The master printer Aldus Manutius

2007 Meermanno Museum The Hague

The master printer Aldus Manutius
In 1464 printing made its appearance in Italy. Five years later, the first printers settled in Venice. The commercial metropolis soon became a center of printing and publishing, outshining the other Italian cities. When the schoolmaster and scholar Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) started his printing business there, however, he brought something new. He focused on the publication of important ancient writers in the original languages. He was the first to work on building up a Greek fund.

Thus introduced innovations such as the editions of classical writers in small format and the use of the thrifty cursive type. Erasmus, for example, liked to use his services, because his publications were excellent in appearance and content. In the motto of his printer's brand 'Festina Lente' ('Go on, but do it slowly') diligence was linked to policy.

Compared to the other books that Aldus prepared, Aldus wrote, he went into detail about the work and the Hypnerotomachia Polihili is an exception in almost every respect. This applies to the subject, the literary form, the language, the style and the illustrations. The work was provided by Aldus, but not published by him. It was printed on behalf of Leonardo Crasso, who financed the work.

Festina Lente
The well-known printer's mark of Aldus Manutius consists of an anchor with a dolphin. The depiction is taken from an antique Roman coin. In Aldus, the image first appears in the Hypnerotomachia Polihili of 1499 and is there understood as a rebus referring to the ancient saying "Festina Lente" ("Go on, but do it slowly"). From 1501, you used the anchor with the dolphin as a printer's mark, sometimes sealed from the Latin motto. In the essay on "Festina Lente" that Erasmus is 1508 wrote in Aldus's printing house, he elaborated on the work and the printer's trademark of his host.

Greek Classical Works
Before Aldus established himself as a printer in Venice, Greek works had already appeared in print elsewhere in Italy. However, their number was limited and the print runs small. Thus the ambition was to publish the important Greek writers of antiquity in their original language, on a commercial basis, carefully edited and typographically prepared. Those editions, partly edited and corrected by Himself, initially appeared in the usual folio format. However, when the sale of these works was more difficult than expected, he started to publish Greek and Latin works in the more manageable octave format. The use of the 'pocket' format for text editions was widely followed.

Books for education
Publication of the important writers of the ancient world in the original languages, Greek, Latin (and Hebrew), was not sufficient. It was also necessary to spread and improve knowledge of those languages. With this in mind, Aldus published grammars, dictionaries and thesauri. As a former teacher, he was keen on the purity of the language and its grammatically correct use.

Latin Classical Works
Most of the Latin works published by Aldus appeared in a small format and were typeset in the thrifty cursive script that he had specially designed. The application of this font made it possible to place many characters on one line. In this way he could also put a very long Latin line of verse in one line.

Works in the vernacular and works of contemporaries
In addition to works by the classical Greek and Latin authors, Aldus also published writings by contemporaries who wrote in Latin. They are mostly learned treatises in the humanist tradition, sometimes it is poetry. Only a small number of Italian works were created by him, of which Dante’s Divína Commedia and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili are the most important.

Venetian printing in the fifteenth century
While cities such as Florence and Rome were important cultural centers at the end of the fifteenth century, Venice was primarily a trading city. The first printers to settle there were Germans, who were soon followed by French. The graphics industry flourished there. She was focused on export and dedicated herself to producing common titles in large editions. In the absence of the cultural and financial patronage that characterized the other cities, the Venetian printers followed beaten paths in their choice of titles. They printed collections of secular and canon law, liturgical books, theological works, Bibles and Latin classics.

They did, however, focus on technical innovations. The undisputed highlight in this development was the work of the French printer Nicolas Jenson (ca. 1420-1480), whose typefaces served as models for many later type designs. The art of woodcuts also reached great heights in Venice.

When Aldus settled in Venice, he wanted to use the existing commercial and technical infrastructure to build a scientific, mainly Greek, fund. He succeeded only partially; but his attempt was exemplary and original.

The De Spira brothers
The first printer to settle in Venice was the German Johannes de Spira, or Johann from Spiers. He started his business in 1469, five years after a book was first printed in Italy in the Rome area. Within a year he was assisted by his brother Vindelinus (Wendelin), who continued the business until 1477 after Johannes' untimely death.

Their publications consisted mainly of works by classical and ancient Christian writers. For this they used the common Roman in Italy.

Nicolas Jenson
The Frenchman Nicolas Jenson worked in Venice from 1470 to 1481. He made his company flourish, both technically and professionally. The roman that he used for his editions of classical and ancient Christian writers is still considered to be one of the most beautiful ever carved.

Overproduction led to a crisis in the book industry in the mid-seventies of the fifteenth century. This is reflected in the choice of titles that the printers subsequently produced. Jenson, too, was forced to switch from the classical writers to titles whose sales were assured, such as Bibles, legal handbooks and theological works. In choosing the typeface, he followed the conventions: the roman for classical texts, the gothic script for the bible and for theological, philosophical and legal works.

