Aldus Manutius

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Aldus Manutius

Aldus Manutius (1450?-1515) contributed the first Greek and italic fonts to the publishing world. Through his printing company, he published the great works of the ancient philosophers, for the first time in their native Greek language.

Aldus Manutius the Elder was a dedicated scholar of the Italian Renaissance. He established a printing company, the Aldine Press, where he produced his first dated publication in February of 1495. The Aldine works were readily recognizable by a distinctive trademark depicting a dolphin's body wrapped around the shaft of an anchor. Early in the sixteenth century Aldus founded the Aldine Academy of Hellenic Scholars, through which he promoted the works of the great classical philosophers and scientists in their native Greek language. Aldus possessed a passion for learning and devoted his life's energy to publishing the great writings of classic literature on the newly invented printing press. In addition to his prized publications, Aldus was remembered most significantly for the many fonts (typefaces) that he designed. After the death of his grandson, Aldus Manutius the Younger, in 1598 the Aldine Press ceased operation, having published 908 editions.

Teacher and Scholar

Details regarding the birth and early life of Aldus have been in dispute for centuries. Even his descendents proved unable to agree on certain details. He was born in the town of Bassiano or possibly in nearby Sermoneta, in the vicinity of Rome, sometime between 1449 and 1451. Of his parentage and siblings little information survived, although in adulthood he was known to have cared for three sisters. Existing historical papers and letters indicate that Aldus was educated in Rome where he studied at least into the mid 1470s. It is known that his studies included a sojourn under Gaspare da Verona at the Sapienza (University of Rome) at some time between 1460 and 1473. Aldus studied Greek at the University at Ferrara, southwest of Venice, with Battista Guarino and was presumably in his mid to late teens when the new Gutenberg printing press arrived in Rome during the mid 1460s. It created a stir among the intelligentsia and scholars.

On March 8, 1480, the well educated Aldus was granted citizenship in the town of Carpi, where he served as tutor to Alberto and Lionello Pio, two princes of that town and the nephews of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a prominent citizen. Aldus, it is believed, became acquainted with della Mirandola at Ferrara, where Aldus probably taught during the late 1470s until as late as 1482. He completed some writings during those years, and in particular he wrote some educational aids for the students in his tutelage. One such pamphlet, Musarum Panegyris, was published in a very limited edition by Baptista de Tortis of Venice. The work essentially was a letter to the mother of the Princes Pio and was intended to enhance their learning environment. Four known copies survived into the twentieth century.

Aldus moved to Venice in 1489 or 1490 for the purpose of opening a print shop; he continued also to teach, as he was a dedicated scholar. In 1494 he expanded his print shop and brought in two partners: a printer named Andrea Torresani and a financial backer or patron named Pierfrancesco Barbarigo. Much of what is known of Aldus was revealed by the scholar himself in the dedications and other front and back matter of his publications. In 1506, for example, Aldus related in the preface of his second edition of Horace that he had recently spent six days in jail in Mantua, suspected of hooliganism. His agricultural manual of 1514, Scriptores rei rusticae, included a statement of his copyright privilege to be valid for a period of 15 years, as granted by Pope Leo X.


When Aldus first envisioned the Aldine Press in 1489, he was nearly 40 years old. Scholars as a result have speculated repeatedly as to what prompted a successful teacher such as Aldus to embrace a completely new and untested profession so late in life. Many believe that Aldus was fascinated by the written word and by the basic rhythms of literary text and the sounds of different languages. To this effect he published a book of Latin grammar in 1493 and printed new editions in 1501, 1508, and 1514. The original (1493) edition of this Aldine grammar, entitled Institutiones grammaticae, carried an epilogue that justified the work as an effort to enhance and facilitate the teaching of young children. He subsequently spent three years, from 1495 until 1498, in compiling and publishing virtually every known work of Aristotle into a series of five folio (full-page format) documents. At the occasion of the Aldine quincentennial, Brigham Young University in Utah displayed among its holdings two surviving volumes of the Aldine Aristotle in its entirety and a priceless single page of another volume. In addition to his many folio publications, Aldus published quartos (one-quarter-size pages) and octavos (one-eighth-size pages). His octavos have been likened to paperback books of the twenty-first century.

