S1707 The History of Printing in Venice in the Renaissance

Perilli Lorenzo

The Printing of Ancient Classics and of Scientific Works (Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy)


Aim and course description

The course follows in the footsteps of an international conference organized by the Renaissance Society of America in 2010 in Venice concerning Printing in Venice in the Renaissance, and takes its cue from the 500th anniversary of the death of the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius in 2015. The anniversary was celebrated all over the world with exhibitions, conferences, and publications. The work of Aldus Manutius, who reached Venice in 1490, when the city was a major center at the crossroads between East and West, changed perceptions of printed books and of the book trade in general both for his contemporaries and for future generations. But most of all, printing was a revolution that changed culture and society up until modern times. It was a complex enterprise which required philological erudition, technical capacities, and entrepreneurial ability, along with a broad range of skills, a vast network of connections, and favorable circumstances. Politics and religion were also directly involved.

Many important European intellectuals gravitated around Venetian printers, among them for instance Erasmus from Rotterdam, who worked with Aldus in 1500, or Cardinal Bessarion; following the history and the implications of their activity means focusing on political divergences and personal conflicts, in order to understand the intricate network of the Doges and the intellectuals, the many scholars, collectors, and potentates of the day with whom Aldus Manutius and the other printers were in contact. We enter into the working lives of the members of the most powerful families and of the scholars responsible for the many difficult editions. Especially interesting, and still in need of deeper exploration, was the printing of scientific and medical texts: it was only through the activity of the Venetian printers that medicine came to take account of anatomy, and this opened a pathway towards modern science; the same happened with mathematics and astronomy. Printing made a fundamental contribution to the birth of modernity.


The course will illustrate the early history of printing and in particular the role of Venice, illustrating the collaborative nature of the work of Renaissance scholars, but also uncovering the psychological, social and political aspects of their endeavors. This will provide an unusual viewpoint on European history.

Students will thus be directly involved in an ongoing research project concerning some thorny problems with certain of Aldus Manutius’ editions and will be able to contribute ideas and to understand the methods and processes of scholarly research.


Especially valuable will be the possibility of having access to the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice and of directly inspecting some of the earliest printed books and their characteristics, as well as being able to examine some of the manuscripts on which they were based in order to see the marginal notes of the printers and learn about their technique. A visit to the house of Aldus Manutius at Campo Sant’Agostin, with a description of his workshop, and to several other buildings in Venice is also envisaged.