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Theodore de Bèze's Emblemata
from his Icones, id est verae
imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate
illustrium [...] quibus adiectae sunt
nonnullae picturae quas Emblemata vocant
Jean de Laon, 1580


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM1248


Bèze’s emblems come at the end of a much more well-known work, his Icones... which records religious leaders of different countries and traditions who have in some way contributed to the Reformation of the church. The entries are, in theory at least, accompanied by portraits of each individual. The relationship between the emblems and the Icones is puzzling, and there has been considerable discussion of how and why this Protestant religious leader chose to place such emphasis on the visual. In his youth, of course, Bèze had written much conventional Humanist poetry, and his emblems perhaps seek to combine this literary interest with his religious convictions. A French translation appeared the following year by Bèze’s Protestant colleague Simon Goulart.

Theodore de Bèze (Beza) (1519-1605)

Bèze is of course best known as a religious leader. A Frenchman and a follower of the Reformed (Calvinist) faith, he fled to Switzerland in 1548; he represented Calvin and Geneva at the Colloque de Poissy in 1561, and took over Calvin’s position as Pastor of Geneva on his death in 1564. Later in 1586 he attempted negotiations with the Lutherans in Montbéliard. In a more literary context, he is renowned for his play Abraham sacrifiant (1550) and for his role in translating the Psalms, carrying on the task undertaken by Clément Marot; he also played an important part in establishing the text of New Testament of the Geneva Bible. He is one of the few really central literary figures to have produced emblems.

Publication History

(for more information see BFEB 104-108)

The version reproduced here is the first edition of the emblems. link to bibliogr descrip A French version of the Icones appeared in 1581, using the same materials, Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres [...] plus, quarante quatre emblemes chrestiens (Geneva: Jean de Laon, 1581). While the emblems, both in Latin and French, were first published in conjunction with the Icones, they feature again, in Latin, in various editions of his collected Poemata. In Geneva editions the same woodcuts are used as in 1580 and 1581, although editions published elsewhere lack woodcuts and include instead a brief title which provides some information on the pictura.

Théodore de Bèze’s Emblemata from his Icones, id est verae imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium [...] quibus adiectae sunt nonnullae picturae quas Emblemata vocant, Geneva, Jean de Laon, 1580

In this original edition, the 44 emblems have no motto or title. Above the woodcuts, which are enclosed in a woodcut frame, is merely an emblem number, and below follows the verse in an elegant and well-spaced italic.


In most emblems, the context of religious faith is implicit, but there are also a number of emblems which express a strong anti-Catholic position and so remind us of his position as a Calvinist, a member of the Reformed church. The French version which appeared in the following year presents a text which is often rather more elaborate and emotive than Bèze’s original.

GUL: SM1248: Pp2r. Actual page height: 224mm.
GUL: SM1248: Pp2r. Actual page height: 224mm.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.104-108 cover editions of Bèze; this edition is entered as F.104 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Gardy, Bibliographie des oeuvres théologiques, littéraires et juridiques de Théodore de Bèze (Geneva: Droz, 1960)/pr>

Bèze, Théodore de, Icones, 1580, introductory note by R. M. Cummings (Menston : Scolar Press, 1971)

Théodore de Bèze, Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres, avec les 30 portraits supplémentaires de l’édition de 1673, introduction d’Alain Dufour (Geneva: Slatkine, 1986).

Randall Coates, Catherine, (Em)bodying the Word: Textual Resurrections in the Martyrological Narratives of Foxe, Crespin, de Bèze and d'Aubigné New York: Peter Lang, 1992)

Alison Adams, Webs of Allusion. French Protestant Emblem Books of the Sixteenth Century (Geneva: Droz, 2003), esp. pp. 119-153.

Alison Adams, ‘The Emblemata of Théodore de Bèze (1580), in Mundus emblematicus. Studies in Neo-Latin Emblem Books, edited by Karl A.E. Enenkel and Arnoud S.Q. Visser (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), pp. 71-96.

Page written by Alison Adams.


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