The art of the emblem is a pan-European phenomenon which developed in Western and Central Europe in the early modern period. It adopted meanings and motifs from Antiquity and the Middle Ages as part of a general humanistic impulse. Technological developments in printing that permitted the combination of letterpress with woodblock, and later copperplate, images, ensured that the emblem spread rapidly by way of printed collections. With time, emblematic ideas moved beyond Europe, conveying their insights and wisdom in the compact form of the book. These same books came to influence artists and designers working in the decoration of buildings, furniture, and household items, so that emblems entered personal life; they infiltrated festive culture, too. In such environments beyond the book, emblems were transported, adapted, and embedded in new functional contexts shaped by social, political, or religious conditions, but also by architectonical and regional art historical parameters. The results of these transformations are often of an intricate and complex meaning. The combination of word and image that constitutes the emblem still has resonance in contemporary art and architecture. The study of emblems allows us to look back at the collaborative endeavours of creative minds of earlier times from across Europe and beyond. At a time when that continent is under strain, and the world in general seeks to come to terms with globalization, emblems allow reflection on strongly shared cultural values and connections.
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