In 1497 Aldus published a Greek-language version of a popular Latin prayer compilation, called Horae Beatissimae Virgines (Book of Hours) in a tiny, 115 by 79 mm format, even smaller than his octavo format. The following year he became the first printer to publish the works of Aristophanes and, in 1499, he released an Aldine publication of Scriptores Astronomici veteres. Scriptores contained six works, including a comprehensive astrological text, called Mathesis and written by Maternus. The Aldine version was the most comprehensive such publication of the times. Surviving copies of the text provide invaluable information concerning fourth century Roman society.

Printer's Markings and Type

The now-famous anchor-and-dolphin impresa (printer's emblem) with the motto "fastina lente," first appeared in print in a 1499 Aldine publication, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, as an illustration in the book. Two years later, the symbol became the trademark of the Aldine Press when, in January of 1501, Aldus published the same anchor-and-dolphin symbol as the Aldine impresa in the second volume of Poetae Christiania veteres. The design of the impresa was taken from a reproduction of an old Roman coin and bore a motto quoted from the Emperor Augustus, which read, "fastina lente" ("make haste slowly"). The proverb emphasized the tedious attention to detail demanded of the printer in the mass production of books.

Among the greatest achievements of Aldus Manutius were the Aldine fonts. He was the first printer to develop an italic roman font. The Aldine italic fonts were modeled from the handwriting of two Italian scribes, Pomponio Leto and Bartolomeo Sanvito, who were contemporaries of Aldus. Francesco Griffo, a Bolognese type cutter, built the Aldine fonts for Aldus. In the 1500 edition of Epistole devotissime of Catherine of Sienna, letters appeared in the human-like italic script in the inscription below one of the illustrations in the book. Aldus introduced his first complete italic typeface when he published a collection of the works of Virgil in 1501.

In addition to the new italic fonts, the collection of Aldine typefaces included also three complete fonts of Greek characters. Of these typefaces, two were modeled from the handwriting of the Greek scribe, Immanuel Rhusotas. In November of 1502, the doge of Venice awarded a copyright to Aldus for his Greek and italic fonts, thus forbidding anyone else from use or imitation of the Aldine fonts under penalty of fine. The italic fonts were significant politically because they were used for printing government documents in Venice and other Italian city-states. Aldus published the copyright notice in his Ovid collection of 1502.

When Aldus established the Aldine Academy of Hellenic Scholars in 1502, it served as a venue for the development of his translations and typefaces. A subsequent publication of the works of Sophocles, the first such printing of the seven tragedies in the natural Greek language, was published under the auspices of the Aldine Academy. The book appeared in 1502 in the octavo (165 by 96 mm) format. The year 1502 also saw the first printing of the Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian War in its original Greek, the first Aldine publication of the works of Cicero, as well as Catullus, and the poems of Ovid. Although the Ovid publication featured an extensive index, it was left to the buyer of the book to number the pages. In 1505 Aldus printed his Aesop's Fables in an eclectic compilation containing a total of seven first editions, among them the Hieroglyphica treatise of Herapollo defining the Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Aldus published the works of his Renaissance contemporaries in addition to the Greek and Latin classicists. The Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, was perhaps the most renowned among the sixteenth-century authors published by the Aldine Press. Erasmus, in fact, spent eight months in supervising the publication of an Aldine revision of his own book of adages in 1508. The 1509 Aldine publication of Plutarch's Moralia was edited by Demetrius Ducas with assistance from Erasmus. It was an overwhelming project, nearly scrapped on multiple occasions, and constituted the first Greek edition of the essays.

Aldus left Venice from 1509 until 1512, abandoning his printing press in the process, because a French invasion of Italy threatened his real estate holdings elsewhere. He returned to Venice in 1512, where he resumed his printing craft, having failed in his effort to oust the invading squatters. Upon his return he published the works of Julius Caesar in 1513, in what was the only Aldine publication to include multicolored maps.

Aldus's final publication, De rerum natura of Lucretius, went to print one month before his death. After he died he was eulogized publicly by the members of his print shop in a written remembrance that appeared in an edition of Lactantius selections and Tertullian's Apologeticum, which went to print that same year. In the remembrance the printers hailed Aldus as a master printer with a singular devotion to the spread of learning. As his body lay in state in the Church of St. Paternian his admirers heaped huge piles of Aldine publications upon the catafalque. Although Aldus devoted himself tirelessly to his printing business for over 20 years, he owned only ten percent of the operation at the time of his death in 1515.

