Jesuit Image-Theory in Europe & the Overseas Missions

Event Date: 
08 Oct 2014 to 10 Oct 2014

Münster, Germany
Registration deadline: Oct 1, 2014

Jesuit Image-Theory (1540-1740)
Conference at the WWU Münster 
Cluster of Excellence
Religion und Politics in Pre-modern and Modern Cultures
Project B2-5 Die neulateinische Emblematik 
(Head of project: Prof. Dr. Karl Enenkel)
8-11 Oktober 2014

Conveners: Karl Enenkel/Walter Melion


The Jesuit investment in images, whether verbal or visual, virtual or actual, pictorial or poetic, rhetorical or exegetical, was strong and sustained, and may perhaps even be identified as one of the order’s defining characteristics. Jesuit Christology often invokes the imago and its species – figura, pictura, repraesentatio, similitudo, simulacrum, speculum – as visual instruments best suited to expounding, within the limits of human capacity, the supreme mystery of the Incarnation. Construed as an act of divine image-making itself, the Incarnation licenses the production of further sacred images ad imitationem Christi. Jesuit Mariology is equally image-centred: In Petrus Canisius’s Mariale (1577) Mary ist portrayed as the supreme imitatrix, who mobilizes various kinds and degrees of sacred image to mould body and soul into fully realized imagines Christi. Jesuit rhetorics likewise embrace the resources of visual artifice, comparing the orator to a painter and inviting him to exploit the full range of rhetorical figures and ornaments in virtually pictorial feats of demonstrative oratory, as is displayed in school texts like Cyprien Soarez’s De arte rhetorica (1560) and Melchior de la Cerda’s Usus et exercitatio demonstrationis (1598). Heavily rhetoricized, Jesuit emblematics often focuses on the forms and functions of the pictorial imago; according to literary theorist Jacob Masen the syllogistic relation between the emblem’s two main parts, res picta and res significata, becomes figurative and thence truly emblematic, when the poetic image of one thing ist compared to the poetic image of another thing, these two images being differentiated and yet associated after the manner of the rhetorical sources of invention – analogy, opposition, estrangement, and illusion. 
Although the Jesuit interest in images has been richly documented, the question of Jesuit image theory has yet to be approached from a multi-disciplinary perspective that examines how the image was defined, conceived, produced, and interpreted within the various fields of learning by the Society.