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ANDREA ALCIATO, Emblematum liber (Book of Emblems)

In Spanish, manuscript on paper
Spain, c. 1585-1625 (after 1584)
With 210 woodcuts following designs by Geeraard Jansen van Kampen

TM 1083

236 folios on paper, originally 110 folios, now with blanks (likely added), 109 interleaved, 11 added at the front, and 6 at the end, modern foliation in pencil in lower outer corner recto, second intermittent foliation 1-110 in upper right of illustrated folios, unidentified watermark of Greek Cross within a circle on the added folios, complete, collation impracticable but generally in quires of 8, no ruling (justification c. 50 x 70 mm. with moderate variation), written in an informal italic script in brown ink, titles given at top of page, commentary written below a single ruled line in the bottom quarter of the page, 210 emblem engravings following designs of Geeraard Jansen van Kampen pasted to complete leaves, f. 12 soiled with repair in blank outer margin, contents otherwise relatively clean but with narrow horizontal crack toward the top of the woodcuts on ff. 33-42, slightly affecting images. Bound in the late eighteenth century in half leather, leather corners now missing, smooth spine gold-tooled with title “Emblemas” in gilt, partial remains of a paper label at the top of the spine,  spine worn with creasing along front hinges, cords intact.  Dimensions 149 x 101 mm.

A rare example of a hybrid emblem book combining an unpublished, and likely unique, handwritten Spanish translation and carefully placed woodcuts, this stands out from the numerous printed examples of this popular genre.  Our manuscript was described by Karl-Ludwig Selig as “the most interesting Spanish version” of Alciato’s famous text. Interleaved with blank folios, it is possible that it was intended for use as an album amicorum.


1. Evidence of the script suggests this was created in the late sixteenth- to early seventeenth century, certainly after 1584, for or by a Spanish owner.  The pasted-in woodcuts were sourced from an edition of Claude Mignault’s translation of the Emblemata first printed in Paris in 1584 (see discussion below).

2. A note in a modern hand on f. 2 informs us that this translation differs from the 1549 Spanish translation of Bernardino Daza printed in Lyon by Guillaume Rouillé:  “Esta traduccion castellana es diferente en su mayor parte de la traduccion de Bernardino Daza que publico Rovilio en Leon de Francia.”

3. Belonged to Karl-Ludwig Selig (1926-2012), professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Columbia University, New York, regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on Cervantes. Acquired by him from Diana Parikian (1926-2012), antiquarian bookseller of Oxford. Selig published a very brief study of this manuscript (Selig, 1970), where he describes as “the most interesting Spanish version of this important humanist text”; pencil annotations inside front cover (likely added by Parikian or Selig).


ff. 1-11v, blank, added paper leaves;

ff. 12-231, incipit, “Vn niño que salio del seno, y boca de vna culebra fiera, y enrroscada es tu escudo, y chiusa señalada que exceed a las demas, y las apoca … Del se debe la corona a Carlos, cuia persona delpoya? a Tune? El fuerte, cuia vida, y cuia muerte la illustre fama pregona”;

ff. 231-236, blank, added paper leaves.

Andrea Alciato, Emblematum liber, in a Spanish translation by an unidentified author. The translation is unpublished and very likely exists only in this copy.  The handwritten text is illustrated with inserted woodcuts from a Parisian edition of Claude Mignault’s French translation, first published in 1584 (discussed in detail below). Each folio begins with a motto written at the top of the page followed by a woodcut pasted below; verses are written beneath each woodcut and are followed by a commentary section including citations of classical literature written below a single ruled line on each page. Most folios are double sided with an emblem on both recto and verso but some (e.g. emblem 117, f. 133) contain lengthier verses that continue onto the verso, or, beginning on the verso, carry over to the following recto. The manuscript contains a total of 210 emblems distributed across 110 folios. The manuscript contains only the emblems from Alciato’s work and lacks the prologue and index, which typically accompanied editions of the Emblemata.

These complete folios have been augmented with an additional 126 blank sheets, 109 of which are interleaved. Eleven blank leaves compose the frontmatter, and six additional blank leaves conclude the manuscript. These blank leaves have certainly been part of the manuscript for a long time, and it seems likely that they were added early in its history; there are very deep and pronounced indents from the woodcuts on the blank leaves.  The blank leaves are from a different source of paper than the text leaves and are not included in the original foliation (1-110) running in the top corner recto of the completed leaves.

