The Info List - Aldus Manutius

Aldus Pius Manutius also known as Aldo Manuzio (Italian: Aldo Pio Manuzio; ca. 1452 – February 6, 1515) was a Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator. He became a printer and publisher in his forties when he helped found the Aldine Press in Venice. Manutius is known for publishing rare manuscripts in their original Greek and Latin form. Before Manutius, publishers rarely printed volumes in Greek. Manutius commissioned type cutters to create fonts in Greek and Latin resembling humanist handwriting of his time. Manutius' fonts would be the first known instance of italic type. Manutius also popularized the libelli portatiles, or portable little (specifically) classic books: small-format volumes that could be easily carried and read anywhere.

He is also known as "Aldus Manutius the Elder" to distinguish him from his grandson, "Aldus Manutius the Younger".

Early life

Bust of Aldo Manuzio. Panteon Veneto; Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti

Manutius was born in Bassiano, in the Papal States, in what is now the province of Latina, some 100 km south of Rome, during the Italian Renaissance period.[1]:22 His family was well off and in the early 1470s Manutius was sent to Rome to be educated as a humanistic scholar, studying Latin under Gaspare da Verona and attending lectures by Domizio Calderini. In 1475–1478 he studied Greek in Ferrara, under Guarino da Verona.[2]:1

Manutius was granted citizenship of the town of Carpi in March 1480. In 1482 he went to reside at Mirandola with his old friend and fellow student, the illustrious Giovanni Pico, while avoiding the Venetian army. There he stayed two years, pursuing his studies in Greek literature.[3]:624 Before Pico moved to Florence,[3]:624 he procured for Manutius the post of tutor to his nephews, Alberto and Leonello Pio, princes of the town of Carpi.[3]:624 In Carpi, Manutius shared a close bond with his student, Alberto Pio. At the end of the 1480s Manutius published two works addressed to his two pupils and their mother, Caterina Pico. Both works were published by Baptista de Tortis in Venice — Musarum panagyris with its Epistola Catherinae Piae, March/May 1487 – March 1491 and the Paraenesis, 1490.[2]:1–3 This would serve as Manutius' emergence into the publishing sphere.

Giovanni Pico's family supplied Manutius with funds for starting his printing press and gave him lands at Carpi.[3]:624 Manutius determined that Venice was the best location for his work and settled there in 1490[3]:624 The same year, Manutius began gathering contracts and eventually met Andrea Torresani who also had come to Venice to become a print publisher. The two became lifelong business partners. For their first contract together, Manutius hired Torresani to print the first edition of his Latin grammar book, the Institutiones grammaticae, published on March 9, 1493.[2]:3[4]

Aldine Press

In 1494 Manutius helped found the Aldine Press in Venice. But it wasn't until February 1495 that the Aldine Press had its first publication. Half of the Aldine Press was owned by Pier Francesco Barbarigo, whose uncle was the doge, Agostino Barbarigo. The other half was owned by Andrea Torresani. Manutius owned 1/5 of Torresani's share. It is unclear if Manutius' 1/5 refers to 10% of the entire Aldine Press or only over Torresani's share.[2]

Aristotle printed by Aldus Manutius, 1495–98 (Libreria antiquaria Pregliasco, Turin)

Manutius issued the first volume of his edition of Aristotle in 1495. Four more volumes completed the work in 1497 and 1498. Nine comedies of Aristophanes appeared in 1498. Thucydides, Sophocles, and Herodotus followed in 1502. In addition to editing Greek classics from manuscripts, Manutius re-printed editions of classics that had originally been published in Florence, Rome, and Milan, often correcting and improving the texts. To promote Greek studies, Manutius founded an academy of Hellenists in 1502 called the New Academy. "Its rules were written in Greek, its members spoke Greek, their names were Hellenized, and their official titles were Greek."[3]:625 Members of the "New Academy" included Desiderius Erasmus, Pietro Bembo, and Scipio Fortiguerra. However, M.J.C. Lowry, M.A., Ph.D. a lecturer in history for the University of Warwick regards the New Academy as a hopeful dream rather than an institute.[5]

The Second Italian War, which pressed heavily on Venice, suspended Manutius' labors for a time. In 1508 he resumed his series with an edition of the minor Greek orators and in 1509 printed the lesser works of Plutarch. Printing work stopped again when the League of Cambrai drove Venice back to its lagoons, and all the forces of the republic were concentrated on a life-or-death struggle with the allied powers of Europe. In 1513, Manutius reappeared with an edition of Plato, which he dedicated to Pope Leo X in a preface that compares the miseries of warfare and the woes of Italy with the sublime and tranquil objects of the student's life. Pindar, Hesychius, and Athenaeus followed in 1514. At the end of his life, Manutius had begun an edition of the Septuagint, the first to be published; it appeared posthumously in 1518.[3]:624

