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Andrea Alciato's Emblemes,
Macé Bonhomme
for Guillaume Rouille, 1549


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM33

This edition is the second French 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. 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 which also appeared for the first time in 1549. Most of the editions are octavos, with elaborate frames, but there were also editions in smaller format, without decorative frames, including one of the French text in 1549. Rouille and his heirs went on publishing editions of the emblems in Latin until 1626, still using almost all the same woodcuts, and of Aneau's French until 1564. The Parisian printer Marnef also published Aneau's translation in 1561 and 1573/74.

The previous French version by Jean Lefevre, (1536) appeared at a stage when there were fewer emblems in the corpus. In 1584, yet another version, by Claude Mignault appeared: he had also supplied copious and learned commentaries in Latin to the emblems. There is also a manuscript translation by Simon Bouquet. In 1615, Jean de Tournes II produced his own translation of the second book of emblems and revisited Lefevre's version of the first book, introducing a number of emendations.

Andrea Alciato's Emblemes, Lyons, Macé Bonhomme for Guillaume Rouille, 1549, a French translation by Barthélemy Aneau

The 1549 French translation of Alciato's emblems, by Barthélemy Aneau, is part of a major publishing venture in Lyons by the team of Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme, which started in the previous year with editions in Latin. A new set of woodcuts was commissioned, attributed to Pierre Eskrich or Vase. This Fench edition contains 201 emblems, not all of which are illustrated, presumably because the set of woodcuts had not yet been completed. Read a Bibliographical Description.

Unlike Wechel's editions of the Lefevre version (1536 onwards), Aneau's French appears on its own, without the Latin. In the first edition, repoduced here, the emblems are placed in elaborate frames.

GUL SM33: L4v-L5ro. Actual page height: 186mm.
GUL SM33: L4v-L5ro. Actual page height: 186mm.

The translator Barthélemy Aneau (c.1510-1561) was the Principal of the celebrated Collège de la Trinité in Lyons. Later he would be killed on suspicion of heresy by a rioting mob. He was an important Humanist figure. His French translation of Alciato's emblems is differently conceived from Lefevre's in that he sets out to follow the Latin precisely: 'vers pour vers jouxte les Latins'. This often leads to omissions in the French. On the other hand, Aneau adds brief commentaries to many emblems, setting a trend which would culminate in the lengthy and erudite editions from the 1570s onwards. Furthermore, like all the other Rouille/Bonhomme editions (apart from the Spanish), the emblems are arranged in thematic groups, 'lieux communs'. There is some debate whether Aneau, who worked closely with his publishing colleagues, was responsible for this arrangement or whether it was in fact Rouille. Aneau also wrote his own emblem book, the Picta Poesis or Imagination poetique. He was responsible for both Latin and French versions which appeared within days of each other, published again by Macé Bonhomme in 1552. Interestingly, when working independently, his style is much more prolix, and the Latin and French versions of his own book are not always so close to each other as in his Alciato translation.

Select Secondary Bibliography

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.026.

Alison Saunders, 'Sixteenth-Century French Translations of Alciati's Emblemata', French Studies 44 (1990), 271-288.

Alison Adams, 'The Role of the Translator in Sixteenth-Century Alciato Translations', BHR 52.2 (1990), 369-383.

Bouquet, Simon, Imitations et traductions de cent dix-huict emblesmes dAlciat (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ms. fr. 19.143); an edition by Catharine Randall and Daniel Russell (New York : AMS Press, 1996).

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.

Page written by Alison Adams.


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