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Renaissance Studies Vol. 00 No. 00 DOI: 10.1111/rest.



Aldo Manuzio: il rinascimento di Venezia (Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia,

19 March–31 July 2016). Catalogue edited by Guido Beltramini and Davide Gasparotto,
with essays by Cesare de Michelis, Guido Beltramini, Matteo Ceriana, Davide Gasparotto,
Laura Nuvoloni, Stephen Parkin, Paolo Sachet, Federica Toniolo, David Landau, Hel-
ena K. Szepe, and Mario Infelise. Venice: Marsilio, 2016. 376 pp. with 130 colour and 25
black and white illustrations. e45 ISBN: 978–88-317–2361-9.

Aldo Manuzio has always been recognized as a fundamental figure in the history of book
publishing, and the products of his press have long been admired as works of art in their
own right. However, the nature of the relationship between Aldo’s pivotal work as a
printer and the simultaneous revolution that occurred in the visual arts in Venice at the
time is difficult to assess. The recent exhibition, Aldo Manuzio: il rinascimento di Venezia,
addressed this problem by presenting the printer’s work within the broader context of
Venetian intellectual and artistic culture at the turn of the sixteenth century. Curated by
Davide Gasparotto, Guido Beltramini, and Giulio Manieri Elia, the Aldo exhibition wove
an historical narrative through a rich display of ninety-five beautiful objects, which illus-
trated the technical innovations, rapid developments, and refinement of the literary and
artistic creations of the period. Aldo’s preoccupation with the physical characteristics of
his books was emphasized, and the exhibition demonstrated why many owners prized
them as much for their aesthetic value as the paintings, sculptures, and antiquities that
they collected.
Installed in the new temporary exhibition galleries at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in
Venice, the Aldo show was accompanied by a catalogue with a series of thematic essays
on different areas of the visual arts and the art of book production by scholars preemi-
nent in their respective fields. It also contained individual catalogue entries for all the
works on display and a useful, up-to-date bibliography. In the exhibition, the intersec-
tions between art and literature in the period were elegantly construed in the first room,
where several iconic objects epitomizing Venetian culture at the turn of the sixteenth
century were presented. Among them were Jacopo de Barbari’s monumental woodcut
view of Venice (cat. 6a), displayed with one of the six original carved blocks (cat. 6b).
The intricacy and precision of the carving on this block reflects remarkable technical
innovations in the area of printmaking. Because of the supreme skill of the woodcutter,
scholars have presumed a craftsman of German origin. The entrepreneurial force
behind the map, Anton Kolb, was also German. His commercial interests in the project
are documented in his application to the Venetian Senate for a privilege protecting his
exclusive right to sell Barbari’s map for four years. The Venetian government’s willing-
ness to grant privileges, protecting the interests of investors in printing enterprises, led
to Venice’s rapid rise as a hub of publishing activity and the book trade; this protection
C 2017 The Society for Renaissance Studies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
2 Review of exhibition
probably influenced Aldo’s decision to relocate to Venice in 1489. Prior to this, Aldo, a
native of Bassiano in Lazio, had been resident for many years at the Pio court in Carpi,
