7.12 Primers of Virtue
Good question, Vivian. I am generalizing here, so it may not be clear what the process of limiting meanings was. To understand how it happens, you have to remember that the emblem is structured from the start as a puzzle. The texts do not explain the meaning(s) outright, they only comment on the image and give clues to meaning(s), which are always potentially personal as well as comunitarian. That is, the reader always has the ability to create her own meaning for the image or to suggest alternatives that may or may not have been in the mind of the author. The more text the author adds, however, the more clues the reader gets to move in one direction or another. To cite a trivial example, say, if the author intimates that eagle in the image represents dominance, then it can only represent themes consistent with that, not those that have to do with flight away from power. There is still room for interpretation by the reader, but she is directed toward certain themes and not others.
I am curious as to how the interpretation of emblems could be conceptually and morally restricted yet still imaginative. Could you clarify what this would mean? If the author inserts a text that already clearly delineates a certain moral significance to the emblem, what kind of latitude does the reader still have in the interpretative process? If a specific meaning is intended, what kind of variations in interpretation would have been “acceptable?”
By chance, could one already see (and is there any evidence in their notes or lectures or pedagogical outlines or sermons for) teachers themselves or preachers limiting the more open-ended emblematic puzzles in ways supportive of social conformity? Again, were there any exceptions we know of?
Yes, but I think it worked the other way around even more often. Children were presented with religious symbols at a very early age and that made the kinds of symbols in formal emblems easier for them to understand when they encountered them in the classroom.
I imagine that familiarity with emblems from childhood might provide background in adulthood for understanding common religious symbols in art.