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Thursday 19 January 2017

Antonio Tempesta’s 16th century engraved emblem print

Antonio Tempesta (1555?–1630)
“Mountainous Landscape with Lion, Stag, Bear, Snakes, Goats, and a Unicorn”, c.1589, from “’Emblemata Sacra” (Sacred Emblems) (1589)
Engraving on fine laid paper with narrow margins.
Size: (irregularly cut sheet) 9.7 x 8 cm
Bartsch (1984, vol. 37, p. 136) 1260 (178) (Antonio Tempesta [Miscellaneous Subjects])

Condition: crisp impression with narrow margins in excellent condition.

I am selling this 16th century emblem print for the total cost of AU$167 (currently US$126.27EUR118.30/GBP102.40 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this small but richly populated print with almost a Noah’s ark manifest of animals, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Emblem prints, such as this one, are not designed to communicate meaning in the same way as other illustrations for books. What I mean by this curious comment is that they are not intended to be easily and readily understood—at least not to the uninitiated who are not privy to the symbolism employed in the compositions. Essentially, they are like icons invested with the aura of secret power which could only be engaged with by reading the relevant text from the book in which they are published. The task of deciphering the text is designed to be equally challenging and the ideal way to understand the image and text is to read and see the illustration with a single mindset.

Mario Praz (2001) in “Studies in seventeenth-century imagery” sums up this special relationship between image, text and understanding with regard to emblem prints wonderfully:
“The emblem combined the ‘mute picture’ of the plate, the ‘talking picture’ of the literary description, and the ‘picture of signification’, or transposition into moral and mystical meanings. The first two helped each other, by complementing and strengthening one another” (p. 171).
Praz (2001) then explains the point of emblem prints: “Meditation, stimulated by pictures, was calculated to prepare the souls of the novices for the terrible trials which awaited them in their missions among the heathen" (ibid).

Although I have not read the relevant text in “’Emblemata Sacra” (Sacred Emblems) (1589) that once accompanied this print, my eyes are riveted to the scene portrayed in the middle distance of snakes slithering away from a pool of water. From a dark and dingy corner of my brain, I recall that psychologists many years ago tended to read images with snakes and their proximity to water as signifying the artist’s relationship with his or her father. (Note: I may be wrong about this.) No doubt the fact that these snakes are slithering away from the water suggests that the Tempesta’s father may not be favoured at the moment that he designed this woodcut. It’s just a shame that the print doesn’t feature a sun in the sky as its proximity to the mountain may have signified Tempesta’s relationship to his mother. I guess that if Tempesta’s dad is signified as being a fading force then his mum has faded away completely.

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