Icones, id est, verae imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium, quorum praecipuè ministerio partim bonarum literarum studia sunt restituta, partim vera religio in variis orbis Christiani regionibus, nostra patrúmque memoria fuit instaurata: additis eorundem vitae & operae descriptionibus, quibus adiectae sunt nonnullae picturae quas emblemata vocant

Autore: BÈZE, Théodore de (1519-1605)

Tipografo: Jean de Laon

Dati tipografici: [Genève], 1580



4to (215x140 mm). [159 of 160] leaves. Signatures: [*]4 A-Z4 Aa-Qq4. Lacking the final blank Qq4. Printer's device on title page. Errata at l. Qq3v. Headpieces and floriated initials. With 38 full-page woodcut portraits within decorated woodcut borders (including the dedicatee's portrait on title page verso), 53 woodcut borders without portraits but with two wind-heads and text in each full-page woodcut medallion, and 44 half-page emblematic woodcuts within elaborate woodcut borders. Later half calf, lettering piece on spine, marbled endleaves, red edges. On the front pastedown engraved bookplate with the initials “BL” for Bob Louza. Very slightly browned throughout, some light marginal stains, but all in all a good copy with good margins.


FIRST EDITION (variant issue without the printing place of Geneva, probably to be sold in non-Protestant countries).

The plan to publish a portrait gallery of reformers is first mentioned in a letter to Bèze's friend in Nürnberg, the pastor Lorenz Dürnhoffer dated December 3, 1577, asking for a portrait of Joachim Camerarius. On August 7, 1570 he applied for a printing license, which he obtained the same day from the City Council. Judging from the dedication to King James VI of Scotland, dated March 1, 1580, the printing was finished toward the end of February. What Bèze produced was luxurious book: “Comme on le voit, les décors abondent et la structure est très rigoureuse. Le nombre de pages blanches est révelateur. On en compte pas moins de 34. Compte tenu du coût du papier, qui représente environ le tiers des coûts d'impression, il n'est pas permis d'hésiter. Il s'agit d'une edition de luxe, idée confortée par la profusion des décors gravés et l'aération de la mise en page (Ch. Chazalon, Les ‘Icones' de Théodore de Bèze. Etude d'une galerie idéale de portraits imprimé eau temps des guerres de Religion, Genève, 2001, I, p. 10; see also M. Jardeni, ‘Eruditio ancilla reformationis': Theodore Beza and the Use of History in the ‘Icones', in: “Knowledge and religion in early modern Europe: studies in honor of Michael Heyd”, A. Be-Tov, ed., Boston, 2007, pp. 13-24).

The subtitle of the Icones reveals Bèze's purpose and hints to their contents: “True portraits of the men illustrious for learning and piety, by whose ministry chiefly, on the one hand, the studies of good letters were restored,  and, on the other, true religion was renewed in various regions of the Christian world...; with the addition of descriptions of their life and work”. The Icones are arranged in geographical or national groups: the vanguard of the Reformation in England, Bohemia, and Italy (e.g. John Wyclif, Jan Hus, Girolamo Savonarola); the Reformers and Humanists of Germany (e.g. Luther and Melanchthon, but also Erasmus and Reuchlin); six martyrs of Germany (among them Heinrich von Zupphen and Wolfgang Schuch); the Reformers of Switzerland and neighboring regions (e.g. Huldrych Zwingli, Johannes Oecolampadius, Jean Calvin, but also Conrad Gesner, Sebastian Münster Johann Froben, and the Italian Pietro Martire Vermigli); Reformers and Humanists of France (e.g. François I, Guillaume Budé, Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, Clement Marot, Robert Estienne); Waldensian martyrs; Reformers and Martyrs of England (e.g. Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer); Reformers and martyrs of Scotland (e.g. John Knox, Patrick Hamilton); Reformers and Martyrs of Belgium; Reformers of Poland (John a Lasco); Reformers and martyrs of Italy (Pomponio Algieri, Fanino Fanini); Reformer sand martyrs of Spain (e.g. Juan de Enzinas, Juan Diaz). The works contains ninety individual tributes, but Bèze could furnish only thirty-eight portraits at the time of the publication of the Icones, since he attached great importance to the authenticity of the portraits (to the French translation by Simon Goulart, authorized by Bèze and printed in 1581, twelve new portraits could be added). All the portraits are placed within decorative woodcuts borders (of ten different variants), as well as the names of the other figures. These are placed on the left hand side, whereas the biographical notices (sometimes accompanied by an epigram) are placed on the opposite page (cf. E.J. Hutchinson, Written Monuments: Theodore Beza's ‘Icones' as Testament to and Program for Reformist Humanism, in: “Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition”, W.B. Littlejohn & J. Tomes, Leesburg, VA, 2017, pp. 21-62; and T. Casini, Ritratti parlanti: collezionismo e biografie illustrate nei secoli XVI e XVII, Firenze, 2004, pp. 88-90).

