Since emblem theory differed so much in Italy and in the North, we might expect that the everyday uses of emblems were also rather different north and south of the Alps. In Latin classrooms this apparently was the case, but it was only partly true in the more generalized pastoral realm. North of the Alps, it would seem that ordinary layfolk owned emblem books more often than was the case in Italy. The extensive collections of non-scholarly emblems common in the North were rarely printed in Italy. But preachers used emblems in both Catholic and Protestant countries and there is little apparent difference between North and South in the display of individual emblems. If anything, they were more elaborately and exuberantly displayed in Italian and other Catholic churches than in the Protestant North, where they seem to have appeared in public more in triumphal or processional contexts than in permanent church art.

Both North-South and Catholic-Protestant differences disappear entirely if we turn to the other major practical application we discussed in section 7.05, the emblematic printer's mark. Unlike educational emblems, emblematic printer's marks were regularly and consistently used in Italy. In part this simply reflects the continuing traditionalism and particularism of Italian educational practice. Increasingly cut off from the Protestant North, Italy's schools failed to respond to humanist educational reforms that were too closely linked in the minds of Italian churchmen to Reformation spirituality. Meanwhile, the progress of the Catholic Reform led educators in Italy in different practical directions -- even, as we saw in the case of Terence (section 1.19), attempts to limit the teaching of highly traditional school authors.


Even more than highlighting the traditionalism of the schools, however, the varying European experiences of using emblems point up that the emblematic printer's mark somehow escaped the kind of circumscribing religious and political censorship that affected other sorts of emblematics. The printer's mark preceded the literary emblem as a form and was an established part of printing practice and intellectual life before the start of the Reformation. It would survive and flourish long after emblem books became mere curiosities. It held its prominent place on Catholic and Protestant books alike and disappeared from view only rarely, when the printer needed to be invisible because the book might be considered heterodox or subversive. We may well ask what mysterious force the printer's mark owned. The textbook market, as durable and multiform as the marks themselves, offers us an easy test case for the meaning and power of the emblematic printer's mark. (67)

Although the form was no more than fifty years older than the emblem, the printer's mark was part of a publishers' lingua franca throughout Europe. It had quickly arrived in Africa, the Far East, and the New World on the title pages of books carried by traders, missionaries, and conquistadores. Religious and missionary works were among these books because the spread of Christianity was a primary goal of official European travelers; but the need to educate new Christians to European languages and political norms was equally urgent. Teachers in the outposts of empire would provide a ready market for textbooks. It is no surprise, then, that carefully branded editions of Cicero and Terence, De Spauter, Perotti or Alvarez, Alciati or Hugo were read in Lima and Boston, in Quebec and Manila and Cape Town and Goa. In those outposts of European imperialism, printer's marks endorsed the quality of editions that bore them and bespoke the bona fides of their publishers.

Thus, we must posit a distinct school of emblematic thought that embraces the printer's mark, sets it off from other kinds of emblems, and accounts for its survival well past the greatest vogue of emblem books proper. Whatever other force and meaning it had, the emblematic printer's mark was a commercial object, the ancestor of modern, pictorially allusive advertising. (68) We have seen how it compared to emblems on early posters in this regard, since in both cases the emblem stood relatively alone, with a single-minded communicative goal, and without immediate reference to other printed objects. On a title page or in a colophon the emblem's primary function was as a label and guarantee in the market for books. It had no pretensions to be an educational tool or an ideological symbol in itself. Nor was it a moralizing literary genre. In some ways it retained the playfulness of the original emblems of Alciati. Beyond its role as a hallmark, it was mostly a puzzle and a mental exercise --no more, no less.


Given these conventions of creation and use, the emblematic printer's mark was an important locus of mediation between book workers and book users. The mark symbolized both cultural unity in the European book market and also the pride of individual makers in their work. Even as Europe tore itself apart religiously and politically in the long sixteenth century, and while governments at every level sought to exploit and control the press, book workers claimed a universal brotherhood and the right to communicate directly with each other and with their public. Students learned a common way of reading images from the marks on the title pages of their textbooks. A quick way for a teacher to find or locate the right textbook in a crowded shop was to spot the Jesuit monogram or the mark of a trusted publisher -- the Aldine anchor, the Giunta lily, or the griffin of Giovanni Griffio -- according to his preference for this or that brand in a particular unit of the curriculum. Government and church authorities too kept an eye out for the marks of suspect printers and even more for heterodox books that did not guarantee their truth with a proper printer's mark. In anticipation of a much more modern mindset, emblems on books allowed Europeans to act locally even as they more and more often thought globally.

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(67)   Cf. Moss 1999, 146-148.
(68)   Elkins 1999, 209-212.

Posted by admin on September 22, 2008
Tags: Chapter Seven

Total comments on this page: 6

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dianarobin on paragraph 6:

Excellent chapter, every paragraph
of it. And all of this chapter raises
so many questions about the way
modern publishing works for us
readers – for us students!

March 17, 2009 4:33 am
Ken Gouwens on paragraph 6:

The “long sixteenth century” is mentioned a number of times in this book (including here). Do you mean that to refer to the entire two-century period 1450-1650? Or, are you following another scholar’s lead in defining a shorter period? If there’s a gloss someplace for your use of the term and its justification, I missed it.

September 27, 2009 9:33 am
Paul F. Gehl :

You are right to note that I use it fairly loosely and inclusively. In general I take the whole range from 1450 to 1650, as noted at the very start (section 0.01, with specific reference in footnote 2 to John Marino’s and Chris Celenza’s discussions of periodization). This makes sense in publishing terms since it includes everyone in print from Gutenberg forward, and the fuzzy upward border allows us to include many highly conservative publications that appeared well into the seventeenth century but embodying much earlier educational practice.

September 27, 2009 10:43 am
Sean Franzel on paragraph 6:

i agree with Diana Robin’s comment- excellent chapter, and very suggestive for thinking about our own practices as teachers and students!

November 26, 2011 12:36 pm
Ky Kessler on paragraph 3:

Out of curiosity, was the printer’s mark ever manipulated by publishers publishing soon-to-be censored or censored material in any unorthodox or politically/religiously taboo fashion (i.e. did publishers ever craft an ironic printer’s mark which mocked a particular group, such as Protestants or Catholics?)? As seen in the “Simplicissimus Teutsch” title page, emblems and title pages can be intentionally misleading. Were printer’s marks, too, capable of this degree of creative freedom when publishing more socially/politically objectionable material?

November 27, 2011 11:39 pm
Paul Gehl :

You’re the second person to refer to the Simplicissimus Teutsch, Ky. I will have to find some time today to look at it myself. In general, there is plenty of irony in printer’s marks as in emblems more generally (and it is rife in Renaissance literary culture as a whole), but I cannot offhand think of an example that deliberately mocks a denominational group. False marks –or none at all– were, however, sometimes used on heterodox publications. As such they could be considered another kind of false imprint statement.

November 28, 2011 7:06 am

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