Category: Rare Books

New Acquisition: Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery by William Morris

Rumblings of thought during the latter portion of the nineteenth century in Great Britain insinuated the degradation and disintegration of integrity in design and manufacturing.  The founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a response to this perceived degradation, were opponents of the Industrial Revolution who sought a return to the beauty and careful craftsmanship inherent to medieval and gothic design.  The philosophical bases guiding the Arts and Crafts Movement were nestled in the works of A.W.N. Pugin and John Ruskin.  Pugin criticized the British Industrial Revolution and, like Ruskin, idealized gothic/medieval techniques as key exemplars for workmanship and design.  A fellow theorist of Ruskin, William Morris is credited with the founding of the British Arts and Crafts Movement.  Morris shared in the philosophical leanings of Pugin and Ruskin; he condemned the inherent trend industrialism had wrought upon manufacturing – the creation of a severance between designer and manufacturer (Obniski, 2008).  In reference to the effects of modern manufacturing processes, William Morris stated, “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization” (Crawford, 1997).

The British Arts and Crafts Movement conceptualized the arts upon several principles.  One principle, “the Unity of Art,” challenged any form of hierarchy in which certain art forms were privileged above others.  Another principle, “Joy in Labor,” spoke to reuniting design and workmanship into the art of craftsmanship, where the laborer partook in a sense of joy in the creation of art (Crawford, 1997).  In a preface to “The Nature of Gothic” by John Ruskin, printed by the Arts and Crafts-inspired Kelmscott Press of William Morris, Morris wrote, “The lesson which Ruskin here teaches us is that art is the expression of man’s pleasure in labor; that it is possible for man to rejoice in his work, for, strange as it may seem to us today, there have been times when he did rejoice in it” (Crawford, 1997).  A third principle, “Design Reform,” inspired the creation of societies and associations that promoted the learning and development of craft and design (Crawford, 1997; Art Story Foundation, 2020).

William Morris wished not only for the beauty of manufactured items, but also for the utility.  At the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London, burgeoning Arts and Crafts enthusiasts widely recognized the necessity for the pairing of utility with fine craftsmanship (Art Story Foundation, 2020).  Morris founded Morris and Co., a firm specializing in the creation of fine paintings, carvings, furniture, and metal works.  The firm’s success in the rejection of industrialist practices and in the honoring of integrity in production showed “how beautiful handcrafted things could be and how they could be assembled with taste” (Thompson, 1996, p. 17).

Part of Morris’s monumental influence on Arts and Crafts aesthetic rested in his keen interest in typography and the craft of bookbinding (Art Story Foundation, 2020).  He established the Kelmscott Press in 1891 in order to create “beautiful” books in what was to be a fervent revitalization of bygone techniques in typography, illumination, binding, and the selection of materials for production.  The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer was perhaps one of the most revolutionary and exemplary publications of the Kelmscott Press.  The work embodied the medievalist practices treasured by Arts and Crafts enthusiasts, from the elaborate borders to the ubiquitous intricate attention to detail.  Quite famously, the Kelmscott Press developed the original typeface Troy, the iconic font of the Kelmscott Chaucer.  Troy, set in gothic style, was not the only distinguished typeface attributed to the Kelmscott Press; William Morris collaborated with masterful typographer Sir Emery Walker to design the Roman-style typeface Golden used in the Kelmscott Press printing of The Golden Legend (Roylance, 1991; Peddie, 1915).

The influence of the British Arts and Crafts Movement on American craftsmanship was palpable in the late nineteenth century.  The ideals of the British Arts and Crafts Movement trickled into the United States through journal and newspaper publications, and the influence of Morris and other Arts and Crafts enthusiasts was immeasurable (Obniski, 2008).  Morris and Co. hosted showrooms exhibiting their productions in the cities of New York, Chicago, and Boston.  Boston emerged as the epicenter of the American Arts and Crafts Movement with the founding of the American Society of Arts and Crafts in 1897.  Soon after, the Guild of Arts and Crafts of New York was founded in 1900.  Founded by four women, the Guild held a unique station in the representation of the contributions of women to the Arts and Crafts Movement.  As the Arts and Crafts Movement continued to permeate the United States, private printing presses embodying the ideals of Morris, the Kelmscott Press, and other private presses of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, began to emerge and take hold (Thompson, 1996).

