Edmund Spenser’s Pictures
Edmund Spenser’s shepherd told the sixteenth-century Englishman what he already knew. More often than not this ‘knowledge’ was intuitivism, bolstered by so keen a patriotism that he rarely thought it necessary to visit ‘forrein costes’ for confirmation. England was the place to be, the idyllic, heavenly centre of the world. There was little point in leaving.
Spenser filled The Shepheardes Calender with paeans to England and its countryside. Charismatic country folk stroll and survey their land, plant seeds. Lovelorn shepherds indulge their woes in the shade of aged trees. Skies brighten over the head of Queen Elizabeth I, while her subjects make merry until sundown. In the first editions of the poetry book, detailed pictures adorn each of the twelve pastorals – and nothing is more bewildering than these.
Published in 1579, eleven years before his Faerie Queene, Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender was one of the early fully illustrated books printed in England. Until then the occasional woodcut had tended to suffice: a horsemounted knight as a preface to The Knight’s Tale (Chaucer, Workes, 1561), decorative prints loosely connected to the text in books such as John Lydgate’s The historye, sege and dystruccyon of Troye (1513). With its twelve