New in paperback. Hardcover was published in 2002. Charts the rise and evolution of the emblem from its earliest manifestations to its emergence as genre in its own right in the sixteenth century, and through its various reinventions and mutations to the present day.
The "emblem", an image accompanied by a motto and a verse or short prose passage, is both art and literature: in the emblem tradition, the image presents a story - often with pictorial symbols - and the verse below the image drives home the picture-story's moral instruction. It is one of the most fascinating and enduring art forms in Western culture. This text charts the rise and evolution of the emblem from its earliest manifestations to its emergence as a genre in its own right in the 16th century and through its various reinventions and mutations to the present day. Alciato, the 16th-century humanist who announced the invention of the emblem, forms the text's starting point, but the author also looks to antecedents such as fables, the heraldic device, parables, hieroglyphics, adages, proverbs, enigmas and rebuses. The 17th century saw the development of new emblematic forms and sub-genres and the sharpening of the form for the purpose of social satire indicated a broadening of its appeal. When the Jesuits appropriated the emblem, producing enormous quantities of material, a further dimension of moral seriousness was introduced, alongside a concentration of emblematic "wit".The emblem has remained popular with artists and writers to the present day: William Blake in particular employed the device to illustrate themes of the child and childishness, and Robert Louis Stevenson in the 19th century and Ian Hamilton Finlay in the 20th transformed the emblem, using it in new and subversive ways. The text also detects an emblematic presence within the imagery of contemporary advertising.