The "lover" and early modern fandom

Vera Keller

University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, United States

[0.1] Abstract—A look at 17th century fannish practices through the works of "lovers" (or "amateurs") who primarily focussed on ideas, practices, and entities rather than individuals.

[0.2] Keywords—Amateur; Book of friends; Fan community; Painting; Print; Public

Keller, Vera. 2011. "The 'Lover' and Early Modern Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 7.

1. Early modern fandom between individuals and publics

[1.1] In the early modern period, fans were known as lovers, a term that has survived in English today as "amateur" and in the contemporary Dutch word for fan, liefhebber (literally, "lover"). Before the modern cult of personality, such fans gathered around ideas, values, practices, and categories of objects, rather than individuals. A variety of new media of the early modern period foregrounding the association of lovers can be compared to today's social media and its emphasis on networks, collaborative authorship, and reuse of multimedia objects. The study of the media of early modern lovers tells a different story than that of many histories of celebrity, which trace the gradual rise of individual fame (Rojek 2001, 102). Viewed in the longue durée, I argue that the focus on celebrated individuals as the crux of taste cultures has been of relatively short duration. The contours and social formations of taste cultures have fluctuated in the past few centuries, along with the history of the media in which such tastes have been expressed. It is possible that current social media might shift the center of taste cultures away from individuals once again, allowing fan activities to diverge from cults of personality.

[1.2] The focus on the individual in Renaissance Europe has long served as a part of some definitions of the Renaissance itself (Burckhardt [1860] 1904). The fame of individuals, however, was carefully curated by the individual her- or more often himself, often in connection with the new technology of print. Stephen Greenblatt famously termed such efforts "Renaissance self-fashioning." In his wake, other scholars have shown how famed individuals of Renaissance Europe such as Desiderius Erasmus and Albrecht Dürer worked hard to shape their reputations for the benefit of contemporaries and future generations (Greenblatt 1980; Koerner 1993; Jardine 1995).

[1.3] In a history of celebrity in the modern West, it is tempting to move directly from such heroic Renaissance individuals to the crazes and manias surrounding celebrated individuals in the beginnings of consumer-driven celebrity culture. The origins of a personality-saturated mass market have been dated variously to the late 17th century, the late 18th century, and the early 19th century (Harris 1987; Wanko 2003; Nussbaum 2010; Baker 1999; McDayter 2009; Kahan 2010). Such culture has been typified by a popular taste for insider information about celebrities, who carefully released "confessions" or sneak peeks at their private letters to satisfy celebrity-hungry crowds. Other writers and printers also catered to the celebrity industry by producing the peculiarly 18th-century genres of scandal sheets, collections of anecdotes, and thespian biographies (notable particularly for the new phenomenon of the celebrated female actress). In a more learned and homosocial realm, collections of Ana-literature emerged (such as Scaligerana and Thuana), which supposedly captured the spontaneous personal reflections and statements of these celebrated scholars.

2. The lover identity in the 17th century

[2.1] Moving directly from Renaissance individualism to early modern celebrity culture would pass over an important period in the formation of taste cultures in the 17th century, and one that enjoyed its own new media; one not centered, I would argue, on celebrated individuals. This was the period of the lover, or amator, amateur, liebhaber, and liefhebber. The social relations of lovers intervene between personally curated Renaissance fame, and the political and social activism of crowds in the early modern period.

[2.2] We often think of the lover (or more commonly in English today, the amateur) not by what it is, but by what it is not. The amateur is by definition not a professional. In 17th-century historiography, the term, especially in Dutch, most frequently referred to a collector and connoisseur—particularly, but not exclusively, of the fine arts (Briels 1980; Filipczak 1987; van der Veen 1992; Jorink 2006; Forshaw 2006, 111; Cowan 2004, 154; Cook 2007, 72; Goldgar 2007). In historiography, the amateur or liefhebber was thus one who appreciated and knew culture but did not produce it.

[2.3] The 17th-century use of the term, however, encompassed a much broader range of meanings than those studied in art history. The lover was someone who related to something, someone, or a group of people in an affective way. It thus could refer to any member of a group. For example, liefhebber was the title of an official status within the Dutch Reformed Church, as well as the title of members of chambers of rhetoric, or nonprofessional members of the Guild of St. Luke, the guild for artists (note 1).

[2.4] Anybody who wished to identify with a larger group, and who wished to foreground the work he or she did on behalf of that group in the pursuit of a common goal or taste, could self-identify as a lover within a community of lovers. Such communities of lovers intersected with other 17th-century identities. For instance, so-called intelligencers and agents served in the history of 17th-century politics, social reform, and scientific investigations as centers in networks of exchange, stretching often across Europe and around the world. In a period when politics intersected with art appreciation and scientific exchange, such agents were often also lovers of art and nature (Greengrass, Leslie, and Raylor 1994; Noldus 2006, 2003; Keblusek 2006, 97–108; Osborne 2007, 22, 24–41; Trevor-Roper 2006).

3. New early modern media supporting lover sociability

[3.1] Several new genres emerged to support the networking efforts of such lovers. These were genres that foregrounded cultural consumers and wide networks, rather than lone cultural producers. One such genre was a highly fashionable new type of painting that emerged in early 17th-century Antwerp, a major center of both art connoisseurship and international diplomacy. The cabinet d'amateur, or gallery painting, portrayed collections of well-known works of art and scientific objects, inhabited by animated figures conversing, gesturing, and examining the objects.

