Emblem books in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

The Cardiff Rare Books Collection contains several editions of the first emblem book, the Emblemata of Andrea Alciato, which combined allegorical images, verse and text to deliver a powerful moral message to readers.

Emblem books were a form of illustrated book which gained enormous popularity in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and typically consisted of a number of woodcuts or engravings accompanied by a short explanatory passage. Each combination of emblematic image and commentary was intended to inspire the reader to reflect on a moral lesson which could only be derived from the reading of both picture and text together.

Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), an Italian lawyer, wrote the text for the Emblemata, first published in Augsberg by Heinrich Steyner in 1531 and reprinted many times in various editions and translations. SCOLAR holds six editions of the Emblemata printed between 1548 and 1799, together with examples of many other emblem books from across Europe.

Emblem books can provide scholars with unparalleled insights into the social and cultural life of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and with opportunities for interdisciplinary research into iconography, use of allegory and symbolism, printing history, decorative arts, and the relationship of text to image.

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