On bats and bees: Rubens in the Republic of Letters

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The closely interrelated enterprises in the humanistic world of the Republic of Letters, especially in the production of emblem books, created collaborations between artists and scholars. The production of emblem books, with their characteristic interplay between word and image, creates a place where humanists and artists could meet. Consequently, not only did men of letters use pictorial expressions to articulate their ideas, but artists also used emblematic forms as rhetorical tools, and in this manner took an active part in the Republic’s enterprises. This essay examines Peter Paul Rubens’s use of emblematics, showing that he was not merely a user but a producer of emblems. The image of a bat and a bee in his Freising altarpiece not only constitutes a new emblem that attests to Rubens’s innovative contribution to both the artistic and literary enterprises of the Republic of Letters, but also serves as a case study of the artists’ instrumentalization of emblematic forms in their own discipline, making their voice heard in the discourse of the Republic of letters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-205
Number of pages14
JournalWord and Image
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Freising altarpiece
  • Republic of Letters
  • Rubens
  • emblems


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