|Alciato's Emblems and the Album Amicorum:
A Brief Note on Examples in London, Moscow, and Oxford
by William Barker
The album amicorum (book of friends, also German Stammbuch) is a kind of autograph book collected by early modern students or scholars from Germany or the Low Countries, as they moved about from university to university. Most of the books are made of paper, though there are examples on vellum. A typical page will have a tag or set of verses in Latin or Greek (or, sometimes, Hebrew) at the top, and below, a formal greeting in Latin to the owner of the album. Perhaps as part of the greeting there will be a heraldic shield of the signator or a small picture, often emblematic in nature, and these are sometimes coloured. The work is occasionally of very high quality, and suggests the book must have been kept by the signator for a time in order to prepare the work.
The albums begin to appear in the middle of the sixteenth century, perhaps originating in Wittenberg. Philipp Melanchthon, the reformer, has this to say about them:
These little books certainly have their uses: above all they remind the owners of people, and at the same time bring to mind the wise teaching which has been inscribed in them, and they serve as a reminder to the younger students to be industrious in order that the professor may inscribe some kind and commendatory words on parting so that they may always prove themselves brave and virtuous during the remainder of their lives, inspired, even if only through the names of good men, to follow their example. At the same time the inscription itself teaches knowledge of the character of the contributor, and quite often significant passages from otherwise and unknown and little-read authors are found in albums. Finally, they record biographical details which would otherwise be forgotten. (trans M.A.E. Nickson Early Autograph Albums in the British Museum [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1970], 9-10, from Keil and Keil, Die deutschen Stammbücher des sechzehnten bis neunzehnten Jahrhunderts [Berlin: E. Erote'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1893], 9, in turn cited from "Iudicium Philippi Melanchthonis de albis amicorum" which I have not yet seen.)There are sporadic examples of albums from all countries in Europe, yet the custom was associated with the German (and Dutch) academic tradition. OED cites the Earl of Chesterfield, 1757, "I do not mean a German album, stuffed with people's names and Latin sentences" (and Nickson 10-11 cites other unflattering comments). Though albums came out of the male academic tradition, there are also many family books and some albums were kept by women. Many of the albums have been reproduced; one of the best known is the Album amicorum of Abraham Ortelius, the learned cartographer, whose album is in Pembroke College, Cambridge (the facsimile edited by Jean Puraye appeared as part of the journal Die Gulden Passer 45-6 [1967-8]).
The British Library, principally in Egerton Mss 1178-1498, has a huge collection of albums, purchased en bloc in 1850 from the estate of Erhard Christoph Bezzel, a scholar of Nuremberg history. More albums were later purchased as Egerton Mss 1536-1607. These were described by Max Rosenheim, "The Album Amicorum" in Archaeologia 62 (1910) 251-308; there is also the short introduction to the collection by Nickson, Early Autograph Albums in the British Museum (cited above, also listing items in the Additional Manuscripts). Robert and Richard Keil in Die deutschen Stammbücher (also cited above), who based their work on the collection at Weimar, were the first to give shape to the tradition. There are many subsequent studies published in Germany, where the largest collections are in Weimar, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg. There is now a universal catalogue of pre-1600 albums in many European and North American libraries, by Wolfgang Klose, Corpus Alborum Amicorum - CAAC - Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Stammbücher des 16. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1988), with a list of copies with locations and short descriptions, a register of signators up to 1573 (a heroic piece of work), and a very helpful bibliography (pp. 283-321).
Most of the albums are original compilations, made up of fresh sheets bound together especially for the book. But now and then one finds printed books used as the basis for the album. Klose provides (on pp. 359-64) a list of the printed book used: works by such writers as Andrea Alciato, Jost Amman, Theodore de Bry, Henri Estienne, Hadrianus Junius, Philipp Melanchthon, Claude Paradin, Nicolaus Reusner, Johannes Sambucus, and many others. Alciato's Emblematum liber was by far the most popular. Of the 310 printed books Klose has found as albums, 116 are made up from editions of Alciato (Klose says 111, but his list appears to add up differently).
The interleaved Alciato is a fascinating phenomenon about which I had known nothing until fairly recently. I was preparing to visit Moscow in the spring of 2000 and had come across the name of Ms Victoria Musvik, a doctoral candidate at Moscow University, on ficino, the Renaissance newsgroup. We got in touch, and she agreed to survey the Alciato holdings at the State Library in advance of my visit. She found there a 1567 Frankfurt edition of Alciato (= Green 77), interleaved, full of greetings by students and professors and having belonged to a student at Strasbourg. I saw the book when I was in Moscow in May of 2000 and found it fascinating. In my researches I had come across a number of albums (some English Renaissance writers that I know had made inscriptions in them, usually in those of Dutch visitors), but I had never seen one made out of an interleaved emblem book. Of course, like so many of the big surprises one has in the rare book library, it turns out that the interleaved Alciato is hardly unique and is indeed well known to many scholars (so well known that I feel somewhat embarrassed admitting that I had never heard of it!).
So far as I know, however, no one has written specifically about the use of printed books as album amicorum, at least not in direct connection with Alciato. Now that Klose has identified so many editions, the comparative study could be undertaken fairly easily, though the travel would be daunting. Yet much can be done in this area of research even with particular copies, and an example is the fine article of Victoria Musvik's, now published as "Word and Image: Alciato's Emblemata as Dietrich Georg von Brandt's Album amicorum" Emblematica 12 (2002), 141-63.
Emblem literature by its allusiveness and secrecy is ideal for a special communication amongst friends. Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, with its dedications to particular individuals is a kind of play on the album amicorum. In the interleaved emblem book, the friend writes on or near the page that has a special meaning to him. In Whitney, the author himself indicates, at the top of the page, to whom the emblem is dedicated, and therefore significant. So A Choice of Emblemes might be seen to be a kind of reverse album amicorum, a public, because printed, manifestation of private relations.
Another genre of book which is certainly related to the emblem book and the album amicorum is the book of icones. With the humanists (primarily Paolo Giovio in his celebrated musaeum at Como), a tradition began of collecting portraits of celebrated figures both ancient and modern (see Eugène Müntz, "Le Musée de portraits de Paul Jove. Contributions pour servir à l'iconographie du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance," Mémoires de l'Institut National de France. Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 36 (1901), 2nd part, 249-343 and a fine survey by Paul Ortwin Rave, "Paolo Giovio und die Bildnisviterbücher des Humanismus," Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen (Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen Neue Folge) 1 (1959), 119-54). Such collections became popular thoughout Europe and had a special place in the northern Renaissance where such writers as Beza, Reusner, Zwinger, and Boissard, all of whom were also associated with emblem books, put together printed collections of portraits. The genre was also popular in the northern universities, where the images of worthy professors were assembled both on the walls of the institutions and, by the early seventeeth century, in the pages of printed books (see, for an English example of the paintings in a hall, M.R.A. Bullard, "Talking Heads: The Bodleian Frieze, Its Inspiration, Sources, Designer, and Significance," Bodleian Library Record 14.6 (April 1994), 461-500). Again, like the album, this is a function of biography within specific networks and associations.
Recently I have a had a chance to follow up my first encounter with the interleaved Alciato in Moscow by a visit to the British Library and the Bodleian Library. I have listed here all of the Alciato editions used as albums that I have so far personally seen. In my notes, I have relied to some extent on the catalogues of the BL, though the specific identification of the editions and the more anecdotal notes are my own. There are probably more of these Alciato editions in libraries than have been identified by Klose, because of the mixed nature of the genre: the interleaved Alciato can be either a manuscript or a printed book. So they can be collected and catalogued as manuscripts, not printed books, and not listed as a printed work by Alciato. Or they can be listed as printed books, and the fact of their annotation not noted (the Bodleian copy listed below is a good example). A good place to start would be to survey copies of the Frankfurt edition of 1567, which with its many blank pages seems to have been designed for use as an album (three copies are given below, and there are at least 31 extant copies of this or another Frankfurt edition of 1566, twenty-five of which are used as alba amicorum, according to Musvik, 146).
The study of any particular book is made complex by the network out
of which it comes, the obscure names (some quite famous, such as Beza,
Gentile, Goclenius, but most forgotten), the heraldic material (with its
own special problems), and the allusive inscriptions which may imply any
number of things and which need a fully realized context in order to begin
to be understood. The best approach would be to study one book in detail
and look at other examples from the same time and place or at a specific
edition, such as that of Frankfurt 1567.
List of Alciato editions
Note In the entries below, where relevant I have indicated after
the shelfmark the number of the album in Wolfgang Klose, Corpus Alborum
Amicorum CAAC Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Stammbücher des 16. Jahrhunderts
(Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1988). In a few cases I have been able to
pinpoint more accurately the number of an edition in Green (Klose is sometimes
a bit vague about the edition). It is interesting here and there to note
how long after an Alciato edition is printed that it is used as an album
(the trade in secondhand books was massive at the time and not well documented).
London, British Library Additional Ms 17488
London, British Library Additional Ms 17973 [= Klose 93.HAE.SIM]
London, British Library Additional Ms 18108 [= Klose 84.OST.JOH]
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1180 [= Klose 57.VEH.JOH]
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1213 [= Klose 91.NUE.GEO]
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1215 [= Klose 91.WIN.TOB]
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1234
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1235
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1240
London, British Library Egerton Ms 1243
Moscow, Russian National Library [= Klose 68.BRA.GEO (from a 19c listing
of the Behordenbibliothek of Dessau)]
Oxford, Bodleian Library Vet. D1. f. 33