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Andrea Alciato's Diverse Imprese,
Macé Bonhomme for Guillaume Rouille, 1551

This book has the emblems divided into thematic sections. The section is indicated at the top of the transcribed page; by clicking on the link given, you can find all the emblems in a section.


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM35A

This edition is the second edition of Giovanni Marquale's Italian translation 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 (for more information on French editions see BFEB F.001-072)

Alciato's emblems were 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, which we publish here. 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. 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, all of which appeared for the first time in 1549. Most of the editions, like this one, are octavos, with elaborate frames. The 1549 edition contained only 136 emblems, whereas by 1551 this is increased to 180, and a number of modifications are made to the original text.

Andrea Alciato's Diverse Imprese, Lyons, Macé Bonhomme for Guillaume Rouille, 1551, an Italian translation by Giovanni Marquale

The 1551 Italian translation of Alciato's emblems, by Marquale, which is reproduced here is part of a major publishing venture in Lyons by the team of Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme, which started in 1548 with editions in Latin. A new set of woodcuts was commissioned, attributed to Pierre Eskrich or Vase. This Italian edition contains 180 emblems, all illustrated. It would appear that for the Italian version it was not acceptable to publish any emblems without the accompanying woodcut: the 1549 edition was limited to 136 emblems, presumably because the set of woodcuts had not yet been completed. Read a Bibliographical Description. All the emblems start on a new page and are contained within the decorative frames which are characteristic of these editions.

GUL SM35A H8vo-I1ro. Actual page height: 178mm
GUL SM35A H8vo-I1ro. Actual page height: 178mm.

The translator Giovanni Marquale can probably be identified with a publisher working in Venice. While classical references are reduced or maybe poorly understood and there is a general tendency to simplify the moral content, Marquale's version clearly aims at stylistic elaboration and enrichtment. His Italian translation uses a wide variety of different metres. The insistence on all emblems being illustrated is perhaps a reflection of the strong Italian 'impresa' tradition. Like all the other Rouille/Bonhomme editions (apart from the Spanish), the emblems are arranged in thematic groups.

The text presented here is taken from the Italian emblems website, The Study and Digitisation of Italian Emblems, prepared by Donato Mansueto. We are most grateful to him for making this available to us. Given the specificities of the Italian tradition, the text has been treated differently in certain respects. It is unfortunately not possible to search using modern standardised spelling.

Selected Secondary Bibliography

Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and his Book of Emblems. A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner, 1872), 49/50/51.

John Landwehr, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Books of Devices and Emblems 1534-1827 (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker and Gumbert, 1976), 54/55.

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002) [=BFEB]: entries F.001-072 cover early French editions of Alciato; this edition is entered as F.032

Claudie Balavoine, 'Le classement thématique des emblèmes d'Alciat: recherche en paternité', in The Emblem in Renaissance and Baroque Europe: Tradition and Variety, edited by Alison Adams and Anthony J. Harper (Leiden: Brill, 1992), pp. 1-21.

Richard Greenwood, 'Marquale's Italian Version (Lyons, 1551) of Alciato's Emblematum Liber', in Emblems in Glasgow, ed. Alison Adams (Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1992), pp. 47-58.


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