Maurice Scève (1501-c.1560)
Gordon 1564 .S47
(Click on the call number to view the complete digital facsimile.)
Delie. : Obiect de plus haulte vertu.
Paris : Nicolas du Chemin, 1564.
Maurice Scève played a central role in the intellectual life of his native city of Lyon. He was a member of the
wealthy bourgeoisie and became a cleric, but we know little else about his life. While in Avignon in 1533, Scève reportedly discovered
the tomb of Petrarch’s Laura. Jean de Tournes describes this discovery in the dedication to his 1545
French translation of Petrarch’s Rime Sparse. Questions of authenticity and veracity aside, the
reported uncovering of Laura’s tomb conveys both an enthusiasm for local archaeology and Petrarch’s
fame in France. First published in Lyon in 1544, Scève’s Délie, is the first
sequence of French love poetry in the tradition of Petrarch’s Rime Sparse.
At right : Emblem attributed to Dame Laure from Paradin’s Devises Heroiques (Gordon 1557.
In 1536, Scève submitted two poems, “Le Sourcil” (The
Eyebrow) and “La Larme” (The Tear), for
a competition of “blasons
anatomiques” (brief, epigrammatic
descriptions praising parts of the female anatomy)
launched by Clément Marot in Ferrara.
Scève’s poem, “Le
Sourcil,” won the competition and was first
published with other blasons in 1536 in Lyon.
contributed three more blasons to the 1539
edition. The images here are from Gordon
1543 .B53, an early and very rare illustrated
edition of the blasons and contreblasons.
Other works by Scève include a translation of Juan de
Flores, La deplorable fin de Flamete (1535), a Spanish
novel inspired by Boccaccio, and Saulsaye, Eglogue de
la vie solitaire (1547). Scève was also in charge of
organizing the celebrations for the entry of Henri II into
Lyon in 1548; his account of the event was published by
Guillaume Rouille in 1549, along with woodcut
illustrations by Bernard Salomon (
Gordon 1549 .M3).
The Microcosme (1562), Scève’s final published work,
is an epic poem in three books describing the progress
of humanity from the biblical creation of the world to
the sixteenth century. There is no documentation of the
last years of the poet’s life.
Delie object de plus hault vertu was
first published in 1544 in Lyon by Sulpice Sabon for the bookseller, Antoine Constantin. The subsequent 1564 edition, published
in Lyon by Nicolas Du Chemin, follows the first edition closely, but moves the initial huitain (“A SA DELIE”)
to the very end of the volume and includes
an index of figures and first lines. The woodcut figures
present significant changes from one edition to the
other. The Délie has a mathematical layout; many
suggestions have been made about its significance and
about the relationship between text and image inasmuch
as this work has a visual and spatial component. The Délie
is composed of one decasyllabic huitain (an epigram
of eight lines of verse), 449 decasyllabic dizains
(epigrams of ten lines of verse), fifty woodcut emblems
(each with a motto and a figure, surrounded by an
ornamental border) which appear at regular intervals.
Scève’s Délie is a syncretic work, which bears the mark of the poet’s
erudition and high concept of poetry. The work conveys the thoughts and feelings of a lover
suffering from unrequited love and striving for
perfection. Throughout the Délie, love is an obsessive
and complex experience in which the sacred and the
profane are intertwined. The question of Délie’s identity
has tantalized critics; some have assimilated her to the
Lyonnese poet Pernette Du Guillet, whose posthumous
Rymes sometimes echo Scève’s Délie. La Croix du
Maine, in contrast, saw the name “Délie” as the anagram
of “L’Idée” (Idea), and stressed the Neo-platonic aspects
of the lover’s quest. Yet, Délie eludes any attempt to
define her; her composite persona combines references to
Petrarch’s Rime Sparse and Petrarchan poetry, the Bible
and Christian literature, classical texts and iconography,
mythology, French and Neo-Latin sources. The concise
quality of the dizains, and their convoluted syntax
contribute to the complexity of this fascinating work.
Regarding the 1564 edition:
As noted in A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, vol. 2 (by Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, and Alison Saunders), the title page of this edition (F.521) exists in three states.
The Gordon copy's title page indicates the name of the printer, Nicolas du Chemin.
Scève, Maurice. Délie, Object de plus haulte vertu. 2 vols. Critical edition by
Gérard Defaux. Geneva: Droz, 2004.
---. Delie. Object de plus haulte vertu. Critical edition by Eugène Parturier
[Paris: Hachette,1916], reedited by Cécile Alduy. Paris: STFM, 2001.
---. Delie. Object de plus haute vertu. Critical edition by Françoise
Joukovsky. Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1996.
---. Délie, Objet de plus haute vertu. Edition by Françoise Charpentier. Paris:
---. The "Delie" of Maurice Scève. Critical edition by I. D. McFarlane.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1966.
---. Emblems of desire : selections from the "Délie" of Maurice Scève. Edition and translation by Richard Sieburth. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania
Recent Books on the Délie:
DellaNeva, JoAnn. Song and Counter-Song: Scève’s “Délie” and Petrarch’s
“Rime.” Lexington, Kentucky: French Forum, 1983.
Frelick, Nancy. Délie as Other: Toward a Poetics of Desire in Scève’s
“Délie.” Lexington, Kentucky: French Forum, 1994.
Helgeson, James. Harmonie divine et subjectivité poétique chez Maurice
Scève. Geneva: Droz, 2001.
Hunkeler, Thomas. Le Vif du sens: Corps et poésie selon Maurice Scève. Geneva: Droz, 2003.
Nash, Jerry C. The Love Aesthetics of Maurice Scève: Poetry and Struggle.
Cambridge: UP, 1991. (2nd ed. 2006).
Skenazi, Cynthia. Maurice Scève et la pensée chrétienne. Geneva: Droz,
Tetel, Marcel. Lectures scéviennes: L’emblème et les mots. Paris:
Bibliography of Maurice Scève:
Alduy, Cécile. Maurice Scève. Bibliographie des Ecrivains français. Rome:
Materials on this page were generously contributed by Cynthia Skenazi, University
of California, Santa Barbara (2007).
French Emblems at Glasgow: This project includes a high-quality facsimile
and transcription of the 1544 edition, with bibliographical description, select
secondary bibliography, and an introduction with commentary on the
emblematic format of the book.
Gallica: The "Bibliothèque numérique de la Bibliothèque nationale de
France" includes a facsimile in pdf format of the 1544 edition and the 1564
edition (with the title page for Norment/Bruneau). http://gallica.bnf.fr/
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