It is certainly remarkable that just only one portrait of a woman is extant in the gallery: that of Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549), sister of King Francis I of France, author of the collection of short stories Heptaméron (1558), who, although espousing reform within the Catholic Church and often serving as a mediator between Roman Catholics and Protestants, never joined the Reformation (cf. J.A. Reid, King's Sister - Queen of Dissent: Marguerite de Navarre and her Evangelical Network, Leiden, 2009, p. 556). Among the biographical entries another notable woman is eulogized by Bèze: Olimpia Fulvia Morata (1526-1555), Italian by birth, was an extraordinary figure in the sixteenth century European culture. Her reputation as an exceptional humanist scholar, exile ‘religionis causa' in Germany, was recognized all over Europe. Her fame allowed to claim that she was the first female university professor of Greek in the Empire (cf. O. Millet, Bèze poète et fondateur de la mémoire huguenote, in: “Revue d'Histoire du Protestantisme”, 4, 2019, p. 614; see also L. Felici, Olympia Fulvia Morata ‘Glory of Womenkind both for Piety and for Wisdom', in: “Fruits of migration. Heterodox Italian Migrants and Central European Culture, 1550-1620”, C. Zwierlein & V. Lavenia, eds., Leiden, 2018, p. 174). Furthermore, six women martyrs are mentioned in the section on Spain.

After the Icones follow forty-four woodcut emblems, enclosed in an ornamental frame and below an epigram in an elegant and well-spaced italic, which constitute a surprisingly anomaly within Bèze's oeuvre. “Some thirteen years before Bèze's emblems appeared, Georgette de Montenay had written an emblem book, Les Emblèmes ou devises chrétiennes (1567), dedicated to the Calvinist Queen of Navarre, Jean d'Albret, in which she uses the genre to preach her Christian and often overtly Calvinist faith. Was this the stimulus which caused Bèze to compose his forty-four emblems? If so, they could hardly be more different. To start with they are of course in Latin, and function in a fundamentally different manner: Georgette de Montenay's emblems mostly rely on a web of complex allusions to the Bible, both through the text (many mottoes are quotations which need to be recognized and completed), and through the engraved picturae executed by Pierre Woeriot, whereas Bèze's emblems are mostly striking in their simplicity and logical clarity [...] Certain emblems express general moral truths without reference to faith. But others are outspoken in their espousal of the Protestant and anti-Papist cause... [Bèze's] impact on contemporary writers was immediate: two emblem books of 1581 show undoubted and precise influence [Nicholas Reusner and Juan de Borja]” (A. Adams, The ‘Emblemata' of Théodore de Bèze, 1580, in: “Mundus Emblematicus. Studies in Neo-Latin Emblem Books”, K.A.E. Enenkel & A.S.Q. Visser, eds., Turnhout, 2003, pp. 72, 77, 92; see also A. Adams, Webs of Allusion: French Protestant Emblem Books of the Sixteenth Century, Genève, 2003, pp. 119-154).