where he tutored the princes, Leonello and Alberto. The latter was Aldo’s principal
backer when he established his press and printed his first books in 1495.
The Venetian patriciate’s active interest in humanism also made Venice an ideal
centre for Aldo’s project. One of the Venetian luminaries of Greek and Latin letters at
the end of the fifteenth century was Ermolao Barbaro, who is prominently depicted in
Carpaccio’s Saint Ursula and the Pilgrims encountering Pope Cyriacus (cat. 1). Although Bar-
baro ultimately died in exile in Rome, he remained an important figure in Venetian
humanism. His philological studies and ecclesiastical career offered an alternative path
to young patricians like Pietro Bembo, who were disinclined to a career in Venetian
Bembo, the subject of a previous exhibition undertaken by the same curatorial team,
was a crucial figure for Aldo’s success in Venice, not only providing access to humanist
circles, but also to precious manuscripts of ancient texts owned by the Venetian elite.1
His own purist, philological ideology was perfectly aligned with Aldo’s pedagogical pro-
gramme. The longstanding, seminal collaboration between the two men was eternalized
in Bembo’s famous gift to Aldo of a silver imperial coin. This episode was recorded by
Erasmus in his Adagia, printed by Aldo in 1508. The exhibition included a copy of this
work (cat. 8, Fig. 1) that had once belonged to the French humanist, Jean Grolier, who
annotated the passage describing Bembo’s gift, drawing the coin with its reverse image
of a dolphin entwined with an anchor; this was adopted by Aldo as his personal emblem,
used on the reverse of his medal (cat. 7). Ultimately, it became what has been deemed
’the most famous printer’s mark in the history of publishing’.2
Aldo’s primary objective, embraced by Bembo, was to produce orthographically cor-
rect editions of Greek and Latin texts that would be educational tools for humanists in
perfecting their knowledge of ancient languages, a prerequisite to any literary pursuit.
Their approach to classical texts was essentially reconstructive, analogous in many ways
to the ’restorations’ of ancient sculpture undertaken by Tullio Lombardo in works like
the Cleopatra (cat. 2), now in Venice’s Museo Archeologico. This sculpture incorporates
a sixteenth-century head and other appendages, carved by Tullio, onto a fragment of an
Hellenic figure, creating a new and complete work.
Reconstructing ancient texts required access to manuscripts, as well as individuals
with a mastery of ancient languages. Again the situation in Venice was uniquely suited to
Aldo’s aims, given both the large population of dislocated Greek scholars and the out-
standing collections of Greek manuscripts, most notably that of Cardinal Bessarion,
bequeathed to the Republic in 1469. In addition to textual accuracy, the pedagogical
function of Aldo’s books demanded a clarity of text on the page; this required abandon-
ing the medieval tradition of surrounding text with commentary and the commissioning
of new Greek and Latin typeface from a supremely skilled punchcutter, Francesco
Griffo. Aldo’s 1495 edition of Aristotle (cat. 12) was the first of five editions of the Greek
G. Beltramini and D. Gasparotto, eds.: exh. cat. Pietro Bembo e l’invenzione del Rinascimento, Padua (Palazzo
del Monte di Pieta), 2013.
H. G. Fletcher, New Aldine Studies: Documents on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius, San Francisco, 1988, at
Review of exhibition 3

