- Collections of woodcut illustrations, each accompanied by a title and an epigrammatic verse, usually with a more or less obvious allegorical meaning. The fashion for these books goes back to the popularity of the Emblemata /Emblems published by Andrea Alciati in 1531. The genre first became popular in France but soon spread to the Netherlands, Germany, England, Italy, and Spain. Editions of Alciati's collection, often revised to meet local tastes, appeared in all of those countries, both in the original Latin and in the vernacular. Imitations by other compilers began being published from about 1540. Later in the 16th century, there were specifically Catholic and Protestant books of emblems. Although the accompanying texts were rarely distinguished examples of poetry, the engraved illustrations were often done with great care. The emblem-book probably derived from manuscript collections of pictures, each with its associated motto, known in 15th-century Italy as Imprese and in France as devises. Emblems also influenced the development of court masques, and there are many references to emblems in other genres of Renaissance literature.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.
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