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The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 3, January 16, 2022, Article 14

THE ALTDORF EMBLEMATA BOOK

John Sallay submitted this article on an interesting early numismatic book. Thanks! Great book. -Editor

H16799 I recently acquired an early 17th century book that I thought might be of interest to E-Sylum readers, since it is fundamentally numismatic and not generally seen in the numismatic book trade. The title begins Emblemata Anniversaria Academiae Noribergensis, Quae Est Altorffi, which translates roughly from Latin as Anniversary Emblems of the Nürnberg Academy which is at Altdorf… It was published by Abraham Wagenman in Nürnberg in 1617, and is large octavo (8.2 x 6.5) with 540 numbered pages, plus 8 introductory pages and 44 index pages.

This example retains its original gilt leather binding, somewhat showing its age. The circa 1643 Bib: Nor: circular bookplate on the lower right corner of the title page indicates that it was once in the Bibliotheca publica Noribergensis, the Nürnberg city library. Before purchasing the book, I confirmed with the successor Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg that this was a deaccessioned duplicate copy.

The book illustrates the silver prize medals issued by the Altdorf Academy between 1577 and 1616, most of the entire series of 190 medals that continued through 1626. Each medal is shown, together with the text of the Latin orations made on June 29 at the Academy's annual Panegyris, or anniversary and graduation ceremony, concerning each medal's imagery and Latin motto. Most of the images faithfully represent the actual 25-35mm diameter silver medals, though a few such as the illustrated 1596 example are not literally correct.

  H16799_3 Emblemata p269c

This book is representative of a genre of emblem books published from the early 16th century into the early 18th century. An emblem is basically a late-Renaissance/Baroque meme comprised of three parts – a brief motto (inscriptio), a symbolic picture (pictura), and an epigram or explanation (subscriptio). These emblem books were design and moral concept encyclopedias, and several thousand were published during the period. Today, they are actively studied, with an international collaboration of scholars at major university and research libraries. The extensive website Emblematica Online, hosted by the University of Illinois, is searchable and can be a valuable resource for anyone researching, say, the iconographic background of a particular coin or medal.

  Altdorf 1596-1a

The associated Altdorf Academy medals were given each year to boys who were being promoted to the next class. More than simply awards, these medals were a fundamental part of the pedagogical system at the Altdorf Academy, in particular the practice of emblem oratory. Towards the end of each school year, students were shown a picture with a Latin motto, and assigned to write up an explanation, in effect the third part of the emblem. It was a way of both teaching values to Nürnberg's future leaders, and testing the students on what they had learned during the year. At the ceremony, one boy from each class presented his oration and all the promoted boys were presented a medal. The Germanische Nationalmuseum, in Nürnberg, has a complete set of the medals and a nearly complete second set. Otherwise, these medals are quite scarce.

Frederick John Stopp's Emblems of the Altdorf Academy: Medals and Medal Orations, 1577-1626, published by the Modern Humanities Research Association in 1974, describes all these Altdorf Academy practices, emblem books, and medals. It concludes with an illustrated catalogue of the 190 silver medals, with translations of the Latin inscriptions. Copies can be found online, but the 1617 (and the earlier edition) emblem books are less generally seen.

For more information, see:

Fricke E-Sylum ad03 Obsolete Paper


Wayne Homren, Editor

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