Aldus Manutius Founds the Aldine Press Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Manutius founded a publishing company that became one of the most influential in Europe, printing numerous first editions of important classical and contemporary works, which helped spread the ideas of Humanism to European readers. The Aldine Press also developed the pocket-sized book, which made reading affordable and more accessible.

Summary of Event

By the early 1490’, three decades after the introduction of printing Printing;Italy to Italy, Venice was Europe’s largest producer of printed books. Around this time, Humanist scholar and former teacher Aldus Manutius settled in Venice and founded what was to become one of the most famous and influential printing firms in European history. Printing;publishing Aldine Press Aldus Manutius Torresani, Andrea Paulus Manutius Aldus Manutius, the Younger Torresani, Andrea Erasmus, Desiderius Manutius, Paulus Manutius, Aldus, the Younger Manutius, Aldus, the Elder

Aldus had been educated in some of the most eminent intellectual circles in Italy and was associated with leading scholars, such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whose nephews, princes Alberto and Leonello Pio of Carpi, he tutored in the 1480’. Aldus was to exploit well these excellent contacts and credentials in his twenty-year printing career, becoming the first true scholar-publisher and producing books that appealed not only to Europe’s social and intellectual elite but also to a new, wider readership.

In Venice, Aldus acquired powerful business partners in the form of the established and successful printer Andrea Torresani and the Venetian patrician Pierfrancesco Barbarigo, and set about implementing his printing plans. Aldus’s chief goal, as expressed in the elegant dedications and prefatory letters he appended to many of his books, was to print the great works of classical antiquity, particularly Greek antiquity, from the most authoritative manuscript sources he could track down across Europe. Like many Humanists, Humanism;Italy he believed that the revival of ancient languages and literatures would herald a new golden age, and he considered printing to be the ideal tool for this endeavor.

In this spirit, from the beginning, he laid emphasis on both the stylistic and intellectual virtues of his books. His types were cut in imitation of the most accepted Humanist hands and his books edited with a (generally) unprecedented rigor, even if they do not always live up to today’s standards of scholarly editing.

The company’s first dated publication was a Greek grammar by Constantine Lascaris called Erotemata (1495), and the next few years saw the production of a number of other works in the same vein. These were produced with the help of eminent scholars, some of whom hailed from Venice’s large expatriate Greek community. Chief among these publications was a series of Aristotle’s works (1495-1498); however, also published were important Latin and vernacular works. These included Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna (1496), which was printed using a very influential new Roman typeface, and the Hypnerotomachia polifili (1499) by Francesco Colonna, a vernacular romance with stunning woodcut illustrations.

Around 1500, probably ceding to the demands of the market (or of his business partners), Aldus changed the focus of his company from predominantly Greek texts to texts that were more likely to sell, those in Latin and Italian. Exemplary of this trend was the series of classics published from 1501, including ancient writers such as Vergil and Horace as well as newer writers such as Petrarch and Dante. For these books, Aldus employed the small octavo format, which had never before been used for these types of works and which was a precursor to the modern paperback, and a newly cut italic font that was the first of its kind. Perfectly suited to the itinerant lifestyle of the scholars, politicians, and diplomats that Aldus saw as his chief audience, these books were a smashing success, and both the format and type were much copied.

Despite the success of his company to this point, the remaining years of Aldus’s life did not always run smoothly, and he interrupted printing during two periods (1505-1507 and 1509-1512), on the latter occasion because of Venice’s involvement in the war of the League of Cambrai. During these years Aldus also tried to interest a number of eminent patrons in his long-cherished dream of founding a Humanist educational academy, but with no success. Nevertheless, the group of scholars who were attracted at one time or another to the Aldine Press and its founder included distinguished men of letters from all over Europe. The most famous of these was Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who stayed for a time with Aldus while his Adagia was being published (1500). Other significant publications prior to Aldus’s death in 1515 included the works of Plato in Greek, which was dedicated to Pope Leo X (1513).

In 1505, Aldus had married Torresani’s daughter, Maria, and on his death his father-in-law and brothers-in-law carried on the company. They published a number of works that continued the spirit of the firm’s founder, perhaps the most important being the monumental edition of the works of Galen in Greek (1525). In the early 1530’, Aldus’s youngest son, Paulus, became involved with the press, and of Aldus’s three sons, he followed most faithfully in his fathers’ footsteps, as a scholar as well as a publisher.

After successfully battling his Torresani relations for exclusive use of the italic typeface, Paulus remained essentially the head of the Aldine Press until his death, although some members of the Torresani continued to hark back to their famous forebear, employing Aldus’s device of the dolphin and anchor in their own publications.

Paulus, with some help from his two brothers, continued a publication program that was neither as productive nor as illustrious as his father’, although in 1542, he published the first-ever anthology of letters in vernacular Italian and was later appointed as a contract printer for the short-lived Accademia Veneziana. He also forged links with two of the most important printers of the sixteenth century, the Frenchman Henri II Estienne and Christophe Plantin of Antwerp. During the 1560’, Paulus worked as an official printer for the Vatican in Rome, before returning to Venice, where he died in 1574. His own son, Aldus Manutius, the Younger, was also something of a scholar and began to assume responsibility at the press while his father was in Rome. Although with less continuity and commitment than either his father or grandfather, he continued to publish until his own death in 1597.


At a time when Venice was producing an enormous quantity of printed books, even if not of the highest quality, the press founded by Aldus Manutius was perhaps the first in Europe to achieve great fame and success for combining solid Humanist scholarship with stylistic features that catered perfectly to the tastes of the European intellectual elite. The typefaces that Aldus employed, particularly the roman and italic, set the standard in printing for many centuries, while his use of the octavo format for a series of classic texts, printed in runs of several thousand copies, was an important step in presenting literature to a larger readership.

Although his vast project to print the great works of classical antiquity (and some of his own day) was often hindered by the tumultuous times in which he lived, Aldus’s two decades of toil in pursuit of his aim was rewarded with lasting and well-deserved fame. The reputation for excellence that Aldus gained was not forgotten by his heirs from both the Torresani and Manutius families, whose printing efforts to the end of the sixteenth century evoked his memory continually.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davies, Martin. Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999. A useful, succinct account of Aldus’s career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fletcher, H. George. In Praise of Aldus Manutius: A Quincentenary Exhibition. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1995. A well-illustrated and annotated catalog of a major exhibition of Aldines that includes a helpful overview of the company’s progress to the late sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fletcher, H. George. New Aldine Studies: Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius. San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, 1988. Draws together the available evidence to fill out the details of Aldus’s life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lowry, Martin. The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Still the definitive biography of Manutius. Evaluates his work and legacy in the context of the Venetian intellectual and commercial world. Contains tables of his publications and an extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zeidberg, David S., ed. Aldus Manutius and Renaissance Culture: Essays in Memory of Franklin D. Murphy. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki, 1994. A collection of scholarly studies on many aspects of Aldus’s business, with an essay also on Paulus’s publishing work in Rome.

1456: Publication of Gutenberg’s Mazarin Bible

1462: Regiomontanus Completes the Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest

1486-1487: Pico della Mirandola Writes Oration on the Dignity of Man

1494: Sebastian Brant Publishes The Ship of Fools

Categories: History