Emblem Books were a popular literary form in the 16th and 17th century.

Alciat Harper.GIF

Image of Arion called IN AVAROs VEL QVIBVS ME...
in the Augsburg edition (1531) of Alciat's Emblematum Liber


The "Hieroglypica"of Horapollo

In 1419, a monk discovered a manuscript from the fifth century known as the "Hieroglyphica" of Horus Apollo or Horapollo on the Greek island of Andros. It was alleged to be a Greek translation of an Egyptian work which explained the hidden meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It stirred up great interest among the learned when it arrived in Florence in 1422. Although much of the information in this work was later proved false, it none the less had a great impact on Renaissance thought and in fact was one of the inspirations for the Emblem books. The "Hieroglyphica" was first printed in Venice by Aldus in 1505.

Emblem books were, in part, an attempt to define a pictographic language, as well as good material for the recently developed printing presses to produce. Essentially, the emblem book was a "picture book" - the first multimedia. Most pages of a typical emblem book consisted of a title, a picture, and a short poem that explained the allegorical meaning of the image named in the title and shown in the picture.

"Emblemata Liber"(The Book of Emblems) by Andres Alciati

Andres Alciati (1492 - 1550), a lawyer from Milan, created the first emblem book. It was reprinted in various translations and editions at least 130 times between 1532 and 1790. The first printing was by Henry Steyner of Augsburg in 1531.

Click here to see the contents of the 1531 edition.

Links to other Emblem pages

Source:"Andreae Alciati, Emblematum Fontes Quatuor; Namely An Account of the Original Collection, Made at Milan, 1522, and Photo-lith facsimiles of the editions, Augsburg 1531, Paris 1534, and Venice 1546." Edited by Henry Green, M.A. Published for the Holbein Society by A. Brothers, Manchester and Trubner & Co. London, M.DCCC.LXX. (1870)

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