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SFU Library Special Collections: The Aldine Collection

Aldus Pius Manutius: Publisher of Renaissance Venice

An exhibition to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the publisher's first dated work published in Venice in February of 1495

At Simon Fraser University Library Rare Books and Special Collections, May 8 to May 19, 1995

Aldus Manutius (1452-1516) was the foremost editor, printer, and publisher of the Italian Renaissance. Using books published as early as 1502 this exhibition describes the life, work, and impact of Aldus who published in Venice from 1494 until his death in February of 1515. The exhibition includes beautiful bookbindings from the 16th to the 20 Century.


This exhibition is about the life and work of the greatest editor, publisher and printer of the Italian Renaissance, Aldus Pius Manutius. Manutius was born in 1452 at Bassiano, a hilltown some 80 km south of Rome. Between 1467 and 1473 he was a student in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Rome where he developed a passion for Classics. In the late 1470's he attended the University of Ferrara, where he studied Greek under the distinguished humanist and educator Battista Guarino (1435-1505). From 1480 he was employed as tutor to the children of the Duke of Carpi, near Ferrara.

In 1489 Aldus decided to abandon teaching for the rough-and-tumble of publishing. He moved to Venice, the centre of the European publishing industry, where he entered into a partnership with an established printer, Andrea Torresano (1451-1529), who supplied expertise and material resources to the new company, and Pierfrancesco Barbarigo, a member of one of the Venetian ducal families, who contributed financial backing and arranged political support. Aldus managed the printing shop, selected the texts to be published, made editorial decisions, and arranged for the marketing of the books. He probably owned only ten percent of the firm he headed from its inception in 1494 until his death in February 1515, although he presumably improved his stake by marrying Maria Torresano, his partner's daughter, in 1505. Aldus was succeeded in the publishing business by his youngest son, Paolo, and later by his grandson Aldo II, who headed the firm until 1598.

The graceful Anchor and Dolphin design, perhaps the most famous of all printer's marks or colophons, first appeared as an illustration in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the first edition of which was published in December 1499. Aldus adopted the device as his printer's mark in January 1501 in the second volume of Poetae Christiani veteres, and subsequently used it in at least 19 versions.

The Anchor and Dolphin emblem is called an impresa, a form of pictorial puzzle popular in renaissance Italy. The picture illustrates a motto, in this case a saying of the emperor Augustus that Aldus knew from Suetonius' biography and from the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius: Festina lente, "Make haste slowly." The anchor was symbolic of slowness and the dolphin of speed, an apt representation of the printer's painstaking and relentless style of work.

Grendler, Paul F. Aldus Manutius: Humanist, Teacher, and Printer. Providence, Rhode Island: The John Carter Brown Library, 1984

Caesar, Julius. (102 - 44 B.C.). Commentariorum: de bello Gallico libri VIII... Venetiis: In Aedibus Aldi, et Andreae Soceri, Mense Novemb. M.D.XIX. (Venice: In the house of Aldus [Manutius] and Andrea [Toressano] his associate, The Month of November. 1519).

Octavo. Renouard 88:11. 19th Century French binding by Chambolle-Duru in dark brown French Levant goatskin with blind and gold tooling, gold anchor on front cover. Portrait inserted. Five woodcuts.

Note: Hereafter imprints will be translated.

Simplicius, of Cilicia (fl. 530). De coelo. Simplicii comentarii in quatuor Aristotelis libros de coelo, cum textu eiusdem. Venice: In the house of Aldus the Roman and Andrea of Asola [i.e. Toressano] his associate, 1526. Folio. Renouard 102:3. Bound in half vellum with paper boards.


The books displayed here represent the three main classes published by Aldus: folios, quartos, and octavos. Between 1494 and 1515 he produced some 134 editions: 68 in Latin, 58 in Greek, and 8 in Italian. In terms of pages printed, the Greek production of the Aldus press surpassed Latin by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 (8424 pages in Greek to 3584 in Latin). A typical edition ran to 1000 to 2000 copies.

