Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pictures of Lilly!

I have been away on holiday, to Cyprus, an island which made one think that if Venus rose from the sea during August, she needed a high factor sun-block the moment she hit the beach.

I have put together a set of pictures of William Lilly. The dates (if the portrait is from an almanac) are the dates of the year the almanac was written for, the book itself would usually have been published late on in the year before. Lilly was a clever self-publicist (his house sign announced that the truth-telling Merlin lived within), and from about 1649 had his portrait in publications.

The most elaborate portrait is that from the 1659 edition of Christian Astrology, engraved by William Marshal.

Someone has tried their pen nib all over the 1650 face, where Lilly holds a ‘scheme’ of the heavens drawn up for a reading (the aspects of the planets, etc, at a ‘geniture’), and (I think) the astrological signs. 1651 sees Lilly looking splendid under all the signs of the zodiac against a balustrade. It is rather a surprise that this elaborate image was not apparently re-used once the block had been cut. By 1654 Lilly seems to have decided that his portraits were too saturnine, and his face is wreathed in smiles, like Malvolio. He now carries the motto ‘agunt, not cogunt’ on a piece of paper he holds: (they, i.e. the stars) act, but do not compel. It was increasingly important for the astrologers, under attack from clergymen of all kinds, to deny that they ‘maintained necessity’. Human free will had to have a place in their system. This facial type engraved by Robert Vaughan was closely copied by ‘Cross’ for the 1655 almanac, where Lilly looks even more like the clergyman he had really always wanted to be.

In the Restoration period Lilly suddenly bloats out, and looks like a debauchee. But by 1666, he has rapidly thinned back to what will be the set facial type for his last years. With small variations either due to different inkings or the state of the block (or maybe copied re-engravings), this lasts till the year of his death. The honorific triple portrait of 1683 places Lilly between Cardan and Bonatus, as a combination of the learning and skills of both.

‘Pictures of Lily’ performed by The Who, 1967:

1 comment:

Adam Roberts said...

That conk! There is something of the beard-and-moustachio'd, better dressed Peter Townshend about him, yes.