As early as the 16th century, the Dutch had no specific word for what is the equivalent of our picnic, but they were adept at alfresco entertaining. It’s evident in their paintings and in so-called emblem books, primers or handbooks, meant to instruct youthful aristocrats in the ways of the world. Among the more socially and sexually suggestive of these books is The Garden of Love [Hortus Voluptatum] (1599) and New Mirror for Youth [Nieuwen ieucht spieghel] (1617). These two probably owe their inspiration to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1553), a collection of ribald tales told by aristocrats seeking refuge in a garden while escaping the ravages of the plague.
Among the lessons for courting and lovemaking in a garden is Young People Amusing Themselves in a Spring Garden. According to the artist Crispijn de Passe, the engraving is remarkably like our contemporary picnic featuring music, singing, and dining alfresco.
The illustration’s legend encourages young men and women to moderate their hedonism:
Quæ læta hæc species! vernantis temporis: alma
Quum tellus flores parturit omnigenos.
Hanc lasciua gerit speciem vitulansque iuuenta,
Tota cupidinibus delitijsque vacans.
How fertile are these sights! In spring time: nourishing
As Earth brings forth flowers of all kinds.
These incite frolic and youthful celebration
Freeing you for all desires and delights.
Featured Image: These lessons in courtship encourage discreet sexuality. Crispijn de Passe the Elder. Young People Amusing Themselves in a Spring Garden. New Mirror for Youth [Nieuwen ieucht spieghel] (1617), copper plate engraving. The author of the text is unknown. Emblem Project; http://emblems.let.uu.nl/nj1617023.html.
(Translation from Latin by Ken Albala)