At the heart of Aldus' production were the Greek classics. Of his total output, 30 editions were editiones princepes (first printed editions) of a number of Greek literary, historical and philosophical texts, including the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus, and the speeches of Demosthenes. Since many of these texts survived only in rare manuscripts, their future was guaranteed by Aldus' work. The most famous of Aldus' printings was the editio princeps of the philosopher Aristotle. The five volumes, published in folio between 1495 and 1498, contained all of Aristotle's works with the exception of the Poetics and the Rhetoric. Between 1450 and 1500, classical authors were typically published in large folio volumes, often with marginal commentaries or glosses by later writers. This resulted in large, cumbersome volumes which could only be read at a desk. In the first years of the press, Aldus conformed to the established practice, but after 1500 he began producing smaller, more manageable books, in which the text was unencumbered by commentaries. This change in format, the octavo-sized volume, was an innovation popularized by Aldus.

The terms "folio", "octavo", and "quarto" refer to the number of times a sheet of paper was folded after printing to produce a given number of pages; the greater the number of folds, the smaller the resulting pages. The popularity of the new octavo format is clear from Aldus' production record. During his career, Aldus printed 55 editions in the old folio format, then 48 -- almost as many -- in octavo, after 1500. Twenty-nine of his editions were quartos, and he experimented with even smaller formats -- 1 sextodecimo and 1 trecesimo-secundo.

Aldus' octavo editions of the classics have often been called the precursors of the modern pocket book, but the comparison is misleading. Despite economies of scale made possible by the printing press, his books remained relatively expensive: the price of an Aldine Latin Octavo -- the Greek books were more expensive -- was equivalent to one or two days' salary of a Venetian schoolmaster, comparable at least to the price of a good modern scholarly monograph. Then, as now, publishing was a lucrative business, and demand for Aldine texts was high. Aldus once remarked that the pace of work in his shop was such that "with both hands occupied and surrounded by pressmen who are clamorous for work, there is scarcely even time to blow my nose."

Book Production during Aldus' Lifetime †

  1494 - 1500 
Folio **12 **5 2 19
Quatro *6 *12   18
Sextodecimo 1     1
Total 10 17 2 38
1501 - 1516 
Greek Latin Italian Total
Folio 26 *10   36
Quatro 2 8 1 11
Octavo 10 33 5 48
Sextodecimo 1     1
Total 39 51 6 96

† This table derived from Lowry, 1979.

* Masaeus, 1494, counted once each under Greek and Latin

** Aratus, 1499, counted once each under Greek and Latin

*** Poetae Christiani, 1502, parallel texts not included in totals

Georgius, Trapezuntius (1395 -1484). Rhetoricorum libri V. Venice: In the House of Aldus and Andrea his associate. 1523. Folio. Renouard 97:2. Bound in half vellum with paper boards marbled to imitate marbled leather.

Steuchus, Augustinus (1497? - 1584). Recognitio Veteris Testamenti... Venice: In the house of Aldus and Andrea his associate, 1529. Quarto. Renouard 106:1.

Curtius Rufus, Quintas (fl. 50). Quintus Curtius. Venice: In the house of Aldus and Andrea his associate, 1520. Octavo. Renouard 88:1. Bound by C. Smith in London about 1830. Blue morocco with Anchor and Dolphin in gold with gold tooled borders.


In addition to the problems faced by modern publishers, early modern printers also had to design and produce the types they used. In this area Aldus was also an innovator. In the course of his career he experimented with a number of Greek and Latin types, many of his own design. Aldus' punches, the model for the final letter, were cut for him by the celebrated Bolognese type cutter Francesco Griffo.

Aldus' Greek types have been the focus of comment including the suggestion that by their reproduction of the ligatures and contractions used in Greek handwriting they set back the design of Greek type by 300 years (Proctor, 1900). This judgment has been revised by more recent scholarship (Mardersteig, 1964; Barker, 1992). The first two fonts used by Aldus were modeled on the writing of the Greek scribe Immanuel Rhusotas, the third, from Aldus' editorial collaborator the Cretan Marcus Musurus. The fourth was a simplified and beautiful version that represented Griffo's interpretation of Aldus' own handwriting.