Accomplishments as a publisher

Greek classics

Widely disseminating Greek classics was first made possible with the invention of the printing press. Before Manutius', only four Italian towns were authorized to produce Greek publications: Milan, Venice, Vicenza, and Florence. However, only works by Theocritus, Isocrates, Homer were previously published.[3]:624 Printers such as John Speyer produced Greek passages but then required Greek letter to be left blank and later filled in by hand. Aldus Manutius' desire to preserve ancient Greek literature in its original form brought him to commission a font based on classical Greek manuscripts.[6]:13-14

Venice already had a large library of Greek manuscripts from Constantinople. Also in Venice was a large cluster of Greek scholars. Manutius began gathering Greek scholars and compositors, employing as many as thirty Greek speakers in his print shop. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica writes that "instructions to typesetters and binders were given in Greek. The prefaces to his editions were written in Greek. Greeks from Crete collated manuscripts, read proofs, and gave samples of calligraphy for casts of Greek type. Manutius soon printed editions of Hero and Leander by Musaeus Grammaticus, the Galeomyomachia, and the Greek Psalter. He called these "Precursors of the Greek Library" because they served as guides to the Greek language."[3]:624 Scholars have identified six different Greek typefaces found in Aldus Manutius' publications during his lifetime.[6]:78

Latin and Italian classics

The Aldine Press also published Latin and Italian classics. The Asolani of Bembo, the collected writings of Poliziano, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Dante's Divine Comedy, Petrarch's poems, a collection of early Latin poets of the Christian era, the letters of the Pliny the Younger, the poems of Iovianus Pontanus, Jacopo Sannazaro's Arcadia, Quintilian, Valerius Maximus, and the Adagia of Erasmus were printed, in first editions, as Symonds wrote in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "with a beauty of type and paper never reached before, between the years 1495 and 1514". For these Latin and Italian editions, Manutius commissioned the elegant type which now bears his name. It is said to have been copied from Petrarch's handwriting, and was cast under the direction of Francesco da Bologna, who was been wrongly identified by Antonio Panizzi as Francia the painter.[3]:624

The 1501 Virgil, which introduced the use of italic print, was produced in higher-than-normal print runs (1,000 rather than the usual 200 to 500 copies). Manutius strove for excellence in typography and book design while at the same time striving to create inexpensive editions. His great undertaking was carried out under continual difficulties, arising from strikes among his workmen, unauthorized use of Manutius' materials by rivals, and the interruptions of war.[3]:625

Imprint and motto

Bembo - Gli Asolani, Aldo, 1505 (page 202 crop)

In 1501, Manutius adopted the image of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor as his publisher's device.[7][8] The dolphin and anchor emblem is also associated with Festina lente which means make haste slowly, a motto assumed by Manutius as early as 1499.[2] The symbol was taken from a Roman coin minted during Emperor Vespasian's reign, which bore the emblem and motto. The coin was given to Manutius by Pietro Bembo.[9]

Aldus Manutius' editions of the classics were so highly respected that almost immediately the dolphin-and-anchor device was pirated by French and Italian publishers. Because of the Aldine Press' renown many organizations now use the image of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor.[2]:4–5 More recently, the device has been used by the nineteenth-century London firm of William Pickering, and by Doubleday. The international honor society for library & information science, Beta Phi Mu uses the dolphin and the anchor as the society’s insignia.[10]

The "movable book": Manutius' octavos

The development of the "movable book" is considered by scholars Manutius’ most celebrated contribution to printing and publishing.[11] His portable books are the first known appearance of editio minor, a straightforward text.[2]:4–5 Manutius' famous octavo editions have often been regarded as the first prototype of the mass-market trade paperback.[12] "Aldus changed the format of the Latin [and Greek] classics in several ways. He published them without commentary and in smaller sizes, usually octavos of five by eight or four by six inches".[13]:22 Manutius's genius for the "movable book" was listening to his audience. At the time many publishers added commentary to the classics they published. Pages became overloaded with scholarship and serious material which produced a large book difficult to transport. Although "these innovations were not absolutely original with Aldus, their use in combination was".[13]:22 Manutius’ octavos were also moderately priced, considering the known average salaries of the time, but it would be a mistake to label them as "cheap." Manutius' priced his Latin octavos at 30 soldi which was 1/4 of a ducat. His Greek octavos were double the price at 60 soldi. For context, a master mason would earn about 50 soldi a day to make between 50-100 ducats a year.[2]:88–91

A page from Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an illustrated book printed by Aldus Manutius
The Rylands copy of the Aldine Vergil of 1501