In addition to Morris’s success as a prolific artist and designer, he boasted a fine literary talent.  One of his works, Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery, received acclaim and was notably printed by several private printing presses of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.  University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) recently acquired two printings of Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery by William Morris, one printed by Elston Press of New Rochelle, New York, in 1902, and the other printed by Blue Sky Press of Chicago in 1904.

The Elston Press edition of Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery was also bound by the Zaehnsdorf bindery, established by the renowned binder Joseph Zaehnsdorf in London in the mid-nineteenth century.  The SCUA Unbound blog entry “Books as Art: Exploring Rare Zaehnsdorf Bindings” provides a history of the bindery.  Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery is a poem composed by Morris that is a meld of romance and “medieval religious drama” (Stevenson & Hale, 2000, p. 383).  The poem centers on the heroic tale of Sir Galahad, wrought with the requisite abundance of tests and trials of a hero’s journey (Stevenson & Hale, 2000).

The Elston Press was founded by Clarke Conwell and his wife, Helen Marguerite O’Kane, in 1900 in Manhattan, New York, prior to its relocation to New Rochelle, New York, in 1901.  While Conwell managed the private press, O’Kane expertly designed the printings, an endeavor in which she greatly excelled.  The books produced by the Elston Press adhered to impeccable standards; they were printed using handpress on homemade paper and bound by hand with boards, cloth, or vellum with ties (Thompson, 1996).  The Elston Press printings primarily used red and black inks and extensively featured O’Kane’s decorative illuminations, often floral in nature.  In the style of the Kelmscott Press, the Elston Press printed many of its publications in Chaucer typeface.  O’Kane’s design of borders and initials are highly emulative of Morris’s work, while her illustrations, characterized by the absence of white space, are emulative of designer Burne-Jones.  The Elston Press edition of Morris’s Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery was printed using a gothic typeface, and O’Kane’s design for the printing resembled Kelmscott Press features in border design, initials, and other stylistic elements (Thompson, 1996).  The work is printed on handmade paper with black and red ink, a double-spread title page, and two full-page woodcut illustrations.  Only 180 copies exist of the Elston Press edition of Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery (AbeBooks, n.d.).

The inception of the Blue Sky Press occurred in 1899 with its first publication, the magazine Blue Sky.  Alfred G. Langworthy managed the operational matters of the press, while Thomas Wood Stevens, Alden Charles Noble, among others accounted for the design and collection of literature.  The first printing of Blue Sky in 1899 used Jenson and Satanick typeface, while the second printing transitioned to Caslon typeface, which the Blue Sky Press used most widely.  The printings of the Blue Sky Press are often simpler than those of the Elston Press and other presses derivative of Morris.  Instead the designs reflect a marriage of the characteristics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, and the Aesthetic Movement (Thompson, 1996).  The Blue Sky Press printed five hundred copies of Morris’s Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery on laid paper, and twenty-five copies on Japan vellum.  The book is bound in dark green boards with matching dark green endpapers, complete with a gold-stamped title and a Morris border.  The text is printed from hand lettered plates on one side of the page.  The ink is varied in black and red, with a running title in red ink on each page.  The printing most emulates the designs inherent to Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (Thompson, 1996).

The Elston Press 1902 edition of Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery by William Morris may be accessed for use from SCUA at

The Blue Sky Press 1904 edition of Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery by William Morris may be accessed for use from SCUA at


AbeBooks. (n.d.). Elston Press Rarity: Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery.

Art Story Foundation. (2020). The Arts and Crafts Movement. The Art Story.

Crawford, A. (1997). Ideas and objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain. Design Issues, 13(1), 15-26.

Obniski, M. (2008). The Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Peddie, R. A. (1915). The history and practice of the art of printing. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 63(3242), 142-147.

Roylance, D. (1991). The art of the English book from William Morris to Eric Gill. The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 52(3), 367-383.

Stevenson, C. B., & Hale, V. (2000). Medieval drama and courtly romance in William Morris’ “Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery”. Victorian Poetry, 38(3), 383-391.

