Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Wntr 1995 v35 n1 p105(17)
Robert Herrick, the human figure, and the English mannerist aesthetic.
Abstract: Robert Herrick's portrayals of the female body in his poetry is analyzed to understand its correspondence with the English mannerist aesthetic exemplified in the miniature portraits made by Nicholas Hilliard. The mannerist aesthetic in both Herrick's poetics and Hilliard's portraits make what has remained one of the biggest challenges in art a matter of grace and technical ability that is reliant on artistic invention.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Rice University
Early modern visual and poetic arts in England are often, to varying degrees, diverse outworkings of a common aesthetic. This does not mean that a single aesthetic informs all the arts of late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century England, but simply that various relations between diverse arts are real and demonstrable. To analyze artifacts in one medium while bearing in mind the form of those in another may illuminate the first analysis and assist the delineation of a common aesthetic suspected to lie beneath diverse arts.
This essay reads Robert Herrick's poetic representation of the female human figure in the light of contemporary miniaturist theory and practice.(1) In Hesperides, Herrick beautifies and objectifies woman by way of a definable aesthetic.(2) Herrick's beautiful female form is constructed in harmony with the local English version of the mannerist aesthetic chiefly and initially defined (in its miniature portrait mode) by the work and theory of Nicholas Hilliard.(3) In fact, a similar miniaturist aesthetic underlies the theory and practice of Hilliard, Edward Norgate, Henry Peacham, and the former goldsmith Robert Herrick.(4) This aesthetic, in the very best figure-work of Hilliard and Herrick, is characterized by the presence of such elements of style as grace (grazia), invention (invenzione), technical precision, and the effortless conquering of accepted artistic problems (the difficulta/facilita formula). It is the aesthetic of high Maniera.(5) One may observe in the poems of Hesperides Herrick's struggle to achieve perfection in his own personal version of this style. Ultimately, the definitive embodiment of his personal maniera results in the complete elision of his subject, woman. What remains is the resounding success of Herrick's superbly mannerist, figureless figure portraits.
The collection of secular verse entitled Hesperides may be praised in the same way that Herrick praises "Master FLETCHERS Incomparable Playes" (S-1) and "the most accomplisht Gentleman," Edward Norgate (H-301). Norgate is a "rarely tun'd" (line 1) universe of diverse parts and Fletcher's plays exhibit fresh variety and "high designe" in a unification of words, lines, and scenes. Hesperides is a virtuoso kaleidoscope of poetic forms harboring a pleasing variety of personae.(6) Herrick's representation of the beautiful female form shows a similar principle of construction: "high designe" orders "such sweet varietyes" (S-1, lines 13, 16). In his praise of others, and his own practice (as I will show below), Herrick appears to share Lodovico Dolce's view: "if one wants to indicate that an object of any kind is beautiful, one says that it has design [disegno]" (Dialogo, p. 115).
In his Treatise on Sculpture, Cellini offers the following advice on the disegno of the human form which is generally applicable to all his art, whether minuteria or grosseria:
[A]ll the really great masters have followed life, but the point is that you must have a fine judgment to know how the best of life is to be put into your work, you must always be on the look out for beautiful human beings, and from among them choose the most beautiful, & not only so, you must from among even these choose the most beautiful parts, and so shall your whole composition become an abstraction of what is beautiful. So alone may work be created, that shall be evident at once as the labour of men both exquisite in judgment and humble in study.
(Treatises, p. 140)
One can distill from Cellini's words the following mannerist tenet: demonstrate your artistic judgment by following the best of life closely and perfecting natura in the whole and the parts by artificio. Nature is imitated precisely and art triumphs. The same principle, as a way of generating bella maniera, is recorded by Vasari as he defines disegno and maniera in the Preface to the third part of his Vite.(7) This theory of high Maniera, of creating "an abstraction of what is beautiful," comes into English most directly via Inigo Jones's marginal notes in his copy of Vasari: "what desine is / To Imitate ye best of / nature," and, "gudd manner coms by Copiinge ye fayrest thinges."(8) Surely this is the aesthetic, modified according to English variation, which orders and controls the form of Hesperides and the form of Herrick's beautiful bodies.
When Herrick records his poetic observation of one of his mistresses in "To Perenna" (H-16) we forget that she was originally a human being, unadulterated by art. In Herrick's survey of her as artifact (which actually creates her as artifact before our eyes) his critical eye discerns the strictest harmony and perfection in her parts (line 1). Harmony is enriched by varieta. In the surpassing beauty of "every Line, and Limb" the connoisseur discerns a "faire, and unfamiliar excellence" (lines 3-4). The poem draws strongly upon the mannerist aesthetic.
