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Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libellus,
Chrestien Wechel, 1534 (1st edition)


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SMAdd53

This is the first Paris edition of Alciato's Emblematum libellus/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 (for more information on French editions see BFEB F.001-072)

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. Whether Steyner's first 1534 edition followed or preceded the first Paris one cannot be established. In Paris, Chrestien Wechel at first produced Latin editions, like those in Augsburg. Further Latin editions followed, including another in 1534, and in 1536 there would appear 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 also a similarly conceived German/Latin edition.

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libellus, Paris, Chrestien Wechel, 1534 (1st edition)

This book contains 113 emblems, all of them illustrated with woodcuts possibly designed by Mercure Jollat, and laid out in logical fashion. This edition 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]. Read a Bibliographical Description. All but four (those with longer texts) are contained within one page.

GUL SMAdd53 A7vo-A8ro. Actual page height: 162mm
GUL SMAdd53 A7vo-A8ro. Actual page height: 162mm.

As is made clear in Wechel's dedicatory letter, Alciato had involved himself in the preparation, correcting errors found in Steyner editions, and the majority of woodcuts are now those used throughout the whole series of Wechel editions. A few woodcuts however would be revised over subsequent editions, and one replaced ('In astrologos', in the 2nd 1534 edition). The 1536 edition, also available on this website, with the translation by Jean Lefevre, contains the revised versions of woodcuts.

The Glasgow copy belonged to Christopher Nevinson, a lawyer from Briggend, Cumberland (d. 1551). There is a manuscript note attached to 'In receptatores sicariorum', referring to 'my lord Burton'.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 7.

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2001): entries F.001-072 cover early French editions of Alciato; this edition is entered as F.001.

Alison Adams, 'The Role of the Translator in Sixteenth-Century Alciato Translation', BHR 52.2 (1990), 369-383 (on revisions to woodcuts).

Michael Bath, 'Two Early English-owned Alciato Editions in Glasgow University Library', Emblematica 2 (1987), 387-388.

Stephen Rawles, 'Layout, Typography and Chronology in Chr├ętien Wechel's Editions of Alciato', in An Interregnum of the Sign: The Emblematic Age in France: Essays in Honour of Daniel S. Russell, volume edited by David Graham (Glasgow: Glasgow Emblem Studies, 2001), 49-71.


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