Fig. 1 Erasmus of Rotterdam, Erasmi Roterodami Adagiorum chiliades tres, Venice, Aldo Manuzio, IX 1508,
Tours, Bibiliothèque municipale, R
es. 3744 (fonds Marcel)
4 Review of exhibition
author printed over the course of three years. As noted by Carlo Dionisotti and reiter-
ated by Mario Infelise in his catalogue essay, this achievement alone, would have been
enough to secure Aldo’s fame. Yet, he went on to print a further nine ’classic’ Greek
authors before 1504, including Aristophanes (cat. 15) and Thucydides (cat. 17). While
the so-called Aldine Neakademia, whose statutes survive in one known document
(cat. 16), may never have been more than an ideological dream of the printer, the prolif-
eration of Greek texts issued from his press must reflect a substantial demand for accu-
rate, legible editions of ancient Greek authors.
The humanist interest in Greek authors of course predated Aldo’s press, as demon-
strated in the exhibition by a Latin translation of Lucian, published in 1494 by Simone
Bevilacqua and edited by the entrepreneurial illuminator, Benedetto Bordon. Bordon’s
miniatures in a luxury edition of this text (cat. 19) reveal how imagery originating in
ancient literature could gain currency in visual media. His miniature depicting the Cal-
umny of Apelles’s relates closely to Girolamo Mocetto’s print (cat. 21) of the subject, which
derives from a design by Mantegna. Another subject taken from Lucian’s text that
became widely popular in the visual arts was the satyr family. Engravings by Jacopo de’
Barbari (cat. 22), D€ urer (cat. 24) and Benedetto Montagna (cat. 25) all showed varia-
tions on the theme.
There is a good deal of evidence suggesting interconnections and collaboration
between illuminators, engravers, and the Venetian printing presses, their respective
activities being closely related. Bordon exemplifies how these realms of activity could
overlap and is particularly important in the context of Aldo as an illuminator and
designer of woodcuts. He is widely accepted as the author of the incredibly refined
woodcut illustrations in perhaps the most famous book to come off Aldo’s press, The
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (cat. 28). This text was published in 1499 and written by Fran-
cesco Colonna, whose identity is also disputed, though many scholars believe that he was
a Dominican Friar resident at the monastery of San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice.
A section of the exhibition dedicated to the Poliphilo included large-scale reproduc-
tions of the 172 woodcut illustrations and placed the work in the context of other illus-
trated texts which appear to be by the same hand, like the 1497 edition of Giovanni dei
Bonsignori’s vernacular translation of Ovid (cat. 31) and Aldo’s 1499 Scriptores astronom-
ici (cat. 32). Unfortunately, the Marciana manuscript of Antonio Grifo’s Rime (cat. 30),
though included in the catalogue, was not present in the exhibition. The artist responsi-
ble for the illuminations in this work, known as the Second Grifo Master, is another pri-
mary candidate in the ongoing debate surrounding the author of the Poliphilo woodcuts.
Helena Szepe points out in her catalogue essay that it is difficult to separate this illumina-
tor’s oeuvre from Bordon’s. Elsewhere, this scholar has argued that the extraordinary
interdependence of text and image in the Poliphilo indicate a large degree of involve-
ment on the part of Colonna himself. Our knowledge of book production in Venice
indicates that there would have been several stages and much collaboration in the execu-
tion of the woodcuts; it oversimplifies the matter to try to assign them to a single hand.
Nevertheless, the final stages of production may indeed have been carried out by a work-
shop under the direction of Bordon.3