Thompson, S. O. (1996). American book design and William Morris. Oak Knoll Press and the British Library.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

The Black Plague: A Pandemic of the 14th century

The Plague – also known as the Black Death, the Pestilence, and the Great Morality – was one of the deadliest pandemics in history, killing an estimated 200 million people in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Islamic cities lost nearly a third to half of their population and Europe lost an estimated 33% of their population. The disease was caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis and can manifest as a bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic strain, depending on what bodily system it is affecting. It was primarily transferred by infected fleas from rats found on boats and spread initially by shipping.i

The famous pandemic that occurred in the fourteenth century is from the Second Plague Pandemic appeared between China and the Crimean Peninsula in the 1330s, making its way to the Black Sea region by 1345. It arrived in Messina, Sicily in 1347 and quickly spread through Europe. The Black Death lasted until 1352, but the Second Plague Pandemic did not end until the early 1770s.ii The plague is now curable, but a vaccine has not been made for the plague, so a small number of cases appear every year in North and South America, Central Asia, and Africa.iii

The plague impacted the European social, political and economic structures, as well as the art produced during and after the fact. Previously, monarchies and governments were the most frequent and high-paying patrons for the arts. However, the impact of incredible population loss, especially in the noble class, caused a switch in established structures – while governments struggled, religious institutions gained a significant amount of wealth from, “the bequests of the dead.”iv It is not just the primary patrons that changed, but the iconography of the commissioned works. Samuel Cohn, a professor of medieval history at the University of Glasgow who specializes on the Black Death, argues that these changes included more saints added to the rolls who were intended to protect the patron from the plague.v

The Office of the Dead appeared more in Books of Hours after 1350, and included a multitude of images associated with the plague, such as Pope St. Gregory during the First Pandemic, King David prayers to avert a plague, the Three Living Meet the Three Dead, the Triumph of the Death, general funeral imagery, and Due to the frequency and re-occurrence of the plague, the macabre imagery persisted throughout the pre-Modern periods (15th-17th centuries).

Figure 1: Fol.3r, UO SCUA, MS 28. Image courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries

Despite the devastation of the plague, the 14th still holds beautiful works of art of the book. The University of Oregon Special Collections & University Archives holds three items from the fourteenth century. The first was made between the 13th and 14th centuries and is an Italian Vulgate Bible with a prologue by St. Jerome and a Book of Interpretation of Hebrew Names (UO SCUA, MS 28, figure 1). The included image, folio 3r, is the initial I that begins Genesis and includes interlaced vine-work that forms six spaces, each containing a miniature that represents one of the six days of creation. The manuscript contains 2 large historiated initials, 29 large illuminated initials, 58 medium-sized illuminated initials, and 38 small illuminated initials.vii

Figure 2: Fol. 1r, UO SCUA, MS 31. Image courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries

Next is the Liber Prophetarum, a large German Vulgate Bible from 1380 (UO SCUA, MS 31, figure 2). Although the illuminated initials do not contain figures, they are tremendous examples of the extreme and detailed flourishing commonly found in 14th century German manuscripts. This type of initial does not occur frequently in the manuscript; instead, there are minor pigmented initials and some column flourishing. Since this manuscript was made twenty years after the most decimating part of the pandemic, perhaps the infrequency is due to some sort of consequence from the plague, likely the lack of tradesmen to do this specialized work due to death in their ranks.viii The population of Europe did not rebound to its pre-Plague numbers until the mid-17th century.

The final 14th century item is a nativity scene in a leaf from a late-13th – early 14th century French Book of Hours (UO SCUA, MS 54.) The leaf demonstrates an attempt at some intuitive perspective, using the lines of the roof of the manger to demonstrate receding space. While some of the leaf has some flaking damage, the delicate use of painted gold leaf remains intact. Given the evidence of gold-leafing, it’s very likely this item was made before the Plague. Gold and other minerals were at a high premium, due again to reduction in population, and the need for prioritizing services such as farming.

While the Black Death eradicated a significant amount of the world’s population, individuals found creative outlets and incorporated their death-stricken realities within their art for centuries to come. Although we are not in quite the same drastic position as the artists of the 14th century, perhaps some of the most beautiful and fantastic art of the early 21st century will emerge from the trauma of our current pandemic.

