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Georgette de Montenay's
Emblemes ou devises chrestiennes,
Jean Marcorelle, 1567/1571


The emblems in this work are reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM771

The Prefatory and Back Matter are reproduced from a copy in the Bodleian Library

Georgette de Montenay’s work occupies a particularly important position in the history of emblems: firstly, of course, it was written by a woman, and secondly that woman was a member of the Reformed (Calvinist) faith. Indeed Montenay claims that her book gives us the first Christian emblems (‘ croy estre premier chrestiens’). This claim needs to be taken in the context of Montenay’s position among Protestants, who at this period, had undergone some kind of personal conversion, ‘Renez par l’Evangile’. Earlier emblematic works are of course also Christian, often very overtly so, if not in quite the same way (e.g. Claude Paradin’s Devises heroiques (Lyons:, 1551; 1557). Nevertheless, Montenay’s Emblemes mark the beginning of the systematic exploitation of emblems for religious propaganda. It is also the first emblem book to use incised engravings (by Pierre Woeiriot) rather than woodcuts for the picturae. It is distinctive for the way in which it calls on the reader to recognise and often complete biblical allusions, both verbal and visual.

Georgette de Montenay (1540-1607)

Portrait of Georgette de Montenay (1540-1607)

It used to be argued that Montenay was a lady-in-waiting to Jeanne d’Albret, the Protestant Queen of Navarre. It now seems more likely that her links with the court of Navarre were probably not so close, although the emblems are dedicated to Jeanne d’Albret. Some details of her life need to be reexamined in the light of the redating of her emblems, but the basis has been established in the insufficiently known work of Elisabeth and Jean-Philippe Labrousse (see Bibliography below). It is particularly interesting that this figure who is renowned for her position as a Calvinist was married to Guyon de Gout who remained a Catholic throughout his life.

Publication History

(for more information see BFEB F.437-439)

Until recently it was believed that Montenay’s work was first printed in 1571; however, a copy in the Royal Library in Copenhagen attests to the fact that it in fact first appeared in 1567 and had been in the hands of her publisher, Philippe de Castellas since 1561. Maybe the edition was withdrawn for understandable political reasons and reissued in 1571 when the position of Protestants improved. link to bibl. descrip. In 1584, a Latin version was added to the French original and indeed, being placed directly beneath the pictura, given the dominant position (Emblematum christianorum centuria/ Cent emblemes chrestiennes (Zurich: Christoph Froschover, 1584; reissued Heidelberg: J. Lancelot and Andrea Cambiero, 1602). A further edition follows in 1619 in Frankfurt in which, although French resumes its position beneath the pictura, a second Latin version is added, as well as versions in Spanish, Italian, German, English and Dutch (a different version from that by Anna Roemers Visscher). This edition is found with title pages in all these languages apart from Dutch. Notable is the fact that the same engravings are used in the three editions, so the plates must have been transported first from Lyons to Zurich and subsequently to Frankfurt. The 1567/1571 edition is reissued in La Rochelle, a notable Protestant centre, in 1620.

Georgette de Montenay’s Emblemes ou devises chrestiennes, Lyons, Jean Marcorelle, 1567/1571

One of the distinctive elements of this work is the fact that the motto or title, in Latin, despite the vernacular primary text, is included in the engraving. Many though not all of the mottoes are quotations from the Bible, and often this is taken from the Vulgate version with which Montenay was doubtless familiar from her youth. It is clearly expected that the reader will be familiar with these quotations and indeed be able to complete them and/or put them in context. Moreover, the engravings by the well-known engraver Pierre Woeiriot are more complex than most woodcuts and add a further layer of allusion. The primary text (a ‘huitain’) uses an elegant and well-spaced italic.

GUL: SM771: c5r. Actual page height: 169mm.
GUL: SM771: c5r. Actual page height: 169mm.

Many of the emblems are overtly Protestant in tone, while others are more conciliatory. The versions including Latin and other languages not only allow the work to circulate more widely but also testify to the way in which Montenay was read in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Attempts have been made, notably by Regine Reynolds-Cornell, to set the emblems in a context of precise historical reference, but this needs to be reconsidered in the light of the considerably earlier dating we now have to adopt.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.437-439 cover editions of Montenay; this edition is entered as F.437 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Montenay, Georgette de, Emblemes ou devises chrestiennes (1571), ed. Christopher N. Smith (Menston: Scolar Press, 1973). Facsimile reprint.

Adams, Alison, ‘Les emblemes ou devises chrestiennes de Georgette de Montenay: édition de 1567’, BHR 62 (2000), 637-639.

Adams, Alison, ‘Georgette de Montenay’s Emblemes ou devises chrestiennes, 1567: New Dating, New Context’, BHR, 63 (2001), 567-574.

Adams, Alison, Webs of Allusion: French Protestant Emblem Books of the Sixteenth Century (Geneva: Droz, 2003), especially pp. 9-118, and for further bibliographical information.

Reynolds-Cornell, Regine, Witnessing an Era: Georgette de Montenay and the Emblemes ou Devises Chrestiennes (Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1987).

Paulette Choné, Emblèmes et pensées symboliques en Lorraine (1525-1633) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1991), pp. 543-660.

Labrousse, Elisabeth & Jean-Philippe, ‘Georgette de Montenay et Guyon du Gout son époux’, Bulletin de la Société archéologique, historique, littéraire et scientifique du Gers (1990), 369-402

Page written by Alison Adams


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