Renaissance and Reformation Aldo Manuzio (Aldus Manutius)
by
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0031

Introduction

Aldo Manuzio (b. c. 1450–d. 1515) was famous in his own day as one of a group of great scholar-printers, and he has retained this historical prominence over the years. He began printing in Venice at the end of the 15th century and worked there until his death, joining the second wave of printers who established that city as the center of the European printing industry in the 16th century. His early works, printed before the end of the year 1500, are called “incunables” and are among the most valued of all early printed books. Aldo himself encouraged the belief that his work was technically innovative and met high scholarly standards; he is the author of a widely used Latin grammar, and his commitment to printing the Greek classics literally transformed Renaissance culture. A revisionist approach developed in the late 20th century emphasizes Aldo’s shortcomings as well as his accomplishments, but the 500th anniversary of his first publication in 1494 led to a series of exhibition catalogues that confirms why the protagonist of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) used Aldine editions as models for how to print books.

Background

Until the late 1480s, Aldo made a respectable living as a humanist tutor (Grendler 1989). At some point during this period he moved to Venice. He found there a humanist intellectual circle gathered around Ermolao Barbaro, a large Greek community (Geanakoplos 1962) and the greatest concentration of printing houses in Europe. Castellani 1973 provides a basic introduction to Venetian printing, Brown 2008 goes into further depth, and Gerulaitis 1976 offers a sometimes controversial modern analysis that downplays the importance of the classics in Venetian Renaissance printing. Aldo’s publishing program would evolve from this background, as Erasmus 2015 shows.

  • Brown, Horatio F. The Venetian Printing Press, 1469–1800: An Historical Study Based upon Documents for the Most Part Hitherto Unpublished. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    An older but still-valuable general study of the Venetian press from its origins to the fall of the Republic, followed by many of the documents on which the study is based. Reprint of 1891 edition.

  • Castellani, Carlo. La stampa in Venezia dalla sua origine alla morte di Aldo Manuzio seniore. Trieste, Italy: Edizioni LINT, 1973.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains a list of early Venetian printers, an overview of their activity, and documents recording their work. Reprint of the 1889 edition; also reprinted in 1969 (Amsterdam: Gérard Th. Van Heusden).

  • Erasmus, Desiderius. Opulentia sordida e altri scritti attorno ad Aldo Manuzio. Edited by Lodovica Braida. Venice: Marsilio, 2015.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains Italian translations of three texts relevant to the time that Erasmus spent as a houseguest of Aldo, along with a valuable introduction by the editor. These texts offer a vivid picture of life in an early Renaissance print shop, with a focus on Aldo and his famous guest.

  • Geanakoplos, Deno John. Greek Scholars in Venice: Studies in the Dissemination of Greek Learning from Byzantium to Western Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.

    E-mail Citation »

    A lively study of the Greek émigré community in Renaissance Venice, which provided editors, correctors, and scribes for Aldo’s work.

  • Gerulaitis, Leonardas Vytautas. Printing and Publishing in Fifteenth-Century Venice. Chicago: American Library Association, 1976.

    E-mail Citation »

    A study of the economic and technical background of printing, monopolies, privileges, and censorship, updating Brown 2008 and showing how Venice became the leading publisher of classical texts during this period.

  • Grendler, Paul. Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning, 1300–1600. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    The definitive modern treatment of schoolmasters and schools in Renaissance Italy, the environment Aldo left to take up printing and the market for many of his books.

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