Actual size: 3 ft tall x 2 ft wide
Jesuit Thesis Print • Douay, 1753.
Recently purchased for the Library’s holdings on the material culture of academic life was a Jesuit thesis print. In general, this genre of publication joined the visual and textual, markng in word and picture an important milestone in the education of a youth at a Jesuit college. Upon completion of a course of study, the student became the centerpiece of a staged show of his learning and rhetorical skills. This was done before an audience, sometimes with musical interludes. During the event, before a panel of his superiors in learning, the student elaborated on theses – topics of learned discourse. According to Louise Rice in her “Jesuit Thesis Prints and the Festive Academic Defence at the Collegio Romano,” in The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. John O’Malley et al., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, pp. 148-69, “… the sheet was distributed to members of the audience during the defence itself; it served as a kind of program, which enabled the audience to follow the progress of the disputation, and was taken home as a record or souvenir of the event.”
As a rule, a Jesuit thesis print featured a large picture surmounting the text of the theses. (For this particular one text and image together measure 43 inches tall and 28 inches wide, being two full sheets pasted together at one edge.)
In this case the scene is the famous story of the judgement of Solomon. This story of two mothers, a disputed baby, and a cunning strategy to determine the truth was widely known and illustrated. Raphael’s rendering is in the Loggia of the Papal Palace in the Vatican. In this print, engraved by Laurent Cars in Paris after a design by Serviatus Paira, the moment depicted can be read as the instance either before or just after his decision. One mother stands before King Solomon either in supplication or abjection, while in the foreground the baby is with the other mother. Onlookers point to the center of the drama.
Discoursing on the theses was Joannes Antonius Dominicus Verhulst from Bruges at the culmination of his course in the Jesuit College Aquicinctinus in Douai. This occurred in 1753. Twenty years later the Jesuits were suppressed and this practice declined.
Verhulst is discoursing on topics in rational philosophy – before judges, in this case, presided by Pierre de Cassal, Professor of Philosophy at the College. There was a tradition of dividing rational philosophy into three parts and so it is done here in three distinct columns: Idea (science of ideas), Juridicum (laws of thought), Discursus (science of the criteria of certitude).
Customary for the Jesuit thesis print was a thematic connection between the pictorial scene and the theses. Solomon was a symbol of many meanings, of which one was that he was a sage whose determinations of truth led him to wisdom.
Title: Philosophia rationalis.
Imprint: Douai : Jacobus Franciscus Willerval, 1753.
Format: Over-all dimensions 110 x 73 cm.; made up of two equal size sheets (upper: engraving (judgement of Solomon); lower: engraved architectural tablet surrounding letterpress text.
Summary: Announcing defense of theses in rational philosophy by Joannes Antonius Domincus Verhults of Bruges, held at the Jesuit College Aquicinctinus in Douai on March 4, 1753 and presided over by Petrus de Cassal.
Call number: (Ex) Item 5324301 broadside
NB – The practice of public display of a student’s rhetorical skills continued at colleges in the New World. The archives of the University have a number of such broadsides – just text, pictures were either not allowed or not affordable or both. These are found at Mudd Library in collection number AC115, Series 5, Oversize Items, 1748-1948,
Commencement Broadsides, 1754-1764.