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Jean Jacques Boissard's Emblematum liber,
Theodore de Bry, 1593


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM188

This is the Latin edition (i.e. the first) of the second of Boissard’s two emblem books. Boissard is exceptional among emblem writers in that, as both an artist and a poet, he is largely responsible for both the text and the engravings. There is a manuscript in Paris (Bibliothèque de l’Institut 623 (c. 1583)) which contains first versions of all the emblems in this book, and also in Boissard’s first emblem book, the Emblemata cum tetrastichis latinis (Metz: Jean Aubry, 1584; second edition Emblematum liber/ Emblemes latins [...] avec l’interpretation Françoise, Metz: Jean Aubry and Abraham Faber, 1588). Whereas the 1584/88 emblems include not only Boissard’s Latin text, but also a French version by Pierre Joly, for this book the French version, again by Pierre Joly, is published separately two years later: Emblemes [...] nouvellement mis de latin en françois par Pierre Joly (Metz: A. Faber, 1595). A German version, entitled Emblemata, is also produced in 1593. In the 1584/88 emblems, Boissard’s Reformed faith is obvious, no doubt a manifestation of the vulnerable position in which Protestants found themselves. This later book, however, seems to reflect the new political situation in which, with Henry IV on the throne, Calvinists were able to feel more optimistic. At the same time we find evidence of the growing interest in Neo-Stoicism at this period. s a true Humanist with contacts in the courts and among the learned men of Europe.

Jean Jacques Boissard (1528-1602)

Boissard led a colourful life, much of the time travelling widely. Born in Besançon, as a young man he studied in Germany and the Low Countries, and later visited Italy and even Greece. He spent considerable time in the entourage of Cardinal Caraffa in Rome where he pursued his interest in archaeology. After 1560, he was based in Metz though travelling widely, since he was charged successively with the education of two of the sons of the Calvinist leader, the Baron de Clervant. This included a period in the university town of Padua, where he was at the time of the plague in 1576. Many people of his acquaintance died, and this, not surprisingly, seems to have affected him deeply. In 1583 he settled more pernanently in Metz, and in 1587 he married Marie Aubry, the daughter of the printer with whom he had worked, Jean Aubry. Later, however, his publishing ventures brought him increasingly into contact with publishers in Germany,, among them Theodore de Bry, the publisher of this edition.

Publication History

(for more information BFEB F.111-114)

Both editions of Boissard’s first emblem book (1584/88) emblems had been published in Metz, under the auspices of Jean Aubry. For this second emblem book, however, Boissard turns to the celebrated German publisher and engraver Theodore de Bry, although still in association with Abraham Faber link to bibliog. descrip. The German version of the same year and the French (actually published under the Metz imprint: Emblemes [...] nouvellement mis de latin en françois par Pierre Joly (Metz: A. Faber, 1595)) use the same engravings. The quality of the new engravings is markedly superior to those found in the 1584/88 emblems. The Latin quatrains had been brought out earlier in a volume entitled Tetrasticha in emblemata (Metz: A. Faber, 1587), which in fact contains the quatrains for both the 1584/88 emblems and those published in 1593, as well as others drawn from the manuscript Bibliothèque de l’Institut 623 which he never published. There are changes in the order of presentation.

Boissard also collaborated with Denis Lebey de Batilly, producing the engravings for his Emblemata (Frankfurt: Theodore de Bry, 1596).

Jean Jacques Boissard’s Emblematum liber, Frankfurt, Theodore de Bry, 1593

The engraved picturae, closely modelled on the earlier manuscript version (though perhaps not quite as clearly as in the 1584/88 emblems), are among the most complex and difficult to interpret of any emblem book. While in the earlier book the verso facing the pictura and quatrain features a French sonnet, here we find in the corresponding position a Latin prose commentary by Boissard.

GUL SM188: C1vo-C2ro. Actual page height: 187mm.
GUL SM188: C1vo-C2ro. Actual page height: 187mm.

Although in the manuscript (Bibliothèque de l’Institut 623), Boissard had given a French prose commentary on each emblem, similarly on the facing verso, Boissard’s Latin is for the most part far removed from this. These Latin commentaries draw to a large extent on Classical writers and traditions, and often in fact consist of a network of quotations or near quotations. It is this which largely accounts for the different, and for the most part less explicitly Christian tone found in the later emblem book. Nevertheless, these commentaries often contribute significantly to the overall sense. As in 1588, each emblem in the 1593 edition has an individual dedicatee, and it is interesting that, again, several of these are friends of Boissard’s who had died in the plague in Padua. Many of the emblems contain quotations from the Greek, most of them from Menander’s Sententiae.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.111-115 cover Boissard; this particular edition fell outwith the works covered in the Bibliography, and consequently the description provided here is independent. [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Alison Adams, Webs of Allusion. French Protestant Emblem Books of the Sixteenth Century (Geneva: Droz, 2003), esp. pp. 155-291.

Wolfgang Harms, ‘Mundus imago Dei est. Zum Entstehungsprozeß zweier Emblem-Bücher Jean Jacques Boissards’, Deutsche Vierteljahres-schrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 47 (1973), 223-244.

Wolfgang Harms, ‘Eine Kombinatorik unterschiedlicher Grade des Faktischen. Erweiterungen des emblematischen Bedeutungspotentials bei dem Archäologen Jean Jacques Boissard’, in Mimesis und Simulation, ed. A. Kablitz and G. Neumann, Romback Litterae 53 (Freiburg: Rombach, 1998), pp. 279-307.

Heinfried Wischermann, ‘Ein Emblembuch-manuskript von Jean-Jacques Boissard’, Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 14 (1974), col. 433-464.

Paulette Choné, Emblèmes et pensées symboliques en Lorraine (1525-1633) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1991), pp. 662-682.

Page written by Alison Adams.


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