Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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Philostratus Comes To Scotland: A New Source for the Pictures at Pinkie

Michael Bath

[1] The inscription which Alexander Seton, first Earl of Dunfermline, placed over the gate to his garden at Pinkie House, Musselburgh (Fig. 1) describes his new building as a ‘villa’ (villam) or ‘suburban dwelling’ (suburbana aedificia) which was designed to celebrate all kinds of culture and urbanity (urbanitatis omnis humanitatisque). This is only one of the signs that the house, erected shortly after the union of the crowns on the site of the last battle ever to be fought between the Scots and the English – the battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 – was designed as a neoclassical building to celebrate the return of the arts of classical antiquity to the newly united kingdoms of Scotland and England. The inscription certainly alludes to a famous letter in which Pliny the Younger celebrates his house out-of-town (suburbanum), to which he escapes from the city and which is designed to carry down to posterity his own tastes and values (Pliny, Epistulae I.3, see Bath 2003: 100).[1] 

Fig. 1 Inscribed panel commemorating Alexander Seton’s reasons for building his ‘villa suburbana’ at Pinkie in 1613. Photo author.

Fig. 1 Inscribed panel commemorating Alexander Seton’s reasons for building his ‘villa suburbana’ at Pinkie in 1613. Photo author.

Pliny’s letter occupies a significant place among the classical sources that influenced the development of the country house in early modern Britain. ‘There is nothing here to do with warfare,’ Seton’s inscription insists at Pinkie, ‘not even a ditch to repel enemies, but a fountain of pure water, lawns, pools and other things that may add to their pleasures in order to welcome guests with kindness and treat them with benevolence.’[2] The pretensions of the building to be viewed as some kind of renovatio of the buildings of classical antiquity extend to its remarkable neo-Stoic long gallery. This, as I have argued elsewhere, asks to be regarded in its trompel’oeil fictive arcading and its emblematic picturae as a recreation of the ancient painted gallery or stoa poikile in Athens from which Stoicism took its name (Bath 2003: 96-99). (Fig. 2) Those pretensions are, I believe, confirmed and strengthened by a newly discovered source for one of the emblems which fill this painted gallery at Pinkie.

Fig. 2 Pinkie House, Musselburgh, painted long gallery. Crown Copyright: RCAHMS

Fig. 2 Pinkie House, Musselburgh, painted long gallery. Crown Copyright: RCAHMS

[2] Of the 30 emblems painted on the gallery ceiling eight are copied from the Emblemata Horatiana (Antwerp 1607) of Otto van Veen (‘Vaenius’), and three copy examples from the Emblemata (Frankfurt 1596) of Denis Lebey de Batilly (Bath 2003: 79-103). Several of the others use, or adapt, images which go back to various continental sources, but among the emblems in this gallery which have not so far been sourced is one with the motto Nympharumque leves cum satyris me secernunt populo (The light-footed nymphs with satyrs distinguish me from other people), which quotes Horace, Od. 1.1.32. (Fig. 3) The picture for this emblem shows a group of nymphs, with a satyr, dancing round a circular building resembling a classical temple along with other figures and spectators, and on the steps in front of the doorway lies a sleeping baby in a cradle of branches. The motto below the picture also quotes Horace, Od. 4.8.28, and refers to the immortal memory which poets confer on praiseworthy people, Dignum laude virum musa vetata mori (‘The muse will not allow the praiseworthy man to die’). It is not at all easy to make sense of this picture, particularly the small detail of the baby in its cradle, in relation to the two mottoes. However the newly discovered source for this emblem, which can now be identified as copying an engraved illustration to Blaise de Vigenère’s French translation of the Imagines of Philostratus (Philostratus 1614, sig. 378),[3] not only clarifies just what is being represented in the emblem and what it means, but also confirms, I believe, the status of this building and its decoration as a deliberate attempt by the Scottish Chancellor  to recreate in early-modern Scotland a building which would reconstitute the arts of antiquity. [4] (Fig. 4) My reasons for making this claim have everything to do with the reputation of Philostratus’s celebrated descriptions of the paintings he claims to be observing on the walls of a house in second- or third-century Naples as models of literary ekphrasis.

Fig. 3 Nympharumque leves cum satyris me secernunt populo (The light-footed nymphs  with satyrs distinguish me from other people) emblem in long gallery, Pinkie House. Photo  Ann Buchanan.

Fig. 3 Nympharumque leves cum satyris me secernunt populo (The light-footed nymphs with satyrs distinguish me from other people) emblem in long gallery, Pinkie House. Photo: Ann Buchanan

