Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

An Illustration of Traveling Players in Franz Hartmann's Early Modern Album Amicorum

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

An Illustration of Traveling Players in Franz Hartmann's Early Modern Album Amicorum

Article excerpt

THE album amicorum flourished in German- (and Dutch-) speaking Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Begun in German universities, where students collected autographs of fellow students and professors, friendship albums, now in archives throughout Europe, stand as a Who's Who of the early modern period. Typically, a contributor, at the album owner's invitation, would inscribe a motto, a dedication, and a signature, along with date and place, and, often, have his coat of arms painted on the page. As the form evolved, watercolors of emblems, costumes, objects, and scenes, reflecting personal interests and travel, were commissioned by album owners and contributors. The album of Michael van Meer, for example, who was born in Antwerp, lived most of his life in Hamburg, and visited London for a year and a half in 1614-15, gives us the familiar painting of a cock fight, with King James and others waging bets; a skiff crossing the Thames at London Bridge; King James on horseback riding to Parliament; a St. George's Day procession; and an American Indian on display in St. James's Park. (1) Often, album owners added to their albums for years--at least thirty-five in van Meer's case--resulting in a compendium of continental and British autographs as well as a pictorial scrapbook of the times.

A number of alba amicorum hold special interest for theater historians. Johannes de Witt, whose ca. 1596 sketch of the Swan theater has proven to be valuable and vexing, signed his friend Aernout van Buchell's album in 1585 with a dedication in Latin and a painting of a lily, symbolizing their lifelong friendship. (2) An album owned by Francis Segar, an Englishman who spent much of his career in Kassel, Germany, and who accompanied the Hessian Landgrave Moritz's son Otto to London in 1611 when the prince was a hopeful for the hand of James' daughter, contains the signature of Ben Jonson on one page, with a dedication in Latin, and that of Inigo Jones on another, with a motto in Italian. (3) A number of commedia dell' arte figures appear in friendship albums as well, and an album at the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg pictures a late sixteenth-/early seventeenth-century outdoor stage with five actors/musicians. (4)

Such pages are not abundant: aside from the commedia figures, I have come across only a handful of theater-related entries in the fifteen hundred or so albums I have thus far examined. But there is one watercolor that is, to say the least, intriguing (see figure 1). It appears on f. 25 of the early modern album of Franz Hartmann of Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany. (5)Painted with colors that remain bright, the illustration depicts six figures, in costume, on a cobblestone pavement, against a blue sky. Three--in pink, green, and blue robes, white ruffs, and helmets with plumes matching the colors of their robes--carry, respectively, a falcon, a model of a church, and a model of a boat; one--in red robe, white ruff, and golden crown atop long flowing hair--carries a flaming heart or ball. The four ride horses, while two--in doublets, ruffs, and bird masks, carrying torches--walk.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The painting, of course, could be allegorical, as at least two other paintings in the Hartmann album are. One, on f. 7, is of a young man straddling the ball of Fortune as he is pulled by contending forces: on one side, a man with bags of gold and silver; on the other, an attractive young woman. Another, on f. 137, shows the figure of a prince against a mountainous landscape, with a vertically divided male figure on either side: one is half bishop, half man in loincloth with oil lamp; the other is half scholar, book in arm, half military man in armor with pike. Both illustrations represent common tropes in German albums. The subject painting, though unique among album paintings I have seen, also contains allegorical features: the objects the figures on horseback carry represent the four elements, with air designated by the falcon, earth by the church on a plot of land, water by the boat, and fire by the flaming heart or ball. …

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