Written by Zoey Kambour, a second-year master’s student in the History of Art & Architecture at the University of Oregon and a Special Projects Cataloger for the University’s Special Collections and University Archives.


[i] Joseph P. Byrne, Encyclopedia of the Black Death (Santa Barbara, UNITED STATES: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012),

[ii] Byrne.

[iii] John Frith, “The History of Plague – Part 1. The Three Great Pandemics” Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health 20, no. 2 (April, 2012), 11.

[iv] “Black Death and Medieval Art,” Grove Art Online, accessed August 24, 2020,

[v] Samuel Kline Cohn, The Cult of Remembrance and the Black Death: Six Renaissance Cities in Central Italy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

[vi] Byrne, Encyclopedia of the Black Death, 54-55.

[vii] For more images, please see: Catalogue link:

[viii] For more images, please see: Catalogue link:

— written by Zoey Kambour, August 2020



New Acquisition: De naturae diuinis characterismis

Photo of title page of De naturae diuinis characterismis by Cornelius Gemma, acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Cornelius Gemma (28 February 1535 to 12 October 1578) published several critically seminal works concerning topics of medicine, astronomy, astrology, and astrologic medicine.  Born in Leuven, Belgium, Gemma’s early roots were in the study of art, however his interests transitioned to medicine, a shift directly influential to his later works in astrologic medicine.  Gemma obtained his doctorate of medicine in 1570, succeeding some of the finest scholars of the field (Wikipedia, 2020)  Gemma’s concept of astrologic medicine was founded upon the belief that body parts, diseases, and drugs were all in some way associated with the sun, the moon, the planets, and astrological signs (Wikipedia, 2020).  In alignment with this theory, Gemma posited that human ailments and disease originated in atmospheric conditions and astral conjunctions (Wikipedia, 2020).

To Gemma, the world was the product of a marriage between the physical and the metaphysical, comprised of the cosmic body, the human body, and the body politic (Boner, 2008).  Gemma brought forth a unifying perspective to his work in making sense of the physical world.  He writes in De naturae diuinis characterismis, “Just as the three humors in the eye are all appointed to the faculty of a single organ of sight, so the organs of the other senses belong to the full bulk of one body” (Boner, 2008).

Photo of page from De naturae diuinis characterismis by Cornelius Gemma, acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Gemma associated cosmic forces with matters of the earth and physical realm (Boner, 2008).  Stars had divine properties in their signs that were reflected in nature.  University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has recently acquired a copy of Gemma’s formative work, De naturae diuinis characterismis; seu, raris & admirandis spectaculis, causis, indiciis, proprietatibus rerum in partibus singulis vniuersi, libri II, in which Gemma elaborates on the relationship of the cosmos to nature, on topics of medicine, and on narratives of unique medical manifestations (Wikipedia, 2020).  The work is wide-ranging in two volumes; he incorporates his theories of divine significance in nature and astrological portents into a novel field of science he refers to as “ars cosmocritica.”  The text is illuminated by woodcuts, contribution of Antwerp engravers Antoon van Leest and Gerard Janssen van Kampen.  De naturae diuinis characterismis; seu, raris & admirandis spectaculis, causis, indiciis, proprietatibus rerum in partibus singulis vniuersi, libri II may be located in the SCUA collection for use.

Photo of page from De naturae diuinis characterismis by Cornelius Gemma, acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Both title pages have vignette (printer’s device) with motto: Constantia et labore (Persistence and hard work). Published also under title: Cosmocritice; seu, De naturae diuinis characterismis … Antuerpiae, 1575. Vol. 2 has title: Cornelii Gemmae … De naturae diuinis characterismis; seu, Raris, & admirandis spectaculis in vniuerso, tomus secundus, quem Ianum trifrontem placuit appelliari. Signatures: Vol. 1: A-P⁸; v. 2: a-s⁸ A-B⁸ (last blank). Purchased from Maggs Bros., Ltd.; London, February, 2020. UO Special Collections copy has ownership stamp of An[t or c?]. Maessenhausen at head of title page; bound in contemporary limp vellum, tacket binding, with yapp edges; title handwritten on spine; lacking ties.


