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This is our edition of Amoris divini emblemata, the book which Otto Vaenius published in 1615 as a spiritual counterpart to his own book of secular love emblems (Amorum Emblemata, 1608). In this introduction, we have limited ourselves to the essentials.

About Otto Vaenius

Otto Vaenius (or Otto van Veen) was trained as a painter and humanist1. He was born in Leiden in 1556. In 1572, because of the political situation, he fled to the southern Netherlands with his family. In Liege he studied for a few years under Dominicus Lampsonius, then left for a five-year stay in Italy. After his return to the southern Netherlands he stayed in Liege, Brussels and then settled in Antwerp. In each of these locations, he always tried to maintain favour with the Court. Until the return of his pupil Rubens from Italy, Vaenius was the leading painter in Antwerp. In his later years he turned to producing emblem books, notably Q. Horatii Flacci emblemata (1607), Amorum emblemata and Amoris divini emblemata. In 1612 he was appointed Master of the Archducal Mint. He moved to Brussels in 1615, where he died in 1629.

About the Amoris divini emblemata

The Amoris divini emblemata2 was published in 1615. In the v1615pre002 to the book, Vaenius relates how the archduchess Isabella suggested his earlier love emblems (Amorum emblemata, 1608) might be reworked ‘in a spiritual and divine sense.’ After all, ‘the effects of divine and human love are, as to the loved object, nearly equal.’

Both books indeed look very similar. Formally, the emblems are very much alike in structure: on the left-hand page first a Latin motto, then a group of quotations in Latin, and finally verses in several vernacular languages, on the right-hand page the picture. The visual unity of Amorum emblemata, established among other things by the presence of the Cupid figure on all emblems but one (Inversus crocodilus amor [109]), is echoed in Amoris divini emblemata in the ubiquitous presence of Amor Divinus and the soul (conveniently identified as such in the second emblem, Incipiendum [2]).

This is, basically, the way Praz viewed Amoris divini emblemata in his ground-breaking Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery. Though he notes a definite change in atmosphere in the religious book, his discussion focusses on the ‘concetto’-like emblems such as Superna respicit [16], Constans est [35] and Amor ædificat [36]. Besides those emblems, for him the main interest of the book lies in the conceptist poet Alonso de Ledesma.3

In Forster’s study on Petrarchism in Renaissance literature, The Icy Fire, he wrote in the same vein about Amoris divini emblemata and explained that ‘here too the conceits [of Petrarchism] were speedily converted to religious use.’.4 This is certainly evident in some cases if you compare the tortoises in Odit moras [31] (Amoris divini emblemata) and Amor odit inertes [46] (Amorum emblemata), or the sunflowers in Superna respicit [16] (Amoris divini emblemata) and Quo pergis, eodem vergo [38] (Amorum emblemata). However, Amoris divini emblemata also contains many emblems which are in no way ‘converted’ from Amorum emblemata (Pietate in parentes potior [18], Naturam vincit [20]), and emblems where there is no conceit at all (Deus ante omnia amandus [1], Ex amore adoptio [3]).

Even a superficial inspection shows that Amoris divini emblemata is not just a religious version of the previous book. In his study on Amoris divini emblemata, Santiago Sebastián counted 16 (out of 60) emblems which visually took their departure from the emblems in Amorum emblemata (which contains 124 emblems)5.

Taking a quite different approach, in his study Sebastián has argued the book’s contents reflect the traditional aspects of the christian mystic’s road to unity with God. He categorised the book’s emblems into four groups: those that give general characteristics of divine love, those that describe the active life, those describing the comtemplative life and finally those that deal with the unitive life.

Expanding on this view, Anne Buschhoff argued the stages of the mystic life do also, in part, determine the sequence of emblems in the book6. According to her article, the first eight emblems form a series depicting the gradual rising of the soul towards unification, and so do the ten concluding emblems.

In her dissertation7 Anne Busschhoff has again argued this point, but she also considers the wider question of the relation between Vaenius’s two books of love emblems, and studies the relations between motto, picture and subscription.

Recently Jan Bloemendal has shown how the study of intermediate sources for Vaenius's quotations can throw some light on Vaenius’s procedure for creating Amoris divini emblemata8.


A second impression of Amoris divini emblemata did not appeared until 1660.9 However, Vaenius’s book was to influence Hugo’s Pia desideria (1624). Some of the individual parallels we (or others) have encountered between these two books can be found through the bibliographical entry for Pia desideria. Besides these concrete parallels, the books share the basic idea of visually representing the growth and pitfalls of the love between man and God; both books use a small girl to represent the soul and a small boy to represent divine love.

This was to prove a very fertile idea, helping to shape books like Typus mundi, Divini et humani amoris antipathia and later, Jan Luyken’s Jesus en de Ziel. This makes Amoris divini emblemata the starting point of an important tradition in religious emblem books. To further testify to the perceived similarities between Hugo and Vaenius, in the 18th century some books appeared with reworking emblems from both writers (in Dutch by Jan Suderman, and in French by mme de Guyon).Porteman, Inleiding tot de Nederlandse emblemataliteratuur

Copy Used For This Edition

To make this edition of Amoris divini emblemata the copy of the first impression (Antwerp, 1615) was used. It is conserved in the library of the Faculty of Arts of Utrecht University, shelf number LB-KUN: RAR LMY VEEN, O 6. We have gratefully made use of the scanned images and preparatory work done by Jan de Boer for his (web-based) facsimile edition of the work.

Limitations of time and resources did not allow us to make a comparison between the Utrecht copy and other extant copies of the book. We hope to do so in the future. It is clear the Utrecht copy shows some damage.

Two irregularities in the copy we used deserve mentioning:

  • pages 26 - 30 have been bound incorrectly, the sequence in the book is 29, 30, 27, 28. We have restored the correct sequence.
  • the picturae on pages 65 and 71 seem to have been switched. It is unclear what has happened, the page numbers and catchwords show no irregularities. We have restored the picturae to their correct place. We might have switched the texts, rather than the picturae, to correct the error; further research is necessary to show whether we made the right decision.


We have transcribed the full text from the Utrecht copy and encoded this text using TEI mark-up, to allow for flexibility in presentation and non-destructive editorial enhancement of the text. The full project guidelines for transcription, editorial intervention and indexing of the text are available elsewhere on this site.

Editorial Additions

We have added normalisations of spacing and interpunction (always allowing the viewer the option to view either the normalised or the original text). Also the orthography of the Dutch texts have been normalised with respect to the use of u, v, w, i and j.

Some special symbols are shown as different characters because the fonts installed on a standard computer may not be able to correctly represent the original symbols. This holds true for the e-cedilla, for instance in v16153322 in Sternit iter deo [33], which is represented as ‘æ’. The symbol ‘q’ with a ‘3’ through the stem (with or without an acute accent) is represented as ‘que’ (this can be a substitute for ‘and’). The ‘q’ with an acute accent is simply abbreviated as ‘q’. Two cases where e-tilde is used as an abbreviation are shown as ‘ē’.

To some emblems we have added translations of the texts. These translations are made by Jan Bloemendal, with thanks to Boukje Thijs and Pim van Tent. In addition, several references to parallels (in Amorum emblemata or elsewhere) have been added. In each emblem, some literature is also pointed out. Again, this is something that still needs to be worked on.

We thank Jan Bloemendal for his translations, his search for the sources of Vaenius’s quotations, and all other help he has offered.


The full Emblem Project Utrecht bibliography may be accessed using the menu option at the top of this window. A selection of literature relevant to Vaenius and his Amoris divini emblemata follows here.

About Vaenius:

About Amoris divini emblemata: