No. 8, March 2007

This Ages Rarity: or The Emblem of a Good Servant Explain’d

  Click the image to enlarge it The Stationers Registers record the issue of a licence to Henry Bamford on 4th March 1577 for The pourtraiture of A trusty servaunt, sold to him by William Hoskins (exactly a year later it was assigned to Richard Jones). Though sadly not known to be extant, we can be certain that the image in question was neither of some particularly famous retainer, nor an idealised 'real' human servant, but the earliest-known English representative of the composite pictorial figure of the Ideal Servant who is given various animal characteristics appropriate to his duties.

John Hoskins’ verses accompanying the Winchester College mural (see below) declare that the pig's snout signifies that the Ideal Servant will not be fussy about what he eats, the ass's ears, that he will bear his master's rages with patience, and the stag's feet, that he will be swift to carry out his errands (The padlocked lips, which indicate that he knows how to keep his master's secrets, while not of animal origin, are also a significant attribute, of course, but there is not space to explore this motif fully here). Only a very few years after the date of this entry in the Registers, in the early 1580s, and while still a school-boy, the future sergeant-at-law, John Hoskins, caused just such a figure to be painted on the wall outside the kitchens of Winchester College and subscribed descriptive verses of his own devising. The earliest copy of this famous and still extant image appears in a manuscript dated 1647 entitled Schola Wichamica in the Fellows’ Library of Winchester College, drawn by Robert Mathew and entitled EFFIGIES SERVI COLLEGIATI (although, by this date, we know it had already been repainted three times). 1 The young John Hoskins is known to have had an uncle named William of the same period as the London publisher (above), so that it is at least theoretically possible that it was he who provided his nephew with the original design.

A French image contemporary with the Stationers Register entry does survive as a woodcut sheet, entitled Le Bon Serviteur, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, 2 and it is highly likely that the Serving Man listed in Thomas Jenner’s advertisement of 1662 is the same image. As things stand, however, an engraving dated 1682 and entitled This Ages Rarity: or The Emblem of a Good Servant Explain’d, is the earliest English example to survive. 3 The verse beneath explains the curious image:

Hinds Feet he hath, to shew how nimble he
In the Dispatch of Business ought to be:
His Asses Ears and Muzzel’d Mouth do show
He should be swift to Hear, but to Speak slow.
His Meagre Look, and his Thin Panch, 4 declare,
That he should be content with slender Fare.

But the motif is in fact, to be found earlier—though somewhat disguised—on two closely-related sheets, issued in 1641, one etched, one woodcut: Hollar’s symbolic Picture of a Pattenty [i.e. Patentee], and a broadside with verses by John Taylor the Water Poet, entitled, The Complaint of M. Tenter-hooke the Projector, and Sir Thomas Dodger the Patentee, the woodcut to which—specifically, the portrait of Mr. Tenterhooke—is clearly based on Hollar’s engraving. M. Dorothy George noted that in 1641 Monopolies officially ceased, and it is this historical fact that enables us to infer the date of both prints. She continues:

'It is a striking example of the application to politics of the folk-print in which persons are constructed of objects connected with their calling. A man with a wolf’s head has fish-hook fingers which pull strings attached to money bags; his legs are screws. The rest of the body is made up of things that had been the subjects of monopoly: wine, playing-cards, coals, soap, pins, &c.' 5

Another English print example of this sort of Arcimboldesque composite portrait is A Jesuit Displaid (c.1682)—the subject of next month's print.

The Picture of a Pattenty is not signed by Hollar, but has long been quite reasonably attributed to him on purely stylistic grounds, and there is no reason not to think it his. That he was the inventor, however, can now be shown not to be the case, for what is clearly the same figure had already appeared some fifty years earlier in a series of eight engravings entitled Litis Abusus [the Abuse of Litigation], signed in the second state, H[endrik]G[oltzius] fecit, and dated 1597. 6

In this series the figure in question is labelled Lis (in the Dutch caption rendered as Proces), i.e. Litigation, and he appears most clearly in the third print of the series, given the editorial title, Avarice is the root of all evil [Timothy 6.10, Radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas, is quoted on the sheet]. It depicts a blindfold Cupid followed by Lis whose ‘hands’ are held by Opinio and Testamenta (with skull-head and a forged will for hat), with Meum and Tuum bringing up the rear (“A popular phrase to express the rights of property,” as OED succinctly defines the phrase meum and tuum). Lis wears doublet and hose and has a wolf’s head; in place of legs and feet he stands on a pair of screws, and his hands are replaced by triple hooks. Where his chest should be is an open lion’s maw. 7 The symbolism of Lis’s make-up is nowhere explained, but in the fifth print of the series we see him seated on a throne devouring the homestead of a man labelled Litigator (which he is feeding the monster), while from the lion’s maw in his chest, Lis vomits miniature versions of himself labelled Lis lites generans [Litigation begets lawsuits]. To the right of Lis’s throne are two female figures with appropriate attributes labelled Negligentia domus [Neglect of house] and Negligentia temporis [Neglect of time], and a third female, Negligentia animae [Neglect of soul], who hangs the soul of the litigant over a rack. A miniature version of Lis appears in the final print of the series flying in on demonic wings to receive the soul of the dying and now destitute litigant.

