In the course of the sixteenth century ‘imprese’, rebuses and emblems became extremely fashionable. The widespread interest in
such things, and the fashion for devising them, produced a vast, if now largely forgotten literature1. Given the punning names
of Academies and their members, it is not surprising that they also, from early on, devised figurative representations of these
punning names. These emblems range from relatively simple to extremely elaborate and from easily interpretable to obscure and
impenetrable. It is also the case that the underlying pun may no longer be easily appreciated nowadays, since styles of humour
notoriously change over time. The emblems are typically linked to a motto, represented in the design, often, though not always
in Latin, the interpretation of which adds to the meaning present in the image. A book published under the auspices of an
academy, or by an academy member frequently if not invariably carries on its frontispiece the representation of the emblem. As
such the emblem of the academy forms an important part of the paratext and hence of the description of a volume. It may also,
in the case of damaged volumes, represent a vital piece of information in identifying a publication. For this reason the
database includes a digitised image of the academy emblem whenever the emblem is present in one of the British Library items
included in the database. Where no British Library volume includes the emblem, the database records a verbal description of the
emblem image for all academies for which this evidence survives.
Individual academy members likewise devised punning emblems and mottoes for themselves, linked visually, and in the motto
verbally, to their academy nickname. In such cases the pun may be a direct and clear representation, or alternatively, and as a
further punning dimension, may be a representation of the exact opposite quality. Mottoes of individual members, unlike those
of academies, are frequently in Italian, as is natural, given the Italian form of the nickname. In the case of academy members,
the inclusion in the database of information about emblems and mottoes is especially valuable in identifying authors of volumes
where the given name of the author is missing from the printed title page, or because of damage to the volume. The inclusion of
the fields dedicated to emblems and mottoes is also designed to aid the researcher who may have only a piece of visual evidence
to start from.
In addition, the database allows for the incorporation, in digitised form, of portraits of individuals - academicians,
dedicatees etc. –published in academy volumes wherever this is available in one of the British Library items being surveyed.
The database thus recreates the genre, popular in the academies, of biographies of members, and of intellectual and culturally
important figures. Where no image is available, a description of the emblem may be included (if known) and similarly the motto
is recorded (again if known).
In addition to including digitised images of emblems and portraits, the database also includes, for some publications, a
digitised image of either or both the frontispiece and colophon of the volume. This has been done where the image has been
judged to have particularly significant or interesting qualities, whether connected with the development of the printed book,
or of aesthetic and artistic importance. This is, for example, the case of images of engravings done by the female artists
Isabella Piccini and Teresa Del Po, in a number of volumes from the later seventeenth century.
1 Further information on emblems, and recent critical work on these can be found at the excellent website hosted at
the University of Glasgow; see: http://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/ [accessed