In recent years, scholars from all over the world have recognised the value of information technologies in the study of the emblematic tradition. So far, research has profited from facsimile editions of Italian, English, French and German emblem books published on the Internet by scholars from several European and American universities and libraries.
This project aims to digitize a typical Dutch corpus: the corpus of secular and religious love emblem books. They are published on the Internet in a format with search capabilities that enables visitors to access the material in a variety of ways. The backbone of this Internet site is formed by an XML-database that includes scholarly editions and indexes.
Since most emblematic studies have a comparative aim, we expect indexes and other search tools to be extremely important to our visitors. Fortunately, the latest information technologies allow us to incorporate indexes and other search tools in the editions shown here.
The Internet site highlights an important part of seventeenth-century Dutch culture. We hope it will be of interest to national and international scholars in such disciplines as the fine arts, comparative literature, history and music.
Working on this project till November 2006: P. Boot (technical realization and research), H. Brandhorst (Iconclass notation), M. de Gruijter (text encoding and editorial introductions), D. Stiebral, H. van Baren, G. Huijing (text encoding and research), J.A. Blans (translations), E. Stronks (project coordination and research), and J. Tilstra (technical realization).

Backgrounds and Context

The genre of the Renaissance emblem is a widespread network throughout early modern Europe, which may be best described as a web of citations, imitations and adaptations. In its basic tendency to think in analogies and allegories the emblem is often thought to reflect the seventeenth-century mind-set. Elements from classical, medieval and contemporary literature, painting, sculpture and music were used to compose emblem books on many different subjects and in many different styles. Each emblem consists of textual and pictorial elements, resulting in a bi-medial art form that proved attractive to a wide audience.
Equally important was the influence the emblematic genre had on numerous aspects of the cultural and daily life of the Renaissance. Studies by E. de Jongh have shown the major influence of the emblem on Dutch seventeenth-century painting, and recently the impact of the love emblem on occasional poetry has been demonstrated by P. van Huisstede en H. Brandhorst. The resulting insights in textual and pictorial symbols shared between different art forms make comparative emblem studies useful to scholars in a number of disciplines. Besides this, studying the emblematic tradition provides us with knowledge about numerous aspects of the cultural and mental history of the period.
Many studies of the emblematic tradition nowadays have a comparative aim. Investigation focuses on source relationship and origins and influence of national and international elements. Before the digital era, this research was undertaken with scholarly reprints and indexes as most important aids. Scholarship has profited immensely from the publication of (facsimile)-editions as well as from the iconographical index of A. Henkel en A. Schöne and P. Daly's initiative Index emblematicus.
However useful, the printed indexes and editions are not as flexible as one might wish. To find answers to questions of origin and influence in the literary, pictorial and musical motifs and elements of emblems, the resources of the latest IT-techniques prove to be very helpful. Current research in Europe and the United States has taken up the publishing of digital facsimile-editions of emblem books. The international Society for Emblem Studies is working on standardising these efforts, in a project led by the Emblem Digitisation Research Group (Glasgow University).
In the Netherlands, digital facsimile-editions of a few prominent Dutch emblem books have been published by P. Dijstelberge (on CD ROM). Furthermore, P. van Huisstede, H. Brandhorst and Y. Frossati are currently working on a pictorial index on Alciato's Emblematum liber. And the Digital Library for Dutch Language and Literature (DBNL) plans to publish some facsimile-editions on the Internet in the Fall of 2002.
The Emblem Project Utrecht aims to change the current situation by publishing an Internet site on Dutch emblem books based on a systematic and thorough analysis of the material, using XML, TEI and Iconclass. Our efforts combine the benefits of on-line scholarly editions and of ready-to-use, flexible indexes. The results of the research program will be accessible and useful for a great number of scholars. The Internet site allows every visitor to read and research the material according to his or her own preferences and interests.


The Emblem Project Utrecht is a combined effort of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Utrecht, the Research Institute for Culture and History of the University of Utrecht (OGC), the University Library of Utrecht, the Royal Library (KB, The Hague), the Digital Library for Dutch Language and Literature (DBNL, Leiden) and the Emblem Digitisation Research Group (Glasgow University). The IT-standards used by these institutes, research groups and libraries are carefully considered and applied wherever possible. NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, sponsored the Emblem Project Utrecht from November 2003 till November 2006. In the past, the ICT Centre, the Research Institute for Culture and History (OGC) and the Libary of the Faculty of Arts (Utrecht University), the Maurits van Kattendijke Stichting, the Huygens Institute (Huygens Institute/KNAW) and the Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS/KNAW) have provided financial and intellectual support.
The following individuals and institutions have contributed their expertise to the Emblem Project Utrecht:
The EPU project uses the following free or open source software packages and commends the authors for being willing to share their work:


Please email us with any thoughts or suggestions about the project. It will help us improve the site.

Related Projects

The Religious Emblem Tradition in the Low Countries in the Light of Herman Hugo's Pia desideria

The development of the love emblem in the Netherlands, from c. 1600 onwards, can be seen a as manifestation of the successful literary relationship between the northern and southern part of the Low Countries. The commercial success of Plantijn's first Dutch translations of emblem books, published in Antwerp, continued after 1600 with the publication of original Dutch volumes published in Leiden and Amsterdam. Initially the Dutch love emblems were mainly Petrarchist in tone and content. The suffering of the lover caused by the whimsical hard-heartedness of the beloved is expressed in clever antitheses and paradoxes. The perspective of the male lover is dominant, although his role is that of victim. Often it is the male feelings that predominate. The many early volumes of love emblems that rolled off the presses were intended for the "courting youth" young men and women in search of a spouse. The heyday of love emblems also brought the publication of several volumes containing both emblems and songs. Hooft's Emblemata amatoria is one example (with 71 pages devoted to emblems and 73 to songs and sonnets), but also the less ambitiously published Cupido's lusthof (Cupid's Garden of Delight) of 1613. Combination volumes like these allowed for optimal social use.
As the genre evolved, the playful and often Petrarchist tone of the first volumes made way for greater seriousness. In 1615 the love emblem acquired a new dimension with the publication of Vaenius's Amoris divini emblemata, a free adaptation of his previously published Amorum emblemata. Religious love emblematics was thereafter to a large extent influenced by Cats's Sinne- en minnebeelden (first published in 1618) and by Hugo's Pia desideria (1624). Hugo's Pia desideria would become the most influential emblem book published after Alciato's Emblematum liber (1531): the book was reprinted 49 times, and 90 translations and adaptations were published all over Europe.
Yet, the relationship between the profane love emblems, Vaenius's Amoris divini emblemata and Hugo's Pia desideria have never been studied systematically, although some partial efforts were made. The way in which the Pia desideria was used to help shape and form the Contra-Reformation in the South, as well as the way in which these emblems manifested themselves in the North have not been the focus of recent research. The 'Pia Desideria Project' is aiming to change this situation by publishing:
  • a digital, fully searchable edition of the Pia desideria with translations (by G. Huijing)
  • a doctorate thesis on the position and role of the Pia desideria in the South (by Lien Roggen, supervised by Marc Van Vaeck)
  • a doctorate thesis on its role in the North (by Feike Dietz, supervised by Arie Gelderblom and Els Stronks, titled 'Emblematic Dynamics in the Seventeenth Century: Word, Image, Religion' )
  • organizing a conference to conclude to project, focusing on related research on the Pia desideria in the rest of Europe (organized by Marc Van Vaeck en Els Stronks)