February 25, 2006

Эмблемы и символы

During his stay in Amsterdam in 1697-8, Peter Alexeyevich Romanov, tsar of Russia, acquired an emblem-book entitled Devises et Emblemes Anciennes et Modernes, which had been compiled by the engraver and publisher Daniel de la Feuille and published in 1691. The tsar was inspired by the imagery in the book, and sought to transfer some of its emblems into crests that would adorn the ships in the new navy he was just beginning to construct. Peter engaged the services of one Il’ja Kopievskij, a Pole resident in Amsterdam, to translate the emblem titles in de la Feuille’s compilation (which were listed therein in Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, English and German) into Russian.

Detail from the engraved frontispiece to Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.'

At around the same time, Peter made arrangements with a Dutch merchant named Jan Tesing to compile, publish and export a series of books wholly or partly in Russian, an agreement formalised by a royal warrant issued in 1700. It is assumed that one of these books was to be a Russian version of de la Feuille’s Devises et Emblemes. Tesing was assisted in this endeavour by Kopievskij, but did not live to profit much from it, as he died the following year. Kopievskij himself left Amsterdam in 1702, but must have left his emblem-translations behind, as these were at length published in a volume issued under the title Symbola et Emblemata in 1705 by the bookseller Hendrik Wetstein.

Detail from a decorative engraving in the introduction to Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.'

The 1705 Symbola et Emblemata comprised 840 small emblems, or more specifically ‘devices,’ or imprese, 708 of which had been copied from de la Feuille’s book, the remainder being drawn from another multi-lingual emblem-publication, the 1696 Devises et Emblemes d’Amour, of Giuseppe Pallavicini. Both of these source-works were themselves highly derivative. Almost half of the content of the 1691 Devises et Emblemes had been copied wholesale from Nicolas Verrien’s 1685 compilation Livre Curieux et Utile, while its remaining contents had been drawn from various other emblem-books, including those of Alciato, the original emblematist, from the Idea de un Principe Politico Christiano of Diego de Saavedra, and from the Symbola Varia Diversorum Principium of Anselm de Boodt and Aegidius Sadeler, which formed the third volume of the Symbola divina & humana of Typotius.

Detail showing two of the emblems on page 34 of Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.
Detail showing two of the emblems on page 114 of Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.

The recycling of material extended back further to the secondary sources of the Symbola et Emblemata. Verrien’s Livre Curieux apparently made extensive use of the works of emblematists such as Camerarius, Heinsius, Cats, Vænius, and, again, of Alciato, who was thus simultaneously plagiarised at both two and three removes. Not surprisingly, these repeated appropriations, transpositions and translations garbled and corrupted a proportion of the original images and texts, but even then they had not yet reached their final state. Some seventy-three years after its first publication, a revised edition of the Symbola et Emblemata was issued in St. Petersburg, its title reversed as Емвлемы и символы (Emvlemy i Simvoly, ‘Emblems and Symbols,’ Эмблемы и символы in modern Russian—my thanks to sett for the correction): the first (and only) truly Russian emblem-book.

Detail showing two of the emblems on page 124 of Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.
Detail showing two of the emblems on page 156 of Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.

The 1788 volume was the work of a St. Petersburg-based doctor named Nestor Maksimovič-Ambodik. He was born near Poltava, Ukraine, in 1744. His father was a priest of Polish extraction named Maxim Maximowicz. Living in Ukraine, however, Nestor acquired a patronymic by default, which, awkwardly, was the same as his surname, so, rather than be known as Nestor Maximowitsch Maximowitsch, he invented a surname derived from the Latin ambo dic ‘say both.’ Ambodik was educated in Kiev, then later at Strasbourg, where he earned his medical degree. From 1781 he lived and practised in St. Petersburg, specialising as an obstetrician. Besides his emblem-book, he wrote a six-volume treatise on obstetrics, compiled botanical works, and edited medical dictionaries.

Detail from a decorative engraving in the index to Maksimovič-Ambodik's 1788 'Emvlemy i Simvoly.

While Ambodik’s book shows there was still interest in emblemata in Russia at this time (indeed, there was a second edition of the Emvlemy in 1811), its vogue had almost completely faded elsewhere in Europe. Emblem-books had come to be perceived by many as the strange and slightly embarrassing relics of the questionable tastes of a less enlightened age… The images above are details of scans from a facsimile reprint of the 1788 Emvlemy published by Brill, Leiden, in 1989. Most of the information above is paraphrased from Anthony Hippisley’s introduction to this edition. Click on the images above to see them enlarged and in full: to see the multiligual text corresponding to the third, fourth, fifth and sixth of them, click on the relevant links in this sentence.

Posted by misteraitch at February 25, 2006 07:35 PM

Today in modern russian it should be written as: Эмблемы и символы.

Posted by: sett on February 27, 2006 04:48 PM

Thanks for the correction, sett! I’ll change the post title to use the modern version rather than my slightly botched attempt at the 1788 one.

Posted by: misteraitch on February 27, 2006 05:33 PM

Tradition has it that Peter the Great's interest in emblems and symbols extended to flags. Hence, it is understood that the Russian tricolour is a re-arrangement of the Dutch one.

Posted by: Loxias on February 28, 2006 10:46 AM

What is that mounted spindle in 490 ("With concord")? And why does it attract birds? I've looked at it several times but have no better idea than before. Some of these are very clear (I like that poor funny little Actaeon), but others insist on being mysterious.

One can't help but think of Gorey with 490 and 496...

Posted by: marlyat2 on March 7, 2006 10:45 PM

Devises et Emblemes Anciennes et Modernes appears in Turgenev: one of his characters grows up on a Russian estate manor where virtually the only book he is allowed to see is this book and he spends his entire childhood poring over its images and texts. Turgenev explains about the book first, though in less detail than your account. Fascinating to see it here; never thought I would--bravo to your insatiable curiosity!

Posted by: John S on February 17, 2007 10:34 PM
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