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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rather unusually, these Angels wear white hart (deer) badges, with the personal emblem of King Richard II of England, who commissioned this, the Wilton diptych, about 1400.

An emblem is a pictorial image, abstract or representational, that epitomizes a concept — e.g., a moral truth, or an allegory — or that represents a person, such as a king or saint.[1]


Distinction: emblem and symbol

The words emblem and symbol often appear interchangeably in day-to-day conversation without causing undue confusion. A distinction between the two may seem unnecessarily fastidious. Nevertheless, an emblem is a pattern that is used to represent an idea, or an individual. An emblem crystallizes in concrete, visual terms some abstraction: a deity, a tribe or nation, a virtue or a vice. An emblem is an object or a representation of an object.

An emblem may be worn or otherwise used as an identifying badge. A real or metal cockle shell, the emblem of St James the Apostle, sewn onto the hat or clothes identified a medieval pilgrim to his shrine at Santiago de Compostela. In the Middle Ages, many saints were given emblems, which served to identify them in paintings and other images: St Catherine had a wheel, or a sword, St Anthony Abbot a pig and a small bell. These are also called attributes, especially when shown carried by or in close proximity to the saint in art. Kings and other grand persons increasingly adopted personal devices or emblems that were distinct from their family heraldry. The most famous include Louis XIV of France's sun, the salamander of Francis I of France, the boar of Richard III of England and the armillary sphere of Manuel I of Portugal. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century there was a fashion, started in Italy, for making large medals with a portrait head on the obverse and the emblem on the reverse; these would be given to friends and as diplomatic gifts. Pisanello produced many of the earliest and finest of these.

"The big eat the small": a political emblem from an emblem book of 1617

In current American usage, police officers' badges refer specifically to their personal metal emblem — sometimes with a uniquely identifying number or name on it — while the woven emblems sewn on their uniforms identify all the members of a particular unit.

A symbol substitutes one thing for another, in a more concrete fashion[1]:

Other terminology

A totem is specifically an animal emblem that expresses the spirit of a clan. Heraldry knows its emblems as charges. The lion passant serves as the emblem of England, the lion rampant as the emblem of Scotland.

An icon consists of an image (originally a religious image), that has become standardized by convention. A logo is an impersonal, secular icon, usually of a corporate entity.

Emblems in history

Since the 15th century the terms of emblem (emblema; from Greek: ἔμβλημα "embossed ornament") and emblematura belong to the termini technici of architecture. They mean an iconic painted, drawn, or sculptural representation of a concept affixed to houses and belong — like the inscriptions — to the architectural ornaments (ornamenta). Since the publication of De architectura libri decem by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) emblema are related to Egyptian hieroglyphics and are considered as being the lost universal language.[4] Therefore the emblems belong to the Renaissance knowledge of antiquity which comprises not only Greek and Roman antiquity but also Egyptian antiquity as proven by the numerous obelisks built in 16th and 17th century Rome.[5]

The 1531 publication in Augsburg of the first emblem book, the Emblemata of the Italian jurist Andrea Alciato launched a fascination with emblems that lasted two centuries[6] and touched most of the countries of western Europe. "Emblem" in this sense refers to a didactic or moralizing combination of picture and text intended to draw the reader into a self-reflective examination of his or her own life. Complicated associations of emblems could transmit information to the culturally-informed viewer, a characteristic of the 16th century artistic movement called Mannerism.

A popular collection of emblems was presented by Francis Quarles, in 1635. Each of the 'Emblems' consists of a paraphrase from a passage of Scripture, expressed in ornate and metaphorical language, followed by passages from the Christian Fathers, and concluding with an epigram of four lines. These were accompanied by an emblem which presented the symbols displayed in the accompanying passage.

Quarles' collection of Emblems was immensely popular, and held a wide audience, and ran to many editions. However, the critics of the 17th and 18th centuries did not look so kindly on Quarles. Sir John Suckling in his Sessions of the Poets disrespectfully alluded to him as he "that makes God speak so big in's poetry." Alexander Pope in the Dunciad spoke of the Emblems, "Where the pictures for the page atone And Quarles is saved by beauties not his own."

See also


Drysdall, Denis (2005). Claude Mignault of Dijon: "Theoretical Writings on the Emblem: a Critical Edition, with apparatus and notes (1577).. Retrieved 2009-05-29.  

  1. ^ a b Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund (1989), Oxford English Dictionary (OED2), United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, ISBN ISBN 0-19-861186-2,  
  2. ^ "The history of the emblems". 2006-03-14. Retrieved 2009-05-29.   History of the emblems of the International Red Cross : An account of this organisation's need to adopt an emblem to represent itself, and the factors which led to it eventually adopting a second (the red crescent) and third (the red crystal).
  3. ^ "Macmillan Dictionary". Macmillan Publishers. 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-29. entry for "skull and crossbones"
  4. ^ Raybould, Robin (2005). An Introduction to the Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance. Trafford Publishing. pp. 170. ISBN 1412053110, 9781412053112.  
  5. ^ Piperno, Roberto; Rosamie Moore (editor). "Obelisks of Rome". Retrieved 2009-05-29.   Historical information, a map, photographs and descriptions of Egyptian obelisks in Rome.
  6. ^ Barker, William; Mark Feltham, Jean Guthrie (1995-10-26). "Alciato's Book of Emblems: The Memorial Web Edition in Latin and English". Retrieved 2009-05-29.   This page states that "Andrea Alciato's [Emblemata] had enormous influence and popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries."

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EMBLEM (Gr. g µf X17µa, something put in or inserted, from µ0fXXeiv, to throw in), a word originally applied in Greek and Latin (emblema) to a raised or inlaid ornament on vases and other vessels, &c., and also to mosaic or tessellated work. It is in English confined to a symbolical representation of some object, particularly when used as a badge or heraldic device.

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