Fig. 4 ‘Pindare’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère,  Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 378. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 4 ‘Pindare’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 378. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[3] What the Nympharumque leves… emblem actually shows us is a picture which Philostratus entitles ‘Pindar’, depicting  what ancient writers tell us about the birth of the poet who was predicted by the gods to become the greatest of lyric poets. His father, they tell us, placed the future poet on a cradle of laurel and myrtle branches in his doorway, where the bees came from their hives and laid honey on his lips so that he would be inspired with harmony and music. At the same time, Philostratus tells us, Pan and a group of nymphs danced round him, overlooked by the mother of the Gods, earth goddess Rhea, whose marble statue stands in the doorway. The painting at Pinkie copies an engraving from the first edition of Philostratus ever to have been illustrated. Published in Paris in 1614, the translation into French was by Blaise de Vigenère with Vigenère’s own commentary. First printed in Paris in 1578, unillustrated (Adams, Rawles and Saunders, F.478), it was not until 1614 that Vigenère’s Images ou Tableaux de Platte Peinture des Deux Philostrates appeared with illustrations by a Parisian engraver called Jaspar Isaac.[5] (Fig. 5) De Vigenère (1523–1596) was a French diplomat and author of over twenty books, of which his Traicté des Chiffres on cryptography has attracted modern interest since it is thought to have invented the first intelligence cipher of its type not to be easily breakable. His role as French diplomat and man of letters may be what drew him to the attention of Alexander Seton. Seton had pursued legal studies in France in the 1570s following his early education by the Jesuits in Rome. In 1577, aged 22 and having completed his education abroad, he returned to Scotland to pursue a distinguished legal career, elected Lord President of the Court of Session in 1588, Chancellor of Scotland in 1604 and Earl of Dunfermline in 1605. In 1583, and again in 1584, he had accompanied his father, George Seton, on a royal embassy to Paris to attempt to persuade Henri III to renew the ‘auld alliance’ (Maitland 1829: 63; Seton 1939: 296). Although the engravings that illustrate de Vigenère’s Images ou Tableaux are nearly all signed by Isaac, some of the others were designed by Antoine Caron, court painter to Catherine de Medici and Henry II of France. Caron was responsible for organizing the French court pageants and his drawings of festivities at the court of Charles IX are well known as likely sources for the Valois Tapestries (Yates 1959).[6] When we look at Isaac’s picture of the Birth of Pindar, I think we might easily imagine that what it represents is the type of allegorical pageantry represented by the French ballet de cour in court festivals of the later sixteenth century: we see nymphs and satyrs dancing to the music of onstage performers who are part of the scene, and in the bottom right-hand corner there is even a group of spectators, one of whom is turning as if to invite us to join in the spectacle.

Fig. 5Title page of Blaise de Vigenère’s translation of Philostratus, in the Paris 1637 edition, which is a page-for-page reprint of 1614/15 with the same title page. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 5 Title page of Blaise de Vigenère’s translation of Philostratus, in the Paris 1637 edition, which is a page-for-page reprint of 1614/15 with the same title page. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[4] There was one further collaborator in the production of this particular rendition of the Imagines, for beneath each engraving is a set of verses. Those accompanying the Birth of Pindar take the form of a dialogue – a question-and-answer session in which key details in the picture are explained.

D[emande].       Que peuvent server des abeilles
                               A la naissance d’un enfant ? 
R[éponse].         Nous en predisons les merveilles,
                               Et qu’il doit estre triomphant.

[Question: What purpose can bees serve in the birth of a child? Answer: We predict wonders by them, and that he must be a winner.]

These verses were written especially for the 1614 edition by a poet called Artus Thomas, Sieur d’Embry, who is named on the title page, and their interest from our point of view is that they give each of the pages containing these new illustrations a format which closely resembles that of the sixteenth-century emblem books, with the capitalised title above the engraving occupying the space normally filled by an emblem motto, and the verses below having much the same explanatory and moralising function as an emblematic epigram or subscriptio. It must have been the emblematic format which recommended this edition of Blaise de Vigenère’s Philostratus to Alexander Seton as a suitable source to fill a vacant space in the trompe l’oeil emblem panels that fill his ceiling. Philostratus’s Imagines are not generically the same as emblems, but one can easily see why this format might have suggested to Seton their suitability for his purposes, indeed Mario Praz includes this edition of Philostratus in the ‘Bibliography of Emblem Books’ that concludes his Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery, although, as he says, ‘the figures are not accompanied with mottoes, they are illustrated by verses which point their moral applications’(1964: 453). Seton was therefore not the last person to identify Blaise de Vigenère’s illustrated edition of Philostratus as some kind of emblem book. De Vigenère’s commentary on the Pindar painting makes no mention of Horace’s Odes, and Seton must presumably himself have chosen these to supply the missing mottoes, making this panel conform with the other emblems from different emblem books that he chose for his painted ceiling, all of which have two mottoes for each picture.[7] Both of these mottoes confirm Philostratus’s moral by celebrating the status and immortality of poetry, and Horace’s reference to ‘Nymphs and satyrs’ in Odes 1.1.32 must have seemed particularly appropriate to this picture of Pan and his Nymphs cavorting round the nascent poet.

[5] It is only rarely that we find evidence of who owned the actual books or engravings used as sources for works of art at this period, but a highly important and suggestive inventory of some of Seton’s books has recently come to light which confirms Seton’s ownership of a copy of de Vigenère’s Philostratus. Compiled in 1625, the ‘Inventair of som of the Earril of Dunfermline his buiks in Pinkie’ has survived amongst the Crawford papers in the National Library of Scotland.[8] Among books on such subjects as theology, mathematics, astronomy, chronography, perspective, and a truly remarkable number of books on art and architecture (including copies of Serlio, Palladio, and Vitruvius), the Inventory records not only a copy of ‘Philostrati opera’, which was probably the original Greek text, but also what the Inventory lists as ‘Les tableaux de plate peinture de Philostrate par viginere folio’. This is not, moreover, the only work by Blaise de Viginère that Seton owned, for the list also includes his book on secret cyphers (‘Traites de ciphres de viginere 4°’), his commentaries on  Caesar’s  Gallic Wars (‘Commentaires de Caesar par vignere 4o’), and Vigenère’s translation of Onosander’s Greek treatise on military strategy (‘Onosander par viginere 4°’). Seton evidently had a strong interest in the writings of this French humanist and diplomat and we may well wonder whether the two men had ever met. In view of Seton’s manifest interest in neo-Stoicism, it is also interesting to note that the books he kept at Pinkie in the seventeenth century included the works of Justus Lipsius (‘Opera omnia Lypsii’).

