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Joannes Sambucus'
Christophe Plantin, 1564


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM947

This is the first edition of Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemata, published in 1564 by Christophe Plantin in Antwerp. It was the first new emblem book to appear outside of Italy or France and constitutes one of the largest and most influential examples of the genre at an early stage of its development. After the first edition, an expanded version followed in 1566, which was reprinted four more times. Besides these Latin editions, Plantin also published the book in a French (in 1567) and in a Dutch translation.

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 Voet Vol. 5, 2168)

The first edition was followed by an extended Latin edition in 1566, with 56 new emblems. The same year Plantin published a Dutch version, with translations by Marcus Antonius Gillis van Diest. A French edition followed in 1567 (probably finished in 1566), translated by the French doctor Jacques Grévin. After this, the Latin edition was reprinted four more times in the officina Plantiniana in Antwerp and later Leiden, in 1569, 1576, 1584 and 1599.

Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemata, Antwerp, Christophe Plantin, 1564

Presented here is the first edition of Sambucus emblems, entitled Emblemata cum aliquot nummis antiqui operis (‘Emblems with some ancient coins’) and published in 1564 by Christophe Plantin. After the preliminaries, including a prose introduction about the emblem, the first part of the book comprises 167 emblems, consisting of a motto, a woodcut illustration, and an epigram.

GUL: SM947: B1r. Actual page height: 180mm.
GUL: SM947: B1r. Actual page height: 180mm.

The opening emblem takes the form of an elaborate dedication to the newly elected emperor Maximilian II. Moreover, an individual dedication is added to about a third of the emblems, including the names of well-known humanists, powerful courtiers, clergymen and other friends or relations. The emblems are followed by a numismatic section, containing illustrations of 23 ancient coins.

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

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. 5, 2168.

Sambucus, Joannes, Emblemata, Antverpiae 1564; a kiséro tanulmányt irta = einleitung von August Buck (Budapest : Akademiai Kiado, 1982). Facsimile reprint of the 1564 edition.

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])

Sambucus, Johannes, Emblemata: et aliquot nummi antiqui operis; mit einem Nachwort von Wolfgang Harms und Ulla-Britta Kuechen (Hildesheim: Olms, 2002). Facsimile reprint of the 1566 edition.

Gabor Tuskes, "Imitation and Adaptation in Late Humanist Emblematic Poetry: Zsamboky (Sambucus) and Whitney" Emblematica 11 (2001): 262-92.

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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