Bartłomiej Czarski

COINS OF ALCIATO. REMARKS ON THE RECEPTION OF CLASSICAL NUMISMATIC ICONOGRAPHY IN THE 16TH-CENTURY EMBLEM BOOKS

Introduction1

Emblem studies has gained immense popularity over the past few years. Research in emblems and emblem books is currently gaining
ground among a growing number of scholars of diverse disciplines. This undoubtedly results from the specific nature of the subject matter. Combining texts and images, emblems may be of interest to art historians2 and literary scholars3 alike. Circulating in print and manuscript, they also attract the attention of library scholars.4 Their massive popularity, extending between the 16th and 18th centuries, caught the interest of Renaissance,

Baroque and Enlightenment scholars. A new wave of research work has focused on the use of emblems in modern culture, too.5 Some scholars are extending their research beyond European culture and geography, by studying the history of emblems in the colonies,6 as well as communities that have nothing in common with the Old World.7 This includes studies in language, such as Neo-Latin,8 German,9 Romance,10 Polish studies,11 etc.

In a similar manner, edited works – a compilation of original versions of texts, including editor’s notes – have undergone a marked revival of interest.12 Since such publications often involve the work of translators, they are often available in bilingual editions.13 This includes research on the influence of emblem studies on the arts, such as painting,14 architecture15 and music.16 Indeed, multiple possibilities of extending this research to other fields present themselves. It is worth noting that the interdisciplinary approach, which involves research methods characteristic of manifold disciplines or research projects overseen by a team of specialists from diverse fields, is now dominant.

Emblem books contributed to 16th and 17th century European culture immeasurably. Their veracious popularity and diversity – resulting in the
immense commercial success of the published works – best reflect the cultural tastes of the readers.17 That this kind of work attracted much attention comes down to the diversity of related genres. Stemmata,18 iconesimprese,19 carmina figurate20 and poesis artificiosa21 were no less popular in the Renaissance and Baroque. Currently, the proliferation of interrelated verbal and visual forms may pose quite a challenge for the researcher, who risks confusing genres of sorts. The early scholars may offer little remedy in this respect given that their model of genre classification may depart altogether from the present assumptions.22 Hence, conflicting conclusions proliferate. Far be it from the present author to settle the dispute on the final definition of the emblem, its conceptual limits, and correspondence with related forms, but it may be relevant to mention that the emergence of certain verbal and visual hybrid genres attests to the significance  of books of emblems on the culture of the past. Since some collections of emblems emerged from the same background, they became symptomatic of the cultural trends of the day. These two factors may serve to justify the present interest in the studies on the works of Alciato and his followers.

Nevertheless, this study does not intend to touch upon all of the above listed research problems. It should rather be reckoned among more traditional approaches to emblem studies, attempting to trace the origins of the texts under scrutiny. As such, the research is centred around the reception of specific images adopted from ancient Greek and Roman coins. This extends to both iconography and numismatic legends, resonating in mottoes, emblematic compositions (adopted as titles), and epigrams. In terms of its content, the text is centred on the relationship between Emblematum liber [Book of Emblems] by Andrea Alciato and ancient numismatic artefacts. It is assumed that the first collection of emblems serves as an apposite example of this relation in the 16th century. This is confirmed by a proliferation of studies on this work, which testifies to its popularity in academic circles and among general readership. Revered and imitated in the 16th and 17th centuries, Alciato was an epitome of emblem studies. Since the collective conclusions from the scholarly research on Alciato’s work can be extended to the study of emblematic in a broader context, they are in a certain way universal. The Italian jurist is currently the most studied emblem artist by modern scholars. The explosion of publications on his works is a significant point of departure for the purposes of this study, and allows the present author to overlook some general aspects, that – although essential on their own merit – are secondary for this research. As such, these studies facilitate this research immeasurably.

This text is divided into three consecutive parts. The introductory part discusses aspects such as the origin of emblematic works, their relationship with ancient coinage, the reception of ancient coins in modern times, the development of specialised sources on numismatics and its impact on the explanatory notes in Emblematum liber, as well as the reference to coins in Alciato’s works. The second part, the most extensive one, comprises a number of chapters orientated at analysing selected works, adopted from Alciato’s book of emblems, intended to demonstrate the manifold relationships between the works in question and ancient numismatic artefacts. In some cases the imputed links are fairly obvious, posing little challenge in terms of identification and description. In other cases, the opposite is true. In fact, on a few occasions the author fails to provide a definite answer as to the provenance or sources inspiring certain works.

