December 08, 2005


Even though his name takes precedence on the first title page of the emblem-book Symbola divina & humana pontificum imperatorum regum…, first published in three volumes in Prague between 1601 and 1603, Jacobus (or Jakob) Typotius was just one of at least four men responsible for this work. Its designs had been collected by Ottavio Strada, antiquarian to the emperor Rudolf II, and were reproduced for the book by the print-maker Aegidius (or Gilles) Sadeler. Typotius, who was Rudolf’s court historiographer, wrote Latin commentaries upon the images, except in the third of the volumes, where this task was undertaken by one Anselm Boethius de Boodt, an alchemist, gemmologist and a physician to the emperor.

Detail from an engraving by Aegidius Sadeler: the introductory emblem to the 'Santa Crucis' section of Typotius's' 'Symbola.'

The Symbola is, more specifically, a book of imprese, an impresa being a badge-like mini-emblem combining a fairly small and simple image with a motto, oftenest in Latin. The English historian William Camden, writing in 1605, defined an impresa as ‘a device in picture with his Motte, or Word, born by noble or learned personages, to notifie some particular conceit of their owne.’ ‘There is required in an Impresa,’ continued Camden, ‘a correspondence of the picture, which is as the body, and the Motte, which as the soul giveth it life. That is, the body must be of fair representation, and the word […] wittie, short, and answerable thereunto neither too obscure nor too plaine.’ The Symbola begins with two sets of religious imprese, the first section concerned with the Santa Eucharista, the Holy Eucharist, and the second with the Santa Crucis: the Holy Cross. The latter of these sections begins with an elaborate and quite abstruse oval emblem, a detail of which is shown above, before continuing with a sequence of smaller, coinlike imprese. The first quartet of devices detailed below are also from this section of the book.

Engravings by Aegidius Sadeler from the 'Santa Crucis' section of Typotius's' 'Symbola.'
Engravings by Aegidius Sadeler from the 'Santa Crucis' section of Typotius's' 'Symbola.'

Next are sets of imprese representing various Popes, Emperors and Kings. The first pair of images below, for example, respectively emblematise the French kings Philip I and Louis VII, while the second pair are both concerned with Henry VIII of England. Oddly, these last are followed in the book by two imprese representing two of Henry’s queens: Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves; while neither Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth are represented at all. James VI of Scotland, (soon to be James I of England), on the other hand, is included. Some rulers have several imprese applied to them: Philip II of Spain, for example; as likewise, unsurprisingly, Rudolf II himself does. The second volume of the Symbola is concerned with devices representing cardinals and notable princes, dukes, and so forth, while the third volume is almost entirely devoted to the Italian nobility: the doges of Venice, the Medici, the Gonzaga, etc. etc.

Engravings by Aegidius Sadeler from volume 1 of Typotius's' 'Symbola,' concerning the Kings of France.
Engravings by Aegidius Sadeler from volume 1 of Typotius's' 'Symbola,' concerning the Kings of England.

I could find little information about Typotius on-line. He was apparently born in the Flemish town of Diest. According to Eliška Fučikova, in her long essay ‘Prague Castle under Rudolf II,’ Typotius had studied in Italy, and had published several books on questions of government, law, and ethics, before arriving at Prague in 1598. Nicolette Mout, in her essay on ‘The Court of Rudolf II and Humanist Culture,’ mentions that Typotius had also written treatises advocating escalation of the on-going ‘Long War’ against the Turks. Typotius is known to have collaborated with the physician, politician and philosopher Jan Jesenius, and was an associate of Jiri Barthold of Breitenberg, known as Pontanus, who features as a minor side-character in the history of the Voynich manuscript. Typotius died in 1604: a particularly morbid engraving designed by Aegidius Sadeler commemorating that event was inserted into later editions of the Symbola at the end of its second volume: see the detail below.

Detail of an engraving by Aegidius Sadeler commemorating the death of Typotius.

Click on the images to see them enlarged and in full. They were scanned from a reprint edition of the Symbola published by ADEVA, Graz, in 1972. A few other images from the book can be found at this site.

Posted by misteraitch at December 8, 2005 02:34 PM

beautiful imprese (Ensigns? Devices?) Are you familiar with Claude Paradin's collection "Devises héroïques"? It was published by Plantin in 1567. Gorgeous prints. The writing is pretty dull: finding out what the images mean can be a letdown. One exception is the account of a king's dream, which is the source for one of the devises: a tiny dog (?) walking on a sword's blade. I can send you a transcript if you like.

Posted by: Michelangelo on December 12, 2005 09:49 PM

Michelangelo—I guess devices is the best English equivalent for imprese, but then one also quite often sees the Italian word left untranslated. I wasn’t familiar with Paradin’s book, but I see that it is reproduced at the University of Virginia’s emblem site, and an English version of it is available almost in full at the Penn State Libraries’ English Emblem Project site. On a quick look through these sites, I noticed that many of the devices described by Paradin are ‘recycled’ by Typotius et al. I didn’t see the image you describe: where in the book is it?

Posted by: misteraitch on December 13, 2005 10:21 AM

Hmm… I have trouble locating it myself on the online versions you found. The facsimile I am familiar with is of a different edition, which includes a French text following each illustration. I will have to get back to you after retrieving it from the library. Unless I am hallucinating again!

Posted by: Michelangelo on December 13, 2005 04:18 PM

Michelangelo—I found the image you describe in Typotius: a sword is pictured diagonally with a small, not-quite-identifiable animal running along its blade. That particular impresa is accompanied by the motto Sic Super Irrepat. and is associated with one Contranus, a King of Burgundy. The animal is characterised in the accompanying text as minutum quadrupes. I looked again in the on-line editions of Paradin’s Devises Héroïques, and found it in the French edition here, where the motto is given as Sic Sopor Irrepat. The story is related on pages 280 and 281 of the English edition. I also found a contemporary English version of ‘the dream of the good King Gontran’ here. The King, also variously known as Guntramnus, Gunthrammus, Gontran, Gontram, Guntram, etc., was later canonised. He died in 592.

Posted by: misteraitch on December 16, 2005 09:38 AM
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