SCARCE EMBLEMS – ENGLISH PROVENANCE
Emblemata.Antwerp, ex Officina Plantiniana, 1648
12mo. (xxxvi) pp. 392 (viii) (liv), first and last sections blank except for annotation. Italic letter, little Roman and Greek. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p and last, 211 ½-page woodcut emblems, decorated initials and ornaments. Few lower edges untrimmed, very minor toning. An excellent copy in contemporary vellum over boards, yapp edges, spine double gilt ruled into four compartments, large gilt fleuron to each, gilt-lettered morocco label. Bookplate c.1700 of W. Holmes, St John’s College, Oxford, to front pastedown, occasional slightly later Latin and English annotations to text and couple of blank ll.
An excellent copy of this very scarce edition of the most important Renaissance emblem book. Andrea Alciato (1492-1550) was an Italian jurist who, after moving to France, published numerous works on civil law and antiquities. Originally published as ‘Emblematum liber’ in 1531, ‘Emblemata’ was the first work of its kind and the source of a whole new Renaissance iconographic tradition. An emblem was a semantic unit made of a motto, a symbolic (frequently surreal) illustration and a few lines of verse; only if understood together did these three elements acquire their true moral or philosophical meaning. (An explanation was nevertheless provided in the final appendix.) They illustrate all kinds of subjects, from virtuous love to the ills of astrology, visiting prostitutes, occasion, fortune, and plants. Alciato drew material from ancient historians, proverbs, the recently rediscovered Egyptian hieroglyphs, and the epigrams of the ‘Planudean Anthology’, a collection composed by a Byzantine scholar (Praz, ‘Studies’, 25). The occasional annotator of this copy was most probably William Holmes (1689-1748), a young scholar at Oxford, and later Vice-Chancellor and Regius Professor of History. He was interested in the emblems against the ambition of scientists reaching beyond human knowledge, those who do not know flattery and those who cause their own ills. He glossed the verse with numerous related didactic quotations from Cicero, Seneca and Tacitus, and translated into English an obscure Latin word; he also noted references from Lipsius’s ‘Civilis Doctrinae libri sex’ and Henricus van Heer’s chemical ‘De spadanis fontibus’. A very clean, fresh copy of English provenance of this handsomely produced little book of emblems.Getty, Yale and Princeton copies recorded in US.Not in Landwehr, Dutch Emblems, Brunet, Graesse, Praz or Adams.