The Migration of Images in the Ship of Theseus:

Rethinking Emblems in Latin America 

Pedro Germano Leal

(Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro)


The purpose of this talk is to explore the transmission of the emblematic tradition into the New World, from a new structural perspective. It is a well-known fact that the diffusion of emblems, as a multimedia entity, often affected their structure: there are those print emblems that are «applied» in paintings but lose their textual counterparts (inscriptio and or subscriptio); some that enter the realm of conventional literature and are stripped from their pictures. Regarding emblem books, there are those that become painted cycles and iconological programmes that become emblem books; one can also talk of collections that are made from individual emblems taken from different sources and ephemeral programmes that re-organize them into new complex units. As If that were not enough, there are paintings that become «moralized» and texts that become «illustrated» in emblematic compositions… So many are the ways in which emblems are structurally transformed that they could easily embark the famous Theseus’ paradox (in which old planks of Theseus’ ship were successively replaced until the point that philosophers would wonder if the ship was stillthe same entity or not): are emblems that have their parts «replaced» or lost, are still (the same) emblems? What are the possible implications of this problem? In this paper, this phenomenon of cultural transmission will be observed in the light of emblems that crossed the Atlantic to the New World (New Spain, Peru and Brazil), on board the Ship of Theseus.

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