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The Embleme of Englands distractions as also of her attained, and further expected Freedome, & Happines per H.M.

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Embleme of Englands distractions as also of her attained, and further expected Freedome, & Happines per H.M.
  • Description

    Oliver Cromwell standing between two pillars, flanked by allegorical emblems. 1658

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1658
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 562 millimetres
    • Width: 422 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Lettered with title in cartouche at bottom, and with numerous inscriptions in Latin and English engraved under each emblem.
  • Curator's comments

    (Text from Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain', BM 1998, cat.115)
    This celebrated rarity is the most extraordinary print of its period. It has traditionally been known as 'Cromwell between two pillars', although the actual title on the print is given above. Below are two lines of Latin verse: 'Anglia ne meritas, sistas immota Triumphans/ Pacis Oliva tibi vere Olivarus erit'. It has been suggested that 'H.M.' might be the publisher Humphrey Moseley, who published some of Milton's works. The engraving is not signed, but has always been attributed to Faithorne, and there is no reason to doubt this.
    The original drawing for the print belonged to Richard Bull, and is now with the Bute Granger in the Huntington Library. It has been correctly attributed to Francis Barlow by Robert R.Wark, 'Early British Drawings in the Huntington Collection', San Marino, 1969, pp.15-7, who transcribes all the texts on the plate, and gives an excellent analysis of the meaning of the image. Cromwell has safely piloted the ship of state through Scylla and Charybdis (top right), and it is now at rest like the ark on Mount Ararat (top left). The dove bears a branch of olive, while glory is attributed to God alone (in Greek). The three nations of Great Britain offer him wreaths and crowns; he stands on the whore of Babylon, while fame trumpets his achievements. At the bottom on the left the arts of peace flourish, while on the right plotters still threaten the foundations of the state.
    The print is very rare, and Granger only knew impressions in the Walpole and Gulston collections. This suggests that it was only on the market a short time before Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658. Hence the dating suggested above.
    The order of the states has never been fully resolved. A putative first state has a blank space between the lines on the book held by Cromwell, and is before the two lines of Latin verse; this state has never been seen. Ours is the second state, while in the third 'meritas' was altered to 'metuas' (according to a note in the Department's marked copy of G.S.Layard, 'Catalogue raisonné of engraved British portraits from altered plates', 1927, no.36; this state has not been seen either). In the fourth state the Latin was erased, as was 'Per H.M. 1658'; parallel lines were added to fill the blank on the book (see 1935-4-13-184).
    The plate must have been retired after Cromwell's death, but it was resuscitated in 1690, when the head was changed to that of William III to make a fifth state. A minimum of other changes were made: Mary's head replaced the sun and moon above the left column, 'Floreat Protector' was altered to ''Floreant Rex et Regina', and in place of the two lines of Latin stood the address of Joseph Claver at the Blackamore's Head over against the East India House in Leadenhall Street. An impression of this equally rare state was bequeathed to the British Museum by F.B.Daniell in 1932 (1932-11-12-4), and is annotated by Narcissus Luttrell with his date of purchase, 6 October 1690. A deceptive contemporary copy of this, without the name of any publisher and with English replacing the Latin texts, is in the Bute Granger (see Williamsburg fig.5).
    See now Bruce Lawson on this print in Michael Bath & Daniel Russell (eds), 'Deviceful settings: the English Renaissance emblem and its contexts', New York 1999 pp.113-38.

    (Text from Malcolm Jones,, "Print of the Month", August 2006)
    Oliver stands holding a sword piercing three crowns upraised in one hand, an open book in the other, and tramples with one foot between the bare breasts of the prostrate Whore of Babylon, who pours the contents of her 'cup of abominations' over a hydra-headed serpent labelled Error and Faction, which his other foot pins to the ground. Above his head are the dove bearing the olive branch of peace (which also puns on his name), and a glory, indicating divine approval. He stands, himself a pillar of the State, like a latter day Hercules between two columns, on one of which allegorical figures representing England, Ireland and Scotland offer him laurel wreaths, while the other is composed of the fundamentals of English civil society, Magna Carta, the Rule of Law, etc.

