Fac Et Spera

by Patricia Fleming

Renaissance emblems are historically noted for a combination of artwork combined with an author’s prose to illustrate a moral message. The genre was begun when Italian jurist Alciato, who wrote Emblematum Liber, published the first book in 1531. Emblems were originally constructed simply; with a motto, image and an epigram. Later authors would expand emblems to have lengthy poetry, sermons, and other literary material; all were posed to illustrate a message of sort. As Mario Praz studied, “[U]se of emblems must be considered in the light of the medieval theory which saw fables of the poets foreshadowing of scientific and philosophic mysteries.”[1] The emblems are geared towards specific audiences; for example, the message may be political and geared towards kings and town councils. If it has a pious theme, the emblem was most likely constructed in time of a religious upheaval. Love emblems were geared towards the middle class, and not many emblems were geared towards the lower class, as there was a question of literacy. The emblems gained popularity quickly, because they were familiar images; the early format of Alciato resembled fables and illustrated proverbs.[2] Gabriel Rollenhagen wrote Centuria Secunda and published it in 1613. The seventh emblem of Centuria Secunda portrays a woman working in a garden and a man in the background, working a field as well. The motto of the emblem is “Fac et Spera”, which translates to “Do and Hope.” The moral message that may be interpreted from the portrayal is the impression that prosperity comes from both work and faith. The motto “Fac et Spera” translates into “Do and Hope.” The emblem contains image of a goddess like woman working, mostly closely resembling the image of Ceres, the Greek goddess of agriculture. The sun shining down on her with the Hebrew word “Adonai”, another name for God. The combination of those two factors illustrates the moral message that individuals are not meant to only work hard to flourish, but also invest in faith to God.

first one

Gabriel Rollenhagen was a German playwright and author of notable emblem books. He was the son of Georg Rollenhagen, and was born in Magdeburg in 1583, and died in 1619. Besides being a playwright, he also was a lawyer for the Church.[3]  Rollenhagen’s book Centuria Secunda is an early form of the literary genre, but exhibits a well-designed layout. Artists Crispijn van de Passe and Jan Jansson designed the plates used to impress the images upon the pages. The book consists of one hundred emblems. Each has a motto, image, and an epigram. In the first part of the book, there is an index of emblems, and there is French poetry written for each emblem. The mottos are primarily in Latin, but there is one Greek motto, and one Italian motto. Rollenhagen wanted to portray a smoother style of emblems, than previously done in Alciato’s works; both cleaned up in words and image.

For I am presenting images cut not in wood, as they did, but in bronze, and they are not naked, but embellished with adornments not lacking in charm. The [subscripted] lines are few but suitable, clear and polished.[4]

Rollenhagen shows he is not only forgoing Alciato’s rough style, but adding enticing imagery, to appeal more to the viewer’s eye; his prose becomes more smooth, so as to explicate the meaning of the image in a more profound way.

As publications go, there are mistakes and Rollenhagen’s book is no exception.

In the copy of Centuria Secunda owned by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the book is missing the emblems fourteen, fifteen, twenty-eight, forty-four, sixty-four, and emblems ninety-four through ninety-nine. Emblem number seven shows the issues in printing; the engraved plate that imprinted the image onto the paper must have been placed down reversed, because the number seven in the top right hand corner is flipped backwards. The lines in the page in a rectangle around the emblem show the edges of the engraved plates. The engraved plates were practical, and used multiple times. George Wither reused the plates in his book A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustratins, Both Morall and Divine: and Disposed Into Lotteries, published in 1635. This was one of the few books to be published in English, for the genre did not become widespread in England, as the English did not possess artistically engraved plates for the books.[5] Wither republished Rollenhagen’s emblem plates, and expanded on it with poetry and an English translation. Wither’s translation, and expansion of the Latin motto ‘Fac et Spera,’ is written as “If thou thy Duties truly doe, of they Reward, be hopeful too.”[6]

second one

Wither’s translation of the motto supports the interpretation analyzed, as he states that if a person does their duties, and wants the reward, they must have hope as well. This supports the original interpretation that for a person to receive good fortune, they must work hard and pray to God.

The woman in the picture shows a strong, masculine representation of a hardworking woman in the Renaissance period. The strength of her body is shown through the flexing muscles in her arms and legs, pushing down on the shovel to continue planting in her garden. In her background, there is a man who is working as well. The viewer of the picture only sees the back of the man, but can see his action of dropping seeds in a field, planting for another harvest. Further in the background of the picture, a town is illustrated. The prosperity of the town depends on the hard work of the people in image, and their efforts at planting and producing food. Behind the woman is a dark, long coffin-like object, which may be a warning to the viewer, that if they do not work, their crops will die. Thus the man and the woman illustrate the part of the motto “Fac”, meaning “Do.” They are showing the audience the act that must be done to get to the end goal of success. The next part that they must do is hope.

