One of the Most Beautiful Emblem Books

Arias Montanus, Benedictus [Benito Arias Montano] (1527-1598)

Humanae Salutis Monumenta

Antwerp: Christophe Plantin, 1571


Octavo: Collation: A-I8, K4, A-B8.


A fince copy, bound in 16th c. morocco, gilt. Engraved title, engraved portrait medallion of Christ, and 70 engraved emblematic plates.

A series of beautifully rendered emblems, engraved by Abraham de Bruyn (ca. 1539-1587), Pieter Huys (1520-1577), Jan Wierix (ca. 1549-1615) and his brother Hieronymus Wierix (ca. 1553-1619). The decorative borders of flowers, fruits, butterflies, birds and animals, engraved by Pieter Huys (ca. 1520- after 1577) and Jan Sadeler (1550-1600), add to the beauty of the book. "The richness of the illustrations... is eminently representative of the Catholic imagery and religious propaganda of the Counter-Reformation."(Sorgeloos)

Arias Montano, one of the greatest Spanish humanists, was sent by Phillip II in 1568 to assist Plantin in the production of his famous Biblia Polyglotta. Montanus spent the next four years with Plantin. Several spectacular books resulted from their friendship, including this complex and exquisite scriptural emblem book, one of the first of its genre.

“Arias Montano's ‘Humanae salutis monumenta’… consists of 71 chapters, each composed of a picture, mottos, and Horatian ode, that encapsulate the history of human salvation from the fall of Adam and Eve to the Last Judgment. The publisher, Christopher Plantin, credits the book’s text and images to Arias Montano, describing him as a skilled draftsman and inspired poet. Abraham de Bruyn, Pieter Huys, and the Wierix brothers of Antwerp engraved the prints after modelli by Pieter van der Borcht, who was given the task of translating Arias Montano’s inventions into working drawings. In his prefaces to the ‘Monumenta’, Plantin elucidates the relation between the images and the text: Arias Montano, we are told, has displayed his lofty erudition, his perspicuous command of doctrine, and his mastery of sweet and dignified poetic argument, which he has applied to expounding a series of meditative images. This book, Plantin continues,

‘contains two kinds of moral instructions: the first is plainly ‘architectonic’, consisting of pictorial images of places, persons, and events. This kind is explained by the words of ‘architects’, in three modes: first by subscriptions that describe the principal argument of the ‘picturae’ and supply straightforward didactic instruction; these sorts of texts are called ‘inscriptiones.’ The second mode consists of ‘dedicationes’, which either comment on virtue or vice by referring to the contemplation of the ‘picturae’ or indicate the authoritative significance of the persons or events represented. The last mode is represented by appended monostichs, distichs, or other short poems (epigrams) that propose certain ways in which the viewer may use the images. All three types of text should be concise and grave, full of significance and antique flavor, in marked difference from poetic, oratorical, comic, and historical styles. They should always keep up their numerical (mathematical) organization and clear definitions, which means their architectonic organization. Otherwise they will be shallow, boring, and insignificant. Only writers who are skilled in architecture, are able to compose such texts.’

“The second kind of instruction is poetic and consists not of pictorial images but of verbal imagery that depicts things fit to be viewed by the reader, describing what pictorial artifice cannot demonstrate. This category portrays words, orations, movements of the body and soul, and all forms of intellectual activity. In the ‘Monumenta’, Plantin avers, both genera observe the rules of decorum, for both maintain the sanctity and dignity of piety and religion, applying to this end the resources of architectonic gravity and poetic elegance, along with a plenitude of meanings. That the individual ‘monumenta’ have observed these criteria is evident, Plantin asseverates, from the testimony of readers, who have confirmed the book’s efficacy, claiming that these ‘objects of pleasure’ have yet moved them to feel intense sorrow at the sufferings of Christ.

“Plantin dwells on these criteria at such length because the book was so novel, its genre –scriptural emblematics- virtually unprecedented. He makes clear repeatedly that the monuments require to be meditated if they are to produce their full effects, chief amongst which is the rejuvenation of weary minds (‘animis recreandis’), oppressed by too much study and labor. The pleasure to be found here goes hand in hand with a loftiness of theme designed to test even the most perspicacious reader: ‘For learned men recognized that [Arias Montano’s] treatment of his sacred theme, though both instructive and delightful, and needful to every sort of scholar, would not be easy to understand, on account of its exalted subject. For it wanted, as they said, a reader erudite, devout and exceedingly attentive, and also well-versed in piety and in holy books.

"The architectural texts, as we have seen, invite the reader to consider and contemplate the pictorial image, while the complementary poems encourage him to use his senses in meditating the verbal image. The engraved illustrations, on the other hand, provide clear instructions even for the uneducated, and 'move the spirit.' In sum, then, the 'Monumenta' promulgates a new kind of meditative programme: under the sign of 'otium', it challenges but also tranquilizes the eyes, mind, and heart, settling them on texts and images that explore the theme of salvation, in ways new and old."(Enenkel and Melion, "Meditatio – Refashioning the Self, Theory and Practive in Late Medieval and Early Modern Intellectual Culture", p. 11-13)

Landwehr 44; cf. Sorgeloos 111; Voet 588