Tag Archives: Italia

Francesco Griffo

Francesco Griffo

Manutius got type-design-superstar Francesco Griffo to cut type for his lowercase/minuscule Greek letters. Greek minuscules had been developed by the monks in those old scriptoria to save some space on the page. Griffo redesigned them as italics so they would take even less space. He did the same for Hebrew and Roman lowercase. When you look at the examples in the links below, you’ll see that the capital letters are still in their old form—only the lowercase letters are italic.

A page of the polyglot Bible. Looks like only the Greek got lowercase italics. Why are there blank spaces at the top-left of columns 2 & 3 but top-right of the first column? http://www.griffoggl.com/en/biografia/

I give some links below here and yesterday’s post to Griffo’s beautiful work. One of my favs is the polyglot Bible: 3 columns on every page in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The guy was cutting those tiny letters in steel by hand and they’re perfect. Really, go look. Griffo’s designs for italic type are beautiful—and they’re useful. Italics take less space on a page, so books can be smaller and less expensive. Manutius was selling a ton of books thanks to Griffo’s italics. Here’s the ugly part: Manutius didn’t want any other publisher to have Griffo’s italic type. In 1502 Manutius went to the Senate of the Venetian Republic who granted him a 10-year protection—only Manutius could use Griffo’s italic type designs. I’m not talking about the physical metal type—I mean the design, the creative idea, the ‘intellectual property.’ So Griffo didn’t own his italics anymore, because he couldn’t sell them to anyone else. He should have been able to make a fortune from them, but Manutius owned ‘em. Welcome to the 1500s graphic design business, Francesco. Disappointed and disgusted, Griffo left Venice soon after that.

http://www.griffoggl.com/en/biografia/
http://www.griffoggl.com/en/corsivi/

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Aldus Manutius

Aldus Manutius

The brains behind all this innovation was one guy: Aldo Manutio, or Aldus Manutius in Latin. Latin & Greek weren’t completely abandoned by the early book publishers. Manutius was a scholar who spoke several languages and made it his mission to use his printing press to publish some beautiful editions of the classics (Hebrew, Greek & Latin lit)—while keeping his books affordable enough that the college crowd could afford them.



Manutius built a reputation for accurate translations. He was a meticulous editor. And though his books were produced inexpensively, they are gorgeous to look at. Either he or a designer on his payroll composed pages using classic mathematical proportions that Pythagorus, the ancient Greek mathematician, dreamed up (more about that soon). Scholarly writers/translators started coming to Manutius because they knew they could trust him with their work.

The dolphin & anchor image is Manutius’ colophon, or printer’s mark.

Here are links so you can looks at these books:

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/venice-early-ren/a/aldo-manuzio-aldus-manutius-inventor-of-the-modern-book
https://rarebooks.library.nd.edu/exhibits/durand/italian/manutio.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldus_Manutius
For only $8,800 clams you can own a first edition from the Aldine Press: https://www.raptisrarebooks.com/product-tag/aldine-press-first-edition/

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…And we pass the savings on to you, our customer

The story so far: books were shooting out of the printing presses; they cost way less than hand-written manuscripts; they’re written in vernacular languages (that everybody spoke) rather than Latin (that hardly anybody spoke); the presses were located in Venice, Italy where people were making fat stacks of lire by trading with Asia and could afford fripperies like books.


Even so, merchants weren’t about to blow a month of profits on a thirty-nine-pound 14” by 17” three-volume copy of Dante’s Commedia even if it were cheaper than a manuscript. Beside costing a fortune, who’d want to lug it around?

Press sheet, folio, quarto, octavo.

So the Venetian printers came up with new ways to make books less expensive and more portable. First, they made books smaller so they’d need less paper. They folded a press sheet once (folio), twice (quarto), and again (octavo) until they got small, easy-to-carry pocket-sized books. Next, they made type skinnier so more words would fit on a page—it was called italic. Skinnier type means fewer pages/less paper. What else? You know how paperback books are cheaper than hardcover books? How about no-cover books? Venetian printers sold you a book as a package of loose leaves! There were book binders who would sew them up into a codex if you liked.

I’m kidding! This is just a joke! It’s likely these leaves were F&Gs—’folded & gathered’ into 16-page signatures. https://www.printindustry.com/Newsletters/Newsletter-194.aspx

http://gallery.lib.umn.edu/exhibits/show/celebratingvenice/printing

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Most Serene!

Okay, maybe not so serene. I did this image a while back for a Pittsburgh Public Theater production of an old commedia dell’arte play.

Venice, Italy was the place to be if you were in the printing business in the late 1400s—like Silicon Valley, California is today for the software industry. I was looking for reasons why everybody moved there, like religious persecution or something, but it looks like printers were attracted to Venice rather than driven there. Who can blame them? She’s an enchanting city. The locals call her la Serenissima—the Most Serene. Since the Middle Ages Venice had been a powerful trading port with her own navy. Venice was the western end of that network of overland and sea routes known as the Silk Road. Trade goods and wealth from all over Europe were exchanged for trade goods and wealth from all over Asia. All that bustling trade produced a rich merchant class with extra soldi to spend on luxury items, like books.

