Emblem book

Wisdom - from George Wither's Book of Emblems (London 1635)
Woodcut from Guillaume de La Perrière, Le Théâtre des bons engins, 1545.

An emblem book is a book collecting emblems (allegorical illustrations) with accompanying explanatory text, typically morals or poems. This category of books was popular in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.


But if someone asks me what Emblemata really are? I will reply to him, that they are mute images, and nevertheless speaking: insignificant matters, and none the less of importance: ridiculous things, and nonetheless not without wisdom [...]
Jacob Cats, Voor-reden over de Proteus, of Minne-beelden, verandert in sinne-beelden.[1]

Scholars differ on the key question of whether the actual emblems in question are the visual images, the accompanying texts, or the combination of the two. This is understandable, given that the first emblem book, the Emblemata of Andrea Alciato, was first issued in an unauthorized edition in which the woodcuts were chosen by the printer without any input from the author, who had circulated the texts in unillustrated manuscript form. Some early emblem books were unillustrated, particularly those issued by the French printer Denis de Harsy. With time, however, the reading public came to expect emblem books to contain picture-text combinations. Each combination consisted of a woodcut or engraving accompanied by one or more short texts, intended to inspire their readers to reflect on a general moral lesson derived from the reading of both picture and text together. The picture was subject to numerous interpretations: only by reading the text could a reader be certain which meaning was intended by the author. Thus the books are closely related to the personal symbolic picture-text combinations called personal devices, known in Italy as imprese and in France as devises.


Emblem books, both secular and religious, attained enormous popularity throughout continental Europe, though in Britain they did not capture the imagination of readers to quite the same extent. The books were especially numerous in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France.

Many emblematic works borrowed plates or texts (or both) from earlier exemplars, as was the case with Geoffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, a compilation which chiefly used the resources of the Plantin Press in Leyden.

Early European studies of Egyptian hieroglyphs, like that of Athanasius Kircher, assumed that the hieroglyphs were emblems, and imaginatively interpreted them accordingly.

A similar collection of emblems, but not in book form, is Lady Drury's Closet.


Author or compilatorTitleEngraver, IllustratorPublisherLoc.Publ.Theme# of Embl.Lang. [n 1]Notes
(pseudo-Joachim)Vaticinia de Summis Pontificibus  (n.a.)  1414religiousla a manuscript combining emblems and texts, which may be regarded as a predecessor to emblem books.
Andrea AlciatoEmblemataprobably Hans Schäufelin after Jörg Breu the ElderHeinrich SteynerAugsburg1531104 the first and most widely disseminated emblem book. Also called Emblematum liber. Apparently not authorized by Alciato.
Andrea AlciatoEmblematum libellusBernard Salomon & al.  Paris1534Second edition of 1531 work; now authorized by Aciato
Guillaume de La PerrièreTheatre de bons engines    Paris1539
Achille BocchiSymbolicarum quaestionum de universo genere      1555
Gabriele FaernoCentum Fabulae       1563fables100la
János ZsámbokyEmblemata cum aliquot nummis antiqui operis    Vienna1564
Joris HoefnagelPatientia    London1569moral
Georgette de MonteneyEmblemes, ou Devises Chrestiennes  Jean de Tournes ?Lyon1571
Nicolaus ReusnerEmblemata    Frankfurt1581
Geoffrey WhitneyChoice of Emblemes(various)PlantinLeiden1586248
Cesare RipaIconologia    Rome1593not properly speaking an emblem book but a collection of erudite allegories.
Nicolaus TaurellusEmblemata Physico Ethica    Nuremberg1595
Daniel HeinsiusQuaeris quid sit amorJakob de Gheyn II  (Netherlands)1601lovefirst emblem book dedicated to love; later name "Emblemata amatoria"
Jacobus TypotiusSymbola Divina et HumanaAegidius Sadeler II  Prague1601
Otto van VeenAmorum Emblemata[2]Otto van VeenHenricus SwingeniusAntwerp1608love124laPublished in more than one multilingual edition, with variants including French, Dutch, English, Italian and Spanish
Pieter Corneliszoon HooftEmblemata Amatoria    (Netherlands)1611loveNot to be confused with Quaeris quid sit amor, which was republished under the same name.
Gabriel Rollenhagen Nucleus emblematum    Hildesheim1611
Otto van VeenAmoris divini emblemataOtto van Veen  (Netherlands)1615divine love
Daniel HeinsiusHet Ambacht van Cupido    Leiden1615
Michael MaierAtalanta FugiensMatthias MerianJohann Theodor de BryOppenheim1617alchemy50la,deAlso contains a fugue for each emblem
Peter IselburgAula Magna Curiae Noribergensis Depicta    Nuremberg161732la,de
Daniel Cramer, Conrad BachmannEmblemata Sacra      161740
(various)Thronus Cupidinis    (Netherlands)1618
Jacob CatsSilenus Alcibiadis, sive Proteus    (Netherlands?)1618
Jacob CatsSinn’en Minne-beeldenAdriaen van de Venne  (Netherlands)1618Two alternative explanations for each emblem, one related to mind (Sinnn), the other to love (Minne).
Julius Wilhelm ZincgrefEmblemata    Frankfurt1619
Jacob CatsMonita Amoris Virginei    Amsterdam1620moral45for women
Raphael CustosEmblemata amoris      1622
Johan de BruneEmblemata of Zinne-werckAdriaen van de Venne  Amsterdam162451
Herman HugoPia desideriaBoetius à Bolswert  Antwerp1624la42 Latin editions; widely translated
Daniel Stolz von StolzenbergViridarium Chymicum    Prague?1624alchemy
Zacharias HeynsEmblemata    (Netherlands?)1625
Lucas JennisMusaeum Hermeticum Frankfurt1625alchemyla
Jacob CatsProteus ofte Minne-beelden    Rotterdam1627
Benedictus van HaeftenSchola cordis      1629
Daniel CramerEmblemata moralia nova    Frankfurt1630
Antonius a BurgundiaLinguae vitia et remediaJacob Neefs, Andries PauwelsJoannes CnobbaertAntwerp163145[3]
Jacob CatsSpiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwen TijdtAdriaen van de Venne  (Netherlands?)1632
Henry HawkinsPartheneia Sacra      1633
Etienne LuzvicLe cœur dévot      1634translated into English as The Devout Heart
George Wither A collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne      1635
Francis QuarlesEmblemsWilliam Marshall & al.    1635
Jan Harmenszoon KrulMinne-spiegel ter Deughden    Amsterdam1639
Diego de Saavedra FajardoEmpresas Políticas      1640
(anonymous)Devises et emblemes d'amour[4]Albert Flamen  Paris1648
Filippo PicinelliIl mondo simbolico    Milan1653encyclopedicit1000 pages
Adrien GambartLa Vie symbolique du bienheureux François de SalesAlbert Flamen  Paris1664
Jan LuykenJesus en de ziel    (Netherlands)1678
Josep RomagueraAtheneo de Grandesa(anonymous)  Barcelona168115ca
  Livre curieux et très utile pour les sçavans, et artistesNicolas VerrienDaniel de La FeuilleAmsterdam1691encyclopedic
Jan LuykenHet Menselyk Bedryf
("The Book of Trades")
Jacobus BoschiusSymbolographia sive De Arte Symbolica sermones septem  Caspar BeucardAugsburg1701encyclopedic3347
Romeyn de HoogheHieroglyphica of Merkbeelden der oude volkeren    (Netherlands?)1735
  1. Original language, using ISO 639-1

Artists famous for emblem books

Further Reading


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