Henry Peacham claims that "as Symmetry or proportion is the very soule of picture, it is impossible that you should be ready in the bodies, before you can draw their abstract and generali formes" (Drawing, p. 12). Thus, "your Circle will teache you, to draw euen & truly all Sphaericall bodies . . . as the Sun, Moone, Stars, &c;" (p. 12). Peacham then illustrates his point with a drawing of a stylized sun; a circle with long triangular points radiating out from it. He then divides the circle into quarters with "a crosse line" and adds "the drawing of the nose, mouth and eyes euen, in the midst of the face" (p. 13). The result is a generalized combination of sun and visage intended to reveal the basic form of the proportional and beautiful human face. I cannot help thinking that perhaps Herrick had seen such a drawing (or one similar) which he transformed into his miniature poetic portrait, "To the handsome Mistress Grace Potter" (H-992):
AS is your name, so is your comely face, Toucht every where with such diffused grace, As that in all that admirable round, There is not one least solecisme found; And as that part, so every portion else, Keepes line for line with Beauties Parallels.
Here is Hilliard's graceful comeliness, Peacham's ideally round and Sol-like form, and Cellini's concern with the general abstraction of beauty. Like any of Vasari's female nudes, Herrick's portrait of Grace Potter is a nonindividualized abstraction of beauty.
Herrick provides the artistic antithesis of his representations of Perenna and Potter in "Upon some women" (H-195), which describes the falsity of parts and disharmony of the whole in a creation that is, to use Hilliard's term, the work of a "bocher" (Art, p. 16). Herrick calls the figure
A meere Botch of all and some. Pieces, patches, ropes of hair; In-laid Garbage ev'ry where.
The only unity the figure has is a domineering "falsity" (lines 9-11), and its manifestation of varieta is reduced to an expression of inelegant disarray. It is a disjointed mess of inept art, lacking ease and grace, and epitomizing the "affectation" so detested by Dolce and Hilliard (Dialogo, p. 91; Art, p. 45). Perenna and Potter, by contrast, are beautifully perfected expressions of natura in accordance with the aesthetic of high Maniera.
For Herrick and the English visual miniaturists the representation of the face is of great importance in the definition of beauty. As in Hilliard's treatise (Art, pp. 22-7) and Bacon's essay "Of Beauty," Herrick's stock definition of beauty is largely restricted to the face. In "Beauty" (H-840), with characteristic assurance and economy, Herrick offers a painterly definition of beauty in an analogous aural form characterized by varieta, graceful harmony, and technical precision.
Elsewhere, Herrick gives us further evidence of his artistry and limner's understanding of the beautiful face (H-586):
In the darke none dainty.
NIght hides our thefts; all faults then pardon'd be: All are alike faire, when no spots we see. Lais and Lucrece, in the night time are Pleasing alike; alike both singular: Jone, and my Lady have at that time one, One and the selfe-same priz'd complexion. Then please alike the Pewter and the Plate; The chosen Ruble, and the Reprobate.
In discussing "fairness," Herrick thinks of the face: "the selfe-same priz'd complexion" (line 6). In describing the beautiful face, Hilliard stresses the three essential elements of "the faire and beautiful couler or complection," "the good proportion somtime called favore," and "the grace in countenance" (Art, p. 23). He likens the appreciation of these qualities to the experience of seeing "an exelent precious stone" (Art, p. 23). Herrick says that clear light upon the subject enables distinction between beautiful and common figures, between various qualities of plate, and between true and false rubies.(9) The final couplet is not just an allusion to lapidarian practice, but is also a metaphoric use of those terms. Yet, despite this allusion to the lapidary, there is more of a connection with Hilliard's limner's aesthetic of beauty in the poem "In the darke none dainty," than first appears. What lies as an undercurrent here is most clearly expressed in the following (H-576):
Life is the Bodies Light.
LIfe is the Bodies light; which once declining, Those crimson clouds i'th'cheeks and lips leave shining. Those counter-changed Tabbies in the ayre, (The Sun once set) all of one colour are. So, when Death comes, Fresh tinctures lose their place, And dismall Darknesse then doth smutch the face.
