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Twentieth century Italian imprints

Denis Reidy


PRINTING with movable type was introduced into Italy in 1465 by two Germans, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who printed the first Italian book, Lactantius's De Divinis Institutionibus at the Monastery of Subiaco near Rome. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, Italian printers had earned an unrivalled reputation for the printing of works in clear and elegant types, the most celebrated being 'Roman' and 'Italic'. They were also renowned for the beautiful layout and design of their books. By this time, virtually every major city in the Italian peninsula could boast at least one printing press, while in Venice alone there were more presses to be found than in any other city in the world. Indeed, it has been calculated that just under fifty per cent of all sixteenth-century books were printed there. Italian printers 'par excellence' such as Antonio Blado, Aldus Manutius and his heirs, Gabriel Giolito de' Ferrari, the Giunta family, and Francesco Marcolini, to name the most famous, had earned a justifiable reputation for printing books in comparatively long print runs and, equally important, for publishing textually accurate and carefully edited works, a prerequisite for the literary and scientific researches of the Humanist scholar, especially in subjects such as biblical and classical exegesis. Italian printers were also famed for illustrating their books with woodcuts and engravings of the finest quality. These were not only of great beauty but were essential for scientific works, especially books on anatomy.

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