    Three Old Testament vignettes are placed above him: Noah's ark safely arriving through wind and wave (here steering a middle course between rocks anachronistically but Classically identified as Scylla and Charbydis!) to the top of Ararat on which the sun beams down – an example of the popular metaphor of the Ship of State:[1] Oliver has steered the Ship safely through trials and tribulations, till it has now come to rest in the sunny uplands of divine favour. Somewhat more puzzling, however, – even sinister – is the third scene, the Sacrifice of Isaac, with Jacob his sword poised about to decapitate the boy – surely this cannot allude to the beheading of Charles I some nine years earlier? The summit on which the terrible deed is about to be done is labelled Moria – unless this Greek name (famously and punningly used by Sir Thomas More in his Encomium Moriae or Praise of Folly) was instead intended not as a place-name, but as an allusion to the folly of such an act?

    The bottom of the sheet is filled with several emblematic scenes of peace and prosperity (left), and machinations against the state (right). A shepherd pipes to his sheep beneath another punning olive tree, labelled Oliva Pacis ['the olive of peace', but also, 'Oliver's peace'], and the Isaian prophecy, They shall beat their Speares into Pruneing-hooks And their Swords into Plow-shears, is illustrated by the peaceful occupations of cutting grape-bunches from an unconvincing, tree-like vine with a pruning-hook, and a man using a horse-drawn plough. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the last of these peaceful emblems, the war-helmet which has become used as a hive by bees; already 150 years old by this date, it first appears in England in Geoffrey Whitney's A Choice of Emblemes (1586), but there derives from Andrea Alciati's original emblem-book of 1531. Closer in date to Faithorne's print of Cromwell, it had also appeared in George Wither's Collection of Emblemes (1635).

    In the bottom righthand corner of the sheet two bonneted Jesuits are depicted, one carrying a dark lantern, a man with bellows trying to set light to barrels of gunpowder, and Samson's trick of a pair of foxes yoked by the tails about to fire a cornfield - some of which imagery recurs a few years later in another print entitled Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian fireworks (1667). A gallows with noose is labelled Proditorum finis funis [The rope is the end of traitors]. The gunpowder is placed within a cavern of the rock on which the righthand pillar featuring the representations of England, Scotland and Ireland stands, and is also attacked by a number of men (one with a dog's head) wielding pickaxes - literal attempts to undermine the state, presumably. The final scene which remains mysterious to me, is of three rustics, one with pitchfork, approaching a small copse at the foot of the same rock.[2]
    [1]. The outside of the lid of the so-called Armada or Heneage jewel made some time in the second half of the 1580s similarly depicts the ark of the English Church on a stormy sea surrounded by the inscription SAEVAS TRANQVILLA PER VNDAS [calm through the savage waves] in allusion to Elizabeth's safeguarding of the church, and it was a device also used by James I on medals: see A.G. Somers Cocks (ed.), Princely Magnificence. Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630 (London, 1980), cat. nos. 38 and 117.
    [2]. I have not been able to see Robert R. Wark, Early British Drawings in the Huntington Collection (San Marino, 1969), pp. 15-17, who perhaps is able to explicate this curious image.


  • Bibliography

    • Fagan 1888 p.31 bibliographic details
    • BM Satires undescribed bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British XVIIc Mounted Imp)

  • Exhibition history

    1999/2000 Dec-Apr, London, BM, 'The Apocalypse', no.4
    2000 Jan-Mar, Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000 May-Jul, Bristol, City Mus and AG, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000 Oct-Dec, Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000/1 Dec-Feb, Banff, Duff House, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2001 Feb-May, Cardiff, National Mus, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2009 Feb-Apr, Leeds City Art Gallery, RANK
    2009 Apr-Jun, Sunderland, Northern Gall of Contemp Art, RANK
    2009 Jul-Sep, Blackpool, Grundy Art Gallery, RANK
    2015 Mar-Sep, London, The British Library, 'Magna Carta'

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    According to the vendors, it was formerly in the collections of General Dowdeswell, Rev. Theo Williams and J.P.Ord (Sotheby, 12 December 1827, lot 130, £42 to Colnaghi).

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Oliver Cromwell standing between two pillars, flanked by allegorical emblems.  1658  Engraving


Oliver Cromwell standing between two pillars, flanked by allegorical emblems. 1658 Engraving

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