Anno: 2015

La storia della stampa – parte 2

In Venice, in the fifteenth century, the Republic of Venice is at its peak as territorial expansion, and it is a model and benchmark for the world because of its opening to the religious philosophies, and it is a city ready to welcome all thoughts and trends guaranteeing press freedom.

This is why in that time a large group of “Humanist reformists” comes to Venice, including Aldus Manutius (in 1490), Marco Antonio Sabellico (teacher of rhetoric and author of several works including prayers, writings about  topography and Venetian courts) and Francesco Colonna (Dominican friar of the Venetian monastery of Saints John and Paul).

The “Scuola dei stampatori e dei librai” (School of printers and booksellers) met in the Dominican monastery of Saints John and Paul (the present hospital).


On September 18th, 1469, the Senate recognizes that Johann of Speyer (German printer) have introduced and developed the art of printing in Venice, while the “statuto dei Librai e Stampatori” (the statute of the Booksellers and Printers) will be ratified only in 1567.

In 1472 Filippo di Pietro is the first printer properly Venetian (active until 1482).

In 1488 there are almost 200 printing houses in Venice.

One of these is the printing house of Aldus Manutius, not just a typographer but a real publisher (the first in a modern way), who prints 157 titles (even more than a thousand copies with the use of a hand press) between 1495 and 1501.

The environment of his printing house becomes a real literary circle which includes the most outstanding humanists of Italy.

The first studio of the printer is in Calle del Pistor, number 2343, near Campo Sant’Agostin; then he moved onto San Peterniano, near what is now Campo Manin, in 1508.

In 1499 Aldus Manutius publishes the ‘Hypnerotomachia Poliphili’, a novel in prose accompanied by 172 xylographs and attributable to the Dominican Francesco Colonna, who is one of the finest books of Italian Humanism.

In 1502 he founded an academy, the “Neacademia dei filelleni” or Aldina, where it was required to speak in ancient greek; those who did not speak ancient greek had to pay a pecuniary fine.

He wants to preserve the literature and the Greek philosophy to further oblivion, along with the great heritage of Latin literature, disseminating the masterpieces in printed editions.

On November 14th, 1502, Aldus Manutius gets from the Senate the prestigious post of Official Printer of the Republic, thanks to his experience, talent and ability. It is unanimously accepted that his trademark (an anchor and a dolphin) refers to the motto “Festina lente” (more haste, less speed) attributed by Suetonius to Octavian Augustus.

Among the most significant contributions of Aldus Manutius to modern typography there is the final version of punctuation, the invention of italics and the beginning of the paperback editions. He was also the first to publish a catalog of his works and he has edited the first book with the pages numbered on both sides.

At the end of the fifteenth century, many engravers in Germany, Holland and Italy reach highest quality results.

The aquaforte etching (engraving on metal plate through the use of acids) was born as an autonomous technique in the early sixteenth century, although the chance to engrave the metal with acids was known since the end of ‘400.

The famous German artist Albrecht Dürer (who begins as a wood designer for woodcuts) was one of the first to use the new aquaforte etching technique- a technique that has probably learned from the Venetian Luca Pacioli (religious, mathematician and italian economist who attended the famous artists of the time ), during his trip to Italy.

Parmigianino (1508-1540) was the first artist to understand the possibilities of the aquaforte etching, using it as a fast means of expression, full of warmth and vitality.

The spread of the aquaforte etching technique frees the artist from the mediation of the artisan, who used to copy his design on wood or on metal plate, mixing together the figure of the artist and the engraver.

Year after year the techniques already existing are improved and new ones are invented, which provide the artists more and more expressive possibilities, as the technique of aquatint (which allows to create veiled painting on the plate, unlike the etching which allows to create lines), perfected by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Le Prince in 1768.

Among the artists who have used this technique we must remember  Francisco Goya, who shows the enormous pictorial possibilities of the technical means.

In the Italy of ‘700 should be mentioned artists such as Tiepolo, Canaletto and Piranesi for their high quality works standing apart from the myriad of artisans reproducing works by great masters or detailed views.

In the eighteenth century engraving it became almost exclusively a means to reproduce artworks and portraits and it is brought to a form of industrialization, with the birth of companies that use numerous engravers.

The increasingly refined techniques turn the incision to a mechanistic way, without the beginning vitality and autonomy.

In the late nineteenth century, with the birth and the emergence of photography, the etching with utilitarian and reproductive purposes almost disappears.