[6] In the absence of any surviving ancient paintings, the ekphrastic descriptions of them by ancient authors assumed a new importance as essentially the only available source for modern attempts to recreate or imitate them. As Jean Hagstrum reminds us, ‘Of the work of the great painters of antiquity – Polygnotus, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Apelles – not a single undisputed example has survived’ (Hagstrum 1958: 17). It was only the fifteenth-century rediscovery of Nero’s Golden House in Rome that revealed the first examples of authentic antique painting ever to have come to light, and the speed with which these were imitated by Raphael and his followers, as the new fashion for grottesco painting spread across Europe, is testament to the excitement and importance of this discovery.[9] But grottesco is a purely decorative style of painting, which cannot realise many of the high ideals of illusionism, commemoration or idealisation which classical writers found in the great painters. And for this reason – even after the discovery of Nero’s fantastic murals – the literary models of ekphrastic description retained their importance in painting which had any higher aspirations.  Ekphrasis was primarily a rhetorical rather than an artistic or aesthetic principle, however, held up for critical admiration wherever it was encountered in the writing of classical authors, whose examples of rhetorical enargeia were imitated or emulated as a regular classroom exercise in the schoolroom – indeed in his proem to the Imagines Philostratus explains that it was only when he was challenged to talk about the paintings in a house he was visiting by a group of local youths that he agreed to produce his ekphraseis: these were showpiece exercises in epideictic rhetoric, offered above all as ‘a vehicle to reveal the author’s credentials, his detailed knowledge of Greek myth and literature and the ingenuity with which he can weave these into his account of a Neapolitan picture gallery’ (Newby 2009: 323). If we are right to define ekphrasis as ‘a rhetorical description of a work of art’ (Hagstrum 1958: 18, citing Oxford Classical Dictionary) then the attempts of modern artists to create, or recreate, the pictures which were suggested by such descriptions are what, I suggest, might better be called ‘realised  ekphrasis’ since ekphrasis is, strictly, the verbal description of a painting whereas ‘realised ekphrasis’ is the visual realisation of such verbal descriptions. Such realisations are likely to be characteristic of Renaissance artists if only because they stand as attempts to recreate the art of the ancient world. It is because Alexander Seton’s house at Pinkie has so many other features that ask to be read as a deliberate renovatio of the arts of antiquity that his motives for including one of Philostratus’s Imagines in his Long Gallery therefore has to be seen as a deliberate attempt to recreate an authentic example of ancient painting in early-modern Scotland. The tendency of a now somewhat superannuated school of architectural historians to restrict the ‘neoclassical’ label to strictly neo-Palladian models should not therefore deter us from recognising these more diverse antiquarian influences on Scottish architecture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as clear enough indicators of a northern renaissance.[10] The fact that Alexander Seton’s octagonal trompel’oeil cupola in the long gallery at Pinkie House also copies an illustration from one of the most advanced pattern books of the early seventeenth century on the mathematics and theory of perspective is surely further evidence of its Renaissance pretensions.[11]

Fig. 6 Titian, The Andrians, 1522-1524, Madrid: Prado.

Fig. 6 Titian, The Andrians, 1522-1524, Madrid: Prado.

Fig. 7 ‘Les Andriens’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de  Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 205. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 7 ‘Les Andriens’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 205. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[7] In the light of this discovery, it is natural to ask where else the Imagines of Philostratus have been identified as the source, or inspiration, behind other examples of what I am calling ‘realised ekphrasis’ in Renaissance painting. Applications of Philostratus in the Renaissance and Baroque start with Titian, who painted two canvases, The Worship of Venus, and The Andrians for Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara between 1518 and 1525 (Goff 1997, n.4). The Worship of Venus (Madrid, Prado) has long been recognised as a realisation of Philostratus’s description of a painting showing cupids playing in an orchard, where they chase a hare in front of a grotto dedicated to Venus (Goff, n.4). The Andrians (also in the Prado) depicts a drunken orgy which betrays in several of its details the influence of Philostratus’s description of an ancient painting showing the arrival of Bacchus, god of wine, on the isle of Andros (Murates 1973; Wickhoff 1902).[12] (Fig. 6) Classical mythology tells of the wanderings of Dionysus, alias Bacchus, over the various territories in which the cultivation of the vine became established, amongst which are the Andrians who live beside a stream of wine flowing out of the ground down to the sea past revelling Satyrs, Bacchantes and Seleni. (Fig.7) Titian based both paintings on Philostratus’s descriptions, and Poussin made his early pictures in emulation of Titian, although his version of The Andrians in the Louvre has been described as a subject ‘so obscure that it could only have been lifted from the mysterious ecphrasis in book I of Imagines’ (Bann 2009: 344). (Fig.8) Rubens also made a copy of the Andrians during the time when he was in Madrid, involved in negotiations for a truce between England and Spain which were cut short by the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham in 1628, and Rubens filled in his time making portraits and copying the Titians (Bertos 1976).

Fig. 8 Poussin, Bacchanal: the Andrians, 1630, Paris: Louvre.

Fig. 8 Poussin, Bacchanal: the Andrians, 1630, Paris: Louvre.

[8] Claims for Philostratus’s influence on particular paintings before the 1614 publication of de Vigenère’s illustrations have, necessarily, to rely on careful demonstration of the resemblance between details of the painting and Philostratus’s verbal descriptions. Hence Stephen Bann’s somewhat tendentious claims for Philostratus’s influence on the Narcissus of Caravaggio (Fig. 9) depend on a closely argued analysis of such details as the handling of his hair: ‘Caravaggio’s Narcissus,’ argues Bann, ‘betrays, or rather advertises, its adhesion to the text of Philostratus … principally by the uncanny precision with which it picks up the classical author’s concluding description of the young huntsman’s hair arrangement’ (Bann 2009: 347). (Fig.10) A painting of ca. 1640 by Jacob Jordaens in The Hague, Mauritshuis,

Fig. 9 Caravaggio, Narcissus, c.1597-1599

Fig. 9 Caravaggio, Narcissus, c.1597-1599,
Rome: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.

