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Andrea Alciato's Emblemata,
Petro Paulo Tozzi, 1621


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM1226

The Tozzi edition is usually taken to be the conclusive and fullest edition of Alciato's Emblematum liber or Emblemata, the work which is recognised as the first printed emblem book and the most frequently printed (over 100 editions in all, published in Germany, France, the Spanish Netherlands and Italy before the 1620s). The influence of Alciato's emblems is enormous and, since they first appeared in Latin, extends over the whole of Europe. They set the pattern commonly, though not universally associated with the emblem, that is a motto or inscriptio, a picture (pictura) and a verse text or epigram (the subscriptio). The corpus would eventually stretch to 212 emblems, but early editions had a little over a hundred. In due course translations would appear not only in French, but also in German, Italian and Spanish, and many of the emblems appear in English in Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblems (1586).

Andrea Alciato (1492-1550)

Portrait of Andrea Alciato (1492-1550)

Alciato was born in Alzate near Milan. He is famed not only for his emblems but as a legal scholar. He studied in Milan, Pavia. Bologna and Ferrara, and taught law both in Italy and at different periods in France, including a stay in Bourges from 1529-1534 at the invitation of François I. His interpretative work on Roman law is still of interest to legal historians today.

Publication History

Alciato's emblems were first published in Augsburg in Germany (two editions in 1531 and one in 1534); from 1534 onwards publishing shifted to France and remained there for the next thirty years. Chrestien Wechel at first produced Latin editions (from 1534), like those in Augsburg. He can be said to have set the standard for clear presentation of emblems, with each emblem beginning on a fresh page, featuring the motto or title, the pictura below that, and then the subscriptio or verse text [= 'primary text' in our search engine]. In 1536 there appeared the first French version of Alciato's emblems, by Jean Lefevre. Wechel went on publishing Alciato until the late 1540s, producing further Latin editions, editions including Lefevre's French, and indeed also a similarly conceived German/Latin edition, with the translation by Wolfgang Hunger, in 1542. After an unillustrated pirated Lyons edition by Denys de Harsy, probably dating from late 1540, the main focus of publication for emblems shifted more firmly to Lyons from the mid 1540s, with editions of Alciato first by Jacques Moderne (1544, pirated), by the celebrated Lyons printer Jean de Tournes, and then, with a programme of editions, by Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme from 1548 onwards. At the same time, the total number of Alciato's emblems had been growing. In particular 86 new emblems were published in Venice in 1546, and others enter the corpus piecemeal. The 1550 Latin edition by Rouille is the first to have 211 emblems (the whole corpus, apart from the so-called obscene emblem 'Adversus naturam peccantes') illustrated. The Rouille/Bonhomme programme of editions included not only a French translation, but also versions in Italian and Spanish. Commentaries had been added at an early stage, by Barthélemy Aneau, Sebastian Stockhamer and Claude Mignault. Although Mignault's commentaries were first published by Denis du Pré in Paris, the Antwerp (Plantin) editions were particularly important in producing versions with much more extended commentary by Mignault. The 1621 edition, edited by combines Mignault's commentaries with those of Spaniard Francisco Sanchez de las Brozas (first published Lyons 1573) and Laurentius Pignorius (first published Padua 1618), as well as the commentaries by Federicus Morellus (Fédéric Morel; first published Paris 1618).

Andrea Alciato's Emblemata, Padua, Petro Paulo Tozzi, 1621, with commentaries by Claude Mignault, Francisco Sanchez de las Brozas, Laurentius Pignorius, and Federicus Morellus, ed. Joannes Thuilius.

This quarto edition demonstrates the change in emphasis found in many Alciato editions by the late 16th and early 17th century; it is the culmination of the series of editions, with different publishers, in which the lengthy and learned commentaries dominate over the emblems proper.

GUL SM 1226 Mm8vo-Nn1ro. Actual page height: 239mm
GUL SM 1226 Mm8vo-Nn1ro. Actual page height: 239mm.

This is the first edition to contain all 212 emblems, all with accompanying woodcuts. It is the definitive edition on which Peter Daly based his standard numbering system for Alciato emblems. Read a Bibliographical Description. The commentaries by Mignault, Sanchez de las Brozas and Pignorius are amalgamated by Thuilius, though Morellus's form a kind of Appendix. The edition also contains Mignault's Syntagma de symbolis and his life of Alciato. The 1661 Tozzi edition is a page for page reprint.

Johannes Thuilius (1590-1630), a physician, was a Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Padua, having previously taught in Freiburg im Breisgau. Laurentius Pignorius (1571-1631) was also from Padua and was celebrated for illustrating Egyptian antiquities. His commentaries on Alciato had first appeared in Tozzi's 1618 edition, from which the woodcuts used here are draw, apart from 'Adversus naturam peccantes' which appears for the first time in 1621.

This edition includes some 80 pages of prefatory matter, the 'Epilogus Joannis Thuilii Mariaemontani'; and Morel's 'Corollaria et monita ... Ad Andreae Alciati Emblemata' which have not been transcribed, but which can be viewed in facsimile.

The massive 'Index rerum et verborum' has been transcribed, and can be consulted in facsimile or searched on-line.

Selected Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 152.

John Landwehr, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Books of Devices and Emblems 1534-1827 (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker and Gumbert, 1976), 99.

Andreas Alciatus, 1. The Latin Emblems, Indexes and Lists (Index Emblematicus), ed. Peter M. Daly with Virginia W. Callahan, assisted by Simon Cuttler (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985).


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