On such rare moments, the author has posited a number of tentative hypotheses. Finally, the closing part offers consolidated conclusions based on the analytical section. Additionally, the final part puts forward some general conclusions, such as an attempt to demonstrate the ways in which Alciato, his commentators and publishers exploited ancient coins for artistic purposes or otherwise.

The body catalogues a number of excerpts adopted from early prints. The author took pains to modernise the spelling and punctuation of these
fragments at the expense of a faithful imitation of the original text. The primary source fragments are provided in the original and translation.
Unless stated otherwise, all fragments are translated by the author, as well as the translator of the English version of this text, Dr Paweł Wojtas, except for the translations of Alciato’s book of emblems, adopted from the English version of the collective project, Alciato’s Book of Emblems. The Memorial Web Edition in Latin and English, rendered by Bill and Jean Guthrie.23 This rendition of Alciato’s emblems is accurate and faithful to its Latin original. Either way, the original version of each excerpt comes first, as it serves as a basis for textual analysis. All translations are supplementary, calculated to facilitate the reading of the Latin original. 

This study heavily depends on illustrative sources, most of which are adopted from early prints. They include the title pages of works under
consideration or selected woodcut engravings. Central for the purposes of this study were emblem illustrations adopted from various editions.
Another kind of visual component employed below are ancient numismatic illustrations. For technical reasons, high-quality sketches were
used in place of photographs to ensure maximum attention to detail. Michał Wielowiejski prepared all the sketches on the basis of visual resources by courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.24

The footnoted abbreviations, limited to a bare minimum, are explained at the end of the book. They were mostly used for the oft-quoted numismatic studies, early editions of Alciato’s works, classical texts: mainly by the authors of the Antiquity, biblical books, or in some cases popular modern works.


1 This text is a part of the project The reception of classical numismatic iconography in 16th century books of emblems and symbolic treatises (original title, Recepcja antycznej ikonografii monetarnej w XVI-wiecznych książkach emblematycznych i traktatach symbolicznych) funded
by Narodowe Centrum Nauki (National Science Centre, Poland). The project was largely based on research conducted in selected libraries in Italy, Belgium, Holland, and Poland. The basic premise was to single out artefacts related to classical numismatic iconography and juxtapose them with ancient patterns. The research was completed in the most part by the author, as well as Dr Piotr Jaworski, an archaeologist and scholar of numismatics. The historical frame of the research was limited to the 16th century, although a few 17th century texts were also considered. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for help in the process of completing this work to Dr Paweł Wojtas and Michał Wielowiejski. I feel much obliged to extend my special thanks to Dr Piotr Jaworski for his expert advice on some parts of this paper. Nevertheless, I take full responsibility for all manner of shortcomings or inaccuracies.
2 For further reference, see the collection of essays: Emblems and Art History: Nine Essays, ed. A. Adams, L. Grove, Glasgow 1996.