The Aldine Legacy

The printed works of Aldus Manutius are representative of a wave of humanism that rippled through Renaissance Italy during the first half of the fifteenth century. From his shop in Venice, he published 134 editions during his lifetime and produced as many as two thousand copies for some editions. Among these were 68 Latin volumes and 58 in Greek. The output from his press included 30 first printings of Greek classics, among them the works of Sophocles, Euripides, Thucydides, Herodotus, and Demosthenes. He was involved in developing an Aldine grammar of the Greek language at the time of his death.

In the years immediately following the death of Aldus Manutius, the shop remained under the control of Torresani. Sadly, many serious and confusing printing errors occurred in the Aldine publications during that time. The situation improved, presumably after the young Paulus Manutius assumed control and operated the shop until 1574. Paulus Manutius was the son of Aldus and Torresani's daughter, Maria, who wed in 1505. Of the couple's five children, Paulus (Paulo) Manutius, was only two years old when his father died and was raised thereafter by his paternal grandfather. Under P. Manutius the Aldine Press served as official printer to the Catholic Church. Also published by the press during those years was a prototype of the modern thesaurus, called Eleganze della lingua toscana e latina. Aldus Manutius II, the grandson of Aldus Manutius and the son of Paulus Manutius, maintained the Aldine Press until his own death in 1597. So prized were the Aldine publications during the sixteenth century that a set of reproductions appeared in Paris during Aldus's lifetime. These are called the Lyon forgeries. Other copies or forgeries appeared elsewhere during the years of the operation of the Aldine Press.

In the aftermath of the industrial revolution, four hundred years after the death of Aldus, much was written about the early printer and the impact of his work on modern life. Among the various publications are a bibliography by A. A. Renouard, a biography by M. Lowry, and assorted analytical texts about the Aldine typefaces. "[H]is books represent the finest flowering of the era we know as the renaissance," noted librarian Ralph Stanton in an exposition on the occasion of the 500-year anniversary of the Aldine Press. An exhibition of prized original Aldine publications was collected by the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University and adapted for Internet viewing to commemorate the anniversary. The full impact of the work of Aldus Manutius and the Aldine Press cannot be underestimated as he lived in an era when published reading matter was available only to the highest-ranking members of the clergy and the nobility.


Lowry, Martin, The World of Aldus Manutius, Cornell University Press, 1979.


"Aldus Pius Manutius," Simon Fraser University Library, 20, 2000).

"In Aedibsv Aldis: The Legacy of Aldus Manutius and His Press," Brigham Young University, 20, 2000). □

Aldus Manutius

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Aldus Manutius


Scholar, editor, printer


Beginnings. The founder of the famed Venetian Aldine Press, Aldus Manutius was born in the village of Bassiano near Rome in 1449. Little is known of his early life, but records from the archives of the Roman princely family of Caetani, lords of Bassiano and the surrounding duchy of Sermoneta, suggest that the young Manutius probably came from a family of some means with sufficient connections to princely and clerical elite. He studied in Rome, where he was trained in the Latin classics by the renowned humanist, Gaspare da Verona, and probably attended the lectures given by another famous scholar from Verona, Domizio Calderini.

Sojourn in Ferrara. A promising scholar and philologist, Manutius was drafted into papal chancery, enjoyed a brief career as a university lecturer, and in 1472 entered the service of the antiquarian and collector, Cardinal Bessarion. In the mid 1470s, Manutius left Rome for the duchy of Ferrara, which had become one of the leading centers of Hellenist studies in Renaissance Italy. In Ferrara, Manutius perfected his skill in Greek under Battista Guarini, whose formidable talents attracted stu-dents from all over Italy. Manutius's sojourn in Ferrara proved pivotal, both because it established his lifelong commitment to Hellenistic students and humanist education and because it introduced him to the network of aristocratic patrons whose financial support and cultural capital would become an essential feature of his later success as printer-scholar. By the late fifteenth century, the court of Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, was an important center of humanist study as well, and Manutius probably became acquainted with the duke's daughter, Isabella d'Este, who later became an assiduous patron of the Aldine Press.

