This paper examines the treatise Delle imprese (1592) by Giulio Cesare Capaccio, which provides an extensive overview of numerous symbolic images and the main theories concerning them that had already been formulated in the course of the 16th century. After identifying the author's method and his figurative, iconographic and literary sources, the paper analyses his theoretical discourse in relation to his other symbolic works, including the Apologi con le dicerie morali of 1602 and the Principe of 1620. It is argued that his work reflects the late 16th century cultural mindset which considered the symbolic language of imprese, emblems and hieroglyphics to be “teaching aids”: the bearers of an ethical and moral meaning that was broadly shared by the elite component of Ancient Regime society. Thus, Capaccio not only demonstrates his expertise in deciphering and interpreting symbols but also proves to be a prolific “constructor” of figures, designed with an eye to their practical utility.
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