View the list of available books

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libellus,
Aldus, 1546


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM29

This is the first edition of what is known as the second wave of emblems by Andrea Alciato. The first wave had already appeared in numerous editions since 1531; Alciato's Emblematum liber or Emblemata 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). With the addition of these 86 emblems of the second wave (and one further emblem in 1550), the corpus reached 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

The first wave of Alciato's emblems was first published in Augsburg in Germany (two editions in 1531 and one in 1534); from 1534 onwards publishing shifted to France with the series of Wechel editions. Chrestien Wechel 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]. It seems that there was a possibility that Wechel would publish Alciato's new set of emblems, the second wave, but in the end only two emblems were added in his 1542 editions, and The 1546 Latin edition, with the addition of the second wave, brings the total number of emblems in the corpus to 211, to be increased to 212 when 'Doctorum agnomina' was added in 1550.

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum libellus, Venice, Aldus, 1546

This book contains 86 emblems, in Latin, arranged in the standard way according to the fashion set by Wechel. All but two of the emblems has a pictura. 'Maledicentia', unillustrated, is followed by what will later be known as 'Principis clementia'; here however it is headed merely 'Contra' and is thus seen as a counterpart to 'Maledicentia', a link which did not survive except in editions which preserve the two-book structure. Read a Bibliographical Description.

The woodcuts in this edition are bigger than in earlier editions, and will strike many readers as specially attractive.

GUL SM 29 A3vo-A4ro. Actual page height: 137mm
GUL SM 29 A3vo-A4ro. Actual page height: 137mm.

Background details in particular is fuller than elsewhere; this is particularly noticeable in the tree emblems which in later editions have little or no background. The birds show some ornithological awareness. Surprisingly, the iconographical features of this edition have little influence on later editions.

Selected Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 28.

A. A. Renouard, Annali delle edizioni Aldine (Bologna, 1953) p. 138, 20.

John Landwehr, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Books of Devices and Emblems 1534-1827 (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker and Gumbert, 1976), 33.


Back to top

Privacy notice
Terms and conditions