H. Szepe, ‘Artistic Identity in the Poliphilo’, Papers of the Bibliographic Society of Canada (1997), pp. 39–73.
Review of exhibition 5

Fig. 2 Tullio Lombardo, Double Portrait, c. 1491–1493, marble, 47.5 x 50.5 cm, Galleria Giorgio Franchetti
alla C’a d’Oro, Venice

Remarkable as it is, the Poliphilo, as Mario Infelise acknowledges in the catalogue,

marked a complete break with Aldo’s editorial project. Aldo minimized his personal
association with the book, printing his name only in the colophon, and the work was evi-
dently not a commercial success. Still, the Poliphilo had a profound and lasting impact on
the visual arts. A direct relationship with the work of contemporary Venetian artists is
apparent in Tullio Lombardo’s Double Portrait (cat. 40, Fig. 2) now in the Ca’ d’Oro in
Venice. Given the quotation of this relief in one of the Poliphilo illustrations, Alison
Luchs has posited a familiarity between Tullio and the author of the text.4 In a general
way, both the text and Tullio’s work reflect the new antiquarian taste among the elite,
which led to the evolution of secular, classically inspired subjects in works of art. Gio-
vanni Bellini’s small allegorical panels (cat. 38) may have decorated a restello (a domestic
furnishing generally comprising a wall mirror set into an elaborate frame) once owned
by the wealthy painter Vincenzo Catena. The latter’s St. Jerome in his Study (cat. 43),
presents an ideal image of a humanist scholar at work, which would have resonated with
Aldo’s readers. Displayed near this painting were examples of all’antica bronze objects
A. Luchs, ‘Lo scalpello e la pagina. I Lombardo e l’illustrazione del libro a Venezia’, In I Lombardo: architet-
tura e scultura a Venezia tra ’400 e ’500, eds. A. Guerra, M. M. Morresi, and R. Schofield, Venice, 2006, pp. 137–59.
6 Review of exhibition
that would have been used by men of letters in their studioli, like the beautifully wrought
inkwell in the shape of sea monster (cat. 46) produced by the workshop of Severo da
The exhibition explored another major development in Venetian art, namely the rise
of landscape as a genre, in the context of Aldo’s publication of the famous pastoral poets
of antiquity, Theocritus and Vergil (cats. 57 and 58). One of the most prized works in
the Accademia’s permanent collection, Giorgione’s La Tempesta (cat. 59), hung near
Giulio Campagnola’s exquisite little engraving, A Young Shepherd (cat. 62, Fig. 3). The lat-
ter artist, who has always been associated with Giorgione, was humanistically educated
and also close to Aldo. Shortly before his death in 1515, Aldo stipulated in his will that
new cursive capitals should be cut by Giulio.
Another important collaborator of Aldo’s, highlighted in connection with the
Venetian patriciate’s growing preoccupation with Arcadian landscapes is Fra Giovanni
Giocondo. Employed for his engineering expertise by the Venetian government from
1506 to 1514, Giocondo’s investigations of ancient architecture influenced several
important projects begun during his Venetian tenure, including the terraferma villa of
the Giustiniani family located at Roncade. A map of this property, with a depiction of
the villa (cat. 64), reveals a new type of country retreat, which is based on contemporary
studies of ancient villas, like those executed by Giocondo (cat. 65). Although Aldo did
not publish Giocondo’s edition of Vitruvius (cat. 56), the two men collaborated on sev-
eral editions of ancient authors, including the letters of Pliny the Younger, which were
crucial in shaping the Renaissance conception of ancient villa culture.
The most influential, contemporary pastoral text was undoubtedly Jacopo Sanna-
zaro’s Arcadia. Although an Aldine edition of this work did not appear until 1514 (cat.
72), Sannazaro was from an early stage closely connected to members of Aldo’s Venetian
literary circle, most notably Pietro Bembo. Bembo was largely responsible for dictating
the canon of vernacular works published by Aldo, editing the important 1501 edition of
Petrarch (cats. 68 and 69), which was prepared collating manuscripts in his family’s col-
lection. The Petrarch was one of the earliest books published in the small, octavo format,
conceived to be more convenient for readers and probably modelled on manuscripts
prepared by the scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito for Bernardo Bembo. The culmination of
the collaboration between Pietro Bembo and Aldo was the publication of Bembo’s ver-
nacular work, Gli Asolani in 1505 (cat. 71). Like the octavos of 1501–1502, Bembo’s text
was printed using Griffo’s elegant chancery typeface that was based on the script of
humanists at the papal court.
Although, most of the contemporary authors published by Aldo were Italian, he also
had strong links with northern European humanists, including, as already noted, Eras-
mus, who spent over a year living with the printer between 1507 and 1509, while prepar-
ing his Adagia (cat. 8). It was Aldo’s ambition to make his editions of classical texts
available to scholars throughout Europe, and his initial hopes for establishing his Acad-
emy extended not only to Rome, but also to the court of Maximillian I. Quentin Massys’
portrait of Erasmus (cat. 75), now in Palazzo Barberini in Rome, was painted as a gift for
Thomas More, together with a pendant portrait of Pieter Gillis, and typifies the impor-
tant role of portraiture in commemorating humanist friendships. Perhaps the Cranach
portrait of Pietro Bembo (Private Collection), which was once paired with a portrait of
Review of exhibition 7

