Philobiblon: Truth, the naked truth

Monday, March 20, 2006

Truth, the naked truth

I know the world has been waiting on tenterhooks to find out the meaning of the emblem of the 16th-century printer Thomas Creede: well meet "Truth". That's who it is. (That's according to Bigmore and Wyman A Bibliography of Printing, Volume I, p. 148-9.)

Creede himself wasn't however, above the odd porkie: in 1595 he was fined and put on a £40 bond for having kept an apprentice without enfranchising him after the proper period.

Now you are going to ask why she's naked - well beyond the obvious answer of "sales".

Marina Warner's brilliant Monuments and Maidens tells me:

"In general, mediaeval Christian iconography did not represent Truth naked: following rather the more traditional imagery of the virtues, it depicted her as a clothed virgin.
In language, however, the association of truth with disclosure is very ancient indeed, and this metaphor, when applied anthropomorphically, was translated into nakedness. .. Horace speaks of nuda veritas and Petronius of nuda virtus... truth possesses an eschatological body, transfigured and innocent, "sprung out of the earth", she is also primordial and aboriginal, like nature ..."

Warner traces her through Alberti, Botticelli's The Calumny of Apelles and to the pageant at which Elizabeth was welcomed to London in 1559, although then Truth wore white silk. (pp. 317-9)

Regular readers won't be surprised to know I now have a new question: can anyone suggest a good/standard text for the history of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, covering particularly the late 16th century? (This is traditionally where I say you are all scholars and gentlepersons and worth more money...)


Blogger clanger said...

Not a personal recommendation, just a citation:

For Oxford, try:

"The History of the University of Oxford" Vol. 3: The collegiate University. Edited by James McConica.

For Cambridge try:

"A History of the University of Cambridge" Vol. 2: 1546-1750. Edited by Victor Morgan.

Such things are easy to find on COPAC. Just pick 'Aberdeen University' and search. They will have the standard works on everything, but you won't get 5000 responses.

By the late 16thC, I suspect the printed word had spread the concept of 'naked truth' wide enough for it to be a recognised representation.

A naked lady is *much* easier to represent successfully in a small woodcut. Just a few curves and everyone knows what they are looking at.

Give them clothes and someone will say its Rosamond, another that its Jane Shore, and a third that it must be Robin Hood in a cunning disguise.

Creede's misdemeanour wasn't unusual. Most of the printers and booksellers found themselves in hot water at some point, often when they printed something lucrative that was a bit too edgy.

3/21/2006 02:56:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Clanger. I should have thought of that technique! (The BL of course is wonderful, but when you search the catalogue for general topics you get such a flood it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.)

I can see your point about clothes and Truth, but I still think there's some "truth" in my observation about sales... :-)

3/21/2006 09:53:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

Commercial exploitation of the naked female form? Surely not. :-)

For a modern example that even surprised Clanger, check out 'Computer Shopper' magazine (May) in your local WHS or Favoured Magazine Emporium, and turn to the inside of the back page.

Of course post-feminist revolution, this advert is laced with post-modern irony. Sort of.

3/21/2006 10:39:00 am  

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