The Roman family of types was used by Aldus for printing Latin books. His six fonts were probably modeled on those of Nicholas Jenson (d. 1480), a French-born printer and publisher of the previous generation from whom Torresano had learned the trade and whose plant he subsequently purchased.

Italic type is a version of Roman. It was based on the cursive but highly legible hand called Cancelleresca used in the government offices of Venice and other Italian city-states. Aldus was the first to adopt Italic as a printing font and it was an unqualified success. The models for the Aldus' Italic fonts were probably the hands of two scribes Pomponio Leto (1428-1497) and Bartolomeo Sanvito (b. 1435).

Aldus' fonts had a great influence on the development of typography, and some are still in use today in a modified form.

Greek Anthology. Florilegium diversorum epigramatum in septem libros. Venice: In the house of Aldus, 1503.

Octavo. Renouard 43:9. Bound by Bozerian Jeune in red morocco. Gilt and gauffered edges. Duke of Sutherland Arms blocked in gold on both boards.

Barker, Nicolas. Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.

Proctor, Robert. The Printing of Greek in the 15th Century. Reprint of the 1900 edition. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1966.

Demosthenes (ca 384 - 322 B.C.). Oratione duae et sexaginta...Vita Demosthenis per Libanium... Venice: In the house of Aldus, 1504. Folio. Renouard 47:7. Bound in full vellum with faintly ruled ink lines. Edges sprinkled with blue and red.


As was noted earlier, at the heart of Aldus' program of publication were the literature, philosophy, and history of classical Greece. In this he was representative of the second wave of Humanism, a movement dedicated to placing classical culture at the center of education, ethics and public life. Earlier humanists, such as Francesco Petrarca (1304-74) and Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), had focused on works in Latin, which were more immediately accessible because Latin was already the language of academic discourse throughout Europe. In the fifteenth century, increasing contact with Byzantium inspired a revival of interest in Greek, a revival that gained momentum with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when many Byzantine scholars fled to Italy bringing their manuscript libraries with them. Aldus was the beneficiary of such Greek and Italian humanists as Guarino Guarini (1374-1460), Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481), Cardinal Bessarion (1403-1472), and Politian (1454-1494), who placed the study of classical Greek texts on a par with those of ancient Rome. The humanist curriculum of Greek and Latin Classics dominated European education until the 20th century.

The books displayed here illustrate the transmission of these texts in the era of print. The Aldine Pindar of 1513 is the editio princeps of this work. Homer's Iliad in the 1524 Aldine edition is followed by the first English translation by Chapman of 1608. The editions of early printers like Aldus remained standard until the development of the stemmatic theory of recension, modern editing rules for pre-typographic texts, developed by Karl Lachmann in the early 19th century revolutionized our understanding of the formation of texts. Modern editions including the Penguin paperback version, and the Oxford classical text edition are also displayed.

Pindar (ca 522 - 443 B.C.). - Aldus Manutius, ed. Olympia. Pythia. Namea. Isthmia... Venice: In the house of Aldus, and Andrea of Asola, 1513. Octavo. Renouard 64:9. Sixteenth century binding in red goat, spine rebacked, titled and tooled in gold. Boards tooled in gold in panel design with foliate cornerpieces, leafy tools and fleurons. Blind tooled outer border. Traces of four ties, gilt edges.

Homer. Ilias. Venice: In the house of Aldus and Andrea of Asola his partner, 1524. Octavo. Renouard 98:1. Bound in dark purple straight grain morocco, gold and blind tooled. Single vellum flyleaf at front and back, gilt edges. Leather ownership label Edward Craven Hawtry.

Pindar. Some Odes of Pindar in new English Versions by Richmond Lattimore. (The Poet of the Month) New Directions: Norfolk, Connecticut, 1942

Ruck, Carl A.P. and Matheson, William H. Trans. Pindar Selected Odes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

Homer. Homers Iliade. Leipzig: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1854.

Homer. Homeri opera. Oxonii: E Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1919

Homer. The Iliad. London: Penguin, 1990


Due to his combination of scholarship and business acumen, Aldus was viewed with respect by intellectuals throughout Europe, many of whose works he published alongside his beloved classical authors. The most famous of Aldus' "authors" was Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), who wrote and oversaw the publication of an expanded version of the Adages during an eight-month stay with Aldus in Venice in 1508.

