Emblematum libellus, nuper in lucem editus

Autore ALCIATI, Andrea (1492-1550).
Tipografo Aldus Manutius' heirs [Aldus Manutius' heirs]
Dati tipografici Venice, 
Prezzo Venduto/Sold
Emblematum libellus

The first emblem book printed in Italy


8vo (145x90 mm). 47, [1] leaves. Signatures: A-F8. Italic type. Initial space with printed guide letters at l. 2. With 83 half-page woodcuts of emblems set within linear frames and the Alciati full-page coat-of-arms at l. 46v. Aldine woodcut device on title and repeated on last leaf verso. 20th-century olive green gilt morocco with overlapping edges, gilt title on spine, marbled pastedowns, gilt edges. Some marginal stains. A very good, clean copy.

FIRST EDITION of Alciati's second book of emblems, dedicated to Hieronymus Bernardus by Petrus Rhositinus. The Emblematum libellus is the first emblem book printed in Italy and also the most extensively illustrated book issued by the Aldine press since the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Alciati's emblem illustrations evolved from the rather rough and simple ones printed in the first 1531 Augsburg edition to become gradually more sophisticated. Even though the Aldine remained the only Alciati edition printed in Italy until the Tozzi edition of 1618, as Mortimer points out, this new series of emblems “is a new collection, different from that popularized by Chrestien Wechel in Paris in 1534, and the new emblems were quickly absorbed into the editions currently printed in France, the Venice blocks freely copied by Pierre Eskrich for Lyons editions by Macé Bonhomme and Guillaume Rouillé beginning in 1548”.

The diffusion of Alciati's emblem book all over Europe was extraordinary, as is evidenced by the impressive number of editions until the end of the century. Its success is also attested by the flourishing, in a very short time, of many other emblem and device collections modelled after his.

Alciati's emblems combine a motto and an allegorical picture with a short explanatory text in Latin verse, which helps to decode the hidden meaning of the image. On the model of Erasmus's Adagia, he selected aphoristic epigrams from classical sources such as the Anthologia Palatina, which already contained iconographic references (i.e., descriptions of ancient statues or paintings), and combined them with mottos and pictures. For Alciati, the emblem was comparable to the hieroglyph in that both serve as tools for cryptic writing, while also modeling the visual representation of a certain subject. In a kind of contest between sister arts (“ut pictura poesis”), emblems illustrate virtues and vices, drawing on history, mythology, and nature. Their purpose is to instruct but, at the same time, to create elegant samples of practical use for painters, sculptors, and goldsmiths.

Adams, A-602; Ahmanson-Murphy, 314; Essling, p. 673; Landwehr, Romantic, 33; Mortimer Italian, 14; Praz, p. 249; Renouard, pp.138-139; Sander, 224.

  • Emblematum libellus
  • Emblematum libellus
  • Emblematum libellus
  • Emblematum libellus