If this is a poem about mortality, it is also, in the same breath, an assertion of English miniature portrait style as against continental. Following Hilliard's discussion of complexion, proportion, and countenance, he makes his case for "the truth of the lyne" as opposed to the Italian manner of "shadowing" (Art, p. 28).(10) The characteristic clarity of line and light apparent in Hilliard's work is consistent with his theory. Hilliard and his queen agree that it is an error to overpraise "shadowes in pictures after the life, especially small pictures which ar to be viued in hand . . . for beauty and good favor is like cleare truth, which is not shamed with the light, nor neede to bee obscured" (Art, p. 29). Thus, in the shadowed world of "In the darke none dainty" (H-586), wickedness ("Lais"), lowliness ("Jone"), and falsity ("the Reprobate") appear the same as purity ("Lucrece"), beauty ("my Lady"), and truth ("chosen Rubie"). When we come to "Life is the Bodies Light," it is clear that heavy shadow removes the clarity of color from the cheeks and lips, differences between colors become obscure, "Fresh tinctures lose their place, / And dismall Darkness then doth smutch the face" (lines 5-6). Hilliard uses very similar terms, saying a heavily shadowed picture is "greatly smutted or darkned . . . like truth ill towld" (Art, p. 29). Neither Hilliard nor Herrick will suffer his miniature aesthetic world to be "smutted" by shadows which are so indicative of falsity, wickedness, and obscurity, and which reduce the crystal clarity, fresh color, and sharp resolution of their portraits. Such darkness works against the eternal artificio of their created worlds. As long as the portrait of Julia lives, light and life will permeate Hesperides. In this artificial world "[n]o shadowes great appeare" till the moment when Julia closes "[h] er life-begetting eye" (H-441, lines 6, 10). Hilliard agrees. In his discussion of the visage and light and shadow, he says that "of all the features in the face of a picture, the eye showeth most life" (Art, p. 24).
Consider the following expression of the Hilliardian visage (H-202):
Faire dayes: or, Dawnes deceitfull.
FAire was the Dawne; and but e'ne now the Skies Shew'd like to Creame, enspir'd with Strawberries: But on a sudden, all was chang'd and gone That smil'd in that first-sweet complexion. Then Thunder-claps and Lightning did conspire To teare the world, or set it all on fire. What trust to things, below, when as we see, As Men, the Heavens have their Hypocrisie?
Hilliard refers to complexion, proportion, and countenance as "the favore" of the picture (Art, p. 25). Herrick records here how his mistress's favor and her "favore" have suddenly altered. Hilliard's description of "the grace in countenance" shares much with Herrick's poem. "[T]he curious drawer wach, and as it [were] catch thosse lovely graces wittye smilings, and thosse stolne glances which sudainely like light[n]ing passe and another Countenance taketh place" (Art, p. 23). In this example of Hilliard's theory of "graces" is found a final provincial derivation from the venerable Italian humanistic tradition of painting which focuses on how the living thoughts and feelings of the subject may be indicated in the representation of the details of the face.(11) Hilliard's passage and Herrick's poem, with their shared lightning metaphor, are two expressions of the one aesthetic principle. The key to the greatest limning is the ability to capture in paint these moments of lively change in the sitter's countenance. Hilliard's example of "lovely graces wittye smilings," which "sudainely like light[n]ing passe and another Countenance taketh place," encapsulates the "sudden" moment captured in "Faire dayes: or, Dawnes deceitfull," when the "first-sweet complexion" changes to "Thunder-claps and Lightning" (lines 4, 5) and another countenance replaces the first, as the lady's favor (in both senses) changes. Here is a clear example of a stylistic principle of the English Maniera underlying different arts. Further, this particular stylistic element points to the heart of Herrick's personal maniera: the expression of life by way of grazia.
Grazia, as the foremost element of artistic difficulta, achieves the apparent absence of art in the most artistically skillful expression of nature. Henry Wotton defines grace in relation to painting: "Grace is a certaine free disposition, in the whole Draught, answerable to that vnaffected franknes of Fashion, in a liuing Bodie, Man or Woman, which doth animate Beautie where it is, and supplie it, where it is not."(12) This definition of the artful artlessness of grazia sits well within the principles of the English Maniera, and underpins both Hilliard's theory and practice, and Herrick's poetry.
