Item #4866 Les Emblemes. Andrea Alciati, Jean Mercure Jollat.
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes
Les Emblemes

Les Emblemes

Paris: Chrestien Wechel, 1540.

Price: $8,000.00

Octavo: 15 x 10 cm. A-P8, Q4

FOURTH EDITION IN FRENCH (1st and 2nd eds 1536; 3rd 1539)

Bound in 19th c. citron Morocco, gilt. A nice copy, lightly washed, with 16th c. annotations (faded and in some cases irretrievable due to the washing). The washing of the annotations has resulted in some light staining, with occasional shine-through to the image on the verso of the sheet. Very small hole in one leaf. Provenance: Isidoro Fernandez (1878-1963), bookplate.

Text in French and Latin, woodcut device on title, another version on final leaf. Illustrated with 113 woodcuts. 33 text leaves have annotations, almost all in the blank margin of the lvs., with bleed-through on about five leaves onto the image on the verso of the sheet.

The woodcuts, attributed to Jean “Mercure” Jollat (1490-1550), were first used in Wechel’s first Paris edition of 1534. The French translation is the work of Jean Le Fevre (1493-1563), first published by Wechel in 1536.

An attractive bilingual French-Latin edition of Alciati’s “Emblems”, a work that inaugurated a new literary genre and inspired writers and artists -both imitators and innovators- for more than two centuries. Although Alciati first conceived of an “emblem” (“emblema”) as an unillustrated epigram that could serve as inspiration for an image (such as a printer’s device) but was not dependent on one, in its published incarnation the emblem assumed the now familiar tripartite form: a combination of a symbolic image (eikon, pictura, imago), an epigram (epigramma), and a “motto” (sententia), each element of which contributed to the meaning of the whole.


The first edition of Alciati’s work appeared in 1531 at Augsburg, with 104 emblems, believed to be by Hans Schäufelein after the Augsburg painter Jörg Breu. In 1534, Chrestien Wechel, at Alciati’s request, printed the first of the Paris editions, with new engravings and nine extra emblems. Wechel’s editions “set the standard for the popular field of emblematic literature” (Mortimer).

The Development of the Emblem Book:

On 9 December 1522, Alciati wrote to the publisher Francesco Calvo:

“In compliance with the wishes of the illustrious Ambrogio Visconti, I have, at this Saturnalia, composed a book of epigrams, to which I have given the title ‘Emblemata’; for I give in each separate epigram a description of something, such that it signifies something pleasant taken from history or from nature, after which painters, goldsmiths, and founders can fashion objects which we call badges (imprese) and which we fasten on our hats, or else bear as trade-marks, such as the anchor of Aldus, the dove of Froben, and the elephant of Calvo, which carries its young for so long without giving birth.”(translation by Miedema)

The word “emblema” had long been used to signify an objet d’art or decorative inlay; Alciati now gave it a literary meaning. The emblem was the poem, independent of an image, complete in and of itself, in Miedema’s words, “an epigram in which something is described so that it signifies something else”, or put another way, “epigrams containing descriptions of representations” which could be executed by craftsmen.

It was the first printer of Alciati’s poems who added images to the “emblems”. In 1531, the Augsburg printer Heinrich Steiner printed a collection of Alciati’s epigrams that the author had dedicated to Conrad Peutinger. Steiner illustrated the collection with images by Hans Schäufelein, explaining to his readers his intention: to make the meaning of the poems clear to the non-scholar “[W]e thought it the best course if, in passing, we made the meaning of the most worthy author plainer by the means of somewhat crude signs, since in any case the learned will find it for themselves.”

While Alciati objected to Steiner’s unauthorized edition, in 1534 he had the Parisian printer Christian Wechel produce a new edition of his poems, corrected and enlarged, to which the printer added new images by Jean Jollat, with the intention of improving the illustrations just as Alciati had improved the text. The majority of subsequent editions of Alciati’s books of emblems (Alciati produced more than one collection of epigrams) would contain illustrations. “We can say then, that in the 1540s the form of the emblem was determined by tradition; that people were aware that the emblem was really an epigram, but that the trio of caption-figure-epigram was the conventional form in which the emblem was presented.”(Miedema, The Term Emblema in Alciati, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , 1968, Vol. 31 (1968), pp. 234- 250)

“In 1534 the ‘Emblemata’ appeared from the press of Chrestien Wechel in Paris, this time authorized. Alciati made no reference at all to the illustrations in his letter to Pietro Bembo, to whom he sent a copy:

‘I had written it when I was still very young and after it had become lost by some chance or other, it was published at Augsburg in very mutilated form; which caused me to refuse to acknowledge that child. However, now it has recently been published more faithfully in Paris by a more diligent craftsman, I have taken it back into my favour and presented copies to my best friends; and since you rank highly among them, I felt I could not omit sending you one. Make a poor jurist or rather laugh, in the words of playing to himself on the lyre.’

“The publisher, in his dedication to Philibert Baboo, Bishop of Angoulême, drew a sharp distinction between the corrections made in the text by Alciati himself, and the illustrations which had been added by the publisher:

‘The book of emblems by Andrea Alciati, which was published in Germany in recent years, and without the author's consent at that, and so carelessly, to put it mildly, that a large number of people explained it as the work of people unfavorably disposed towards him, in an attempt to harm his reputation. Because of this, I considered it my duty with a new edition both to render a service to the reading public and, as far as lies in my power, to wipe out the blame which has been directed at Master Alciati through the slovenliness of the previous edition. Although Alciati was reluctant to put his first attempts at poetry into the hands of the public, I had no difficulty in persuading him, since it was scarcely possible any longer to withhold them, now that they had in any case been published, thanks to others' indiscretion, to retouch them and to lick this unripe, shapeless product into shape like a bear. Accordingly, he removed imperfections, which were everywhere very numerous, he remolded and improved a great deal, and he also added a considerable number [of emblems] so that it seems that only now has the book appeared on the author's own responsibility. For my part, I have striven to the utmost, in making the illustrations, of which there are really as large a number as one can reasonably expect in such a modestly-sized book, that no one could justly accuse me of having shirked the least pains or expense.’(Ibid.)

Green, Alciati and his Books of Emblems, 17; Landwehr, Romanic Emblem Books, 21.

Green, Alciati and his Books of Emblems, 17; Landwehr, Romanic Emblem Books, 21