Aldus and his work continue to attract the attention of scholars today. In the early 19th Century, the French scholar/bibliographer A.-A. Renouard compiled a descriptive bibliography of Aldine works which is still a standard reference today. The British scholar Martin Lowry has made significant contributions to the study of Aldus's life with The World of Aldus Manutius, 1979 and Nicholas Jenson and the Rise of Venetian Publishing in Renaissance Europe, 1991. Nicholas Barker, another English scholar has explained the creation and impact of the Greek types.

The growth of research into the history of the book over the last two decades has contributed to Aldine studies, while the development of techniques for the analysis of ink and paper have provided new insights into the printing practices of the 15th and 16th centuries. Economic historians have explored the cost structures of the early publishing industry, while others have explained the role of printers in the social and intellectual milieu of their time. The impact of printing on the people of renaissance Europe has suggested models for analyzing the effects of the computer and other forms of information technology on post-modern society.

Gutenberg's invention of the typographical book in about 1450 created a product which was designed to be used in an institutional setting, mainly in churches and monasteries. Aldus completed the transformation of the book into an object for personal use. The change to personal computers from mainframes is the post-modern equivalent of that earlier transformation.

Lowry, Martin. The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Oxford: Blackwell, 1979.

Renouard A.-A. Annales de l'Imprimerie des Alde. 3 vols. Paris: Chez Antoine-Augustin Renouard, 1825. This work is often found in tatters since it is of such interest to scholars. This is the second of three editions produced by Renouard. Bound in goatskin by Benson in 1987.

Fletcher, Harry George III. New Aldine Studies: Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius. San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc.: 1988.

Orlandi, Giovanni. Aldo Manuzio Editore: Dediche, Prefazioni, Note ai testi. 2 vols. Milan: Il Polifilo, 1975. Bound in light brown French Levant goatskin with suede doublures by Benson in 1985.

Status of the Aldine Book

The books in this case illustrate the fate of Aldine texts through the ages. The first Valerius Maximus is an octavo edition. The gilt and gauffered edges of the text block suggest that the original binding was likely more elaborate and has been worn until it required rebinding in cheaper vellum. Then it has been read again and again as evidenced by its condition. The second Valerius Maximus shows the love and care bestowed on a Renaissance book. Here the owner has had it expensively bound and the book has been well protected by subsequent owners. It has lost only its green cloth ties over the years.

The Pindar and Demosthenes illustrate the prestige enjoyed by these books in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Pindar was rebound by the eminent Parisian bookbinder Capé in a 19th century interpretation of a Venetian 15th century binding. The Demosthenes was rebound in the manner of the "Medici binder" by the Victoria, British Columbia hand bookbinder Courtland Benson in 1993 using decorative tools made by the binder.

The catalogue from the Roman Bookseller Fiammetta Soave shows the high value placed on Aldus's books in his native Italy.

Aldus was not the first printer in Venice; this was a German, Johanne of Speier (d.1470). Nor was Aldus the first to make Greek type in Venice, the Frenchman Nicholas Jenson, (1420 - 1480), did this. Nor did he print the most complex works; that honor goes to Erhard Ratdolt (c.1477 - c.1527) with his masterful astronomical and mathematical diagrams. Nor was he the most prolific publisher; his father-in-law, Torresano, takes that prize.

Aldus' importance lies in his invention of Italic type, his superior editions of classical texts, his close relationship with the scholars who edited and used these texts, and his contributions as a printer to the intellectual culture of Europe as a whole: his books represent the finest flowering of the era we know as the Renaissance. It is a fitting modern tribute to this artist and intellectual that a desktop publishing program, Aldus Pagemaker, has been named in his honor.

Valerius Maximus (fl. ca 20). Dictorum et factorum memorabilium libri novem. Venice: In the house of Aldus the Roman, 1502. Renouard 36:10. Bound in limp vellum. Three double alum-tawed thongs sewn on. Head bands tied over alum-tawed thongs laced into cover. From the Sunderland Library.