The enlivening power of grazia finds sharpest expression in Hilliard's manner in the representation of "stolne glances" which proves his point that "the worke by weel placing and trure doing of the eye have great life, for of all the features in the face of a picture, the eye showeth most life" (Art, pp. 23-4).(13) This is certainly Herrick's opinion also as he draws on art theory and Neo-Platonic commonplace in his demand that the painter depict "The Eye" (H-133) abounding in all these appealingly lively passions of "weather foule, then faire againe" (line 13). To cite some visual examples, Hilliard's Self-Portrait (1577) and Unknown Man aged 24 (1572), and particularly Isaac Oliver's Unknown Man (1614) and the superb Elizabeth Harding, Mrs Oliver (1610-1615), demonstrate the enlivening grace of the eye.(14)
It is exactly this particular element of limners' grazia which finds expression in Herrick's poem (H-300):
OF all our parts, the eyes expresse The sweetest kind of bashfulnesse.
A. Leigh DeNeef is right in referring to this poem as "a perfect example of what is meant by calling Herrick a miniaturist."(15) It is a delicate and gentle, yet refined and incisive, capturing of life. The poetic success of its lively economy and precision is in its embodiment of the elusive stylistic element of grazia, setting the poem firmly in the English miniaturist aesthetic. Indeed, the couplet is a most fitting and knowledgeable commentary on the "great difficulty in the eie" (Drawing, p. 18), which fires life into, for example, Oliver's Elizabeth Harding. The presence of grazia is corroborated by the way viewers and readers are emotionally struck by the consummate technical skill. This effect is thoroughly in accordance with the Italian Cinquecento art theorists' observations on the universally intuitive appreciation of artistic grazia, even though such grazia is a quality of art that results from the highest artistic skill and is finally and technically appreciated only by the connoisseur.
As English limners influenced by continental styles, Hilliard and Oliver have an understanding of the importance of the illusion of motion in the figure, and the way such motion expresses internal passions. Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, the renowned mannerist art theorist whose Trattato Hilliard had read, says: "By Motion, the Painters meane that comelines, and grace in the porportion [sic] and disposition of a picture, which is also called the spirite and life of a picture" (Tracte, 1.2.23).(16) As with Lomazzo, the characteristic mannerist element of the frozen moment, the elegant and distilled split-second of movement, was important to the limners. The successful representation of that moment, as seen in connection with the eye, is the achievement of grazia.
Hilliard says that the success of this representation of the enlivening graces depends upon a delicate and self-controlled mixture in the artist of affectionate appreciation of the beauties observed and objective and precise rendering of such graces in paint:
[T]he grace in countenance, by which the afections apeare, which can neither be weel ussed nor well Juged of but of the wisser sort, and this princepall part of the beauty a good painter hath skill of and should diligently noet, wherfor it behoveth that he be in hart wisse, as it will hardly faill that he shalbe amorous . . . howe then the curious drawer wach, and as it [were] catch thosse lovely graces wittye smilings, and thosse stolne glances . . . except hee behould, and very well noate, and Conceit to lyke, soe that he can hardly take them truly, and expresse them well, without an affectionate good Jugment, and without blasting his younge and simpel hart, although (in pleassing admiration) he be very serious, bussied, so hard a matter he hath in hand, calling thosse graces one by one to theire due places.
(Art, p. 23)
Hilliard goes on to note specifically the particular "graces" of how the eyes, mouth, nostrils, temples, neck, eyebrows, and forehead alter, "and fare according to the mind is affected" (Art, p. 24).(17) This passage derives from ideas in Lomazzo and Dolce (Tracte, 2.1.1-2; Dialogo, p. 157) to the effect that the artist must experience the power of the lively graces he is about to represent so that his representation can adequately transmit those experiences to the spectator. So by attempting to paint a limning "artificially expressing the true naturall motions" (Tracte, 2.1.1), it is no wonder that Hilliard as the amorous artist must tread a difficult line between human empathy and trained self-discipline. The limner is a man above the common herd, able to perceive precisely and represent skilfully the lovely graces which thereby blast his heart, and yet also to subordinate these artificially transformed natural motions to the overarching disegno of his artifact. All this is of the utmost relevance to an understanding of Herrick's representation of the beautiful female form.
At the very end of the main body of the Art of Limning Hilliard instructs the limner about one final grace: "tell not a body when you drawe the hands, but when you spie a good grace in theire hand take it quickly, or praye them to stand but still / for commonly when they are towld, they give the hand the worse and more unnaturall or affected grace" (Art, p. 45). Hilliard is here adapting Lomazzo's suggestion (following Leonardo's practice) to observe secretly the motions of the living subject so that the artist can best practice and develop the "liuely expressing [of] all actions and gestures" (Tracte, 2.1.3).