Italian Word of the Day: Soldi (money)

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The Divine Comedy

Abbandonate ogni speranza, voi che entrate!
Abandon every hope, ye who enter!
—posted above the entrance to Hell

Dante Alighieri

Okay, amici—next up is Dante Alighieri’s (DAHN-tay ah-li-GYAIR-ee) masterwork, La Divina Commedia (lah di-VEEN-ah ko-MADE-yah), The Divine Comedy. Dante wrote it in Tuscan-Italian during his exile from Florence in 1308-1321. The word ‘comedy’ is used in its old sense—this time, it all turns out all right—there aren’t a lot of laughs in this poem. On the other hand, it’s chock-full of mind-boggling imagery. Dante glommed onto mediæval Christian dogma and wrung every last drop of inspiration from it. You and I think of Hell being devils with pitchforks. Dante gives us 9 levels of Inferno, each for the severity of a particular sin. What’s Purgatory like? Dante imagines it as a series of challenges souls need to work through. Heaven, too, has a hierarchy of levels with the Trinity at the tippy-top. Along the way Dante meets people from history, condemned souls frozen in ice, an enormous Lucifer chewing on sinners, sinners drowning in a sea of poison, sinners with their heads twisted backwards as punishment for blasphemously predicting the future (punishments are aptly just—they fit the sin)…it’s the stuff of nightmares. Dante has to be one of the most creative writers ever.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Dante is both the narrator and the main character. He is spiritually lost & confused. Politics forced him to leave his hometown and exile is getting to him. Dante is magically whisked away to the 3 realms of afterlife: Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. Dante’s hero, the Roman poet Virgil, is his guide through Inferno and Purgatory. In Paradise, Dante’s lost love Beatrice (Bay-a-TREET-chay) takes over as guide (she died when they were both young). Virgil shows Dante the horrible eternal punishments for sinners in Hell. When they get to Purgatory, Dante doesn’t just go through and look around like he’s on a ride at Disneyland. He joins in with the other souls to work through his spiritual shortcomings. That way, he’s allowed to see Heaven. Dante’s soul is refreshed and renewed. This is known in writing circles as character arc.

The whole adventure takes place over Easter weekend in ad 1300.* Dante wrote it in his own Tuscan dialect which became standard Italian because of La Commedia’s popularity. Just like The Canterbury Tales, The Divine Comedy enjoyed a huge audience thanks to the printing press.

Stuck nipple-high in a frozen lake

I’m an illustrator so I gotta tell you about this. Five centuries after Dante, Gustave Doré was France’s highest-paid illustrator (he could make his mortgage payments on time nearly every month) and he decided to illustrate La Commedia. He wanted to publish a deluxe edition. His publisher said, “Meh, not interested,” so Doré invested his own money and printed up just Inferno. Inferno was an instant blockbuster, his publisher said, “I’m an ass!” and together they produced Purgatorio and Paradiso. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself. Doré was a supremely talented artist. If you’ve never seen Doré’s stuff, you’re in for a treat. His images are every bit as inspired as Dante’s words.
https://www.openculture.com/2013/10/gustave-dores-dramatic-illustrations-of-dantes-divine-comedy.html
WARNING! There are paintings of nekkid people in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oO1JTVuhymg
https://www.openculture.com/2015/04/artists-illustrate-dantes-divine-comedy-through-the-ages.html

https://essaypro.com/blog/divine-comedy-summary
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dante-Alighieri/Legacy-and-influence
https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-divine-comedy-by-dante-summary-analysis-quiz.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Comedy
https://context.reverso.net/translation/italian-english/Lasciate+ogni+speranza
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comedy

* Just like Ebeneezer Scrooge met 3 ghosts over Christmas Eve night.
http://through-a-glass-brightly.blogspot.com/2013/12/kindred-spirits-juxtaposition-of-dante.html

The amazing fantastic clock of Piazza San Marco

In 1493, the Venetian Republic commissioned the clockmaker Giovan Paolo Rainieri, from the town of Reggio Emilia, to design and build a clock. This clock would be big and beautiful and expensive—a tower would be designed and built on Saint Mark’s Plaza to house it. It would face the lagoon and the sea beyond, so the whole world could see how prosperous was Venice.

If you visit Venice you can see the Rainieri clock. Its face is decorated in gold and lapis lazuli (a mineral you make blue out of—blue paint ain’t cheap); the hand tells what hour it is and the current zodiac sign; above the clock is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus (made of gilded copper); twice a year a mechanical angel and three wise men parade in front of Mary and tip their crowns to her; above Mary is the lion of Saint Mark with his paw on the Gospel (the statue of the praying doge isn’t there anymore); and at the top, every hour two bronze giants ring an enormous bell with their hammers.

The entire contraption from top to bottom used a verge and foliot escapement to regulate the gears.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/torre-dell-orologio-venice-clock-tower
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Clock

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Clocktower

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