Configuring Virtue: The Emergence of Abstraction, Allegoresis and Emblem in Swedish Figural Sculpture of the Seventeenth Century


  • Simon McKeown



Allegory, Cardinal Virtues, Theological Virtues, Emblem Studies, Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture, Swedish Church Decor


This article concerns evidence of Renaissance cultural forms finding
purchase in the visual arts of early-modern Sweden, specifically as expressed in the figural sculpture of the seventeenth century. Traceable
to stylistic innovations introduced by migrant stone-carvers from the
Netherlands, new thematic elements from the realm of humanistic abstraction became established tropes within the native sculptural tradition.
Taking figural representations of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues
as an area of particular focus, the article demonstrates how these traditional topoi were for the first time naturalized as familiar elements in
the decorative programmes of churches and memorial chapels. Their
deployment in such contexts can be seen as evidence of a widening of
the visual repertoire in the light of European cultural developments,
and a new consciousness of the rhetorical power of persuasio among
the commissioning patrons of such works from the emerging political
and cultural elite.


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Author Biography

Simon McKeown

Dr. Simon McKeown is Head of History of Art and Keeper of Rare Books at Marlborough College, UK. He specializes in the study of emblematics, particularly in the context of the fine arts and of Sweden. His books include the monograph Emblematic Painting from Sweden’s Age of Greatness: Nils Bielke and the Neo-Stoic Gallery at Skokloster (2006), and the edited volumes The Emblem in Scandinavia and the Baltic (with Mara Wade, 2006); Reading and Writing the Swedish Renaissance (Special Number of The Journal
of Renaissance Studies, 2009); The International Emblem: From Incunabula to the Internet (2010); and Otto Vaenius and his Emblem Books (2012). He sits on the advisory boards of the Society for Emblem Studies and of the journal Emblematica, and is one of the editors of the Imago Figurata series for Brepols publishers.