Fig. 10 ‘Narcisse’ as illustrated in Philostratus,

Fig. 10 ‘Narcisse’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 192. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

which has long been misidentified under the title Marsyas Ill-Treated by the Muses (Fig. 11) has recently been shown to be a realisation of Philostratus’s Pan and has therefore been reinterpreted as Pan Punished by the Nymphs. (Fig. 12) Jordaens could not read Latin and is therefore likely to have used De Vigenère’s translation, but if this was in one of the illustrated editions he simply ignored Isaac’s engraving, since as Edith Wyss notes, ‘Beyond the general type of pastoral landscape, the engraving and the painting have little in common. Jordaens must have based his interpretation on the text, not on the illustration’ (Wyss 2010: 5). The Pinkie ceiling thus appears to be an extremely rare, if not unique, example of painting which copies the de Vigenère illustrations rather than merely following Philotratus’s descriptions: this surely gives it an exceptional importance.

Fig. 11Jacob Jordaens, Pan Punished by the Nymphs, The Hague, Mauritshuis.

Fig. 11 Jacob Jordaens, Pan Punished by the Nymphs,
The Hague, Mauritshuis.

Fig. 12‘Pan’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 369. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 12 ‘Pan’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 369. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[9] The anonymous painter who executed the designs for Alexander Seton’s long gallery in the early seventeenth century, however, was certainly no Titian, no Poussin, no Rubens. But the fact that Scotland had no school of painters of a quality that might stand comparison with such European masters does not mean that Scottish patrons such as Alexander Seton, who had travelled on the continent, did not bring to the decoration of their buildings many of the same ideals and values which motivated Renaissance and Baroque painting elsewhere in Europe, particularly when such painting depended as much on rhetorical or wider humanist values as it did on purely aesthetic ones. Seton’s use of Philostratus at Pinkie strengthens the somewhat tentative case I make in the closing pages of my book Renaissance Decorative Painting in Scotland (2003) for some of the paintings elsewhere in Scotland at this period as ekphrastic. The Siege of Troy (Fig. 13) and the Calydonian Boar Hunt (Fig. 14) at Cullen House, Banffshire, are both paintings of subjects which stood high on the list of ekphrastic descriptions; indeed as Alastair Fowler says, ‘The locus classicus [of ekphrasis] was Aeneas’s response to the Carthage murals showing the fall of Troy’ (Fowler 2003: 77). This is in Aeneid, Book I, when Aeneas is moved to tears as he sees the temple which Dido has built to goddess Juno; its bronze gates are decorated with pictures representing the fall of Troy. In Book II Aeneas tells that story – which is, of course, his own story – at first hand to Dido, but in Book I he is describing what he can actually see depicted in a work of art, which makes it a true ekphrasis. Unlike the siege of Troy, the Calydonian Boar Hunt, which was depicted on the facing frieze of the gallery at Cullen, is the subject of one of the actual imagines of Philostratus the Younger, which surely establishes its right to be considered an example of what I am calling realised ekphrasis, even if it owes more to Ovid’s than to Philostratus’s description of the hunt which Meleager, prince of Calydon, organised to kill the monstrous wild boar that goddess Diana had sent to ravage the land. In that Ovidian story Atalanta triumphs over her male compatriots, who miss their target or leap up into the trees, by herself shooting the arrow which kills the huge boar (Bath 2003: 211-212). Philostratus’s ‘Meleager’ is not illustrated by de Vigenère since it is one of the Suite of Images in the latter part of the book by Philostratus the Younger, all but two of which lack illustrations, so there was no engraving of this subject for the Cullen artist to copy, even if he knew of de Vigenère’s illustrated edition.

Fig. 13Cullen House, Banffshire, The Seige of Troy, digital reconstruction of painting on frieze of original long gallery destroyed by fire in 1987.

Fig. 13 Cullen House, Banffshire, The Siege of Troy, digital reconstruction of painting on frieze of original long gallery destroyed by fire in 1987.

Fig. 14Cullen House, Banffshire, Calydonian Boar Hunt, digital reconstruction of painting on frieze of original long gallery destroyed by fire in 1987.

Fig. 14 Cullen House, Banffshire, Calydonian Boar Hunt, digital reconstruction of painting on frieze of original long gallery destroyed by fire in 1987.

Fig. 15Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, Hector and Achilles, tempera painting in window bay.

Fig. 15 Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, Hector and Achilles, tempera painting in window bay.

[10] The remarkable painting at Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, in a window bay which the painter has reinterpreted in a rather wonderful bit of trompe l’oeil as a tent opening, shows Hector talking to Achilles: on one side sits Hector, on the other Achilles, and we know this is who they are because there is an inscription between the two that identifies them: ‘When during a trewes of four monethes maist worthy and noble hector walked into the grekes host and of the talking betwyne him and ferce Achyles’. (Fig. 15) Hector’s meeting with Achilles is not described by Homer or Virgil (nor indeed by Philostratus) but goes back to the twelfth-century medieval reworking of the Troy story by Benoît de Sainte Maure (Bath 2003: 213-214). It had already been illustrated in the visual arts in some late-fifteenth century tapestries, but the way this painting shows two onlookers peering over the tent flaps comes very close to realising Philostratus’s recommendations for illusionist painting in his description of a picture of the siege of Thebes (‘Menoeceus’) where, he says, ‘The clever artifice of the painter is delightful. Encompassing the walls with armed men, he depicts them so that some are seen in full figure, others with the legs hidden, others from the waist up, then only the busts of some, heads only, helmets only, and finally just spear points. This … is perspective [lit. ‘the principle of proportion’] since the problem is to deceive the eyes’ (Philostratus 1931, p. 17).

