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Commentary on Emblem 59

This emblem first appeared in the unauthorized edition of 1531. We give the illustration which first appeared on sig E3r. Note that the figure is white. By the first authorized edition of 1534 the illustration shows a black man (page 89).

The poem is a Latin translation of a poem by Lucian in Greek Anthology 11.428, and became well known in the Renaissance through Alciato and also through Erasmus (Adagia I iv 50 Aethiopem lavas You wash the Ethiopian and III x 88 Aethiops non albescit The Ethiopian does not become white). It is also proverbial in English (Tilley E 186). The paradox has endured in European art up until the 20th century. There is an excellent article on the tradition by Jean Michel Massing "From Greek Proverb to Soap Advert: Washing the Ethiopian" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 58 (1995) 180-201.

There is a French translation of this emblem by Lefevre, conventionally numbered 84 in the unpaged edition of Paris: Wechel, 1536 at the Glasgow University emblem site. You may compare the Latin and French in frames.

Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes (1586) has an English imitation at page 57. You may compare the Latin and Whitney's English in frames.

Last modified 17 October 1997