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

Only after seeing the whole picture can the reader come to realise that the scene of pursuit from the woodcut stands for the poet’s craving for
fame. The nymph endowed by god with an unreciprocated love, symbolises the laurel wreath – the symbol of fame and glory for Renaissance men of letters. Published thirty years prior to the first edition of Emblematum libellus, this composition contains all the possible components characteristic of an emblem. More examples of this sort are available.

A distinctive kind of work was poems describing coats of arms, referred to as stemmata. Such works, which in practical terms are no different
from emblems, prove that works consisting of a poem and symbolic illustration formed before the publication of Alciato’s book. Indeed, such
a complete collection as this could not have emerged in a cultural vacuum, but developed from a rich tradition. Its magnitude and positive reception were secured by the countless reeditions of Emblematum libellus, which soon began to go by the more respectable name, Emblematum liber. 

Steyner published Alciato’s opus three times.41 In 1534, the Italian lawyer turned to the Parisian typographer Chrestien Wechel for a new edition of his work. This edition featured a new set of woodcut illustrations, largely modelled on the previous Augsburg editions. Later on, during Alciato’s lifetime, the book of emblems would be published by scores of printers.42

Although there is no room in this study to delve into every separate reprint of the book, two of them may require special attention. The first
is known as the second book of Alciato, a collection of 86 emblems published in 1546 in Venice.43 The other, relevant for the purposes of this
study, appeared in 1548 in Lyon. It was published by Guillaume Rouillé and edited by Barthélémy Aneau, who combined two collections of Alciato’s emblems, as well as rearranged them according to the moral categories that the works epitomised.44 This version covered 201 emblems altogether, later extended by eleven in 1550. This reprint was, curiously, the last one to be overseen by Alciato,45 and departed from the previous ones in terms of a crucial detail that would later redefine the genre, namely explanatory notes. This aspect will be looked into further. 

The commercial success of Emblematum liber earned Alciato a considerable following. As a result, a number of influential books of emblems,
compiled by many 16th century authors, hit the shelves in no time. Among the most notable were Hecatomographie by Gilles Corrozet,46 Délie by Maurice Scève,47 Theatre des bons engins [Theatre of Virtuous Devices] by Guillaume de la Perrière,48 Devises heroïques [Heroic Devices] by Claude Paradin,49 Emblemata [Emblems] by Junius Hadrian,50 and the work by Johannes Sambucus under the same title51 (fig. 5). Bearing in mind the numismatic aspect informing this study, the latter work begs further scrutiny. The remaining collections are only referred to in passing as selected  examples.

The magnitude of the book of emblems in the early modern European culture is reflected in the figures. By the end of the 17th century, over 3000 books of emblems, authored by around 700 people, had been published in the Old World.52 Alciato’s collection itself – in its Latin original as well as translations into vernacular languages – was then published 171 times. This testifies to the significant role played by this medium as a carrier of ideas and concepts back in the days. 

I.2. Coins in emblems, emblems on coins

As stated above, to identify sources against their complex historical backgrounds is imperative for research into emblems. For Alciato, the
foothold from which he composed his works was European culture in a broad sense, and Latin and Greek culture as well as the Bible in particular. 

Particularly fascinating seems to be the research on the relationship between Emblematum liber and the epigrams adopted from The Greek
Anthology
,53 or the influence of Erasmus’s Adagia54 [Adages]. No less important in this context are the sources of Alciato’s followers.55 The notes included in the modern as well as early editions testify to the weight and diversity of resources under consideration. Although ancient numismatic illustrations are a strong component of the work, no monographic study focusing on the relationship between emblems and classical numismatic motifs has appeared. Such links may, in fact, have been noted by the 16th century and 20th century authors of classic publications on the comparative study between literature and visual arts,56 but the contemporary studies chart this territory only superficially. It is fair to say that there are some analytical works orientated at interpreting or elucidating a given case in point.57 This is best exemplified by the source that sought to inspect the reception of the illustration of the cap of liberty (pileus) and two daggers embossed on the denarius of Brutus commemorating the memorable Ides of March58 (fig. 6).

The relation between emblems and coins is also explored in the explanatory notes attached to the modern editions and translations, as well
documented in the edition of Emblematum libellus prepared by Mino Gabriele. The Renaissance emblem studies understood through the lens of classical coinage was most passionately discussed in the works centred on Sambucus’s edition – which no doubt has something to do with the form of this publication. This edition features a specific appendix: a set of woodcut numismatic illustrations modelled on the personal collection of the Hungarian humanist scholar.59 The first edition had twenty-three illustrations, and would go on to eventually top forty-four after a number of further reprints.

Needless to say, Sambucus owned a more impressive number of collectibles. If so, what made him select these particular artefacts?
John Cunnally argues that this limited selection of artefacts was to do justice to the diversity of images adopted from reverses, as well as
their deep-seated meaning.60 His opinion is not unjustified, given that the emblem illustrations depict Roman military and marine campaigns,
mythical stories, commemorate triumphs, religious ceremonies, magnificent historical buildings, and list multiple allegories and personifications. 

The most accurate word to sum up such an exclusive selection would be varietas. Aside from the numerous reverses, the illustrations contain
obverses portraying the Roman rulers. As such, the collection is a sheer festival of antiquity, a sort of museum of the ancient world spread on the paper. Sambucus decided to supplement the emblems with artefacts from his own collection, presumably because both forms depend on symbols for their meaning. The links between numismatic artefacts and emblems were highlighted on the title page of this edition. The title was encapsulated in an ornate frame containing nine coins depicting the Muses. This decoration is modelled on the silver denarius coins of Quintus Pomponius Musa61 (fig. 7). Every type of these coins portrays the goddess of art and learning. Scholars often point to a unique emblem taken from this collection that was to emphasise the value of ancient coins62.

