An emblem book is a collection of images with adjoining text. In an emblem there is a dialog or tension between image and word. Emblems are frequently allegorical in theme.
Emblem books are a form of text not altogether familiar to us today. An emblem book represents a particular kind of reading. Unlike today, the eye is not intended to move rapidly from page to page. The emblem is meant to arrest the sense, to lead into the text, to the richness of its associations. An emblem is something like a riddle, a "hieroglyph" in the Renaissance vocabulary - what many readers considered to be a form of natural language.
Usually known simply as the "Emblemata", the first emblem book appeared in Augsburg (Germany) in 1531 under the title Viri Clarissimi D. Andreae Alciati Iurisconsultiss. Mediol. Ad D. Chonradum Peutingerum Augustanum, Iurisconsultum Emblematum Liber. Produced by the publisher Heinrich Steyner, the unauthorized first print edition was compiled from a manuscript of Latin poems which the Italian jurist Andrea Alciato had dedicated to his friend Conrad Peutinger and circulated to his acquaintances. The 1531 edition was soon followed by a 1534 edition authorized by Alciato: published in Paris by Christian Wechel, this appeared under the title Andreae Alciati Emblematum Libellus ("Andrea Alciato's Little Book of Emblems"). The word "emblemata" is simply the plural of the Greek word "emblema", meaning a piece of inlay or mosaic, or an ornament: in his preface to Peutinger, Alciato describes his emblems as a learned recreation, a pastime for humanists steeped in classical culture.
The Emblemata grew to include over 200 individual emblems and appeared in hundreds of editions, of which probably the best known is that published in Padua by Tozzi in 1621, the Emblemata Cum Commentariis Amplissimis. The "very full commentaries" to which the title refers were written by the French scholar Claude Mignault. Alciato's work spawned thousands of imitations in all the European vernacular languages: secular, religious, or amorous in nature, emblem books were an integral part of European culture for two centuries.
Gojowy has about 20 illustrations of emblemata related to the Bach Cantatas and Haselbock perhaps 30-40. By no means does every Cantata have an emblemata connection! But a considerable number do, and there may be further examples to discover.
Source: Wikipedia (February 2009); The English Emblem Book Project (University of Pennsylvania); Peter Smaill (February 2010)