Other printers from the 1970s
The application of printing soon became more general. In this display case, four very different forms of printing have been brought together that came about in the seventies of the fifteenth century: a pamphlet-like poem calling on the Christian monarchs to fight the Turks, a Latin sermon collection about the fear of the divine judgment, a monumental edition by the Latin eponymous poet Ovid, and finally a school edition by the Latin comedian Terentius.

Printers of the eighties and nineties
In the early days of printing, a book was printed in such a way that the entire edition of a section went through the press in one go. The collected copies of a book (the application of initials, lombards, headlines, chapter numbers, music notation, etc.), however, was finished individually, by hand and thus often in various ways. Over time, printers increasingly attempted to typograph the finishing touches, thus widening the differences between the printed book and the handwriting.

Prints from 1499 to 1811 in Dutch possession
The first Italian print of the Hypnerotomachia appeared in 1499. A second followed after the death of Aldus at his heirs, in 1545. Four French editions appeared between 1546 and 1600 and an English one was published in 1592. Previously, the work in Western Europe mainly became known thanks to the French versions. William of Orange owned one from 1554, which he had bound in Paris and provided with his coat of arms. The French version can also be found in the library of Constantijn Huygens, who is said to have been influenced by it during the construction of the garden of his Hofwyck country house.

A copy of the first edition arrived in the city library of Amsterdam not long before 1648, while another copy, now in the Bibliotheca Thysiana in Leiden, was bought by an Englishman in The Hague in 1618. It was not until the eighteenth century that the first edition appeared regularly in Dutch private libraries. During the preparation of the exhibition it could be established that the copy of the first edition, which is now in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, comes from the library of the Haarlem printer Johannes Enschedé (1708-1780).

The exhibition in the Meermanno contains all the early copies of the Hypnerotomachia that are now in Dutch public libraries, supplemented by copies from private collections. The largest collection by far is that of the Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. The presence of all these specimens makes it possible to highlight some aspects of the collection of the Hypnerotomachia in the Netherlands and to compare the different pressures.

The Hypnerotomachia in Aldus's print shop
Relatively many copies of the first edition of the Hypnerotomachia have been preserved. Public collections all over the world contain ca. 230 copies. When you add the copies in private possession, you arrive at approx. 300 pcs. That high number indicates that the book, while not selling well at first, became a true collector's item over time. The second edition issued by the heirs of Aldus Manutius in 1545 also points to this. The university library of Amsterdam houses a first edition that was acquired between 1622 and 1648. This makes this specimen in a Dutch public collection longer than any other.

Agreement and difference
The first French translation of the Hypnerotomachia was published a year after the second Italian edition. The work appeared four times in French between 1546 and 1600. It is especially in this version that the book became widely known in Western Europe. The design of the French editions was in line with the changed typographical ideas. Some illustrations were adapted for the French edition.

The offensive man
The Hypnerotomachia features images that were perceived by some readers as offensive. Examples are the triumphal chariot with Leda and the swan, the statue of Priapus in full regalia and the phallic Hermes. In several copies traces of damage can be found in these woodcuts. Sometimes the glue stain is the only trace of the piece of paper with which the offending body parts were covered in the past.

The Hypnerotomachia as a source of hidden wisdom.
The French edition of 1600 is a provisional conclusion in the role change of the Hypnerotomachia. What was once a playful dream book with numerous references

In philosophy, architecture and eroticism, now plays the role of handbook. It has become a book of hidden wisdom hidden under the guise of a love story. Text and illustration of the title page emphasize this point of view, while the editor, to leave nothing to chance, also provides a detailed explanation of the alchemical representation on the title page. An alphabetical register helps to interpret and interpret the topics.

The Hypnerotomachia as Text for Bibliophile Printers
The printers who propagated the classicist typographical ideal in England, France and Italy during the second half of the eighteenth century chose classical texts to demonstrate their views. These could be works by famous writers of ancient times or by renowned authors of more recent centuries. Two master printers, Didot in Paris and Bodoni in Parma, put their powers to the test on what can be called the most bibliophile book in history. Amazing for us, but entirely in line with their strict views, they omitted the illustrations entirely in their version of the Hypnerotomachia.

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Het Meermanno specimen unfolded
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is especially popular because of the illustrations and the special layout. The name of the artist who made the woodcuts is not known. In earlier centuries they were attributed to Raphael, but according to some modern researchers Benedetto Bordone was the maker. The attractive letter and the special layout are immediately noticeable. The woodcuts have been artfully fitted into the text, and a balanced and graceful layout of all opposing pages has been sought throughout.

Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum owns a copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which was bound for the second time at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Not long ago it turned out that the book needs to be sewn again. But in order to do that, it had to be taken apart first. This provided a unique opportunity to broadly highlight the wealth of typographic shapes and beautiful woodcuts.

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