Boner, P.J. (2008). Cornelius Gemma: Cosmology, medicine, and natural philosophy in Renaissance Louvain by Hiro Hirai. Renaissance Quarterly, 63(1), 234-236.

Wikipedia. (2020, August 22). Cornelius Gemma.

Wikipedia. (2020, June 30). Medical astrology.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist


New Acquisition: De plantis exoticis libri duo

Photo of page from De plantis exoticis libri duo by Prosper Alpini, recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Prosper Alpini (23 November 1553 to 6 February 1617) was a Venetian physician and botanist born in the town of Marostica.  In his youth prior to his medical training, Alpini served in the Milanese army.  At the conclusion of his army service, Alpini embarked on a journey of medical practice and a keen, intricate study of flora.  His service as physician to Venetian consul and other prominent officials fell second in his interests to botany.  Sustained by a fervent curiosity in botany, Alpini sought the experience necessary to hone his practical knowledge of exotic plants.  Shortly after receiving his doctorate of medicine, he relocated to Egypt.  His early botanical discoveries include the sexual difference in plants observed through his work with date palms, of which later influenced the Linnaean taxonomy system (Wikipedia, 2020).

His evolving understanding of botany and flora, combined with his comprehensive medical training rendered him highly attractive as a physician; his knowledge of medicinal plants in the treatment of malaise was remarkable.  Alpini returned to Padua in 1593.  While he remained a physician, Alpini served in several conspicuous positions pertaining to botanical interests, the first of which was professor of botany.  In 1603, he succeeded Giacomo Antonio Cortuso as director of the Botanical Gardens of Padua following Cortuso’s death (Wikipedia, 2020).

Alpini’s descriptions and illustrations collected here are based on and drawn from live specimens of the plants grown in the Botanical Garden at Padua, where he was professor of botany, from seeds sent to him by correspondents (Bartlett, 25). ‘Significantly, in these works [Alpini] did not limit himself to a discussion of the botanical and pharmacological aspects of the species under consideration, but included reflections of an ethnological and archaeological nature that testify to his acute powers of observation and wide-ranging curiosity’ (Tomasi & Willis, pp.95-6).

Alpini’s study of botany was reflected marvelously in the publication of numerous notable works.  University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) recently acquired a first edition (1627) of De plantis exoticis libri duo, a posthumous publication.  Explored in travels with Onorio Belli, Alpini’s novel description of Cretan flora largely comprises the plants documented in De plantis exoticis libri duo.  Alpini’s son, Alpino, later added additional documentation of flora from varying locales.  In total, 145 plants were described within the work, each accompanied by a copperplate engraving.  The later identification by A. Baldacci and P.A. Saccardo of seventy-one of the eighty-five Cretan flora described by Alpini validated the groundbreaking work.

Photo of page from De plantis exoticis libri duo by Prosper Alpini, recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Alpini’s works are known to have been used and referenced by Carl Linnaeus. The status of this work in particular as one of the earliest authorities on exotic species is borne out by the provenance of this volume; the ownership inscription at the foot of the title page is that of Dutch botanist Johannes Snippendaal (1616-70), keeper of the Hortus Medicus in Amsterdam in the second half of the seventeenth century, and himself the author of the first catalogue of species in the Hortus in 1646 (Pritzel, 9730). Further provenance: Ex libris of J.B. Holzinger on front paste-down, Josef Bonaventura Holzinger (1835-1912), lawyer and botanist. One instance of marginal annotation in pencil (p.105). Purchased from Maggs Bros., London, in February 2019.

Title within engraved border with figures of Greek naturalists Theophrastus and Dioscorides, and medallions above and below. 145 etched and engraved plates of exotic plants (unsigned). Woodcut initials, and woodcut and typographic ornaments throughout. 4to (210 x 150mm). [16], 344pp. Vellum over pasteboard, shelf number inked at foot of spine, faint inked title at head (worming to upper board). Venice, Giovanni Guerilio, 1627.