Thus, in the quoted passages from the Art of Limning Hilliard deals with the two key expressive parts of the human figure which most commonly appear in his miniature portraits: the face and hands. It is by way of these that he achieves grazia, that artful illusion of motion and life that shuns affectation, with the implicit warning that close observation of these subtle and fleeting beauties will most probably strike the artist's heart and make it difficult for him to paint objectively.
Herrick's poem, "The School or Perl of Putney, the Mistress of all singular manners, Mistresse Portman" (H-1080), alerts us to the fact that the mannerist element of grazia, in the same English form, lies beneath his poetry and Hilliard's art. In the context of Pauline vision(18) Herrick presents to the reader a portrait of the ladies which highlights the elements of artistic difficulta described above. Herrick has achieved the Hilliardian grazia by depicting ladies who "gently move" and are led by one who is beautified by "eyes-gleam, or a glance of hand" (lines 11, 16). As Hilliard had warned, the artist who observes these graces, "Ravisht stood, as one / Confus'd in utter Admiration" (lines 910). Yet, as the poem testifies, Herrick manages by craftsman's discipline to represent the graces artistically. Like the limner, Herrick must experience the graces to represent them, and this empathy makes the artistic process all the more difficult and the artifact the more accomplished. This is the combination of love and poetic difficulty, eroticism and virtuosity, human warmth and rhetorical skill, that is so characteristic of Herrick's personal maniera.
Herrick likens graceful motion either to beautiful smells (H-1080) or to sonorous music (H-569) in an attempt to perfect the illusion of movement by adding to it grazia from other senses. Lomazzo had previously likened the graceful motion of the maniera moderna in the representation of life to the concord of notes from a stringed instrument (Tracte, 2.1.1). In one of his songs, "To Musick. A Song,"(19) which he altered and condensed for inclusion in Hesperides (H-254), Herrick unifies music and motion:
Musick thou Soul of Heaven care charming spell That strik'st a stillnesse into Hell: Thou whose soft accents & alluring tones Give life & motion unto stones.
In these lines Herrick constructs an antithesis by referring to music charming into stillness those souls agonized in hell and yet also enlivening stones into motion as did Amphion. The curious mixture of "stillnesse" with "life & motion" lingers, paradoxically mingling. It is exactly this paradox that typifies the mannerist frozen moment in the representation of the beautiful human form.
The apparent unification of "stillnesse" and "life & motion" is fundamental to Herrick's personal maniera. Many critics have noted the "stilling" effect that his poetic art has upon the reality it transforms, thereby creating "a realm of stasis, of immutability and transcendence."(20) Indeed, Herrick's transmutation of natura into an eternal aesthetic is highly compatible with Agnolo Bronzino's painterly intents and achievements. In this way both artists resist and highlight the fact of human mortality. This Herrickian maniera is different from Donnean overt questioning to the same degree that Bronzino's mathematically precise visual art differs from Jacopo Pontormo's graceful yet disturbing searchings. Early and high Maniera confront mortality in different ways. In distinctions which may be used to clarify the separation of Donne's early Maniera(21) from Herrick's high Maniera, Craig Hugh Smyth distinguishes between Pontormo's unquiet and extremely personal manner and the very different rigorous design and elegant impersonality of Bronzino's work.(22)
However, while some of Herrick's poems (H-294, H-542, H-583) appear to share Bronzino's bleak perception of "obscure, bitter existence"(23) and others artfully exclude all communication,(24) his use of lively Hilliardian graces often facilitates communication between the artifact and the viewer. Herrick's personal version of high Maniera is often warmer than Bronzino's and reflects Hilliard's peculiarly English form of the style. Linda Bradley Salamon's understanding of Hilliard's manner is, therefore, applicable to Herrick's verse: "idealization and expressiveness merge in Hilliard's work."(25) The quality of "stillness" in Herrick's personal maniera receives the gift of a concomitant, if paradoxical, "life & motion" by the intrinsic functioning of grazia.
