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Andrea Alciato's Liber Emblematum/Kunstbuch,
Frankfurt am Main, 1566/67


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM45

This edition contains the second German translation, by Jeremias Held, of Alciato's Emblematum liber or Emblemata, the work which 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). The corpus would eventually stretch to 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

Alciato's emblems were in fact first published in Augsburg in Germany (two editions in 1531 and one in 1534); from 1534 onwards publishing shifted to France and remained there for the next thirty years. Chrestien Wechel at first produced Latin editions (from 1534), like those in Augsburg. He 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]. In 1536 there appeared the first French version of Alciato's emblems, by Jean Lefevre. Wechel went on publishing Alciato until the late 1540s, producing further Latin editions, editions including Lefevre's French, and indeed also a similarly conceived German/Latin edition, with the translation by Wolfgang Hunger, in 1542. After an unillustrated pirated Lyons edition by Denys de Harsy, probably dating from late 1540, the main focus of publication for emblems shifted more firmly to Lyons from the mid 1540s, with editions of Alciato first by Jacques Moderne (1544, pirated), by the celebrated Lyons printer Jean de Tournes, and then, with a programme of editions, by Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme from 1548 onwards. At the same time, the total number of Alciato's emblems had been growing. In particular 86 new emblems were published in Venice in 1546, and others enter the corpus piecemeal. The 1550 Latin edition by Rouille is the first to have 211 emblems (the whole corpus, apart from the so-called obscene emblem 'Adversus naturam peccantes') illustrated. The Rouille/Bonhomme programme of editions included not only a French translation, but also versions in Italian and Spanish, but no German. Sigismund Feyerabend produced two editions of Alciato's emblems in the same year of 1567, the bilingual edition including Held's translation (dated 1566 on the titlepage, but 1567 in the colophon) and a Latin-only edition with short commentaries. A new edition of the bilingual version is published in 1580.

The previous German version by Wolfgang Hunger (1536) appeared at a stage when there were fewer emblems in the corpus, or at any rate only contained translations of 115 emblems.

Andrea Alciato's Liber Emblematum/Kunstbuch, Frankfurt am Main, Sigismund Feyerabend for Georg Raben and Simon Hüters, 1567, with a German translation by Jeremias Held

The Held translation is, as the title page reveals, specifically aimed at craftsmen for whom it may serve as a pattern book; the designation of the book as a 'Kunstbuch' however also suggests a 'Zauberbuch', a book of magic. Held's purpose in his translation is to make the book available to those unable to tackle it in Latin. All 212 emblems, including 'Adversus naturam peccantes' are included, but by no means all are illustrated. They are arranged differently from other editions, but clearly according to a thematic principle. Unusually, alternative texts for an emblem (those entitled 'Aliud') are separately numbered so that it appears to contain 217 emblems. Read a Bibliographical Description. Although this is a bilingual edition, it is not printed systematically to provide a parallel text; on the contrary, saving space is evidently important and, while Latin always precedes German, the layout varies and is sometimes confusing. The German text, which is remarkably difficult, is in a gothic font.

GUL SM 45 R3vo-R4ro. Actual page height: 142mm
GUL SM 45 R3vo-R4ro. Actual page height: 142mm.

Little is known of the translator Jeremias Held, except that he was a doctor from Nördlingen, who had produced a herbal in 1556.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 74.

John Landwehr, German Emblem Books 1531-1888. A Bibliography (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker and Gumbert, 1972), 29.

P. M. Daly (ed.), Andrea Alciato, Jeremias Held, Held's translation of Alciato's Emblematum Liber (1566). Facsimile Edition Using Glasgow University Library SM 45. Imago Figurata Editions 4 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007).

Ingrid Höpel, Emblem und Sinnbild. vom Kunstbuch zum Erbauungsbuch (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum, 1987), esp. pp. 57-66.


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