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Andrea Alciato's Les Emblemes,
Jean II de Tournes, 1615


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SMAdd32

This edition builds on Jean Lefevre’s early translation of Alciato’s first book of Emblems (1536) with emendations to Lefevre’s text of the first book by Jean I de Tournes, and a translation of the emblems of the second book by Jean II de Tournes. 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). 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 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 in Paris produced first Latin editions (from 1534), which can be said to have set the standard for clear presentation of emblems, with each emblem 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, and subsequently 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. By the latter part of the century however, Alciato was being more widely published across Europe, for instance in the Low Countries and in Germany. Moreover a tendency emerged for lengthy and erudite commentaries, with those by Claude Mignault, being the most important and influential. In the early seventeenth century, however, the de Tournes press, now operating in Switzerland where, as Protestants, they had fled in 1585 returned to the pattern of editions in two volumes they had adopted almost seventy years previously in Lyons, with a Latin and a French edition.

The first French version by Jean Lefevre, (1536) appeared at a stage when there were fewer emblems in the corpus, whereas Barthelemy Aneau’s version in 1549 was almost complete with 201. There is also a manuscript translation by Simon Bouquet.

Andrea Alciato’s Les Emblemes, Geneva/Cologny, Jean II de Tournes, 1615, French translations by Jean Lefevre and Jean II de Tournes

The 1615 de Tournes edition of Alciato’s emblems in French has to be set in the context of the earlier editions produced by Jean de Tournes, initially with Guillaume Gazeau In Lyon from 1547 onwards. These editions include woodcuts by the celebrated Bernard Salomon. The 1547 edition, in Latin, is the first to combine in one volume the emblems of the first series, found in the Wechel editions, with later emblems from the 1546 Venice edition. Book 1 contains the earlier 113 emblems, following the Wechel order, and book 2 contains the new emblems in the order of the Venice edition, but without woodcuts. In the sixteenth century, the de Tournes press published several editions of Lefevre’s French translation (though with only 110 emblems) from 1548 to 1570, but made no attempt to complete the translation.
By 1614-15, Jean II de Tournes, operating in Geneva and nearby Cologny, seems to have developed a particular interest in Alciato. In 1614 he had published a new Latin edition. He reproduced the Stockhamer commentaries for Book 1 and provided his own commentaries on the second book. In 1615 the French version which we reproduce here appears. Read a Bibliographical Description.

It includes not only a French translation of both sets of commentaries, but Jean de Tournes’s own new translation into French of the missing emblems, bringing the total up to the full 212. He has also introduced a number of changes to Lefevre’s translations. This edition is reissued, like the Latin one of the previous year, in 1628.

The 1615 edition maintains the division into two books which characterises other de Tournes editions, and reuses the Bernard Salomon woodcuts for Book 1, brought from Lyons. Book 2 is mostly unillustrated. Depite these superficial similarities to the earlier elegant and influential editions, the impression created here is totally different and unattractive. This is an edition done on the cheap, and abandons any attempt at the elegance which characterised early editions of Alciato: not only are the woodcuts worn, but no attempt is made to start a new page for each emblem, and copies examined all seem to have been printed on inferior paper.

GUL: SMAdd32: E6v-E7r. Actual page height: 110mm
GUL: SMAdd32: E6v-E7r. Actual page height: 110mm.

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.068.

Alfred Cartier, Bibliographie des éditions des De Tournes imprimeurs lyonnais (Paris: Éditions des Bibliothèques nationales de France, [1937-38]) no. 72 et al.

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

Peter Sharratt, Bernard Salomon, illustrateur lyonnais (Geneva: Droz, 2005), no. 4 (p. 271).

Page written by Alison Adams.


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