ceppède’s sonnets can be read as emblems which, both didactically and aesthetically, reveal the human in the divine through the iconographic portrayal of images, either written or graphic. By icon, I refer to the sacred representation and interpretation of images for the purpose of collective worship. Icons become the artistic means by which a devout subject, either poet or meditant, may identify and envision a religious object. In this vein, I raise the question of emblem in La Ceppède’s sonnets in order to grasp more firmly the role of visual and pictorial image to the poet’s conception of devotional exercise. The presence of engravings in the original 1613 and 1622 editions of the Théorèmes compounds the question of what contribution illustrations, both literal and figurative, play in understanding the work as a whole. While critics have studied the relationship between the Théorèmes and pictorial art, the link to emblem, a genre corresponding to both the artistic and devotional traditions of La Ceppède’s epoch, merits further attention. Emblem’s structure contributes to the systematization of spiritual exercise, giving the meditant a more coherent didactic framework in which to analyze devotional mystery. My aim in discussing emblem is to show why adaptation of this genre is crucial to La Ceppède’s project of deploying literature to redeem souls. I also contend that while not always central to the text’s comprehension, some of the original engravings carry a generic, as well as religious significance. In order to elucidate these ideas, a brief discussion of emblem’s history, purpose and structure is provided.