[11] This is a passage which has had a significant influence on thinking about the role of the imagination, and the relationship between truth and deception, in the visual arts (Dundas 1993: 70-71); indeed Philostratus’s description has attracted the attention of modern literary and art historians ever since Ernst Gombrich (1962: 176-177) pointed out that it appears to authorise Shakespeare’s description of the Troy wall painting in Tarquin’s chamber in The Rape of Lucrece:

For much imaginary work was there
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,
That for Achilles image stood his spear,
Grip’d in an armed hand, himself behind
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind:
A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head
Stood for the whole to be imagined. (ll.1422-28)

We have already remarked how the Pinkie rendition of the Birth of Pindar suggests a theatrical scenario, and in this context it is worth noting Frances Yates’s claim:

Philostratus was one of [Ben] Jonson’s favourite authors, and though the Vigenère commentary is published too late for him to have used it in the earlier masques, it should, I think, be consulted in relation to Jonson, for it reflects the mythological learning of those French circles out of which the ballet de cour, so close a relation of the English masque, was born. (Yates 1951: 179)

Fig. 16 ‘Anthée’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère,  Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 470. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 16 ‘Anthée’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 470. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Some of the clearest signs of Jonson’s debts to Philostratus are, perhaps, to be found in the masque Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, performed at court on Twelfth Night, 6th of January 1618. The masque dramatises the expulsion by Hercules of gross sensuality from the world, characterised by ‘the belly god’ Comus and by the giant Antaeus – Antaeus was son of the earth goddess Gaia and was invincible as long as his feet touched the ground of his mother earth; Hercules accordingly defeated him in classical mythology on his way to his eleventh labour by lifting him up into the air and holding him there. Antaeus is the subject of one of Philostratus’s descriptions showing Hercules lifting the semi-giant off the ground and being congratulated by the descending heavenly figure of Mercury. (Fig. 16) He puts in no appearance directly in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, but Hercules alludes to the myth in his opening observations on the ‘first Antimasque’ which is danced by ‘Men in the shape of bottles, tuns. &c’: ‘What rytes are theis? Breeds Earth more Monsters yet? Antaeus scarce is cold’, he exclaims. In the ‘second Antimasque’ Hercules is roused from his sleep at the foot of Mount Atlas by a chorus of pigmies whom he sweeps from the land; they enter the stage with the words ‘Antaeus dead? And Hercules yet live?’ (Jonson 1925-52 7: ll. 87-9 135). The pygmies vaingloriously resolve to attack him, and attempt to steal his club, an action which we find pictured in the illustration to de Vigenère’s ‘Hercules Furieux’ showing Hercules destroying a host of pigmies who have attacked him (Fig. 17).

Fig. 17‘Hercules Furieux’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 486. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 17 ‘Hercules Furieux’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 486. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[12] Hercules is a well-known hero, but many of Philostratus’s pictures represent relatively obscure and unfamiliar figures from Greek mythology and Comus is one of these: one looks in vain for him, as students of Milton soon learn, in any of the familiar classical mythographies, which is why we can be fairly sure that he found his way into the English court masque from this source and no other; indeed it was probably Jonson’s precedent that led to A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634. Comus is depicted in what is only the second of Philostratus’s Imagines by a picture which shows no figure of the portly belly-god identified by Jonson in the opening lines of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, but shows figures feasting and dancing in a darkened hall, where candles and a flaming torch consume themselves, just as people do who abandon themselves to base desires. (Fig. 18) The scene depicts what Artus Thomas’s epigram describes in its opening line as ‘Un masque’, by which he means primarily the disguise which suits carnivalesque pleasure-seekers, but by the second line it has become identified with ‘la dance et le bal’. The use of the word ‘masque’ so prominently beneath this picture must surely have played its part in securing the enduring association of Comus with courtly feasting and dancing.

Fig. 18 ‘Comus’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère,  Paris 1614: 9. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 18 ‘Comus’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614: 9. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[13] Having expelled the grosser pleasures from the courtly world of make-believe in Jonson’s Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue Hercules is joined by Mercury, who descends not from Olympus but from Mount Atlas to congratulate him on suffocating Antaeus (‘Anteus by thee suffocated here’) and expelling ‘the voluptuous Comus’. For a picture of Mercury descending from the heavens on precisely such a mission we have only to look at Jaspar Isaac’s illustration of Philostratus’s ‘Antaeus’ (see Fig. 16).  In Jonson’s masque Mercury points to the figure of Virtue, who sits opposite Pleasure on the mountain, and tells Hercules that the time has come when the two opposites should be reconciled on earth in a union that will inaugurate what amounts to a Hesperian golden age. In achieving this reconciliation Hercules will fulfill, Mercury says, the aim of ‘My grandsire Atlas’ who ‘taught thee all the learning of the sphere, And how, like him, thou might’st the heavens up-bear’. For an image of Hercules supporting Atlas we need only refer to the picture entitled ‘Athlas’ in de Vigenère, where what Philostratus describes and what we see in the unsigned illustration is, indeed, Hercules offering to relieve Atlas of his burden. (Fig. 19) It is the way the whole action of this masque brings together as many as four different mythological pictures from Philostratus that suggests its influence. The first performance of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue on Twelfth Night 1618 was not a great success, and Jonson revised it for a repeat performance in February the same year which included an additional antimasque entitled For the Honour of Wales to celebrate the dancing debut of Charles as Prince of Wales; it features a cast of Welshmen whose funny Welsh accents are satirised in the dialogue.

