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Andrea Alciato's Emblemata,
Macé Bonhomme for Guillaume Rouille, 1550

This book has the emblems divided into thematic sections. The section is indicated at the top of the transcribed page; by clicking on the link given, you can find all the emblems in a section.


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SMAdd265 and SM34

This edition is the first to publish all the emblems (apart from the so-called obscene emblem, 'Adversus naturam peccantes') of Alciato's Emblematum liber or Emblemata, each with a pictura. Alciato's work 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. 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]. 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. 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. This 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 further included not only a French translation, but also versions in Italian and Spanish. Most of the editions are octavos, with elaborate frames, but there were also editions in smaller format, without decorative frames. Rouille and his heirs went on publishing editions of the emblems in Latin until 1626, still using almost all the same woodcuts, and of Aneau's French until 1564.

Andrea Alciato's Emblemata, Lyons, Macé Bonhomme for Guillaume Rouille, 1550

This Latin edition is part of a major publishing venture in Lyons by the team of Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme, which started in 1548. Read a Bibliographical Description. A new set of woodcuts was commissioned, attributed to Pierre Eskrich or Vase. There are 211 emblems, all except 'Adversus naturam peccantes', and they are enclosed in elaborate frames.

GUL SM34 I7vo-I8ro. Actual page height: 189mm
GUL SM34 I7vo-I8ro. Actual page height: 189mm.

Furthermore, like all the other Rouille/Bonhomme editions (apart from the Spanish), the emblems are arranged in thematic groups, 'lieux communs'. There is some debate whether Aneau, who worked closely with his publishing colleagues, was responsible for this arrangement or whether it was in fact Rouille. These classifications are identified on the Contents page for this book, as well as on the individual emblem pages. Some emblems are further classified rhetorically, as allegory, prosopopeia etc.

Selected Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 44.

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.030.

Andrea Alciato, Emblemata, Lyons, 1550, translated and annotated by Betty I. Knott with an introduction by John Manning (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996). We are greatly indebted to this edition and to Betty Knott-Sharpe more generally.

Claudie Balavoine, 'Le classement thématique des emblèmes d'Alciat: recherche en paternité', in The Emblem in Renaissance and Baroque Europe: Tradition and Variety, edited by Alison Adams and Anthony J. Harper (Leiden: Brill, 1992), pp. 1-21.


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