For Sambucus, this kind of artefact could communicate more than old books. The emblem in question was Antiquitatis studium [Study of Antiquity], where the Hungarian humanist attempted to argue that coins, through their embedded symbolism, could help one become more virtuous and moral. Undoubtedly, the editor thought highly of the value of the ancient coins. Considering the above, it is worth noticing that emblems were a means for teaching moral values.


41 In 1531, two editions appeared: 23 February and 6 April, while a third edition was published on 29 July 1534.
42 A bibliography of the editions of Alciato’s work was drawn up by H. Green, Andrea Alciati and his books of emblems: a biographical and bibliographical study, London 1872.
43 M. Grünberg-Dröge, “The 1546 Venice edition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata”, 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. 3–19. 
44 D.L. Drysdall, “Classifying Alciato’s Emblems: Is there an alternative to Aneau?”, in: Polyvalenz und Multifunktionalität der Emblematik Multivalence and Multifunctionality of the Emblem. Akten des 5. Internationalen Kongresses der Society for Emblem Studies Proceedings of the 5th International Conference of the Society for Emblem Studies, ed. H. Wolfgang, P. Dietmar, Frankfurt/M 2002, pp. 125–132.
45 A. Alciato, Emblemata 1550. This version became a basis for the reprint including English translation and comments: A. Alciati, Emblemata: Lyons, 1550, transl. and ed. B.I. Knott, Aldershot 1996.

46 G. Corrozet, Hecatomgraphie, c’est à dire les descriptions de cent figures et hystoires, contenantes plusieurs appophtegmes, proverbes, sentences et dictztant des anciens que des modernes, On les vend á Paris: par Denys Janot, 1540.
47 M. Scève, Delie object de plus haulte vertu, a Lyon: chez Sulpice Sabon, pour Antoine Constantin, 1544.
48 G. de la Perrière, Le Thëatre des bons engingins, auquel sont contenuz cent emblemes moraulx […], de l’imprimerie de Denys Janot, 1544.
49 C. Paradin, Devises heroïques, a Lyon: par Jean de Tournes et Guillaume Gazeau, 1551.
50 J. Hadrian, Emblemata ad d. Arnoldum Cobelium, eiusdem Aenigmatum libellus ad d. Arnoldum Rosenbergum, Antverpiae: ex officina Christophori Plantini, 1565.
51 J. Sambucus, Emblemata cum aliquot nummis antiqui operis […], Antuerpiae: ex officina Christophori Plantini, 1564. 

52 P.M. Daly, Literature in the Light of the Emblem…, p. 106.
53 A. Saunders, “Alciati and the Greek Anthology”, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 12 (1982), pp. 1–18; M. Tung, “Revisiting Alciato and The Greek Anthology: A Documentary Note”, Emblematica 13 (2001), pp. 327–348.
54 V.W. Callahan, “Erasmus’s Adages: A Pervasive Element in the Emblems of Alciato”, Emblematica 9 (1995), pp. 241–256.
55 See: L A. Wesseling, “Devices, Proverbs, Emblems: Hadrianus Junius’s Emblemata in Light of Erasmus’s Adagia”, in: The Kaleidoscopic Scholarship of Hadrianus Junius (1511–1575): Northern Humanism at the Dawn of the Dutch Golden Age, ed. D. van Miert, Leiden 2011, pp. 214–259.
56 See: M. Praz, Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imaginery, Roma 1975, pp. 12, 24, 74.
57 See: R. Amaral jr., “The Reverse of the As of Nîmes: An Emblematic Puzzle”, in: The International Emblem: From Incunabula to the Internet Selected Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of the Society for Emblem Studies, 28th July–1st August, 2008, Winchester College, ed. S. McKeown, Cambridge 2010, pp. 47–68.

58 Crawford 508/3; S. Rolet, “Un pileus et deux poignards: les symbols immuables du tyrannicide, du denier EID MAR de Brutus à l’emblème d’Alciat «Respublica liberate» (1546)”, in: Allégorie et symbole: voies de dissidence? De l’Antiquité à la Renaissance, soud la direction de Anne Rolet, Rennes 2012, pp. 361–389. B. Czarski, P. Jaworski, “Respublica  liberata. The Coin of Brutus Commemorating the Ides of March in the Emblematic Interpretation of Alciatus”, Wiadomości Numizmatyczne 59, 2015, pp. 249–284.
59 M. R.-Alföldi, “Zu den frühen Illustrationen numismatischer Werke. Die ‘Emblemata’ des Johannes Sambucus, 1531–1584”, in: Wissenschaftgeschichte der Numismatik. Beiträge zum 17. deutschen Numismatikertag 3.–5. März 1995 in Hannover, Herausgegeben von Reiner Albert (Speyer) und Reiner Cunz (Hannover), Numismatische Gesselschaft Speyer e.V., 1995, pp. 1–95.

60 J. Cunnally, Images of the Illustrious. The Numismatic Presence in the Renaissance, New Jersey 1999, p. 108. On the numismatic supplement of Sambucus, see also: A.S.Q. Visser, Joannes Sambucus and the Learned Image. The Use of the Emblem in Late-Renaissance
Humanism, Leiden-Boston 2005, pp. 44–46.
61 A.S.Q. Visser, op. cit., p. xxvii. See also: H.A. Seaby, Roman Silver Coins, vol. 1, revised by D.R. Sear and R. Loosley, London 1978, pp. 77–79.
62 See: J. Cunnally, op. cit., p. 106.