From the twentieth century, thanks to artists who come to this ancient discipline with creative spirit, the etching has regained the dignity and freedom of speech that was a characteristic of the beginning of its history.

“Tecniche dell’incisione” Prof. Feo Marco

“Xilografia, Calcografia, Litografia” Bruno Starita

Storia della stampa – parte 1

The Art of printing was born in China during the Han Dynasty (a print on fabric can be dated 220 AD), although some artifacts have been discovered in Egypt dating from the sixth or seventh century BC.

The first type of printing was made pressing a small wooden carved board carved on fabric or paper, the Xilography (from the greek xilon = wood and graphos = handwriting), where it is eliminated the space that will remain white on the print and the printable portion of the matrix is what remains of the original thickness of the plate.

The oldest printed book is a Chinese translation of the “Diamond Sutra“, a Buddhist work, realized in 848 AD

In a memorial dating back to 1023 it is said that the Chinese government was using copper plates (intaglio) to print banknotes and official documents.

The technique of Xilography, together with Papermaking, is taught by the Chinese to the Arabs when they conquered Samarkand in 712, and spreads across European countries conquered by the Arabs.

In Europe, from the sixteenth century, the Xylography is commonly used to print fabrics, and from 1400 (when the paper becomes easily available) is used to print playing cards, to print religious images and texts of prayers, and for artistic productions.

Some xylographs could be used for a small number of images which were then bound together to form the first books, which were printed in European convents between 1380 and 1430, and included images and texts.

Printing entire books in this way was a long process because each page was made carving a wooden tablet, which often broke for its fragility.

The most ancient book that speaks about woodcuts with a printing purpose “Trattato della Pittura o del Libro dell’Arte” (The book of the Art) by Italian Cennino Cennini in 1437.

In 1041 in China Bi Sheng invented movable type printing using the clay, but it was too fragile. In 1298, still in China, Wang Zhen introduces a more durable type made of wood, while in Korea, in 1234 the mobile characters are created using metal bronze.

In Europe, Johannes Gutenberg invents the text printing using movable metal type made of iron and steel, the strongest materials known at the time. We can not be sure that Gutenberg did not come in contact with this technique thanks to the trade routes with the East, but surely he has perfected it through the invention of the printing press modeled on the winepress of the Rhenish farmers, and through the improvement of the printing ink, oil-based instead of water-based, and therefore longer lasting.

With the spread of movable type, the technique of xylography to print full pages falls into disuse, but a way to combine images xylographic with texts composed with movable type is soon found, loosing yet the previously continuity and interpenetration of the text with the pictures.

The search for the particular in illustrations pushes artists to experiment the metal engraving, Chalcography (from the greek chalcos = copper and graphos = handwriting), where the drawing is traced through the use of the burin digging the plate which is then inked and printed (unlike the xylography, worked in negative, where the print result is given by the digging of the wooden plate of what will result white, in chalcography -worked in positive- the result of printing is given by the signs made on the plate that will be the actual final drawing).

The origins of the chalcography are uncertain: it is expected to be born in Germany around 1430 with the use of the roller press which replaces the vertical one used for the xylography.

The engraver who has made the first known chalcographic prints works in Basel from 1430 to 1445.

Giorgio Vasari attributes to Maso from Finiguerra (1426-1464) the discovery of Chalcography, using the “niello” technique used by jewelers, who used to engrave a metal plate with the burin and then filled the cavity with a special alloy, called “nigellum” obtaining dark images on a metal smooth background. The goldsmith, before filling the grooves with the alloy, used to make a test of the work done by filling the signs of the burin with a mixture made up of lampblack and walnut oil (more or less the copperplate ink still used) and printing the plate on a piece of wet paper.

The Art of printing spreads quickly across Europe.

End of part 1

L’arte della stampa a Venezia

Nel XV° secolo la Repubblica di Venezia raggiunse l’apice della sua espansione.

Nessuno stato europeo avrebbe mai più potuto vantare un futuro così luminoso e un così lungo periodo di continuità.

La “Serenissima” è stata particolarmente aperta a tutte le filosofie religiose, a condizione che nessuna di queste minacciasse la sua sicurezza.

I primi stampatori arrivati a  Venezia erano tedeschi, seguiti da francesi, fiamminghi, olandesi, svizzeri, cretesi oltre che stampatori istriani e molti italiani.

