The topics of this blog are Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Duke of Richelieu, and the IDEAL CITY built on his command next to his magnificent CHÂTEAU on the borders of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou, in France.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Hobbes and 'Leviathan' - frontispiece by Abraham Bosse


In 1651 the celebrated Parisian hugenot engraver Abraham Bosse, born in Tours, made this famous illustration for the for the frontispiece of the publication of englishman Thomas Hobbes' philosophical work that considers the nature of the commonwealth in a perspective drawn during and after the slaughterous English civil war.  He had met the philosopher during Hobbes' 1640-1651 stay in Paris. In 'Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme and Power of the common wealth, Eccesiastical and Civil', the polity is represented as a giant figure overlooking a rather ville-de-Richelieu-like townscape, his body made up of many individual citizens (all men!), his individual face and hands implying a personalising figure of state. He elucidates for the first time in European political philosophy the 'social contract' of governance and the need of the consent of the governed.   A monarchy that cannot act except though its body of citizenry.  And a monarchy that occupies both a temporal and religious role; sword and crook. This near 'heresy' later got him in trouble with the catholics in France and even the church in England.

While the cardinal de Richelieu, and his successor cardinal Mazarin would lead the French monarchy of Louis XIV, XV and XVI to the fatal absolutism that was finally smashed in the French revolution of 1789, Hobbes was postulating the kingship to be exemplified by Charles II and later by William and Mary and the Georges. In short, the formalisation of a limited constitutional monarchy.



Bosse would certianly have known of the late great prelate's architectural wonder, located not far from his town of birth.

Maybe, I spy with my little eye, within the famous image, the twin obelisk-ed towers of Our Lady of Richelieu built by Jacques Lemercier only a few years before in the 1630s.  Certainly the little ideal town depicted in Bosse's illustration looks pretty familiar.


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1 comment:

silverwhistle said...

It also inspired one of Alasdair Gray's illustrations for his first novel Lanark (1981).

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