An Allegory of Divine Love
Marilyn Aronberg Lavin
Saint Joseph's University Press
5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131-1395
9780916101794, $85.00, 238pp., www.amazon.com
Synopsis: The Netherlandish Canticum Canticorum is a late 15th-century blockbook ordinarily bound with larger, more impressive, and better known blockbooks, particularly the Biblia Pauperum and the Speculum Humanae Salvationis. An Allegory of Divine Love offers the first art-historical analysis of the Canticum Canticorum, Latin for Song of Songs, as an independent work of art of the highest caliber: rather than the end of a long Gothic tradition, it is revealed as a major work of Early Renaissance art, full of beautiful compositions, original ideas, and an intellectual challenge to a devoted, reading public. This blockbook is composed of eight large sheets of paper, stacked and gathered in the center to form sixteen folios, printed by hand rubbing on one side only; there are four rectangular woodcut compositions involving haloed figures, landscapes and interiors, on each opening, with thirty-two scenes in all.
As a blockbook, the Canticum's most salient feature is the fact that it has no printed identification. The sheets bear no page-signatures or rubrics. The framed scenes contain no titles. There is no commentary of any kind. The title page contains the words Canticum Canticorum, but nothing more. In the rest of the book, verbal matter consists solely of Latin inscriptions that appear in elaborately scrolling banderoles often as large as the figures. The verses quoted without identification seemingly have been chosen at random since, in the sequence, they do not follow the order of the biblical poem. But in fact, the characteristic of...