Manutius wanted typefaces designed to look like the handwriting of humanists both in Latin and Greek. Cursive was the norm for everyday handwriting in Venice, but at the time, published works only contained block lettering. By creating a cursive typeface, Manutius could make the works he published feel more personal. In the New Aldine Studies, written by Pierpont Morgan Library curator for printed books and bindings, Harry George Fletcher III describes his belief for Manutius' typeface, "His principal intent, I am convinced, was to make available in type a face comfortable for its readers." Manutius hired Francesco Griffo of Bologna as the punchcutter to create the new typeface "and the resulting roman face was first used to print Cardinal Pietro Bembo's De Aetna in 1495."[1]:22 This roman face was also the first model of italic type and used until 1501.[2]:2–5 Despite trying to have the font patented, Manutius could not stop printers outside of Venice from copying it which led to the font's popularity outside of Italy.[14]

Type designs based on work designed by Francesco Griffo and commissioned by Aldus Manutius include Bembo, Poliphilus, and Garamond.

Marriage and personal life

Bernardino Loschi, Aldo Manuzio

In 1505, Manutius married Maria daughter of Andrea Torresani[6] of Asola. Torresani and Manutius were already business partners but the marriage combined the two partner's shares in the publishing business. After the marriage, Manutius lived at Torresani's house now his father-in-law. By 1506 the Aldine Press was shrinking in popularity and was moved to a house now covered by a bank building named Campo Manin in Venice. In March 1506 Manutius decided to travel for six months in search of new and reliable manuscripts. While travelling with a guide, Manutius was stopped by border guards of the marquisate of Mantua. The guards were looking for two criminals. In fear, the guide took flight taking with him all of Manutius' personal effects. This suspicious activity led the guards to arrest Manutius. However, Manutius knew the Marquis of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga. Manutius spent five days in jail in Casal Romano and spent another night in a real prison in Canneto. He wrote letters to the marquis but it took six days until it was brought to Gonzaga's attention. Manutius was eventually released by Geoffroy Carles, president of the Milanese Senate. The "eventual appearance, in 1509, of a new edition of Horace with an accompanying work by Aldus on Horation metrics and dedicated to Carles" was contingent on this experience and Manutius' connection with Geoffrey Carles.[2]

Manutius died in 1515 and "with his death the importance of Italy as a seminal and dynamic force in printing came to an end"[15]:11 Torresani and his two sons carried on the business during the youth of Manutius' children. The device of the dolphin and the anchor, and the motto festina lente, which indicated quickness combined with firmness in the execution of a great scheme, were never wholly abandoned by the Aldine Press until the expiration of their firm in its third generation of operation.[3]:625 Manutius dreamed of a trilingual Bible but never saw it come to fruition.[2]

Influence in the modern era

1994 marked the 500th anniversary of Aldus Manutius' first publication. On Manutius, Paul F. Grendler wrote, "Aldus ensured the survival of a large number of ancient texts and greatly facilitated the diffusion of the values, enthusiasms, and scholarship of Italian Renaissance Humanism to the rest of Europe". "He jettisoned commentary because he felt that it prevented the dialogue between author and reader that the renaissance prized." The modern world owes a great debt to Aldus Manutius for Greek literature.[13]:22–24

References to Aldus Manutius


List of works translated and published by the Aldine Press under Aldus Manutius' supervision:

  • Institutiones Graecae grammaticae, Urbano Bolzanio (1497)
  • De mysteriis Latin, Iamblichus (1497)
  • Alcibiades; De sacrificio et magia Latin, Proclus (1497)
  • De somniis Latin, Synesius Platonicus (1497)
  • De daemonibus Latin, Michael Psellus (1497)
  • Dictionarium Graecum, Giovanni Crastoni (1497)
  • Book of Hours Greek, Catholic Church (1497)
  • Works, Aristophanes (1498)
  • Works Latin, Angelo Poliziano (1498)
  • Cornucopiae, Niccolò Perotti (1499)
  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Francesco Colonna (1499)
  • Epistole devotissime, Catherine of Siena (1500)
  • De vita Apollonii, Philostratus (1501)
  • Vocabularium, Julius Pollux (1502)
  • In Aristotelis De interpretatione Commentarius, Ammonius Hermiae (1503)
  • In Posteriora resolutoria Aristotelis Commentaria, John Philoponus (1504)
  • Gli Asolani, Pietro Bembo (1505)
  • Hecuba; Iphigenia in Aulide Latin, Euripides (1507)
  • Epistolae, Pliny the Younger (1508)
  • Moralia, Plutarch (1509)
  • Erotemata, Constantine Lascaris (1512)
  • Epistolae ad Atticum; ad Brutum; ad Quintum fratrem, Cicero (1513)
  • Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX, Valerius Maximus (1514)


For substantial collections of Aldus Manutius' publications, see Aldine Press Collections.