3 See the landmark publication on that matter: P.M. Daly, Literature in the Light of the Emblem: Structural Parallels Between the Emblem and Literature in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Toronto-Buffalo 1998.
4 Consult the following library catalogues of emblem books: Emblem Books in the Princeton University Library: Short-Title Catalogue, ed. William S. Hecksher et al., Princeton 1984; H.M. Black, A Short-Title Catalogue of the Emblem Books and Related Works in the Stirling
Maxwell Collection of Glasgow University Library (1499–1917), Aldershot 1988; S. Sider, B. Obrist Bibliography of emblematic manuscripts, Montreal 1997; A.S.Q. Visser, Emblem Books in Leiden: A Catalogue of the Collections of Leiden University Library, the “Maatschappij
Der Nederlandse Letterkunde Te Leiden”, and Bibliotheca Thysiana, Leiden 1999. This list of publications is not exhaustive. Circulating in large numbers and with new publications being launched regularly, such books offer high quality research on both the textual and visual levels. I. Höpel, U. Kuder, Mundus Symbolicus 1. Emblembücher aus der Sammlung Wolfgang J. Müller in der UB Kiel, Kiel 2004.
5 P. Rypson, The Emblematic Mode in Twentieth Century Art, in: Emblems from Alciato to the Tattoo. Selected Papers of the Leuven International Emblem Conference, 18–23 August, 1996, ed. P.M. Daly, J. Manning, M. van Vaeck, Turnhout 2001, pp. 335–355.
6 A vibrant interest in that matter is documented in the research project, 10th International Conference of the Society for Emblem Studies. The following presentations deserve particular attention: Hiroaki Ito (On an Evangelical Illustrated Book Published in Rome in 1573) and Jean Michel Massing (Evangelicae Historiae Imagines (1593) in European, Central- and South-American and Japanese Art); see the conference programme – www.kunstgeschichte. uni-kiel.de/de/society-for-emblem-studies/programm-und-reader-druckfassung–11.07.2014 [24.03.2017].
7 This matter was expertly elucidated by Ihediwa Nkemjika Chimee (The Ikenga, as Emblem of Greatness in the Cosmology of the Igbo of Southeast Nigeria – http://arkyves.org/static/ misc/kiel_ikenga.pdf [24.03.2017]) during the 10th International Conference of the Society for
Emblem Studies.
8 See: William S. Heckscher, The Princeton Alciati companion: a glossary of neo-Latin words and phrases used by Andrea Alciati and the emblem book writers of his time, including a bibliography of secondary sources relevant to the study of Alciati’s emblems, New York 1989;
Mundus Emblematicus. Studies in Neo-Latin Emblem Books, ed. Karl. A.E. Enenkel, A.Q. Visser, Turnhout 2003.
9 See: The German-Language Emblem in its European Context, ed. A.J. Harper, I. Höpel, Glasgow 2000.
10 See: An Interregnum of the Sign: The Emblematic Age in France: Essays in Honour of Daniel S. Russell, Ed. D. Graham, Glasgow 2001.
11 See: Poesis artificiosa. Between Theory and Practice, ed. B. Milewska-Waźbińska, A. Borysowska, Frankfurt am Main 2013.

12 See the new edition of Andrea Alciato’s book of emblems: A. Alciato, Il libro degli Emblemi secondo le edizioni del 1531 e del 1534, a cura di Mino Gabriele, Milano 2009.
13 See the English translation of Alciato’s book of emblems: A. Alciato, “Emblemata” Lyons, 1550, transl. B.I. Knott, Aldershot 1996.
14 See: S. McKeown, Emblematic Paintings from Sweden’s Age of Greatness Nils Bielke and the Neo-Stoic Gallery at Skokloster, Turnhout 2006.
15 The Emblem and Architecture: Studies in Applied Emblematics from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, ed. H.J. Böker, P.M. Daly, Turnhout 1999.
16 Emblem Books with Songs and Music, ed. P.P. Raasveld, Leiden 1999.
17 The popularity of books of emblems is confirmed by bibliographical data.
18 Stemmata, that is, a poem related to heraldic illustrations, was popular all over Europe, particularly in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. See: F. Pilarczyk, Stemmata w drukach polskich XVI wieku [Stemmata in Polish 16th Century Prints], Zielona Góra 1982; W. Kroll,
Heraldische Dichtung bei den Slaven: mit einer Bibliographie zur Rezeption der Heraldik und Emblematik bei den Slaven (16.–18. Jahrhundert), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1986; B. Czarski, Stemmaty w staropolskich książkach, czyli rzecz o poezji heraldycznej [Stemmata
in Old-Polish Books, That is about Heraldic Poetry], Warszawa 2012. On the relations between emblem studies and heraldry, see: P.F. Campa, The Space between Heraldry and the Emblem. The Case of Spain, [in:] Emblem Scholarship Directions and Developments. A Tribute
to Gabriel Hornstein, Ed. P.M. Daly, Turnhout 2005, pp. 51–82.
19 On the origin of imprese and its cultural significance, see: D. Caldwell, “Studies in Sixteenth-Century Italian Imprese”, Emblematica. An Interdisciplinary Journal for Emblem Studies, Vol.11, 2001, pp. 1–257.
20 D. Higgins, Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature, Albany 1987.
21 Poesis artificiosa. Between Theory and Practice, ed. B. Milewska-Waźbińska, A. Borysowska, Frankfurt am Main 2013.

22 On the formal aspects and difficulties in defining emblems, see: J. Manning, The Emblem, London 2004, pp.13–36. See also: R.J. Clemens, Picta poesis: literary and humanistic theory in Renaissance emblem books, Roma 1960.

23 https://www.mun.ca/alciato/index.html [online resources. Accessed: 2017-04-03].
24 https://www.cngcoins.com/ [online resources. Accessed: 2017-03-04].