Hollar clearly adapted the figure of Lis as portrayed in this late sixteenth-century series for his Picture of a Pattenty of 1641. Curiously, Hollar’s caption both alludes to the figure’s Hogshead and terms it a Wolfe like devourer of the Common wealth—curious, because the monster has a wolf’s rather than a hog’s head. The Hogshead perhaps puns on the liquid measure of that name, a large cask for liquor, but though Taylor’s text alludes to the monopoly on wine, the verses to the Hollar engraving do not: here, by implication, it is left to a flagon labelled Wine P.[atent] on the figure’s sleeve. It is even posible that hogshead is a mistake for oxhead (see below). Playing upon the familiar proverb All is fish that comes to net, 8 the caption’s All[']s Fish comes to his hooke refers the reader back to the hooks in place of fingers on the creature’s hands. With a deceptively modern ring to it, 9 the final exultant couplet reads:

Strong scrues support him that hath scru’d us all,
And now we live, to see this strong man fall.

There is nothing porcine about either Hollar’s figure or that illustrating Taylor’s broadside, so it is again surprising to read the latter’s verses describing the woodcut M. Tenter-hooke:

For you (as in my Picture plain appeares)
I put a Swines face on, an Asses eares,
The one to listen unto all I heard
Wherein your worships profit was prefer’d. 10
The other to tast all things, good or bad
(As Hogs will doe) where profit may be had.

Taylor must here be thinking of the motif of the Trusty Servant, as in the Winchester College mural (above) and the lost print entered in the Stationers Register in 1577. Indeed, the Water Poet had made use of the same commonplace in one of his poems some years earlier, 11 and the present verses make it clear that he sees M. Tenter-hooke the Prjiector as the servant of Sir Thomas Dodger the PatenteeWhat was I but your journey-man?

The animal qualities appropriate to the Ideal or Trusty Servant became variously distributed over time. Hollar appears to depict a wolf’s head on his Picture of a Pattenty—despite the Hogshead of the verse—and the derived woodcut illustrating Taylor's Complaint of M. Tenter-hooke the Projector mentions a Swines face and an Asses eares. While I do not doubt that Taylor’s verses are in essence an elaboration of those which caption Hollar’s engraving, the Water Poet clearly also has the Trusty Servant in mind, for the Asses eares are to listen unto all I heard/ Wherein your worships profit was prefer’d, and the Swines face is to tast all things, good or bad/ (As Hogs will doe) where profit may be had.

Much more might be said about the history of this literary-artistic motif, 12 and its development from that of the Ideal Man (the Ideal Woman is a different matter, of course), but ...

British Museum 1849,0315.85 [Sat 1120]. Dimensions of original: 474 mm x 312 mm (sheet), 276 mm x 177 mm (plate)


M. Thornton Burnett, ‘The trusty servant: a sixteenth-century English emblem’, Emblematica, 6 (1992), 237-53. Back to context...
Discussed by R. Saulnier & H. van der Zee, ‘Le Bon Serviteur’, Dawna Sztuka, 1 (1938), 193-208. Back to context...
M. Jones, ‘English Broadsides – I’, Print Quarterly, 18 (2001), 162-3. Back to context...
= paunch Back to context...
M. D. George, English political caricature (Oxford, 1959). Back to context...
The Goltzius Supplement volume of The Illustrated Bartsch [ed. W.L. Strauss, Netherlandish artists. Hendrik Goltzius (New York, 1980)] attributes the series to that artist, while noting that they are not signed with “the customary combination of monogram and name”, and adding that the sheets “were probably prepared at a considerably earlier date, as the style would indicate.” Whether or not Goltzius (born 1558) was himself the inventor of this particular composite figure cannot at present be proved. Back to context...
A lion's head also appears on the chest of the similarly composite allegorical 'Wise Man' drawn by Hermann Bote at the opening of his Chronicle (composed between 1502 and 1518); the head of Bote's Wise Man is drawn with a pig's ears, a crane's neck, an ostrich's eyes and a padlock on his mouth. See further, M. Curschmann, ‘Facies peccatorum—Vir bonus: Bild-Text-Formeln zwischen Hochmittelalter und früher Neuzeit’, in S. Füssel & J. Knape (eds), Poesis et pictura (Baden-Baden, 1989), pp. 157-89, and Abb. 3. Back to context...
M.P. Tilley, A Dictionary of Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor, 1950), A136. Back to context...
Though this sense of screw does, in fact, provide an antedating for the OED's sense 5b of the verb. F.G. Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, vol. 1 (London, 1870), p. 201, suggests that "The introduction of screws here [viz. as the legs of the composite figure] may be illustrated by the speech of Alderman Chambers, who was prosecuted in the Star Chamber for saying that merchants were more screwed up and wronged in England than in Turkey; he was fined £2000". While I do not believe this is, in fact, the reason for their presence, it does, at least, furnish us with another example of the sense of the verb attested in the caption. Back to context...
i.e. Sir Thomas Dodger’s Back to context...
John Taylor, Works (London, 1630), I.ii.3. Back to context...
A beginning is made by Burnett, art. cit. Back to context...