View the list of available books

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libri II,
Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau, 1556


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM36

This edition is one of the many published by Jean de Tournes which retains a two-book structure. The first book contains the 113 emblems of Wechels's earlier editions, and the second the 86 emblems derived from the 1546 Venice edition. It is the first edition to contain extended commentaries (by Sebastian Stockhamer) on each emblem, though these are limited to the first book. 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 in fact 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), and then by the celebrated Lyons printer Jean de Tournes from 1547. His editions were followed by those of 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. De Tournes produced both Latin and French (Lefevre) editions, and the de Tournes dynasty went on publishing Alciato after their move to Geneva, and well into the seventeenth century. See the 1615 French edition.

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libri II, Lyons, Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau, 1556, with commentary by Sebastian Stockhamer

All the de Tournes editions maintain a division into two books, and the much admired woodcuts by Bernard Salomon are limited to the 113 emblems of the first book, that is those found in the earlier Wechel editions. As in the 1546 Venice edition, 'Maledicentia' is followed by what will later be known as 'Principis clementia', but here is headed merely 'Contra' and thus seen as a counterpart to 'Maledicentia'. This causes confusion in numbering. Read a Bibliographical Description. The important commentaries by Sebastian Stockhamer of Coimbra are also confined to the first book. Barthélemy Aneau had already added brief commentaries to a small number of emblems in his French translation of 1549 but these are far from systematic, nor as ambitious as those by Stockhamer, which pave the way for the extend commentaries which will gradually be added in successive editions. Inevitably they disturb the ordered page per emblem structure which Wechel had established.

GUL SM37 b4vo-b5ro. Actual page height: 120mm
GUL SM37 b4vo-b5ro. Actual page height: 120mm.

Stirling Maxwell reports that the Glasgow copy used here was made up from three separate copies; there is no indication of what was done with the remaining leaves, although some may survive in the other copy in Glasgow University Library.

Selected Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 60.

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.037.

Peter Sharratt, Bernard Salomon, illustrateur lyonnais (Geneva: Droz, 2005).


Back to top

Privacy notice
Terms and conditions