Valerius Maximus. Exempla quatuor et viginti nuper inventa ante caput de omnibus. Venice: in the house of Aldus and Andrea his associate, 1514. Octavo. Renouard 69:9. Bound in dark brown goatskin. Three raised bands, four half bands. Boards blind and gold tooled in double panel design with broad floral tools in roll pattern, corner tools in central panel, rosettes at outer panel corners. Titles on front board in rondel with vine leaves bordered with rope design. Fleurons at top and bottom of rondel. I A O B lettered in rondel on back board. Traces of four ties. Gilt and gauffered edges. Red leather label titled in gold on spine added at a later date.

Pindar. Aldus Manutius, ed. Olympia. Pythia. Namea. Isthmia... Octavo. Venice: In the House of Aldus and Andrea his associate, 1513

Octavo. Renouard 64:9. Bound by Capé in tan French Levant goatskin. Tooled and decorated in Grolieresque style with lozenge and rectangle interlace gold tooling with black onlays. Gilt edges.

Demosthenes. Oratione duae et sexaginta... Vita Demosthenis per Libanium... Venice: In the house of Aldus, 1504.

Folio. Renouard 47:7. Bound in the style of the Medici copy, brown leather with gold stamping, black and red inlays, raised bands on spine by Benson in 1993. Contemporary marginal notations in Greek.

Wittoch, Michel, comp. Bibliotheca Aldina: a Collection of One Hundred Publications of Aldus Pius Manutius and the Aldine Press, Including Some Valuable Aldine Counterfeits. Rome: Fiammetta Soave, 1991.

Aldus Bibliography

Ahmanson-Murphy/U.C.L.A. A Catalogue of the Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection at UCLA. Los Angeles: University of California Library, 1991.

Ahmanson-Murphy/U.C.L.A. Books included in The Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection, ed. Paul G. Naiditch. Los Angeles: University of California Library, 1992.

Barker, Nicolas. Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century. Sandy Hook, Conn.: Chiswick Book Shop, 1985.

___________. Aldus Manutius: Mercantile Empire of the Intellect. UCLA University Research Library Department of Special Collections Occasional Papers 3. Los Angeles: University of California, 1989.

Barolini, Helen.- Aldus and His Dream Book: an Illustrated Essay. New York: Italica Press, 1992

Blumenthal, Joseph. Art of the Printed Book, 1455-1955: Masterpieces of Typography through Five Centuries from the Collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library; Boston: Godine, 1973.

Christie's. Printed Books from the Aldine Press, comp. [Stephen C. Massey]. London: Christie, Mason & Woods, 1971.

Fletcher, Harry George. New Aldine Studies: Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius. San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, 1988.

Grendler, Paul F. Aldus Manutius: Humanist, Teacher, and Printer. Providence: The John Carter Brown Library, 1984.

Lemke, Antje.- Aldus Manutius and his THESAURUS CORNUCOPIAE of 1496. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1958

Mortimer, Ruth. Harvard College Library, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts: Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts. Part II. Italian 16th Century Books. 2 vols. Cambridge: Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974.

Norton, F. J.- Italian Printers 1501-1520: An Annotated List with an Introduction by F. J. Norton. Cambridge Bibliographical Society Monograph No.3. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1958

Printing and The Mind of Man: An Exhibition of Fine Printing in the King's Library of the British Museum, edd. John Dreyfus et al. London: The British Museum, 1963.

Proctor, Robert. The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century. Bibliographical Society Illustrated Monograph 8. [London]: Oxford University Press for the Bibliographical Society, 1900.

Quaritch, Bernard Ltd. Catalogue of a Most Important Collection of Publications of the Aldine Press, 1494-1595 with Illustrations. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1929.

Renouard, Antoine-August.- Annales de L'imprimerie des Alde ou Histoire des Trois Manuce et Leurs Editions par Ant. Aug. Renouard Troisieme Edition [1843]. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Books, 1991.


Exhibition text by Ralph Stanton, SFU Collections Librarian.

Edited by Hugh McDonald and Lawrin Armstrong, SFU History Department.

Binding notes: Courtland Benson.