Other Connections. Manutius also met Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, one of the most influential figures in the Platonic Academy in Florence. Manutius's friendship with Pico led to an appointment as tutor to Pico's two nephews, the princes Alberto and Lionello Pio, lords of Carpi, from 1480 to 1488. In this capacity, Manutius continued his own studies in philology, drafted and edited several Greek and Latin grammars that would become stock publications of the Aldine Press, and continued to forge connections with illustrious quattrocento (fifteenth-century) humanists, such as Angelo Poliziano and Ermalao Barbaro. Fully embracing the Hellenistic convictions of the late quattrocento, Manutius was convinced that mastery of the Greek language and literature was the key to excellence in every field of learning. At the age of forty, he was prompted by his belief to establish the first printing press in all of Europe to specialize specifically in the publication of Greek texts.

Venetian Aldine Press. In either 1489 or 1490, Manutius moved to Venice, where he joined forces with a resident printer, Andrea Torresani (whose daughter he later married), and founded the press that eventually bore his name. From 1495 to 1515, Manutius assembled one of the most impressive teams of print-artisans and humanist-scholars to have ever collaborated in early modern print shops. In so doing, he transformed the reception of printed books and the image of the publishing trade among elite collectors.

Elite Objections. In late-fifteenth-century Europe, resistance to the world of printed books, especially among the aristocratic collectors and humanist-scholars who drove the market for classical texts, was problematic. Aristocratic collectors were still highly attracted to handwritten and illuminated manuscripts, which were considered aesthetically superior to and a sounder capital and cultural investment than printed books. Even humanists, who certainly had occasion to champion the printing press as the antidote to the errors and ignorance of medieval copyists, were ambivalent about the rapid diffusion of the sometimes hastily edited texts, commentaries, and abridged editions produced by commercially driven print shops.

Reputation for Excellence. Manutius's reputation as a classicist of some talent and his connections to respected humanists in Rome, Florence, and northern Europe challenged the prevailing perception that printers were merely skilled artisans. Manutius also deftly countered elite objections to printed material by employing skilled technicians to create types in Greek and Latin cursive that closely resembled the italic script favored by humanists and collectors. His interest in placement of print on the page reflects Renaissance aesthetics and concerns with beauty, proportion, and the essential classical canons of form. Finally, Manutius employed a stable of scholars to proof his texts, including the English humanist Thomas Linacre. His reputation for accurate scholarship attracted clients, such as Desiderius Erasmus, who insisted upon publishing the second edition of his Adages in 1508 with the Aldine Press and even oversaw final copyediting himself.

Harsh Employer. Erasmus's somewhat unflattering account of his experiences in the Aldine workshop, where he was pressed into service as a copyeditor on several other projects, reveals that Manutius was a harsh taskmaster and shrewd businessman who demanded excellence from the fifteen-odd artisans comprising his workshop. Later generations of scholars have criticized Manutius for his extensive use of Greek and Latin cursive type rather than the more simplified Roman type, which he sometimes adopted for vernacular publications, such as Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), a story about an ill-fated romance involving two Latin lovers, Polia and Polifiloa. However, as Martin Lowry has argued, Manutius was more widely revered by his contemporaries for his Greek editions and for the cursive type he invented, which appealed to the aesthetic sensibilities of wealthy collectors. Even his decision to adopt a smaller format (the octavo for his books), it now seems, favored scholar-diplomats who disliked the cumbersome and larger folio editions.

Achievements. During his career as a printer, Manutius engaged in an ambitious publishing program. Rough estimates suggest that the Aldine press in Venice was responsible for a total output of between 100,000 to 120,000 books, many of which found their way into the libraries of princely and royal collectors as well as humanists. Although he never fulfilled his grand project to publish the entire corpus of Aristotle's works, Manutius nonetheless completely dominated the publication of Greek texts in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and helped reconstitute the literary heritage of the Greeks, recovered by fifteenth-century scholars.