Un folto gruppo di “umanisti riformisti” fuggì a Venezia, e tra questi vi era Aldo Manuzio (

La libertà di stampa era garantita e incoraggiata, soprattutto perché l’espansione della stampa era diventata una buona fonte di reddito nel giro di pochi anni. L’editoria veneziana non solo chiedeva la collaborazione degli stampatori, ma li stimolava anche a sperimentare. Il Senato nel 1537 impose addirittura delle sanzioni severe per gli editori che usavano carta di bassa qualità.

E’ logico quindi supporre che gli autori vedevano Venezia non solo come la città in cui c’era la possibilità di pubblicare i propri lavori, ma anche come il posto in cui c’erano i servizi necessari per ospitarli- oltre alla possibilità ovviamente di discutere e confrontare le proprie esperienze individuali.

Quasi 200 macchine da stampa operavano a Venezia verso la fine del XV° secolo (1488).

L’Arte della stampa è stata riconosciuta ufficialmente a Venezia il 18 settembre 1469- il giorno in cui il Senato riconobbe che Johann von Speyer aveva introdotto e sviluppato l’arte a Venezia.

La “Scuola dei Stampatori e Libreri” si riuniva sempre nel monastero domenicano di Santi Giovanni e Paolo (l’attuale ospedale).

Il clima culturale di cui godevano gli stampatori a Venezia è stato quella di una città pronta ad accogliere tutte le scuole di pensiero e le varie tendenze, filtrandole e trasformandole in proprio patrimonio peculiare. Una vera e propria università non è mai stata istituita a Venezia. Esistevano tuttavia numerosi centri culturali, come il Circolo del grecista Giovanni Lascaris e le scuole di Rialto e San Marco che tenevano lezioni di filosofia morale e di retorica (aperte solo alla nobiltà).

Ci sono stati importanti centri di discussione intellettuale con splendide librerie collegate ad essi nei monasteri delle chiese di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Santo Stefano, S. Francesco della Vigna, San Michele in Isola e Sant’Antonio a Castello.



Aldo Manuzio non era solo uno stampatore, ma un vero e proprio editore. Uomo straordinariamente erudito, ha aiutato a preservare molti testi e ha raggiunto ottimi risultati.

Il primo studio dello stampatore era in Calle del Pistor, al numero 2343, nei pressi di Campo Sant’Agostin; si trasferì successivamente in Calle San Paterniano vicino a quello che è ora Campo Manin nel 1508.

Come stampatore ha pubblicato la Hypnerotomachia Poliphili nel 1499 per l’editore Leonardo Crasso a Verona.

E’ stato famoso anche per aver inventato il proprio carattere (font), probabilmente con l’aiuto del filosofo Frate Luca Pacioli e il disegnatore Francesco Griffo di Bologna.

I libri di Manuzio erano tenuti in grande considerazione e ha ricevuto numerosi riconoscimenti in tutta Europa, ma proprio per questo era oggetto di imitazioni e contraffazioni da parte di altri editori, in particolare a Firenze e Lione.

La sua stamperia divenne un circolo letterario. Manuzio era consapevole della sua grande responsabilità: convocava gli umanisti più importanti del tempo in Italia per utilizzarli come correttori (non solo traduttori e revisori di bozze, ma veri e proprio editori e consulenti editoriali).

Anche la sua scelta della carta -prodotta dalla cartiera Fabriano (la migliore sul mercato), formato 32 x 42 cm- ha portato a risultati sorprendenti. Una volta piegato a metà, ha ottenuto il “folio” (32 x 21 cm), in quattro il “quarto” (16 x 21 cm), in tre l’”ottavo” (10,5 x 16 cm). Manuzio ha progettato e iniziato ad usare l’”ottavo” con grande successo commerciale: in altre parole, aveva già inventato il libro in brossura (libro tascabile o “encheridio”) nei primi anni del XVI° secolo.

Nel maggio del 1502 Manuzio fondò un’accademia, il “Neacademia dei filelleni“, detta anche Accademia Aldina. Ha incoraggiato i rapporti commerciali, di collaborazione e di amicizia con le migliori menti del tempo, ed era un editore molto prolifico.

Grazie alla sua esperienza, il talento e l’abilità, il Senato ha nominato Manuzio come stampatore ufficiale della Repubblica di Venezia il 14 novembre 1502, dopo essere stato sponsorizzato da Marin Sanudo il Giovane (1466-1536).

E’ unanimemente accettato che il suo marchio di fabbrica (un’ancora e un delfino) si riferisca al motto “Festina lente” (“Affrettati lentamente”) attribuito da Svetonio a Ottaviano Augusto.

Grazie a Franco Filippi

Fonte: The Art of printing in Venice by Franco Filippi (