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Theodore de Bèze's Emblemes from his
Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres [...]
plus, quarante quatre emblemes chrestiens
Jean de Laon, 1581


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM161

for a complete copy of this work, visit the CESR site in Tours

This is the French translation, by Simon Goulart, a Protestant colleague of Bèze’s in Geneva, of the emblems first published the previous year at the end of a much more well-known work, Bèze’s Icones, id est verae imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium [...] quibus adiectae sunt nonnullae picturae quas Emblemata vocant (Geneva, Jean de Laon, 1580) 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.

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 original Latin version (the Icones...) and Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres [...] (1581) are both published in Geneva by Jean de Laon, and share materials; portraits of some religious leaders are added later, evidently once originals could be found to be copied, although there seem to be a few errors. The French version reproduced here is by Simon Goulart. link to bibliogr descrip. 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 Bèze’s 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.

Theodore de Bèze’s Emblemes from his Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres [...] plus, quarante quatre emblemes chrestiens, Geneva, Jean de Laon, 1581

In the original editions, both Latin and French, 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.

GUL: SM161: Mm3v. Actual page height: 193mm.
GUL: SM161: Mm3v. Actual page height: 193mm.

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. Simon Goulart’s French version presents a text which is often rather more elaborate and emotive than Bèze’s original.

Simon Goulart was to be Bèze’s successor in the Genevan synod. While his biographer, Leonard Jones, dismisses him as ‘un très médiocre poète’, he undertook numerous translations from both Greek and Latin.

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.105 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

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

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.

Leonard C. Jones, Simon Goulart (Geneva/Paris: Georg/ E. Champion, 1917).

Page written by Alison Adams.


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