background image
let us look again at the three Sertorius pictures (ill. 2-4). It is naive to think that an uninformed
viewer would describe what is happening in these three pictures as "men pulling horses' tails,"
instead of, to give just the most obvious alternative, as "men trying to stop horses from running
away by holding them by their tails." If we miss the fact that the scenes illustrate the story of Ser-
torius, there is only a very slim chance that we might call the man who is holding the tail with
both hands "a young man trying to tear off the whole tail of a weak horse," and the other man
as "an elderly man gradually plucking the tail of a strong horse."
It would be impossible to identify the scene as a piece of strategic, military advice that Serto-
rius supplied to the Lusitanians when they wanted to engage the Roman army. Its transforma-
tion into a much more general piece of advice - patient perseverance to be preferred over violent
rashness - would, of course, elude us.
The re-use of an emblem may demand a different description of the
All parts of an emblem, in particular its inscriptio and its pictura, are prone to repeated use. Over
time an emblem may reappear, in part or in whole, as the device of a printer or bookseller; it may
be used to decorate the fašade of a shop; and it may be encountered in paintings and wall deco-
rations. And, of course, existing emblems often provoke new interpretations by other writers of
emblem books.
Different usage of the same image may either trigger a fresh interpretation or follow in the wake
of a new interpretation. In any case, the adaptation of the same picture to a new context with a
different meaning forces the indexer to consider modifying the description as well.The reverse is
also relevant: a new image may be chosen to express the same, or closely, related meanings.
To show some of the permutations of form and meaning, a few pictures from the collections
we have indexed so far are presented here. Some of them were used earlier in our article about
laboriousness and vigilance.
There is a vigilant crane, the leader of his flock, standing guard to protect the others (ill. 8).
Should the stone drop from his claw because he dozes off, the noise will wake him up again.
Next, there is a watchful shepherd's dog guarding a herd for his master (ill. 9). In spite of the sub-
tle differences, e.g., in the social position of the crane and the dog, the motto of both emblems,
"Pro Grege," is the same and expresses that they are there to "serve and protect."
Hans Brandhorst and Peter van
Huisstede,"Weest altoos vigilant en
arbeytsam. Drukkersmerken een
mentaliteitshistorische bron?"
NieuwLetterkundig Magazijn 1999.
Illustration 8:"Pro Grege," from Peter Isselburg,
Emblemata Politica (1617).
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