The theme of hope is most prevalent in the illustration of the woman in the foreground of the picture. Her body is a more masculine image, shown in her burly limbs, and larger size, verses a small and delicate womanly image. The body of the man is not a major focus of the picture, but his action working the field is. The sun shining down on the woman’s head gives her a divine appearance; comparable to a goddess. The goddess most closely associated with agriculture is the Greek goddess Ceres, also known as Demeter.

The association of working with a divine image tells the reader that he or she should consider the godliness associated with their work. The sun shining down is not meant to only show the good fortune that the people in the picture will have during the growing season, but also to highlight the divinity associated with the woman in the foreground. The viewer may also notice the Hebrew word, Adonai, meaning God, written in the sunrays as well. This further deepens the association with God, and the influence that he has over their lives, and prosperity. The word Adonai, the divine association with Ceres, combined with the word ‘Spera’ in the motto completes the circle that success comes along with working and praying to God. The word ‘hope’ in the motto is what tells the reader that he or she must consider praying to God if he or she wants to be successful. The association of that word along with an image of a woman resembling a deity with the Hebrew word for God written in the sunrays enforces that message. The coffin-like box behind the woman acts as a caveat to any viewer who believes that it would be possible to get along without the help of God. The coffin symbolizes death; failure of the crops to grow and feed the man and woman would also mean failure for the town’s food, and thus the key element most needed for human survival. Therefore, the reader notes that the combination of work and prayer is essential to life.

The epigram underneath the picture and motto is another matter to reinforce the idea that for success to happen there must be both work and prayer. The epigram, in Latin, goes as: “Subditus esto Deo, mandato munere fugens, et spera in miseris, et pete, rebus opem.”

This roughly translates into English saying that one must trust in God, by doing work, hope, and ask for help in misfortune. The Latin text that Rollenhagen added to this picture to go along with the theme of working and praying bolsters the theory that he meant for people to take the idea of working and remind them that prosperity does not come on it’s own, but with the help of God. The caption noted from the research website Arkyves describes the emblem as “A personification of Hope is spading while a farmer is sowing a ploughed field in the background.”[7] The website translates the woman herself to be Hope working in a field, to attain prosperity. The woman herself does not need to be translated directly as a personification of Hope, or directly as the goddess Ceres but she does portray the image of a woman working hard to plant, and the man works hard in the background to sow the field so that they can feed the thriving town in the background.

Rollenhagen’s book of emblem Centuria Secunda contains one hundred emblems, all completed with the picture, motto, and epigram. The credit for the artwork in Rollenhagen’s book goes to Crispijn van de Passe and Jan Jansson; the artwork was done on engraved plates, and impressed upon the pages. The plates were preserved, and used later by George Wither in his book A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustrations, Both Morall and Divine. Wither expanded on the ideas that Rollenhagen presents through his emblems, through a translation to English and poetry. The seventh emblem in Centuria Secunda illustrates the issues with printing, noted through the reversed number seven and the imprint of the lines of the leaves in the paper, and presents a moral message about working and hoping. The motto “Fac et Spera” roughly translates into “Do and Hope.” Wither’s expanded translation is “If thou thy Duties truly doe, of they Reward, be hopeful too.”[8] The message Rollenhagen intended was that if one desires prosperity, he must work hard but also hope in God. The woman portrayed in the foreground may be seen as a personification of Hope, through her divine like image. Or the woman may be looked at as Greek goddess Ceres, also known as Demeter, who still has a divine image, reinforcing the godlike impression. The woman working, and man working in the background may be assumed to be feeding the thriving town in the background, thus their work is pertinent to the success of many people. The coffin-like object behind the woman acts as a caveat to viewers that success will not happen without the help of God. Adonai, written in Hebrew in the sunrays shining down in the picture, supports the divinity of the emblem, and the involvement that God has in their fortune. The motto “Fac et Spera” translating to “Do and Hope” is meant to be understood that prosperity comes from working, and keeping hope and faith in God.


[1] Mario Praz. Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery: Emblem, Device, Epigram, Conceit. (Rome, 1964),13

[2] John Manning. The Emblem: Towards an Emblematic Rhetoric. (London, 2002), 80

[3] Gordon Campbell. The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance. Oxford. Online. 2012

[4] John Manning. The Emblem: Towards an Emblematic Rhetoric. (London:. 2002), 81

[5] Mario Praz. Studies in the Seventeenth-Century Imagery: Profane and Sacred Love. (Rome: 1964), 157

[6] George Wither. A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustratins, Both Morall and Divine: and Disposed Into Lotteries. (London, 1635), 141

[8] George Wither. A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustratins, Both Morall and Divine: and Disposed Into Lotteries. (London, 1635), 141

TO CITE: Patricia Fleming, “Fac et Spera,” in : Emblem Scholars, Emblematica Online, ed. Mara R. Wade. University of Illinois, 2013.  https://emblematicaonlineuiuc.wordpress.com/research-results/research-papers-2/fac-et-spera/ 

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