De plantis exoticis libri duo may be located in the SCUA collection for use. See:


Wikipedia. (2020, August 13). Prospero Alpini.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

Emblem Book Collection

Emblem books are the result of a marrying between humanist philosophy, art, and the introduction of the printing press in Italy in the 15th century. An emblem can consist of a vignette, a proverb or title, an epigram, and accompanying illustrations. The subject of emblem books coincides with the humanist philosophy, including writings on Classical gods and heroes, personifications, animals, trees, and artifacts. (i)

Figure 1: School of Athens, Raphael, 1509-12, fresco, 500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in), Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican City. Wikipedia

Humanism, the study devoted to the advancement of the liberal arts through Classical texts, thrived in the literary, philosophical, educational, and artistic spheres in the Renaissance. Although not necessarily always humanists themselves, many Renaissance artists, such as Sandro Botticelli and Raphael, worked with humanist philosophers to circulate the Classical ideals to a larger, and often illiterate, audience. One of the most famous examples of Renaissance humanist art is Raphael’s School of Athens (figure 1). The primary way Renaissance humanists spread their philosophy was through printed books, using the Italian printing press, the Aldine Press (f. 1493). Not only did the printing press increase literacy, and therefore the audience, but the amount of publishing humanist writers increased as well. (ii)

Andrea Alciati (1492 –1550) was one of these authors. Alciati was an Italian lawyer, writer and scholar who applied humanist methods to his legal studies. His most successful publication, which would eventually be the first emblem book, was the Emblem liber, written in 1520-21. It was a collection of Latin epigrams – a satirical poem or statement with a witty ending – a third of which were based on the major anthology of Greek epigrams, the Anthologia Graeca. However, the Emblem liber, was never meant for the public but rather for Alciati’s circle of friends and acquaintances. Without Alciati’s consent, the printer Heinrich Steiner (1522-1548) not only published the work in 1531 but added an illustration for each epigram for higher appeal. Thus, the first emblem book was made. (iii)

Figure 2:Emblem I: Shield of the Duke of Milan, Omnia Andrea Alciati V.C. Emblemata, woodcut print, 1583. Photo by author

The University of Oregon Special Collections and Archives has two copies of Alciati’s Emblem liber, Omnia Andreae Alciati V.C. Emblemata: Cum commentariis, quibus Emblematum omnium aperta origine, mens  authoris explicatur, & obscura omnia dubiaque illustrantur, (iv) printed in Paris, 1583, and Andrea Alciati Emblemata cum Comentariis (v), printed in Padua, 1621. Both books contain epigrams and small introductory essays from the publishers and editors, essays discussing the use of symbols and emblems, and an introduction to Alciati’s life and his emblems. The first emblem (figures 2 and 3) is an epigram on the symbolism of the Duke of Milan’s shield. Both copies contain 212 emblems total.

Figure 3: Emblem 1: Shield of the Duke of Milan, Andrea Alciati Emblemata cum Comentariis, woodcut print, 1621. Photo by author

With its origins in humanist philosophy, an emblem book can also be unrestrained by a singular topic, such as Hieroglyphica, Sive Antiqua Schemata Gemmarum Anularium by Fortunius Licetus (1572-1657), published in Padua, 1653 (figure 4), also in the university’s collection. Licetus was an Italian doctor and scholar who taught at universities in Pisa and Padua. Although his writing was frequently questioned and disputed by his academic colleagues for his questionable research tactics, Licetus wrote on a large range of subjects including astronomy, light, monsters, gynecology, mysticism, numismatics, and gems. Hieroglyphia is presented in sixty subdivided “schema” which considers the many and diverse aspects of human intellect such as morality, education, and philosophy. Each subject is introduced by a copper engraved vignette, many of which are highly allegorical and are accompanied by aphorisms.