[3.2] Elizabeth Honig has underlined the anomalous nature of the gallery painting as the product of collaborators, as opposed to the importance placed on individuality in the history of Renaissance art. This multiple authorship extended beyond the "virtual" authorship of the many masters whose paintings are quoted within the works. By collaboration, Honig referred to the frequent partnering of masters of equal status in the production of these works. Such collaboration conflicted with the tradition of authorship "as lying in the tight interconnection between the single genius, the 'idea' of the work of art and the final product—a notion that came to fruition in the Renaissance and remained broadly operative for centuries thereafter" (Honig 1998, 178).

[3.3] Honig related this phenomenon to the social function of these works. They served as objects of conversation among connoisseurs who could identify the various hands within the works. "On the one hand, the picture 'contains' value in the form of the canonical artists' hands whose traces are inscribed upon its surface; on the other, a much greater value is generated by and for its beholder, who enacts a certain performance before it" (Honig 1998, 210). The aesthetic of the gallery painting was one of reuse; its value lay in linking together the observers who recognized the shared cultural reference points that reappeared in the painting, and in the creativity of the collaborating artists in rearranging such quotations in new ways, in the tradition of literary citation known as common-placing.

[3.4] Another new genre in which both lover sociability and a reuse aesthetic appeared prominently was the album amicorum, or book of friends. The book of friends, easily comparable to Facebook today, first emerged in the 1540s. Its popularity increased through the 16th and 17th centuries with the emergence of foreign travel as a standard part of a university education. While, as in Victorian autograph albums, the signatures of famous individuals were collected eagerly in one's travels abroad, they coexisted within the album alongside school friends, teachers, casual acquaintances, and a wide range of lesser- and better-known individuals. The book of friends also became increasingly interactive and full of multimedia objects by the turn of the 17th century. In contrast to earlier alba, which often included either learned classical quotations or noble coats of arms, inscribers of books of friends increasingly pasted in engravings, created subnetworks by inscribing one another's pages, or added their own interpretations to the many emblems and miniature paintings the owners had included in the album (note 2).

[3.5] Print culture also foregrounded the language of the lover. The advertisement of a work as written by and for lovers was one way of publishing a work anonymously. However, since the lover was usually qualified as the lover of something in particular, it was also a way to signal the work's appeal to a particular audience, or to make claims about the author's political or cultural persuasions. Searches for the use of lover in union short-title catalogs produces 2,447 records for liefhebber in Dutch works, 1,498 works for liebhaber in German, and 1,461 for liebhabern (as in, "written or published for the lovers"—"Allen Liebhabern…Beschrieben" or "Allen Liebhabern…an Tag Gegeben") (note 3). A search for "by a lover" in the title of English books (1475–1700) produced 275 records (note 4)

[3.6] Such lovers were generally not fans of people, but of practices, arts, objects, entities, and political causes. These titles included such works as the 1682 Conversation…between a poet, an actor, and a lover of poetry (T'zaamenspraak over de klucht van Jan Klaasz., tusschen een poeet, commediant, en een liefhebber der poezy), Bartholomeus Korndörffer's 1635 The Tincture of gems, written by Bartholomeus Korndörffer many years ago, but only now published by one of the lovers of the philosophic mystery (De tinctura gemmarum…von Herrn Bartholomaeo Korndorfero vor vielen Jahren geschrieben/nun aber an das Tageliecht gebracht durch einen der philosophischen Geheimniß Liebhabern), Lilburns ghost, with a whip in one hand, to scourge tyrants out of authority; and balme in the other, to heal the sores of our (as yet) corrupt state; or, Some of the late dying principles of freedom, revived, and unvailed, for the lovers of freedome and liberty, peace & righteousness to behold (London: Livewell Chapman, 1659), and Archie Armstrong's A choice banquet of witty jests, rare fancies, and pleasant novels fitted for all the lovers of wit, mirth and eloquence (London: Peter Dring, 1660). In other words, authors and printers employed the same language to conceptualize the audience-public relationship as a horizontal one of shared lover identities, whether that audience was one that loved poetry, the occult, witty jests, or liberty.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] The identity of the lover—primarily of practices, ideas, and entities rather than of individuals—figured largely in 17th-century cultural production, consumption, connoisseurship, social reform, and political action. The history of the lover thus intervenes between the heroic, self-curating individualism of the Renaissance, and the mass market of modern celebrity culture. It can contribute to histories of the emergence of the self-aware and vocal publics so important to both 18th-century democratic movements and the emergence of consumer-driven celebrity culture. As contemporary social media appear today analogous to those of such 17th-century genres as the gallery painting, the book of friends, and print title pages, we might note similarities of reuse, circulation, and networking, as well as the development of robust identities for large groupings of lovers, fans, and publics.

5. Notes

1. On the liefhebber as an official position in the church, see Mia M. Mochiuzuki (2004, 150).

2. The literature on the book of friends has expanded considerably in recent years. For special studies on changes in the books of friends circa 1600, see Marie Ryantová (2007) and Vera Keller (2011).

3. From Short Title Catalogue Netherlands ( These do not represent titles about lovers in the romantic sense. Of the 106 hits for liefhebber as a title word, all used the word in the sense of fan rather than romantic lover. Compare to Das Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachraum erschienenen Drucke des 17. Jahrhunderts (The Cataloue of Printed Seventeenth-Century Works Appearing in German-Speaking Lands,

4. From Early English Books Online ( Separating lover, meaning "fan," from its romantic sense is more difficult in English publishing than in German or Dutch, particularly given the prevalence of ballads in EEBO. I chose to search for "by a lover," which reduced the number of hits produced, compared to German and Dutch. By this, I do not intend to show that the usage of lover with this meaning was any less prevalent than liefhebber or liebhaber in Dutch and German, respectively.

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