Our major research collection of emblem literature is of international importance:

  • Stirling Maxwell: some 2,000 volumes, concentrating on emblem and device literature (including related subjects such as fête books, ceremonial albums, medal books and books of allegorical figures)

The Dance of Death motif, emphasising the universality of death regardless of social position, is closely related to emblem literature. Relevant material may be found in:

  • Gemmell: a collection of books dedicated to the dance of death genre, dating from the 16th century onwards

What are emblems?

  • An emblem can be described as a symbolic picture, with accompanying text, used to communicate moral, political or religious values. 
  • Developed in the 16th century, these compositions were enormously popular in Europe for over 200 years, exerting influence over literature and the visual arts.
  • Emblem books are of interest to researchers investigating painting, decorative arts, literature, illustrated books, iconography, symbolism, theories of representation, social and cultural history.
  • For more information, see the University of Glasgow Emblems website

Digital resources featuring books from our collections:

Web exhibitions featuring emblem books: