An emblem usually refers to a genre of verbal–pictorial art which is particularly associated with the Renaissance.
The first emblem book, the Emblematum Liber of Alciati (or Alciato), was published in 1531. Each emblem consists of a motto, a symbolic picture, and an explanatory set of verses called an epigram. All three parts of an emblem contribute to its meaning. Writers often borrowed one another's pictures and wrote new verses which reinterpreted them. The earliest emblem book to contain illustrations as well as verses was Geoffrey Whitney's (?1548–?1601) A Choice of Emblemes (1586), which distinguished three categories: natural, historical, and moral. The 17th cent. produced many religious emblem books, of which the most famous English example was the Emblemes of Quarles (1635). The children's figures of these emblem books represent Divine Love (God) and Earthly Love (Man); they have been derived from the Cupid figures of earlier love emblems. A Collection of Emblemes, also illustrated, was published by G. Wither, 1634–5.
Bunyan wrote an emblem book without pictures (A Book for Boys and Girls, 1686). By then the form had already gone out of fashion; it enjoyed something of a revival in the Victorian period.