As the modern owner who added the note in Spanish on f. 2 states, this translation differs from the from the 1549 Spanish translation by Bernardino Daza (1528-1576) printed in Lyon by Guillaume Rouillé.  Our manuscript in general has the same title for each emblem as in the Bernardino Daza translation, but the text shows many differences and modifications. Notably, it does not follow the order of the emblems in the Daza translation but rather that established in the various editions of the French translation by Claude Mignault’s (1536-1606), and it includes commentaries not found in the Daza translation (Selig, 1970).  Additional discrepancies are readily apparent in syntax, grammatical construction, and spelling, and in many instances our translator has supplied entirely different verses.  The construction of this manuscript with engravings from a French translation suggests that it could have been made in a region where Daza’s edition was either unavailable or that the author found it unsatisfactory.  It is even possible that this independent translation was undertaken simply for the pleasure of its unknown author. Translating the Emblemata, as Allison Saunders notes, became a form a scholarly leisure in the sixteenth century. Mignault, for instance, claimed in his prologue that his translation was simply an effort to avert boredom while traveling (Saunders, 1990). There is certainly room for further scholarly study of how this translation fits into the tradition of Alciato in Spanish; although Selig published a short notice about our book in 1970, he does not seem to have discussed it further in his subsequent publication in 1990 (we thank Seth Fagen for sharing this information; we were not personally able to consult this edition, the 2018 reprinting, or Campa, 1990).

Emblem books containing allegorical illustrations with accompanying explanatory texts, typically in verse, were extremely popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The tradition originates with the Emblematum liber of Andrea Alciato, which originally circulated in manuscript before its first, unauthorized publication in 1531. A second, authorized version soon followed in 1534 published in Paris by Christian Wechel. From 1531 to the end of the seventeenth century, over 170 editions were published with translations into French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Originally, it contained around a hundred short verses in Latin, but these were soon expanded in number and length in subsequent editions.

In his preface, Alciato describes his emblems as a kind of intellectual recreation, a humanist’s hobby informed by classical literature. The word “emblemata” is simply the plural of the Greek word “emblema” meaning a piece of inlay or mosaic, or an ornament. Emblem books combine three elements: a motto (inscriptio), an image (figura), and a verse text (subscrptio) that explains the connection between the image and the motto.  “Emblem” may refer to the image, the text, or a combination of the two. The moralizing message of an emblem is conveyed by a careful reading of the text and image; neither can be fully understood without the other. This aspect relates emblems to other symbolic picture-text combinations known in Italy as imprese and in France as devises. Illustrations from emblem books were soon adopted in other contexts such as clothes, street signs, and advertisements and remnants of the tradition remain in use today, for instance a skull and crossbones identifying poison. 


210 prints ranging in subject matter from classical mythology to botany have been carefully pasted to the sheets. These provide the essential visual accessory to the emblem motto at the head of the page and personify a particular idea or concept.

The evidence points to the fact that prints found in our manuscript originated in an edition of Mignault printed after 1584, that was cut up and used to illustrate our translation, although the exact edition used is unknown. The first of Mignault’s translations were published in 1573 in Antwerp by Christopher Plantin with woodcuts by Geeraard Jansen van Kampen. While van Kampen’s designs were used for nearly all editions of Mignault’s translations into the eighteenth century, variations in the concluding sequence of botanical woodcuts allow for a degree of localization. Our manuscript contains smaller, framed illustrations that differ from Plantin’s Antwerp editions, which reproduce large, frameless engravings reminiscent of scientific illustration. A similar botanical series to ours was first printed in 1583 in Paris by the firm of Girault, Marnef, and Roger with woodcuts by Jean Cousin. Cousin seamlessly followed van Kampen’s original designs, but also added fourteen new illustrations of trees. These same designs were reused with slight alterations a year later in Jean Richer’s 1584 edition, and this sequence matches that of our manuscript in order, style, and composition. The lone exception being the woodcut of a bat reproduced twice in Richer’s edition for emblems sixty-one and sixty-two but economically reduced to a single woodcut for both emblems in our manuscript. The same series of prints were used again in later editions printed in Paris by Stephen Valletu in 1589, Jakob de Weert in 1602, and others into the seventeenth century, and it remains unknown from which of these editions our woodcuts originated.      