"The silken Snake" (H-284) can serve here as one example (out of many) of Herrick's poetic version of this graceful frozen moment. This six-line poem would not do well as an inscriptio for a pictorial representation of the action it describes because, as a highly visual poem, it is too independent, too self-assured. The sharpness of the central metaphor (the recognition of a snake, line 4) succeeds in granting the greatest life and motion to the silk, yet the immediate diffusion of danger ("it did not bite," line 6) dilutes the potency of the metaphor and leaves the reader with a frozen moment of sudden motion set in a harmless and "soft" context. By way of gracefully situated metaphor Herrick has achieved the quality of action immediately stilled. Grazia is apparent in the context, the event and the response: Julia affectionately threw the silk in loving sport (lines 1-2), the silk itself joined the game by making a lively "shew" and motion (lines 3-4), and the poet-lover was appropriately affrighted but immediately realized the harmlessness of the game (lines 5-6). The gentle and graceful harmony unifying the poem is unique; thoroughly characterized by a perfect concinnity of actors. Julia, the silken lace, and the poet-lover all partake of the same game with soft, lively, and harmless grace. The central concern of the poem is the frozen moment of greatest beauty and lively motion in the lace (lines 3-4). Yet, flanking this are the frozen sudden moments of Julia's sporting toss and the poet-lover's gentle fright: three graces are captured in one triple lens, with the center one in sharpest resolution and acting as a turning joint which smoothly links the other two together in graceful contrapositum. The beautifully accomplished intention of this superb miniature triptych is the artful capturing of a disegno of "stillnesse" and "life & motion." Internally woven in smooth consistency, "The silken Snake" is unified in intention, tone, and action, a touchstone of the warm grazia of Herrick's personal and English manifestation of high Maniera.
The foregoing poem demonstrates the intrinsic relevance of drapery to Herrick's conception of grazia in the human figure, a connection which also fascinated Raphael (whose personal maniera is epitomized by grace) and his chief theoretical apologist, Dolce's Aretino (Dialogo, pp. 175-7). Elegant drapery and grazia are two interlinked elements of difficulta which are extremely important to each other in Raphael's and Herrick's human figures. Herrick's expression of grazia in and through the difficulta of drapery can be observed in "What kind of Mistresse he would have" (H-665), "Delight in Disorder" (H-83), "Art above Nature, to Julia" (H-560), "Julia's Petticoat" (H-175), and "Upon Julia's Clothes" (H-779). In all these Herrick reveals his artistic invenzione in what I call his graceful, figureless figure portraits. As the following comments are generally applicable, I will conclude this study with an examination of only "Delight in Disorder."
As I have shown, in English limning and Herrick's poetic portraiture, grace is imputed to the face by use of lively color, representation of fleeting glances, and sudden alterations of countenance; grace is imputed to the hands by the capturing of moments of quick, careless movement. When it comes to the expression of grace in the entire figure, Herrick again follows the same mannerist principle of capturing and holding a split-second of apparently unpremeditated motion in figures which are beautified in part and whole. Herrick's peculiar infusion of grazia into the clothing of his figures is achieved by the collaboration of four interlocked poetic features. First, the physical motion of the clothes is expressed by a series of fleeting forms momentarily frozen as they are apparently disturbed by an animating breeze. Second, he personifies the items of clothing with a character that both epitomizes and encourages the poet's sexual desires. These desires have arisen as a result of the poet's careful observation of the apparently artless, graceful movements of the clothes. Third, the sexually inviting nature of the personified clothes is heightened and enhanced by way of oxymora (such as "wilde civility") that perpetually enliven the coyness with a quality of prolonged titillation and seduction. Fourth, this principle of prolonged titillation perfectly harmonizes with the frozen moments of the clothes. They share a halting, paradoxical pleasure. The accomplished result is the erotic and graceful representation of the female figure in Herrick's successful, personal maniera.
Witness the following epigram (H-83):
Delight in Disorder.
A Sweet disorder in the dresse Kindles in cloathes a wantonnesse: A Lawne about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction: An erring Lace, which here and there Enthralls the Crimson Stomacher: A Cuffe neglectfull, and thereby Ribbands to flow confusedly: A winning wave (deserving Note) In the tempestuous petticote: A carelesse shooe-string, in whose tye I see a wilde civility: Doe more bewitch me, then when Art Is too precise in every part.
According to his mannerist invenzione, Herrick often succeeds in achieving his characteristic grazia of frozen movement and seductive eroticism in the complete absence of the female body itself. Such is his power of verse that the difficulta of gracefully expressed drapery alone is all he needs to achieve his poetic ends. In "Delight in Disorder" Herrick carefully describes the apparent carelessness which gives final grace to the figure observed. The physical graces in the clothes themselves are recorded in precisely observed and selected split-seconds; a waving petticoat, a loose "shooe-string," lace, ribbons, and cuff all appear in a variety of pleasing positions. As a male poet, Herrick sets about representing (and intensifying beyond the real) the pleasure of the female body-as-text by drawing into one poem a collection of all those moments as they appear in the woman's (any woman's) clothing. As Hilliard warned, and Herrick experienced in his poem on "The School or Perl of Putney," so here the elements of grace enliven and beautify the clothes and thereby "bewitch" the careful observer.
