ALDUS MANUTIUS (1449-1515)

The famous "Dolphin and Anchor" device of Aldus appeared for only the second time in the second state of the 1502 Dante, and was used subsequently in all his editions. It is the symbol of the ancient proverb "Festina lente" (Hurry up slowly) which Aldus had taken as a motto as early as 1499, and seems to have regularly expounded to his friends.

A grammarian and humanist, Aldus' fame is above all connected to his greatness as a typographer and editor. Aldus began his career as a humanist teacher and became known to the most important humanist circles of the time before coming to Venice around 1490. In 1493 Aldus established a printing house together with Andrea Torresani da Asolo. Aldus' publishing activity, in contrast to the vast majority of printing during the incunable period, was inspired by clear cultural and intellectual goals in addition to economic ones. Founder of the Philhellenic Academy, he contributed in a decisive manner to the study and cultivation of Greek letters inItaly. He himself edited splendid Greek, Latin and vernacular editions,and had other editions prepared for him by the best scholars in these languages.

The revolutionary impact of Aldus' editions is readily apparent when the elegant portable octavo of his 1502 Dante, printed in beautiful italic type without commentary, is compared to the ponderous incunabula of the previous decade which buried Dante's text beneath exegetical commentary. Aldus' editions invited the reader to encounter the classics directly, in an unfiltered state. In addition, the portable format and unencumbered presentation of the text appealed to the expanding public demand for Dante and the vernacular classics. In the cities among the middle classes, and in the courts, vernacular poetry was flourishing among both gentlemen and gentlewomen -- giving rise, for the first time in the Italian tradition, to a distinguished group of women poets.

The italic type, which has come to be associated with Aldus' name more than any other, was first used in an octavo edition of Virgil in 1501. Francesco Griffo, who designed the type for Aldus is said to have imitated the elegant cancelleresco script of the calligrapher Bartolomeo Sanvito. Sanvito reportedly wrote the final page of the Purgatorioin The Newberry library copy displayed in the photo [not yetavailable]. The lavishly illuminated Newberry copy illustrates how even the Aldine octavo might still be treated as a prestigious objet d'art by contemporary bibliophiles.