See also


  1. ^ a b Seddon, Tony (2015). The Evolution of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Landmark Typefaces. Firefly Books. ISBN 9781770855045. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Fletcher III, Harry George (1988). New Aldine Studies. San Francisco, California: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Symonds 1911.
  4. ^ "Aldus Manutius". Encyclopedia.com. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
  5. ^ Lowry, M.J.C. (1976). "The 'New Academy' of Aldus Manutius: a Renaissance dream". Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. 58 (2): 378–420. doi:10.7227/bjrl.58.2.6. Retrieved 24 January 2018. 
  6. ^ a b c Helen Barolini, Aldus and His Dream Book (New York: Italica Press, 1992), p. 84.
  7. ^ H. George Fletcher, In praise of Aldus Manutius (New York: Morgan Library, 1995), pp. 26–27.
  8. ^ Mortimer, Ruth (1974). Catalogue of books and Manuscripts. Part II. Italian 16th Century Books. 2 vols. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 
  9. ^ Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 16.
  10. ^ "Beta Phi Mu". 
  11. ^ The term "movable book" is borrowed from Yosef Wosk. See Yosef Wosk, “Dedication of the Aldine Collection,” in Festina Lente: A Celebration of the Wosk‒McDonald Aldine Collection at Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, B.C.: SFU Friends of the Archives & the Alcuin Society, 1996).
  12. ^ Neil Harris, "Aldus and the Making of the Myth (Or What Did Aldus Really Do?)," in Aldo Manuzio. La costruzione del mito (Marsilio, 2017), pp. 363–364. See also Martin Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1979), p. 142.
  13. ^ a b c Grendler, Paul F. (1984). Aldus Manutius: Humanist, Teacher, and Printer. Providence, Rhode Island: The John Carter Brown Library. 
  14. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: Getty Publications. p. 78. ISBN 9781606060834. 
  15. ^ Blumenthal, Joseph (1973). Art of the Printed Book, 1455-1955: Masterpieces of Typograph through Five Centuries from the Collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Boston: The Pierpont Morgan Library. pp. no. 557 illus. [II 778]. 
  16. ^ "Manuzio". Liber Liber. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  17. ^ "TYPE GALLERY – LINOTYPE ALDUS". Linotype. Retrieved 30 June 2017. 
  18. ^ Sais, Mercy. "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan". Central Rappahannock Regional Library Inspiring Lifelong Learning. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  19. ^ McAllister, Courtney. "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan". Central Rappahannock Regional Library Inspiring Lifelong Learning. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  20. ^ Friedlander, Joel. "Deconstructing Bembo: Typographic Beauty and Bloody Murder". Self-Publishing Review. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  21. ^ "Student Publications Spotlight: Aldus Journal of Translation". Brown University: Office of Global Engagement. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  22. ^ O'day, Edward F. (February 1928). John Henry Nash: The Aldus of San Francisco. San Francisco, California: San Francisco Bay Cities Club of Printing House Craftsman. 


  • Infelise, Mario, eds. (2016) Aldo Manuzio. La costruzione del mito. Venice: Marsilio.
  • Lowry, Martin J. C. (1979). The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Oxford: Blackwell.  (Italian translation, Il Mondo di Aldo Manuzio, 1984; 'con aggiornamento bibliografico', 2000).
  • Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: Paul Getty Publications. 2nd ed.
  • Fletcher. Harry George III (1988). New Aldine Studies: Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius. San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal.
  • Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoot & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSymonds, John Addington (1911). "Manutius s.v. Aldus Manutius". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 624–625. 

Further reading

  • Barker, Nicolas, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century (2nd. ed., 1973)
  • Barolini, Helen, Aldus and His Dream Book (New York: Italica Press, 1992)
  • Beltramini, Guido, Davide Gasparotto, and Giulio Manieri Elia, eds. (2016) Aldo Manuzio: Renaissance in Venice. Venezia: Marsilio.
  • Braida, Lodovica, Stampa e Cultura in Europa (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2003)
  • Calasso, Roberto (2015). The Art of the Publisher. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Davies, Martin, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999)
  • Febvre, L. & Martin, H., La nascita del libro (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2001)
  • Norton, F. J., Italian Printers 1501–20 (1958)
  • Nuovo, Angela (2016). "Aldo Manuzio a Los Angeles. La collezione Ahmanson-Murphy all'University of California Los Angeles". JLIS.it. 7 (1): 1–24. doi:10.4403/jlis.it-11426. 
  • Renouard, Antoine-Augustine, Annales de l'imprimerie des Alde, ou Histoire des trois Manuce et de leurs éditions. (3rd ed. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1834)
  • Rives, Bruno, Aldo Manuzio, passions et secrets d'un Vénitien de génie (Saint- Cloud: Librii, 2008)

External links