Otto van Veen, Quinti Horatii Flacci Emblemata: Emblem III: “Naturam Minerva Perficit”

emblem-003-01040013Motto: Naturam Minerva Perficit   “Minerva Completes Nature”

Fortes creantur fortibus, & bonis,
Est in juvencis, est in equis patrum
Virtus: nec imbellem feroces
Progenerant aquilae columbam.
Doctrina seduim promovet insitam,
Rectig cultus pectora roborant.
Ut cumque defencere mores,
Dedecorant bene nata culpae.
[Horace, Lib. 4, Od. 4]
By the brave and good, are the brave created:
their sire’s virtues exist in horses and men,
while the ferocious golden eagles
don’t produce shy doves, but education
improves inborn qualities, and its proper
cultivation strengthens the mind: whenever
moral behaviour falls short, its faults
dishonour whatever was good at birth.
[Horace, Lib. 4, Od. 4]


Natura, quae semper ad optima quaeque vergit, Virtutem insitam Minervae comendat educandam.  Sola nobilitas, quae sanctis vestita moribus, laudanda: nihil est nobile quod vitiosum.  Quis enim generosum dixerit hunc, que indignus genere est, & praeclaro nomine tantum insignis?

Commentary on Emblem III: “Naturam Minerva Perficit”

  1. Ambrose Mnemopolous Post author

    The motif of the serpent and the bird depicted in the background relates to an alchemical interpretation of a Biblical passage from the Gospel of Matthew. The serpent represents Mercurius, or the volatile element, and the eagle represents the vapors released during the alchemical process. The stags mating in the background represent the notion that “like begets like” while the interaction between eagle and serpent represents the coniuntio oppositorum.

  2. Ambrose Mnemopolous Post author

    The figure on the left is Athena with her breastplate, phrygian cap, and staff. The figure on the right represents Nature. Nature is depicted with three sets of breasts because, like an animal, Nature can be tamed.

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Otto van Veen (1556-1629), also known by his Latinized name Otto Venius or Octavius Vaenius, was a painter, draughtsman, and humanist active primarily in Antwerp and Brussels in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. He is known for running a large studio in Antwerp, producing several emblem books, and for being, from 1594 or 1595 until 1598, Peter Paul Rubens's teacher.