Some critics, including some of his own ranks, accused him of iconophilia. “Théodore de Bèze, en dépit des protestations d'orthodoxie qu'il accumule dans l'épître dédicatoire [see Icones, leaf ij verso] et en dépit de l'inspiration aristotélicienne qui caractérise effectivement sa conception et son utilisation de l'image aussi bien dans les Emblemata que dans les Icones, n'est pas à l'abri de la tentation hagiographique, qui dépasse en profondeur et en complexité l'iconophilie don't on a voulu le taxer” (R, Stawarz-Luginbühl, Les ‘Emblemata/Emblèmes Chrestiennes, 1580/1581 de Théodore de Bèze: un recueil d'emblèmes humaniste et protestant, in: “Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance”, 67/3, 2005, pp. 622-623; see also P. Eichel-Lojkine, Les ‘Vrais Portraits' de Théodore de Bèze: comment regarder des images laïques?, in: “Résistence de l'image”, Paris, 1992, pp. 105-137).


Quite a few speculations about the authorship of the portraits, the emblems and the borders were made (cf. Ch. Chazalon, op. cit., pp. 34-38 and E. Doumergue, Iconographie Calvinienne, Lausanne 1909, pp. 52-56), without coming to conclusive results. But one name always turns up, that of Pierre Eskrich (also Cruche or Vase, ca. 1520-ca. 1590), a master embroiderer, who converted to the reformed religion, and was very close in the humanist circles and in the world of the printers in Lyon, before settling down in Geneva. His first woodcuts appeared in Lyons around 1548. He produces woocut illustrations for French translations of Boccaccio Ovid, for the Picta Poesis of Barthélémy Aneau, for the Pegma of Pierre Cousteau and numerous illustrations for various Bibles printed at Lyons and Geneva (cf. P.C. Finney, A Note on de Bèze's ‘Icones', in: “Seeing Beyond the World: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition”, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 261-262).

“C'est dans une toute autre perspective bien sûr qu'Eskrich, un an auparavant, réalise, peut-être avec d'autres graveurs, le portrait de Luther et ceux d'autres réformateurs et précurseurs de la Réforme parus à Genève chez Jean de Laon dans Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres de son ami Théodore de Bèze, suivis de ses Emblèmes, qui sont, eux , incontestablement de sa main. On sait par sa correspondance que Bèze s'était préoccupé avec zèle de rassembler les portraits les plus fidèles des réformateurs, et à une époque où la vogue du portrait, et particulièrement du portrait en taille-douce, ne cesse de s'affirmer après les années 1570, le graveur démontre ici que le portrait gravé sur bois conserve toutes ses lettres de noblesse. C'est le premier exemple protestant de publication d'anthologie de portraits, genre iconographique très répandu au XV Ie siècle, puisant ses racines dans des modèles antiques et classicisants, pour une audience de culture relativement élevée” (V. Selbach, Artisan ou artiste? La carrière de Pierre Eskrich, brodeur, peintre et graveur, dans les milieux humanistes de Lyon et Genève (ca. 1550-1580), in: “Chrétiens et sociétés. Numéro spécial I: Le calvinisme et les arts”, 2011, p. 44).


Adams, B-920; Index Aureliensis, 118.745; GLN 15-16, no.2829; A. Adams, S. Rawles, A. Saunders; A Bibliography of French Emblem Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Genève, 1999, I, pp. 179-182, F-104;  J.-P. Barbier, Ma bibliothèque poétique, Genève, 1998, IV/1, pp. 192-212, no. 35; Universal STC, no. 450862; F. Gardy & A. Dufour, Bibliographie des oeuvres théologiques, littéraires, historiques et juridiques de Théodore de Bèze, Genève, 1960, no. 338; A. Henkel & A. Schöne, Emblemata. Handbuch zur Sinnbildkunst des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart, 1978, pp. XXXV-XXXVI; J. Landwehr, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Book of Devices and Emblems, 1534-1827: A Bibliography, Utrecht, 1976, p. 52; M. Pelc, Illustrium imagines: Das Portraitbuch der Renaissance, Leiden, 2002, pp. 56-57); P. Tanner, Paolo Giovio, Pietro Perna, Tobias Stimmer und ihre Porträtwerke, in: “Tobias Stimmer, 1539-1584”, Basel, 1984, p. 239, no. 124a.