Aldus Manutius: The Struggle and the Dream

A display at the Bodleian Library, 
8 January-22 February 2015

This exhibition is now closed.


Aldus Manutius (c.1450–1515) was the father of modern publishing. Born in a small town south of Rome, he moved to Venice in the 1490s, where he formed a business partnership with the original intention of printing classical Greek texts. In 1501, the Aldine Press premiered an immensely popular new format for the classics: the handy octavo, printed for the first time in italic type. Elegant, easy to carry, and each beginning with a preface from 'Aldus to the scholars', these small volumes amounted to a revolution in the book.

Aldus presented himself as a humanist first. For him printing was a way of spreading accurate editions of the ancient Greek and Latin authors, freeing them from barbarism and obscurity. At the centre of the leading intellectual circles of his day, he established an 'Academy' for the speaking of Greek and counted Pietro Bembo and Erasmus of Rotterdam amongst his collaborators. Yet his finances were often unstable, he quarrelled with his punchcutter, and he was forced to defend his work from both detractors and admirers. His attempts to secure his innovations against imitators are important moments in the history of copyright. The 500th anniversary of his death provides the opportunity to reconsider his achievements with examples from the Bodleian Library's extensive collections.

(All images are protected by copyright. Please do not use without permission.)


Aldus Manutius: The Struggle and the Dream also benefits from the work of student curatorial assistants Jennifer Allan, Anna Clark and Qaleeda Talib, who provide further insights into the items on display below.  Their own one-day display will be shown in the Proscholium on 6 February.  

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