Fig. 3 Giulio Campagnola, The Young Shepherd, 1509–1512, engraving and stippling, 13.5 x 7.9 cm, The
British Museum, London
8 Review of exhibition
Sannazaro, might have been produced in the context of Aldo’s northern European
The way in which Venice could serve as a cultural crossroads is perhaps nowhere more
explicitly laid out than in Luca Pacioli’s 1509 edition of Euclid’s Elementa (cat. 79), where
at the beginning of the fifth book, Pacioli lists all those in attendance at a discourse given
in Venice on 11 August 1508 in the German community’s church, San Bartolomeo at
Rialto. Among those present at this event were Pietro Bembo’s father, Bernardo, Fra
Giovanni Giocondo, the sculptor Pietro Lombardo, and of course Aldo himself. Luca
Pacioli’s other famous work, the Divina Proporzione (cat. 78), published in 1509 with illus-
trations based on designs by Leonardo, included a section dedicated to the perfect pro-
portions of Latin letters according to the so-called golden ratio. Although Pacioli
published all his works with the printer, Paganino Paganini, the mathematician’s inter-
est in proportionally correct letters mirrors Aldo’s preoccupation with clear, well-shaped
and spaced typeface.
The last room of the exhibition highlighted the different aspects of book production
that contributed to the aesthetic appeal of Aldo’s books. Particularly interesting for
shedding light on the diversity of Aldo’s readership were two editions of the 1501 Mar-
tial, which bore differing degrees of decoration. One edition, printed on vellum, elabo-
rately illuminated by Bordon and bearing the coat of arms of the Mocenigo family (cat.
91), exemplified the kind of luxury edition that would have been aimed at Aldo’s elite
clients, while a second, printed on paper (cat. 92), bore decoration only on the first ini-
tial of the text. Correspondence of Isabella d’Este with her agent, Lorenzo da Pavia,
reveals that the asking price for an illuminated, luxury Aldine could be up to six ducats
versus one and half lire for a paper copy.6 The Marchioness, perhaps not yet accustomed
to printed books, was unconvinced by such high asking prices, although the 1540 inven-
tory of her books includes at least one Aldine printed on vellum, a Petrarchino.7 It is worth
noting that Aldo is the only publisher mentioned in the inventory and the majority of
her books are still ’scritti a mano’, manuscripts.
The exhibition concluded with four portraits of very different sitters, two male and
two female, who all had one thing in common: the accessory of a small octavo book, like
the enchiridia, or hand-held editions printed by Aldo. The Royal Collection’s Portrait of
Man (cat. 93), often identified as Sannazaro, by Titian presents an idealized figure of a
humanist, upright, monumental and dignified with an intense gaze that belies his intelli-
gence. Palma also painted an idealized image in his Portrait of Woman, (cat. 94, Fig. 4)
now in Lyon, though this probably does not represent a specific individual. The figure is
more likely symbolic, representing a Petrarchan paradigm of inner and outer female
beauty. Although the characterization of Aldo’s books as the sixteenth-century equiva-
lent of iPads seems oversimplified, the inclusion of octavo editions in such portraits

Beltramini/Gasparotto, 2013, no. 5.4, pp. 305 and 325.
M. Lowry, ‘Aldus Manutius and Benedetto Bordon: In Search of a Link’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
66 (1983), at 187.
A. Luzio and R. Renier, La coltura e le relazioni letterarie di Isabella D’Este Gonzaga, 1899. Reprint, ed. S. Albo-
nico, Milan, 2005, at 275, no. 115. Aldo is also specified as the publisher of no. 105, a Dante, though the inven-
tory does not indicate whether this edition is on paper or vellum.
Review of exhibition 9

Fig. 4 Palma Vecchio, Portrait of a Woman, c. 1520, oil on canvas, 47 x 37 cm, Mus
ee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon

demonstrates that, as objects, they were embedded with meaning and functioned as indi-
cators of identity, or indeed ’status symbols’.
Inevitably, it is impossible to determine Aldo’s own particular interest in the visual
arts. Still the exhibition highlighted the important place of his books in the broader cul-
tural history of Venice at a moment when the investigations into the classical past, by
both artists and men of letters, were becoming more scientific. One of the most
10 Review of exhibition
successful aspects of the show was the way in which the narrative was woven around cer-
tain collaborators of Aldo whose interests straddled both art and letters. Furthermore,
the exhibition demonstrated why and how Venice provided the perfect cultivating
ground for extraordinary achievements in these areas and was an ideal tribute to the last-
ing legacy of Aldo on the quincentenary of his death.

Independent scholar Irene Brooke

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