Figure 4: Portrait of Fortunius Licetus in Hierglyphica, Giovanni Georgi, 1657, engraving. Photo by author

Although not considered part of the genre in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, another type of emblem book is a book of devices. A device – also known as an impresa – is similar to a medieval coat of arms – it consists of a personal symbol, usually with an accompanying motto, that adorned shields, badges, and buildings of the owner. However, a device differs from a coat of arms because a device is not inheritable and is used to represent an individual rather than a family A book of devices described various contemporaneous devices by explaining the symbolism behind the imagery and motto. (vi)

The University of Oregon Special Collections and Archives has one book of devices, De l’art des devices by Pierre le Moyne (1602-1671), published in Paris, 1666. (vii) Le Moyne was a French Jesuit preacher and author and staunchly differentiated emblems from devices: “there is nothing that is common between them, not in their content, their form, or their purpose.” (viii) The book opens with an epistle to the cardinal and archbishop of Reims, Antoine Barberin (1607-1671), a member of the prominent House of Barberini. Prior to the devices is an extensive explanation and discussion on devices, split into five books with multiple chapters. The “Cabinet de Devises” begins with a letter to Julie d’Angennes, Duchess of Montausier (1607-1671). Prior to each device is a sonnet about the device or a brief explanation by le Moyne. Under each device is an explanation behind the motto and symbolism.

Figure 5: Frontispiece, De l’art des devices, Jean Le Pautre, 1666, engraving. Photo by author.

Our collection includes a text that contains devices, or impresas due to its Italian origin, used in a practical, rather than explanatory, context. The Prose de’ signori accademici Gelati di Bologna (ix) is a collection of writings on various subjects by the members of the Accademia dei Gelati, or the Academy of the Frozen Ones, from Bologna, Italy, published in 1671. The group takes its name from the frozen wood in its impresa (figure 6) and was founded in 1588. The Prose is an example of their later writing style which tended towards more religious themes and a Baroque style of writing. (x) Each of the fifteen members of the group tackle a different subject, ranging from a herald’s family arms to moral philosophy. Each subject is prefaced by the impresa of the authored member. The lack of explanation to the member’s impresas is where this text differs from le Moyne’s De l’art des devices; the impresas are used as a means of self-identification and do not appear to contribute to the corresponding text. For example, the first chapter on tournaments and riding is written by Berlinghiero Gessi (1563-1639), a Catholic cardinal and professor of law at the University of Bologna.

Figure 6: Frontispiece, Prose de’ signori accademici Gelati di Bologna – Emblem of the Accademia dei Gelati, Lorenzo Tinti after Agostino Carraci, engraving, 1671. Photo by author.

The University of Oregon’s collection demonstrates the extensive sub-genres of the emblem book. From a copy of the original emblem book by Andrea Alciati to emblems and impresas utilized in a practical context, these five books are an excellent window into the literature and book art of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods in France and Italy.

Written by Zoey Kambour, a second-year master’s student in the History of Art & Architecture at the University of Oregon and a Special Projects Cataloger for the University’s Special Collections and University Archives.


[i] “Alciati, Andrea,” Grove Art Online, accessed August 12, 2020,

[ii] “Humanism | Grove Art,” accessed August 12, 2020,

[iii] “Alciati, Andrea.”

[iv] Andrea Alciati, Omnia Andreae Alciati V.C. emblemata cum commentariis: quibus emblematum omnium aperta origine, Postrema hac editione in melioré formam redacta, multis sublatis médis summa cum diligentia excusa. (Parisiis: Apud Hieronymum de Marnef, & Viduam Gulielmi Cavellat sub Pelicano monte DHilarij, 1583)

[v] Andrea Alciati, Andreae Alciati Emblemata: cum commentariis Claudii Minois … Francisci Sanctii Brocensis … & notis Laurentii Pignorii … opera et vigiliis Ioannis Thuilii. (Patavii: Apud PPTozzium, 1621)

[vi] Robin Raybould, “Emblem and Device,” in An Introduction to The Symbolic Literature of The Renaissance (Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2005), 249–96.

[vii] Pierre Le Moyne, De l’art des devises (A Paris: Chez Sebastien Cramoisy & Sebastien Mabre Cramoisy, imprimeurs ordinaires du Roy, ruë saint Iacques aux Cicognes, 1666)

[viii] Le Moyne, 220, translated from French.

[ix] IAccademia dei Gelati Bologna, Prose de’ signori accademici Gelati di Bologna … colle loro imprese anteposte a’ discorsi (Bologna: Per li Manolessi, 1671)

[x] Maurice Slawinski, “Gelati, Accademia Dei,” in The Oxford Companion to Italian Literature (Oxford University Press, 2002),