However, "Delight in Disorder" is pure theory. Herrick is referring to no particular individual and uses no particular name. Rather, he is prescribing conditions for the beautiful female figure, Cellini's "abstraction of what is beautiful." Grace is the key to such enrapturing beauty and Herrick here transfers the elements of grace he uses elsewhere to the context of clothing. "[T]hosse lovely graces wittye smilings, and thosse stolne glances" which "inflame the mind" (Art, p. 23), become in this poem the "wantonnesse" kindled in gently disordered clothes and the "fine distraction" of the "Lawne about the shoulders thrown." The "good grace in theire hand" which the limner is to note sharply and to set down quickly (Art, p. 45) becomes, via prosopopeia,
A winning wave (deserving Note) In the tempestuous petticote.
By way of personification according to Hilliardian grazia the petticoat becomes both girl and drapery with an ambivalent and graceful, lively motion.
Further, as according to the emotional effect of the Hilliardian graces, the clothes come to embody both graceful motion and its mirror in the observer, amorous delight. As the limner does, so Herrick imputes his desire into the poetic representation of the graces which first aroused that desire. The represented clothes become wanton, erring, winning, careless, and bewitching (lines 2, 5, 9, 11, 13). Their sexual desire is gratuitously heightened by Herrick as he stresses the simultaneous presence of wantonness and restraint, apparent carelessness and calculated seduction. He prolongs and intensifies his rapture and stills and freezes the lively motion. The disorder is "[s]weet" and the distraction is "fine." The term "wilde civility" adequately epitomizes this technique. The frozen moments of graceful detail and the artificially constructed, alluringly coy seductress harmonize perfectly with one another.
These clothes embody and therefore further encourage the desire aroused in the poet as male observer of their graceful motions. An endless cycle of desire is initiated as artifact and observer (and artist), overruled by the creative mind, continually refuel each other's passions. The reader cannot interpret the motion of the clothes as simple action because they are not depicted objectively. Instead, the depicted clothes function as a mirror of the poet's interpretation of the real clothes. Thus, in the poem, the poet's interpretation is of more substance than the clothes themselves. One could go even further than saying that Herrick's figure portrait is figureless, to suggest that the drapery used to delineate the figure is itself entirely absent. The clothes, in that they remain in any sense, are solely indices of human inner passions. However, in this inventive case, the passions revealed are not of the subject (because she is utterly effaced and nonexistent), but of the poet (who alone exists) and by extension the reader. Here, I suggest, is a wonderfully artistic and original poetic reworking of the Hilliardian life-giving graces. "Delight in Disorder" becomes a poetic inscription of human graces as indices of the male poet's desire because they are enlivened and "perfected" by his eye which observes, interprets, and precisely represents them. The represented beautiful female body as a necessary Other has become in essence the text through which the artist achieves self-representation. Herrick has appropriated the mannerist aesthetic and the objectified beautiful female form most fully for his own designs in a superb example of the inventive and graceful delineation of male power and desire.(26)
In the accomplished technical precision and grace of Herrick's poetic art, in his peculiarly English and inventively personal embodiment of high Maniera, the true subject of humanity and representation arises in shining clarity. From the general and simple experiments in abstract beauty of "To Perenna" and "To the handsome Mistress Grace Potter" the reader comes to the specific and complex accomplishment of "Delight in Disorder." And in this poem - while it deceives us by not containing the figure it claims to contain, and by not showing the clothing it claims to show - in essence, the final portrait is not figureless. For Herrick's perfected "abstraction of what is beautiful" is truly himself.
1 For a related approach to the same topic from a perspective outside the visual arts, see Moira P. Baker, "'The Uncanny Stranger on Display': The Female Body in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Love Poetry," SoAR 56, 2 (May 1991): 7-25.
2 I refer to J. Max Patrick, ed., The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1963), using his numbering system.
3 Definitions of continental Mannerism, maniera, and high Maniera compatible with this study include: John Shearman, "Maniera as an Aesthetic Ideal," in The Renaissance and Mannerism, Studies in Western Art 2, ed. Millard Meiss (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963), pp. 200-21; idem, Mannerism, Style and Civilization (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1967); S. J. Freedberg, "Observations on the Painting of the Maniera," Art Bulletin 47 (June 1965): 187-97; and idem, Painting in Italy, 1500-1600 (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1971). On Hilliard's Mannerism, see John Pope-Hennessy, "Nicholas Hilliard and Mannerist Art Theory," JWCI6 (1943): 89-100; and idem, A Lecture on Nicholas Hilliard (London: Home and Van Thal, 1949).
