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Maurice Scève's
Sulpice Sabon for Antoine Constantin, 1544

In order to privilege the emblems within this complex work, the 449 'dizains' are arranged (as in the book, in groups of nine) after each emblem, with the first five 'dizains' forming a putative 'emblem' at the beginning. The search-engine returns results for the whole of each of these groups.


This work is reproduced from a copy in Bodleian Library

Scève’s Délie is very different from other early emblem books (not least in the far superior quality of its verse), and the question is often raised as to whether it really is an emblem book or not. Whereas conventional emblem books are made up of a series of freestanding, usually moralising, emblems each comprising figure plus verse, with or without motto, the Délie is a highly subjective 449-stanza long Petrarchan love canzoniere into which woodcut figures with mottoes are inserted at regular intervals. It has long been believed that Scève owes no obvious debt either to Alciato or to Corrozet, both of whose emblem books predate the Délie. Nor was any evident debt to La Perrière’s Theatre discerned, though there are certainly distinct similarities of theme between some of the dizains of the Délie and some of the quatrains in La Perrière’s Lyons-published Cent considerations d’amour which predates the Délie by one year. Recently, however, Gérard Defaux in his new edition considers that Scève indeed reveals an awareness of the developing genre, especially Alciato. Echoes of the Délie are evident in some of the much later Dutch love emblems of Vaenius.

Maurice Scève (c.1500-c.1560)

Portrait of Maurice Scève (c.1500-c.1560)

Maurice Scève was a distinguished Lyonnese poet. Little is known about his early life, but in 1533 he was involved in the discovery of the supposed tomb of Petrarch’s Laura in Avignon. It is often suggested that a love affair with the Lyonnese poetess, Pernette du Guillet provided the impulse for the Petrarchan inspired Délie. Other works by Scève include a translation of a Spanish novel inspired from Boccaccio, by Juan de Flores, La deplorable fin de Flamete (1535); assorted love poetry including five anatomical blasons in the mid 1530s; Saulsaye, églogue de la vie solitaire (1547) and – at the end of his life - the epic Microcosme (1562). He also played a significant part in organising the celebrations for the entry of Henri II into Lyons in 1548 and produced the magnificently illustrated account of the event published by Guillaume Rouille in 1549 (La Magnificence de la superbe et triumphante entrée de la noble & antique Cité de Lyon faicte au Treschrestien Roy de France Henry deuxiesme de ce Nom).

Publication History

(For more information see BFEB F.520-521)

This copy is from the first edition of the Délie, published by Sabon and Constantin in 1544, but probably completed rather earlier, since the privilege issued to Constantin is dated October 1543. A second edition was published in Lyon, but not until 20 years later. This was a shared edition printed by Nicolas du Chemin for Vincent Norment, Jeanne Bruneau and Gilles Robinot, which appeared with variant title pages for Du Chemin, for Norment/ Bruneau, and for Robinet. In the first edition the woodcut figures were produced in six different shapes, and used in an almost perfectly regular sequence throughout the work. In the second edition this pattern was much simplified and the circular/triangular/oval figures were replaced by a new set of woodcut figures all in the more conventional rectangular format. Neither the woodcut figures for the first edition nor those for the second edition appear to have been used either before or subsequently. Since Maurice Scéve was a Lyonnese writer it is not surprising that his Délie should, like his other works, have been published in Lyons, but at the date when it first appeared, none of the Lyonnese printers who were later to specialise in emblem publishing had yet started so doing. Jean de Tournes published his first edition of La Perrière’s Theatre in 1545 and his first Alciato in 1547, and the Rouille/Bonhomme partnership did not produce their first Alciato until 1548. The only emblem books to have been published in Lyon by the date of the Délie were Jacques Moderne’s pirated editions of Alciato in Latin and in French, also published in 1544. This probably explains why the Délie was published by Sulpice Sabon and Antoine Constantin, neither of whom was otherwise at all involved in the production of emblem books.

Maurice Scève’s Délie, Lyons, Sulpice Sabon for Antoine Constantin, 1544

The Délie has a complex symmetrical layout, and many suggestions have been made about the underlying significance of this layout, including even possible cabbalistic influence, but none are conclusive. Indeed the layout was very much determined purely by the practical requirements of the printer. The work includes 50 woodcut figures and - other than at the beginning and end - each woodcut figure is followed by nine 10-line stanzas, of which usually only the first includes reference to the words or the sense of the motto.

Bodleian Library: Douce S35: a3v-a4r. Actual page height: 139mm.
Bodleian Library: Douce S35: a3v-a4r. Actual page height: 139mm.

The privilege granted to Antoine Constantin makes it clear that the word ‘emblemes’ here means the woodcut figures rather than the combination of figure and verse, since Constantin is authorised to produce the ‘present Livre traictant d’Amours, intitulé DELIE, soit avec Emblesmes, ou sans Emblesmes’. The figures were clearly considered to be an important feature of the work since – unusually in an emblem book of this period – an index of figures (but not of mottoes) was included at the end, as well as an index of first lines. It is not known whether Scève himself had any input into the design or choice of the figures used. Although there is at times some incongruity between the mundane scene represented in the figures and the elevated tone of the love poems they accompany, and despite the the fact that it is habitually the motto which Scève picks up in the dizain following the figure, rather than the subject represented, Defaux, again contrary to some earlier views, sees signs of a unified programme which would presuppose Scève’s involvement in the design woodcut figures.

Select Secondary Bibliography

This book has been minimally annotated, since the critical edition of Gerard Defaux (Geneva: Droz, 2004) is comprehensive in its coverage, both in its annotation, and in its synthesis of Scève scholarship. Iconclass indexing is provided only for the picturae and the mottoes of the 50 emblems.

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.520-521 cover editions of Scève; this edition is entered as F.520 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Maurice Scève, Délie, 1544, with an appendix from the edition of 1564; introductory note by Dudley Wilson (Menston: Scolar Press, 1972)

The Délie of Maurice Scève, edited with an introduction and notes by I.D. McFarlane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966).

Maurice Scève, Delie object de plus haulte vertu, édition critique par Gérard Defaux (Genève: Droz, 2004). 2 vols.

Dorothy Coleman, ‘Les emblesmes dans la Délie de M. Scève’ Studi francesi, 18, 1964, pp.1-16

Claudie Balavoine, ‘La mise en mot dans la Délie de Scève. Plaidoyer pour une anabase’ in P.Aquilon, J. Chupeau and F Weil, eds, L’intelligence du passé. Les faits, l’écriture et le sens. Mélanges offerts à Jean Lafond par ses amis ( Tours: Université de Tours, 1988), pp.73-85

Alison Saunders, ‘How emblematic is Scève’s Délie?’, BHR, 58, 1996, 405-17.

Edwin Duval ,‘Articulation of the Délie: Emblems, Numbers and the Book', MLR 75 (1980), 65-75.

Michael Giordano, ‘Scéve’s Imprese: typology and functions’, Romanic Review, 73, 1982, 13-32.

Page written by Alison Saunders.


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