The source image is a version of the frontispiece to the “Eikon Basilica”, the book of pious reflections of Charles 1 of England, Scotland and Ireland, whose beheading in 1649 resulted through this publication (39 English and 20 foreign editions, including in German) in his transformation into the image (especially) in court circles of the suffering of the believing Christian. This particular engraving, made after 1662 in Antwerp, was used in three late editions and may have made its way to Weimar following the visit of the Duke to the Low Countries in 1716. Alas, the copy of the Eikon in the Anna Amalia library was lost to fire in 2004 but in any event so many were in circulation that the transmission to Bach’s librettist may have come otherwise.
Cantata BWV 81: Mvt. 3: Aria [Tenor]
Die schäumenden Wellen von Belials Bächen
The foaming waves of Belial’s streams
Verdoppeln die Wut.
redouble their rage.
Ein Christ soll zwar wie Felsen stehn, (or wie Wellen)
A Christian should stand like a rock (or like a wave)
Wenn Trübsalswinde um ihn gehn,
when the winds of affliction go over it,
Doch suchet die stürmende Flut
for the raging flood seeks
Die Kräfte des Glaubens zu schwächen.
to weaken faith’s strength.
English translation by Francis Browne (February 2006)
The fate of Charles I was of great interest on the continent; paradoxically the only play on the subject is not in the English language but in German, Gryphius’ Carolus Stuardus.
Here we see a storm at sea, with Charles as boatman (“steursmann”) to the ship of state (Pfeiffer gives this role at the tiller to Jesus in his sermon for the day). Proximate to the stormy waves, Charles is praying in front of a detached fluted pillar, an element separated from the architectural capriccio (an effect not so clearly seen in the usual William Marshal frontispiece). Given the analysis of the emblems of the Eikon, namely that they are paradoxically paired or grouped (“crown” being the earthly discarded in favour of the Crown of Thorns and the Crown of Heaven, for example) it would be not surprising in a development of this image to have a dual meaning for “wellen.”
What drives the interrelationship further are the palm trees weighed down in the right of the engraving, an idea originating in Alciati and indicating the ancient idea that the burden cause the tree to grow stronger. This is also the image given in BWV 44, “Sie werden euch in der bann tun” in connection with the suffering Christian:
“However, Christians resemble palm branches
Which through their burden just climb higher.”
It is also the case that a rock, “Felsen”, the more conventional counter-image to waves, features and indeed this is a word used in Gryphius’ Carolus Stuardus. Hans-Joachim Schulze concludes that we may use “Felsen”:
“Hier ein wort so substitieren, das etwas mehr Widerstandskraft suggestierert, beispielwise “Felsen” , ist sicherlich nicht verboten”.(Here that a word may be substituted, something more suggestive of upright standing , the exemplar being “Rock”, is surely not forbidden”.)
Now, however, that we have a famous emblemata engraving in which a pillar sits alongside the conventional image of the rock, the possibility of the text being wholly intended as “wellen” tips the balance in my opinion towards probability.