Dialectic, part of a set of allegories of the liberal arts and the sciences

Etienne Delaune French

Not on view

Engraving, part of a series of six plates with allegories of three liberal arts and three sciences, personified by female figures surrounded by grotesque motifs. These allegories are endowed with attributes that somewhat correspond to the science or the art they evoke; the inner frame of the scene is flanked by scrolling motifs of different types. This print represents Dialectic, personified by a female figure, standing with her head turned to the left, her left hand lifted to the air as if she was giving a discourse, while her right hand holds a ring with keys and a caduceus. At her feet is a cylindrical object, hard to identify. The key is an attribute of grammar, a science which is related to language, as is Dialectic. The caduceus might be a symbol of eloquence which, as a science of language, is closely related to Dialectic. The serpent is also an attribute of this art, and is represented in this print by the two opposing snakes that interlace around the caduceus.

The idea of opposition is echoed in the symmetry of the motifs around the female figure. On the upper part of the picture are two flaming torches, which can be read as symbols of war and, opposite to them, on the bottom, are two marine divinities, a man and a woman, holding olive branches, which are symbols of peace. The two cupids sitting on either side of the standing female figure might be Eros (on the left) and Anteros (on the right), thus creating an opposition between profane and sacred love, or between condemnable and laudable love. This theme is amplified by the presence of two urns, placed to the sides of the winged cupids: the flame emerging from the one on the right might be a symbol for the love that survives death or the love of God, while the smoke emerging from the one of the left might represent the vanity of terrestrial things.

Beyond the elements illustrative of Dialectic, Delaune seems to be proving the superiority of divine love over profane love in this print, thus extolling the cult of the arts over material passions. It is worth noting that the woman personifying Dialectic is turning to sacred love, a common detail in the illustration of a liberal art that is identified with a virtue.

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