Later Years. By the early sixteenth century, the fame of the Aldine Press and its editions drew Manutius even more firmly into the circle of northern humanists and collectors and prompted him to envision the establishment of his own academy, closely imitating Florentine and imperial models. His friendship with the German humanist Conradus Celtis may even have encouraged him to consider an abortive scheme to reestablish his printing house in Vienna under the patronage of Emperor Maximilian I. The failure of these grand designs, and financial difficulties exacerbated by endemic political instability in Renaissance Italy, frustrated Manutius in his later years, and he died a melancholy and unhappy man in 1515. His impact and influence, however, continued after his death, and the revolutionary image which he created of the print shop as the locus for scholars and printers, united by the desire to diffuse learning and literacy, was perpetuated by northern printers, such as Johann Froben in Basle and Christophe Plantin in Antwerp.


Helen Barolini, Aldus and His Dream Book: An Illustrated Essay (New York: Italica Press, 1992).

Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999).

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

Aldus Manutius

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Aldus Manutius


Italian Printer and Scholar

Aleader in the printing industry, Aldus Manutius was also a humanist scholar. He was responsible not only for establishing several publishing houses but for creating the first Greek alphabet italic fonts as well. He also produced a small, inexpensive collection of Greek and Roman classics for scholars.

Manutius was born Teobaldo Mannuci at Sermoneta in the Papal States. Between 1467 and 1473 he was a student in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Rome. In the late 1470s he attended the University of Ferrara, where he studied Greek under the distinguished humanist and educator Battista Guarino (1435-1505). In 1480 he was employed as tutor to the children of the Duke of Carpi, near Ferrara.

In 1489, Manutius abandoned teaching for the publishing world and moved to Venice. He formed a partnership with established printer Andrea Torresano (1451-1529), who provided both expertise and material resources to the fledgling company. Manutius later married the daughter of his partner in 1505.

In 1490, the Aldine Press opened its doors in Venice. One of Manutius's main goals was to produce the best quality books at the lowest possible prices. The firm's staff consisted of Greek scholars and compositors. The official language at work was Greek and became the same in Manutius's home. Manutius's duties included managing the printing shop, selecting the texts to be published, making editorial decisions, and marketing of the books. It is likely that he owned only 10% of the firm during his lifetime, although his marriage to Maria Torresano seemingly increased his holdings.

In March of 1495 came Manutius' first dated book, the Erotemata of Constantine Lascaris. Over the next three years, he printed five volumes of Aristotle. He published editions of many Greek classics including works from authors such as Aristophanes, Euripides, Herodotus, Plutarch, Sopocles, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

Manutius's most famous pursuit came in 1499. That year the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published, exhibiting exceptional woodcuts by an unknown artist.

His firm made several innovations in the printing domain, one of which was the revolutionary development of the pocket-sized book. This new, portable article provided convenience for traveling scholars of the day. In addition, an italic typeface was created by punchcutter Francesco Griffo, who was said to have imitated the cancellaresco script of calligrapher Bartolomeo Sanvito. Under Manutius's leadership, a Greek alphabet font was born as well. Throughout his reign, Manutius marked his work with the symbol of a dolphin and an anchor.

Manutius established the New Academy in 1500. This school, dedicated to the promotion of Greek studies, was first mentioned in a written work in 1502. The academy, founded by Manutius, was composed of scholars who devoted their time to editing classical texts.

The press stopped its production during the war of the League of Cambrai against Venice but resumed in 1513 by publishing works by Plato, Pindar, and Anthenaeus. When Manutius died in 1515, his brothers-in-law ran the business until his third son, Paulus, took over in 1533. Paulus left the press to his son, Aldus Manutius the Younger in 1561. During the Aldine family's reign between the years of 1495 and 1595, it is likely that the firm produced 1,000 editions.


Colonna, Fra Francesco

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Colonna, Fra Francesco (1433–1527). Venetian cleric and author. His Hypneroto-machia Polifili, written in 1467 and published by Aldus Manutius (1450–1515) in Venice in 1499, was a work of imagination, but it contains descriptions of hieroglyphs and many buildings of Classical Antiquity, clearly drawing on Antique literature (including Vitruvius) and on contemporary Renaissance architectural concerns. Manutius's celebrated edition contained fanciful woodcut illustrations that were very influential for long afterwards. Bernini's elephant carrying an obelisk and the common theme of an obelisk on top of a pyramid are but two of the images that recur after 1499. Hypnerotomachia is regarded as the first Italian architectural treatise.


Colonna (1999);
J. Curl (2005);
Jervis (1984);
Pevsner (ed.) (1968)