Fig. 19 ‘Atlas’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère,  Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 463. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Fig. 19 ‘Atlas’ as illustrated in Philostratus, Les Images, translated by Blaise de Vigenère, Paris 1614, repr. 1637: 463. Photo Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

[14] Only two months later Jonson was in Scotland, having walked all the way on foot, where he stayed with William Drummond at Hawthornden and had some famous conversations about life and literature. Those conversations evidently included some discussion of the painted ceiling in Alexander Seton’s gallery at Pinkie, although whether Jonson actually visited the house and saw the ceiling is unknown.[13] What we do know, however, is that on his return to London, in 1619, Jonson wrote to Drummond reminding him of some Scottish materials which Drummond had promised to send him: ‘I most earnestly solicit you for your promise of the inscriptions at Pinky,’ he writes in what is the earliest record we have of this painted ceiling. That Jonson is referring to the ceiling and not to the other monumental inscriptions we have noticed at Pinkie is suggested by the fact that although what Drummond actually sent him was not a description of the painted gallery, it was a very full and detailed description of the similarly emblematic embroideries which Mary Queen of Scots had sewn on her Bed of State, bed hangings which only four years earlier had been sent down to London for repair in preparation for King James’s visit to Scotland in 1617 (Bath 2008: 17-21). The bed hangings were in the care of the keeper of the King’s wardrobe in Scotland, a man called John Auchmoutie, who was ordered to send them to London for repairs. The same John Auchmoutie must have accompanied, or followed, them down to London, for he danced in more than one of the court masques, including For the Honour of Wales in which the Welsh antimasquers have some trouble getting their Welsh tongues round Scottish names, including his own, comically arguing that Sir Robert Kerr must be Welsh since his name echoes that of ‘Caerlyon, Caermadin, Cardiff’ whereas ‘Acmooty,’ they argue, ‘is Ap-mouth-wy of Llanmouthwye’ (Jonson 10: 592). The connections between Jonson, Auchmoutie, and Seton extend somewhat further since John Auchmoutie actually married Seton’s niece, Isabel, daughter of his brother William, sometime Sheriff of Edinburgh and Postmaster of Scotland (Bath and Craig 2010: 285). Seton is likely to have taken an interest in Prince Charles’s coming out into public life, which is what both these masque performances were celebrating in 1618, since Seton had been guardian to the baby prince in his earliest years, until the seven year old prince was taken down to London in 1604 (Seton 1882: 50-53, 61). Auchmoutie, and his descendants, retained their hereditary role as Keepers of the King’s Wardrobe in Scotland for more than 100 years, long after there was effectively any wardrobe to be kept, though the embroidered State Bed of Mary Queen of Scots evidently remained in Auchmoutie’s care up until the Civil Wars when it disappeared (Bath and Craig 2010: 286-287). None of this evidence proves any direct influence of the Pinkie ceiling, let alone of a single detail from that ceiling, on the English court masques of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, but clearly we have quite a close correspondence between the ways in which the Imagines of Philostratus were being used in the applied arts of both Scotland and England at this time. The long gallery was not any kind of theatre or masquing arena, but rather a gallery for philosophical perambulation, or a memory theatre perhaps, combining word and image, but I think there can be little doubt that, in copying an illustration which claimed to realise an ancient ekphrasis out of Philostratus, the First Earl of Dunfermline was confirming his intention of creating a faithful and accurate imitation or renovatio of the classical arts in early-modern Scotland.

[15] There is one further antiquarian discovery which may well have influenced this piece of neoclassical renovatio, for in 1549 it was near Musselburgh that one of the earliest Roman inscribed altar stones ever to be found in Scotland was reported. Its inscription recorded that the stone had been dedicated to Apollo Grannus, known as the ‘long-haired Apollo’, by an Imperial Procurator called Quintus Lucius Sabinus: APOLLINI GRANNO Q. LVSIVS SABINVS PROC. AVG. V. S. L. V.M. (To Apollo Grannus, Quintus Lucius Sabinianus, Imperial Procurator, fulfils his vow freely, gladly and deservedly’ – the concluding abbreviation is short for ‘votum susceptum solvit lubens merito’). That the Roman empire had reached Scotland in classical times had long been evident to readers of Tacitus, but the discovery of actual Roman antiquities north of Hadrian’s wall must have brought home to educated Scots the continuities between the ancient world and the land they lived in. The Musselburgh discovery aroused extraordinary interest at the time, much of it from people known to Seton personally. In 1565 the English ambassador to Scotland, Thomas Randolph, wrote about it to William Cecil, ‘The cave found bysyde Muskelbourge semeth to be some monument of the Romaynes, by a stone that was found, with these words greven upon hym APOLLINI GRANNO Q. L. SABINIANVS PROC. AVG.’ The cave, he writes, was made out of ‘Dyvers short pillars sette upright in the ground, covered with tyle stones large and thycke’ (Cardonald 1809: 87). In the same year Mary Queen of Scots ordered that a messenger be sent from Edinburgh to ‘direct the Baillis of Mussilburgh, charging thame to tak diligent heid and attendance, that the monument of grit antiquitie new funden be nocht demolish nor brokin down’ (Chalmers 1818: 294). In the Scottish part of his Britannia (in Philemon Holland’s English translation of 1610), William Camden mentions the altar stone immediately following his account of the Battle of Pinkie, citing John Napier, who also mentions the stone in his commentary on the Apocalypse; Camden prints an accurate copy of the inscription which, he tells us, was made for him by ‘the eminent sir Peter Young, tutor to king James VI’ (Camden 1610: ‘Lothien’ para.3). Camden’s book would almost certainly have been known to Alexander Seton, as would Napier’s, indeed in 1617 Napier dedicated his book on logarithms to Seton. In building his strongly neoclassical villa suburbana close to the site of a monument which testified to the fact that Scotland had once been part of the Roman imperium Seton must have recognised the importance of signalling its status as a classical revival, and this may well be why he resorted to such neoclassicism more strongly at his house in Musselburgh than in his other houses at Fyvie or at Winton. Another inscription on the front of the house at Pinkie – now no longer visible – confirms the date when he built it: ‘Dominus Alexander Setonius hanc domum aedificavit, non ad animi, sed fortunatum et agelli modum, 1613’ (Master Alexander Seton built this house not as he wished it to be, but as circumstances and finances permitted, 1613).[14] The illustrated edition of de Vigenère’s Images, ou tableaux de platte peinture was only published in 1614, as we have seen, which suggests just how closely in touch Seton must have been with the publication of learned books published overseas; it also gives us a terminus post quem for the actual painting of his long gallery, a year or so later than the date he records for the actual building of the house.

