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Joannes Sambucus'
Les emblemes,
Christophe Plantin, 1567


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SMAdd429

This is the French version of Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemata, published in Antwerp by Christophe Plantin. The translation was the work of the Paris dramatist and physician Jacques Grévin. The work was originally published in Latin by Plantin in 1564.

Joannes Sambucus (1531-1584)

Portrait of Joannes Sambucus (1531-1584)

Sambucus (Zsámboky János) was a Hungarian humanist, who spent much of his life in Vienna as court-historiographer to the Habsburg emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II and Rudolf II. He prepared his emblem book at the end of two decades of traveling through Germany, France, Italy and the Low Countries, before he entered the court in Vienna. His other publications range from editions of classical texts to historiographical works. While in modern scholarship he is mainly remembered as the author of this eye-catching emblem book, his reputation within the early modern Republic of Letters was first and foremost based on his scholarly patronage and his impressive collection of books and old manuscripts.

Publication History

(for more information see BFEB F.519, and Voet 0000)

The French version was produced simultaneously with a Dutch edition prepared by Marcus Antonius Gillis van Diest. Both these books were based on the first Latin edition from 1564. In fact, it seems that Plantin commisioned both translators when the Latin edition was still in the press, since the first payment for their work can be noted as early as September 1564. Grévin worked quickly, finishing his translation by the end of the same year. The fact that the book only appeared two years later, may be related to commercial considerations.

Jacques Grévin (1538-1570) was born in Clermont-en-Beauvaisis and studied medicine in Paris, where he became a disciple of Pierre de Ronsard. As Ronsard, he advocated classical forms in French poetry. His plays included the tragedy César (1560), modelled on Marc-Antoine Muret’s Julius Caesar. Some of his erotic poetry was published in the collection Olimpe in 1560, followed by Gélodacryes, a collection of satyrical sonnets, in 1561. Grévin’s Calvinist convictions caused a break with Ronsard and his intellectual milieu. This break and Grévin’s subsequent outsider’s position might explain why his contribution to the emblems is nowhere mentioned. In 1561, he became physician at the court of Margeret of Savoy in Turin, where he died in 1570.

Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemes, Antwerp, Christophe Plantin, 1567

Presented here is the first and only French edition of Sambucus’ emblems, straightforwardly entitled Les emblemes du signeur Iehan Sambucus. Traduits de Latin en François. Although the title pages gives 1567 as the year of publication, the records of Plantin’s business show that printing was finished by 1566. The work is based on the first Latin edition, with some small changes in form and content.

The format is reduced from the octavo of 1564 to the smaller sextoidecimo size. The preliminaries consist of a preface to the reader by Christophe Plantin, while the introduction into the emblem from the Latin edition is omitted. Also removed is the section with ancient coins. The main body of the book contains 165 emblems, two fewer than in the Latin edition (‘Conscientia integra’ pp. 14-15, and ‘Docti ignavos reprehendunt’ pp. 17-18 of the Latin edition).

Each emblem consists of a motto, a woodcut illustration (without the borders of the first Latin edition), and an epigram.

GUL: SMAdd429: A7v-A8r. Actual page height: 122mm.
GUL: SMAdd429: A7v-A8r. Actual page height: 122mm.

The order and dedications of the Latin edition are preserved. In translating Sambucus’ humanist, heavily classicized Latin into contemporary French, however, Grévin frequently makes his own mark, resulting for example in more direct religious language (Adams 1997).

For the illustrations of the book Sambucus had originally commissioned the artist Lucas d’Heere. Plantin, however, had half of these designs redrawn by Geoffroy Ballain and Pieter Huys. The actual woodcuts were produced by Gerard Janssen van Kampen, Cornelis Muller and Arnold Nicolai, whose monograms appear in some of the picturae.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): this edition is entered as F.519. [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Leon Voet, The Plantin Press, 1555-1589 : a Bibliography of the Works printed and published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden (Amsterdam: Van Hoeve, 1980-1983) vol. 4, 2147.

Sambucus, Johannes, De Emblemata van Joannes Sambucus uitgegeven door de Officina Plantiniana: reproductie van de Latijnse editie van 1564 en van de tekst van de Nederlandse vertaling van 1566 en van de Franse vertaling van 1567; uitgave verzorgd door Leon Voet en Guido Persoons (Antwerpen : De Nederlandsche Boekhandel, [1981-1982])

Visser, Arnoud, Joannes Sambucus and the learned image: the use of the emblem in late-Renaissance humanism (Leiden: Brill, 2005)

Waterschoot, Werner, ‘Lucas d’Heere und Johannes Sambucus’, in The Emblem in Renaissance and Baroque Europe: Tradition and Variety, selected papers of the Glasgow International Emblem Conference 13-17 August 1990, ed. Alison Adams and A. J. Harper (Leiden: Brill, 1992), pp. 45-52.

Adams, Alison, ‘Jacques Grévin’s Translation of Sambucus's Emblemata’, De Gulden Passer, 75 (1997), 139-182.

Page written by Arnoud Visser


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