Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) is a hero of mine. He founded the Aldine Press in Venice during the High Renaissance. He printed the great works of the Greeks and Romans in books so beautiful that they are still sought after today and yet at the time were cheap enough for a craftsman to buy.
The Aldine Press printed not just the Greeks and Romans, but also the great Italian and Renaissance writers, like Dante, Petrarch and Erasmus. In addition it printed books about religion, the latest overseas discoveries and other books of learning. It printed books in Greek, Latin and Italian.
His trademark is the dolphin and anchor.
Manutius printed his books not in the thick, heavy, hard-to-read black letter type of Gutenberg and the Germans, but in a clear, easy-to-read Roman type – what most books are printed in today. He based his Roman type on the letters found on Roman buildings and in Petrarch’s own handwriting. It was believed that this was the way Cicero wrote, but the style only goes back to the time of Charlemagne.
Manutius is the one who came up with italics. We use italics to draw attention to words, but he used it to print whole books, like his Virgil. It was designed to be graceful and yet take up less space than regular print. This allowed him to make his books smaller and therefore cheaper and more useful.
Where Gutenberg printed large Bibles for churches. Manutius printed books that were small enough and cheap enough for a craftsman to buy and take anywhere. They could fit in your bag or even your pocket.
Notice the change that took place between Gutenberg and Manutius: where Gutenberg used the printing press to make something cheaper and faster (huge church Bibles), Manutius used it to make something new, something we take for granted today (books that are small, cheap and easy to read).
By doing this Manutius increased the rate at which knowledge and new ideas spread. And, because of the sort of books he printed, his press helped to drive the Renaissance itself.
Manutius not only wanted his books to be of the most use to the most people, he also made sure his books were beautiful.
Manutius was a Greek scholar turned printer. He loved the Greeks and wanted to make sure they saw print. These books were his great love and he spared no pains to make sure that what came out of his press was the best. Not just in physical beauty, but also in the scholarship that went into them.
His editors were not just Greek scholars like himself, they even spoke Greek among themselves and with him to do their work.
The Aldine Press was the first to print many of these works. In doing this, Manutius has helped to preserve them for the ages.
Sometime after his death his brother-in-law took over the press and its reputation began to suffer. Later, however, his son and then his grandson brought back its former glory. The press was in operation for over a hundred years, from 1494 to 1597.