Manuscript emblem books are quite uncommon; hybrid examples combining printed images and handwritten texts are even rarer.  Our manuscript is also of special interest since it may have been designed as an album amicorum (literally “book of friends”) or repurposed as such soon after its original composition. Album books were a popular variety of autograph manuscript including notes, poems, sketches from friends collected by early modern students and scholars (Klose, 1988 and Barker, Online Resources). Printed books, interleaved with blank pages, were occasionally used as the basis for albums; Alciato’s Emblemata, in particular, was often used in this fashion. Klose records 116 editions (Klose, 1988, pp. 359-364), many currently held in the British Library (Egerton MSS 1178-1498) and others in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Russian National Library, Moscow. These “editions” of Alciato follow a similar pattern of interleaving as our manuscript, for instance, a 1567 Frankfurt edition of Alciato, now in the Russian National Library (Klose 68.BRA.GEO; Green 77), whose pages contain forty-eight different greetings and a number illuminated heraldic devices added to the album from May to November 1568 (Musvik, 2002).


Adams, Alison. “The Role of the Translator in Sixteenth-Century Alciato Translations,” BHR 52.2 (1990), pp. 369-383.

Adams, Alison, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders. A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols., Geneva, 1999-2002.

Alciati, Andreas. Index emblematicus, Vol. I: The Latin Emblems: Indexes and Lists; Vol. 2: Emblems in Translation, ed. Peter M. Daly, with Virginia Callahan, assisted by Simon Cuttler, Toronto-Buffalo, 1985.

Balavoine, Claudie. “Le classement thématique des emblèmes d’Alciat: recherche en paternité,” in The Emblem in Renaissance and Baroque Europe: Tradition and Variety, ed. Alison Adams and Anthony J. Harper, Leiden, 1992, pp. 1-21.

Bouquet, Simon. Imitations et traductions de cent dix-huict emblesmes d’Alciat (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ms. fr. 19.143), New York, 1996.

Campa, Pedro F. Emblemata Hispanica: An Annotated Bibliography of Spanish Emblem Literature to the Year 1700. Durham, 1990 (not available for consultation).

Klose, Wolfgang. Corpus Alborum Amicorum CAAC Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Stammbücher des 16. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart, 1988.

Musvik, Victoria. “Word and Image: Alciato’s Emblemata as Dietrich Georg von Brandt’s Album amicorum,” Emblematica 12 (2002), pp. 141-63.

Saunders, Alison. “Sixteenth-Century French Translations of Alciati’s Emblemata,” French Studies 44 (1990), pp. 271-288.

Selig, Karl-Ludwig. “The Spanish Translations of Alciato’s Emblemata,” Modern Language Notes 70 (1955), pp. 354-359.

Selig, Karl-Ludwig. “A Spanish Translation of Alciato’s Emblemata,” Romanische Forschungen 82.4 (1970), p. 584 (discussing the manuscript described here).

Selig, Karl-Ludwig. Studies on Alciato in Spain, New York, 1990.

Selig, Karl-Ludwig, Peter Jehle, Sebastian Neumeister, and Ana Yakimova. Studies on Alciato in Spain (new ed.), New York, 2018 (not available for consultation).

Online Resources

Los emblemas de Alciato, trans. by Bernardino Daza, Lyon: apud Gulielmum Rouillium, 1549 https://archive.org/details/losemblemasdealc00alci/page/16/mode/2up

Emblemata Andreæ Alciati, trans. Claude Mignault, Paris: Jean Richer, 1584

Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata, Paris, Jean Richer, 1584 (University of Glasgow Library)

Spanish Emblem books at the University of Glasgow

Society for Emblem Studies https://www.emblemstudies.org/digitisation-projects/

Biblioteca Digital Siglo de Oro http://www.bidiso.es/Emblematica/

Alciato’s Book of Emblems http://www.mun.ca/alciato/

Emblem Collection at the University of Illinois https://archive.org/details/emblem?tab=collection

William Barker: Alciato’s Emblems and the Album Amicorum: A Brief Note on Examples in London, Moscow, and Oxford

TM 1083