[16] Which brings us back to the inscriptions at Pinkie. The full inscription defining the building as a suburban villa reads:


[To God the best and greatest. For his own benefit, for the benefit of his descendents, and that of all men of cultivation and urbanity, Alexander Seton, most loving of culture and the humanities, has founded, erected and decorated a villa, gardens and these suburban buildings. There is nothing here to do with warfare, not even a ditch to repel enemies, but a fountain of pure water, lawns, pools and other things that may add to their pleasures in order to welcome guests with kindness and treat them with benevolence. He has brought together all kinds of amenities that can afford decent pleasures of heart and mind. But he declares that whoever shall destroy this by theft, sword or fire, or behaves in any kind of hostile manner, will show himself to be a man devoid of all charity and  urbanity, nay an enemy of all culture and the human race. The sacred stones will speak and proclaim it.]

The inscription can still be found, not on the actual building but on the garden wall. This was not its original position, however, since George Seton (1896: 822) tells us that this and the adjoining slab lay detached for many years before being built into the garden wall in 1884. This information led me incautiously to assume that the inscriptions had originally appeared on the external face of the actual building (Bath 2007: 73). However thanks to Marilyn Brown’s recent book Scotland’s Lost Gardens (Brown 2012: 155) we now know that this inscription was always associated with the garden rather than the house itself, for SirJohn Lauder, in 1668, records the inscription as ‘above the outer gate’ of ‘a most sweit garden’ with a long green walk, a 200 foot knot (‘much larger than that at Hamilton’), summer houses, ‘sundrie parks’, and ripe figs: the letters of the inscription were in gold (Lauder 1900: 189-90). This affords strong support for the case made by David Allen for the garden at Pinkie as a leading example of a type which became characteristic of Scotland in the seventeenth century which Allen characterises as the neo-Stoic garden: ‘In preparing the ground for Scotland’s eager adoption of post-Renaissance garden cultivation, no more relevant development can be identified than the powerful resurgence of interest in classical Stoicism which so marked the second half of the sixteenth century’ (Allan 1997: 61). As Allan reminds us, Stoicism offered some refuge from the disorder and disruption of public life, becoming strongly associated, particularly in the neo-Stoicism of Justus Lipsius, with a belief that rural withdrawal or gardening represented not some Epicurean retreat from public responsibility but ‘the most appropriate venue for the effective Stoical cultivation of prudentia’ (Allan 1997: 62). Its Scottish exponents include Florence Wilson, whose De animi tranquilitate dialogus (1542) records a philosophical neo-Platonic discussion in a garden above Lyons, and they include William Drummond, whose verse ‘breathes the authentic spirit’ Allan suggests, ‘of contemporary neo-Stoic pastoralism’ (1997: 64-65). Comparable gardens include, according to Allan, Sir David Lindsay’s garden at Edzell with its classical bas-reliefs of the Liberal Arts and Planetary Deities, the Drummond Castle of the Earls of Perth at Crieff, and the castle of the Gordon Earls of Sutherland as far north as Dunrobin. ‘All of these innovations,’ writes Allan, ‘seemingly expressed a zealous but overdue Scottish attachment to the horticultural enthusiasm of the French and Italian Renaissances’ (1997: 60).

[17] Whatever reservations we might have about defining all of these as strictly ‘neo-Stoic’, the remarkable correspondence between the cultural and philosophical context defined by Allan for this type of Scottish garden in the seventeenth century and that which we have defined for the house itself at Pinkie is striking.[15] Not only is the long gallery a recreation of the Athenian stoa poikile in which Stoicism had its origins and from which it took its name but, as I have noted elsewhere, the emblem book which was the source for most of its emblems, Otto Vaenius’s Emblemata Horatiana, was in fact dedicated to Justus Lipsius, the great Dutch exponent of neo-Stoicism (Bath 2003: 96).[16] The subject of the picture which Seton selected from the 67 illustrations to de Vigenère also confirms Allan’s hypothesis, for Pindar was the greatest of Greek lyric poets, and the rejoicing of Earth goddess Rhea, with Pan and the Nymphs, at his birth suggests his association with the strongly pastoral and bucolic genres of poetry which Allan identifies – in the writing of such poets as William Drummond, William Alexander, or Alexander Ross – as expressions of Scottish seventeenth-century neo-Stoicism. The fact that the remarkable inscription describing Seton’s building at Pinkie as a modest, peaceful Plinian villa suburbana was originally placed above the gateway leading into its garden is therefore not only a confirmation of Allan’s thesis concerning the philosophical context for the wider development of the country-house poem, and garden, in seventeenth-century Scotland, but also a strong indication of the unity of both house and garden at Pinkie itself.[17] The fact that all the windows in this generously fenestrated painted gallery actually overlook the garden offers a final confirmation of the architectural and intellectual unity of the house and its garden. It was only in the eighteenth century that Edinburgh staked its claim to be viewed as ‘Athens of the North’, but long before this we can surely see the same spirit of classical emulation anticipated in the house which Scotland’s great humanist, Catholic Chancellor, Alexander Seton, built himself at Pinkie in 1613.


