27 September 2023
You probably know what an emblem book looks like: a motto, a mysterious allegorical picture and a longer explanation in verse or prose. It’s had that form since Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber, first published in 1531.
Emblem from Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber (Augsburg, 1531) C.57.a.11.
In fact, Alciato’s manuscript didn’t have the pictures for which he became so famous: they were commissioned by his friend Conrad Peutinger.
This new acquisition is an adaptation in Portuguese of a famous pious emblem book, without the pictures.
Title page of Suspiros e saudades de Deos, exhalados e expostos em breves cantigos, reduzidos e imitados dos Afectos santos (Pia desideria) do P. Hermanno Hugo da Companhia de Jesus, pelo veneravel P. Fr. Antonio das Chagas. (Coimbra, 1830) RB.23.a.40412
The original was by the Flemish Jesuit Hermann Hugo (1588-1629): the Pia desideria were published at Antwerp in 1624, with 48 emblems by Boëtius à Bolswert.
In the words of the Emblem Project Utrecht:
Hugo’s Pia desideria contains emblems constructed on the basis of the three stages of mystical life.
In all it was reprinted 49 times, and 90 translations and adaptations of the Pia desideria were published in all the major European languages. Therefore, the Pia desideria was one of the most widely distributed, most widely translated and imitated religious books (not just emblem books) of the seventeenth century.
Complete with a picture of folly.
Emblem of folly from an edition of Hermann Hugo, Pia desideria emblematis, elegiis et affectibus, S. S. Patrum illustrate (Antwerp, 1529) 1019.g.40.
He (she?) wears the jester’s hat, rides a hobby-horse and – a clear sign of eccentricity – carries a kitten around in a handbag. Wisdom can only cover his eyes to avoid this unfortunate sight.
You’ll see that Chagas in his translation has rendered the motto and the poem and replaces the picture with a verbal description.
Emblem books without illustrations weren’t unusual, as Infantes shows. Nor was it unusual for Peninsular emblematists to draw on German Neo-Latin sources, the most famous example being Saavedra Fajardo and his debt to Julius Wilhelm Zincgref (explained in López Poza’s edition).
Fr António das Chagas (1631-82) was born António da Fonseca Soares. After an exciting life as a soldier and poet, he entered the Franciscan Order and destroyed his poems. In religion he enjoyed a reputation as a prose stylist.
This little book reminds us that an emblem book need not have pictures, and that Portuguese and Spanish authors were reading Germanic authors, provided they were Catholics and wrote in Latin.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Víctor Infantes, ‘La presencia de una ausencia. La emblemática sin emblemas’, Literatura emblemática hispánica. Actas del I Simposio Internacional (A Coruña, 1994), Sagrario López Poza (ed.). (A Coruña, 1996), pp. 93-109
Diego Saavedra Fajardo, Empresas políticas; edición de Sagrario López Poza (Madrid, 1999) YF.2010.a.32130