Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, and Alison Saunders. A Bibliography of French Emblem Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance. Vol. CCCXXXI. xxxii + 670 pp. Geneva: Droz, 1999. ISBN 2600003576.
David Graham
Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John

Graham, David. "Review of Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, and Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.2 (September, 2001): 13.1-6 <URL:

  1. This outstanding work of scholarship, the first of two projected volumes devoted to the subject, will be of great interest and potentially of considerable usefulness not only to specialists in the field of French emblematics, but to all scholars concerned with the history of the book in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thanks to the very broad and inclusive approach taken by the authors in their definition of the corpus of works to be treated, this bibliography exhaustively and definitively treats a very large number of works that by most definitions would lie well outside the scope of the French emblem book. Those familiar with the field will be aware that the very definition of terms such as 'emblem' and 'emblem book' is still hotly contested; the authors have very sensibly chosen to begin with some definitions. 'France', for example, takes in the French- speaking territory of the time under study, so that emblem books published in Geneva and Brussels are included. In the case of Antwerp, however, only books published in French or including French texts have been treated. The definition of 'emblem book' is similarly broad: the authors write that they have included not only works specifically claiming to include emblems or devices, but "many others whose structure or modus operandi is 'emblematic' in the sense of juxtaposing visual and textual material to express a message" (xxiii). Rather than focusing on the questions of form which have tied so many scholars in knots, they have chosen to include works of "permanence" and "substance": ephemera such as pamphlets and brief unillustrated accounts of royal entries, for example, are not included.

  2. The authors' introduction provides an exceptionally full account of the bibliographical methodology used in the volume. It must be said that more detail is provided in the entries about pagination or foliation, collation and signature numbering than most scholars will ever require, but one is grateful to the authors for their consistently meticulous approach to the description of the works treated. Where variants and anomalous states exist, these are fully described, and the "fingerprint" for each edition is given "wherever it can be established meaningfully" (xxix). Details of mistakes in pagination and in signature numbering, very frequent in this corpus, are given in full. One of the most useful parts of each entry will be the list of copies located, which is encoded using abbreviations similar to those found, for example, in the Union Catalogue. The authors have consciously excluded library pressmarks, and this may be disappointing to some readers because of the potential value of these to scholars seeking to locate copies in a particular library. In the end, though, their decision seems a sound one, for as they write, "we also know from bitter experience that pressmarks change, or are badly recorded elsewhere, or are subject to variations of presentation which render their publication useless". (xxxi) The standard previous reference works by Mario Praz, John Landwehr, Henry Green, Mason Tung and others are cited as necessary.

  3. Fittingly, the volume begins with a lengthy treatment of the emblem books of Andrea Alciato, alphabetically as well as chronologically the first author of emblem books. The authors provide a brief but very useful bibliographical introduction to the many editions of Alciato, with sections on each of the major publishers including Wechel and the De Tournes and Rouille (often spelled Roville) families. As the leading authority on the publishers concerned Stephen Rawles is particularly well placed to write these introductory sections.

  4. The individual entries contain, in addition to the very exhaustive bibliographical material, at least one illustration taken from the edition under study. In many cases, only the title page is reproduced, but one frequently finds reproductions of a typical page from the volume; these are extremely useful in helping readers to visualize the presentation, which, as scholars familiar with the area will know, varies enormously from one book to another in size and location of woodcut, number of textual fragments and their location. As a result, the volume is a visual feast as well as being an invaluable reference work.

  5. The decision to include works published outside France, as well as works published in France but not written in French, means that many of the volumes treated herein have only a nodding acquaintance with the French emblem corpus per se. For example, items 146 through 171 are the works of the great Dutch emblematic poet Jacob Cats; the actual French content of these volumes is very slight indeed, being limited in many cases to a simple rhyming couplet, far shorter than the Latin and Dutch texts. As the authors write, however, "Cats is one of the major figures in emblem literature," and his emblem books were a rich source for subsequent writers. Few of us will regret the decision to include his books here, and the authors' supplementary decision to focus in their illustrations on Cats's emblems 'Qua non nocet' and 'Infectum petitur' rather than choosing to illustrate a different emblem for each edition provides a most useful chronological record of the changes in illustration throughout the lengthy and varied publishing history of Cats's two emblem books.

  6. My one real regret concerning this volume is that the authors chose to delay the publication of all indexing until the appearance of the second volume. As a result it is next to impossible to locate references to titles or authors except those alphabetized in the volume, which deals with Alciato through Karl Ludwig. A more minor quibble is that, despite the adoption of the broad criteria for inclusion, the authors have not treated some of the paraemblematic material produced by the more important French authors included here. Though Corrozet's Fables and Blasons domestiques are not true emblem books, they are nonetheless of great interest and are highly similar to his Hecatomgraphie both in content and manner of presentation. Similarly, Barthélemy Aneau's and Guillaume Guéroult's works on natural history show striking resemblances to their Picta poesis and Premier livre des emblems. But the volume is so rich, and the standard of scholarship so high, that it seems ungrateful to complain.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)