[1] Pliny’s much longer description of his ‘Laurentine’ villa, Epist. II.16, was equally influential, containing as it does a detailed account of its apartments and surroundings. [back to text]

[2] The significance of this inscription is now increasingly recognised in Scottish architectural histories, see Howard 1995: 51; Glendinning, MacInnes, and  MacKechnie 1996: 29,  56. [back to text]

[3] The Philostratus source was identified for me by Stephane Rolet (University of Paris-VIII and École Pratique des Hautes Études) and Anne Rolet (University of Nantes) during an excursion to Pinkie House organised for delegates attending the Ninth International Conference of the Society for Emblem Studies in Glasgow, July 2011. I am greatly indebted to them for this discovery, and for prompting me to explore its Scottish significance in the present article. [back to text]

[4] Seton had as it happens played a significant part in negotiations for a political union of the two kingdoms. In 1604 he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Scotland and commissioner for the projected political union between England and Scotland which, in the event, only came about more than 100 years later, in 1707. [back to text]

[5] The first edition of de Vigenère appeared in Paris, 1578, unillustrated, with reprints in 1502 and 1511; the first illustrated edition was printed in Paris in 1614/1615 (some copies have the date altered by the simple addition of an extra ‘I’, but are the same edition), with further editions in 1629/1630, and 1637. As Adams, Rawles and Saunders remark, ‘It is remarkable that such a large work should have been reprinted so frequently’ (2002: 294): their Bibliography of French Emblem Books is now the fullest and most accurate account of the publishing history of this work. The 1614/15 edition, they note, required an investment of 4000 écus for the engravings alone. The fact that there are only three illustrations to the latter half of the volume, containing the Suite de Philostrate and the Heroïques de Callistrate, suggests that despite this large investment economies had to be made as the book progressed. All 65 of the preceding Imagines of Philostratus the Elder are illustrated, however. For an excellent and informative study of the reception of de Vigenère’s Philostratus in seventeenth-century France see Crescenzo 1999. [back to text]

[6] For Caron’s illustrations and the influence of French ballet de cour in Scotland see Bath 2013. [back to text]

[7] My assumption that it must have been Seton himself who chose the emblems for his ceiling rests on everything we know about his intellectual interests, education and library. Although his friend, architect William Schaw, might possibly have been consulted, there is no evidence that Schaw worked on Pinkie, and the actual painters or their lead designer would not have had the command of Latin or access to these resources. [back to text]

[8] NLS Acc 9769/14/2/2. I am extremely grateful to Peter Davidson for drawing my attention to this Inventory, on which he is currently working, and to the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres for allowing me access to it. [back to text]

[9] The standard work on the rediscovery of the Domus Aurea remains Dacos 1969; for the use of grottesco ornament in Scotland see Bath 2010, and for its wider influence see Zamperini 2008. [back to text]

[10] The case for a more diverse and eclectic set of classical models for the northern Renaissance was strongly argued by the various contributors to Albion’s Classicism: The Visual Arts in Britain, 1550-1660, see in particular the contributions by Lucy Gent, Christy Anderson, Susan Foister, and Catherine Belsey in Gent 1995. [back to text]

[11] The octagonal cupola has been shown to copy the illustration from Hans Vredeman de Vries, Perspectiva, Antwerp 1604-5: 20, see Bath 2003: 102. [back to text]

[12] For Titian in this context see e.g. Murutes 1973. The literary source for the Andrians in Philostratus was first identified by F. Wickhoff (Wickhoff 1902). [back to text]

[13] The precise details of Ben Jonson’s visit to Scotland have remained uncertain ever since 1623, when the documents recording them went up in smoke with the fire which consumed Jonson’s library. However James Loxley’s recent discovery of a manuscript recording the journey and written by an unidentified travelling companion confirms that he not only visited Seton Palace at Winton and Sir George Bruce’s house with its emblematic painted ceiling at Culross, but also stayed in Dunfermline, where he played ‘shooting at buttes’ with Alexander Seton and his wife. For further information on this important document, which will certainly advance our understanding of the relations between Scotland and the culture of the Stuart court in England, we await the publication of Ben Jonson’s Foot-Voyage to Scotland, ed. Groundwater, Loxley and Sanders (announced as forthoming 2014). Anna Groundwater’s preliminary summary has just appeared as the present article went to press in a two-part resumé in the popular History Scotland  magazine (Groundwater 2013). [back to text]

[14] The inscription recording the date of the building is noted in Seton 1882, p. 17. [back to text]

[15] For the wider influence of neo-stoicism in Scotland see Allen’s Philosophy and Politics in Later Stuart Scotland: Neo-Stoicism, Culture and Ideology in an Age of Crisis, 1540-1690, East Linton, 2000. [back to text]

[16] For neo-Stoicism and the visual arts see  M. Morford, Stoics and Neostoics: Rubens and the Circle of Lipsius, New Haven, 1992. [back to text]

[17] The importance of relating the building to its setting is well argued by McKean 2003. [back to text]



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