4 The relevant texts are these: Nicholas Hilliard's Art of Limning, ed. Arthur F. Kinney and Linda Bradley Salamon (Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1983); Edward Norgate, Miniatura or The Art of Limning, ed. Martin Hardie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1919); and Henry Peacham, The Art of Drawing with the Pen (1606; facs. The English EXperience 230 [Amsterdam and New York: Da Capo Press, 1970]). Where appropriate, I will also refer to the continental manuals: The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture, trans. C. R. Ashbee (1568; New York: Dover, 1967); and Lodovico Dolce's Dialogo della pittura intitolato l'Aretino, in Dolce's "Aretino" and Venetian Art Theory of the Cinquecento, trans. Mark W. Roskill (1557; New York: New York Univ. Press, 1968). These works will be cited parenthetically in the text as, respectively, Art, Miniatura, Drawing, Treatises, and Dialogo.
5 For a discussion of high Maniera and Herrick's religious verse, see L. E. Semler, "Robert Herrick's God: Visual Aesthetics in Noble Numbers," forthcoming in Parergon n.s. 12, 1 (June 1994).
6 The variety of poetic forms is obvious. The variety of personae is based upon the multiplicity of identifiable "voices" cutting across these forms as defined by A. Leigh DeNeef throughout "This Poetick Liturgie": Robert Herrick's Ceremonial Mode (Durham NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1974), especially pp. 192-3. Roger B. Rollin's study, Robert Herrick (New York: Twayne, 1966), also takes good note of the extent of Herrick's variety.
7 Louis L. Martz brings this passage from Vasari to bear on Hesperides in his seminal study of Herrick's Mannerism, "Marvell and Herrick: The Masks of Mannerism," in Approaches to Marvell: The York Tercentenary Lectures, ed. C. A. Patrides (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), pp. 194-215.
8 Quoted by John Peacock, "Inigo Jones as a Figurative Artist," in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c. 1540-1660, ed. Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn (London: Reaktion, 1990), pp. 154-79, 157.
9 Cf. Cellini's "keen-sighted" discovery of a reprobate ruby (Treatises, p. 26).
10 See H-992 and H-1006 for Herrick's references to the artist's "line."
11 Cf. Dialogo, p. 97.
12 Sir Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture (1624; facs. Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1968), pp. -.
13 Cf. Dialogo, pp. 145, 97.
14 See Roy Strong and V. J. Murrell, Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered, 1520-1620 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983), plates 49, 58, 172, 173.
15 DeNeef, p. 140.
16 Quotations from Lomazzo, referenced parenthetically in the text, come from the English translation of the first five books by Hilliard's friend, Richard Haydocke, A Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinge, Carvinge, and Building (1598; facs. The English Experience 171 [Amsterdam and New York: Da Capo Press, 1969]).
17 Cf. Drawing, p. 18; Miniatura, pp. 39, 67.
18 Cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-5.
19 The song text which I quote is reproduced in Louise Schleiner's valuable article, "Herrick's Songs and the Character of Hesperides," ELR 6, 1 (Winter 1976): 77-91, 80.
20 As DeNeef, p. 18.
21 Donne's early Maniera is defined in L. E. Semler, "John Donne and Early Maniera," forthcoming in John Donne Journal 11.
22 Craig Hugh Smyth, "The Earliest Works of Bronzino," Art Bulletin 31 (September 1949): 184-210, 184-5, 191.
23 Bronzino's skeptical observation on his human condition comes from Michael Levey, Bronzino, The Masters 82 (1963; rprt. Paulton: Purnell and Sons, 1967), p. 3.
24 As noted by Alastair Fowler, "Robert Herrick," PBA 66 (1980): 243-64, 264.
25 Linda Bradley Salamon, "The Art of Nicholas Hilliard," in Kinney and Salamon, p. 127.
26 Cf. Robert H. Deming's reading of stillness and motion in "Delight and Disorder" in his Ceremony and Art: Robert Herrick's Poetry (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), pp. 36-8.
L. E. Semler teaches medieval and early modern literature at Macquarie University and is working on the connections between the visual arts and poetry in early modern England.