of Emblem Books
Like the classical mythology in Alciati’s emblem, Alciati gathered his inspiration for emblems from many different sources. Some of these include the Greek epigram, a concise poem with a moral purpose; illustrated books like dance of death sequences; and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Two other sources that appear elsewhere in this exhibit are imprese and devices that are very similar to emblems (see page Parallel and Evolving Emblem Forms); and commemorative medals struck for great battles or heroes (see page Emblematic Influences: Literature and Coins).
creating his emblem book, Alciati translated a book on Greek epigrams and
was very familiar with them. No fewer than fifty of his emblems can be traced
back to translations or imitations of Greek epigrams, which resemble the
third, subscriptio, part of the emblem. (Daly 9-10) On a related
note, Mario Praz contends that epigrams are in fact the inverse of emblems
since epigrams are words that illustrate objects while an emblem represents
objects that illustrate words (22). For more information and specific examples
of epigram-inspired emblems, see Alison Saunders
“Alciati and the Greek Anthology.”
The earliest known dance of death sequence was a series of paintings in the Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, painted in 1424-25. The Totendanz (Dance of Death) presented here is from a facsimile copy of the hand-colored Nuremberg Chronicle, originally published in 1493. The idea of combining text with image was made even more possible with the advent of and access to the printing press and movable type, allowing easier reproduction and circulation of text and image.
|Renaissance European culture was very interested in objects or texts used to impart divine wisdom in a mysterious way, such as enigmatic Egyptian hieroglyphics. When the Europeans discovered a manuscript (above, left) that decoded many hieroglyphics on the Greek island Andros in 1419, they thought they had found the key to unlocking and understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. This manuscript—later proven false—was written by Horapollo sometime around the 5th century. Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphili’s Dream-Fight with Eros)(above, right), originally published in 1499, also abounds in illustrations of hieroglyphic inventions that the author constructed and interpreted himself. Applied to emblems, this mysterious aspect differentiates the emblem from a mere illustrated proverb (Praz 34-35).|