From Mediaeval manuscripts to the printed book

Sunday 22nd – Saturday 28th February 2015


The tour begins from arrival at Bologna airport. The first two nights are in Ravenna, the next four in Venice, with departure from Venice airport.


For the 500th Anniversary of the death of ALDUS MANUTIUS (1449 -1515) of the Aldine Press.


The tour, accompanied by Neil Harris, B.A. Balliol College, Oxford , Ph.D. University of Leicester , Professor of Bibliography and Library Studies at the University of Udine , provides an introduction to Italian libraries and their vast heritage of manuscripts and printed books, opening doors that are normally kept closed. Each visit consists in a guided tour of the library and a hands-on discussion with select items from the collections, in order to explain the history of Renaissance printing in Venice and the role of Aldus. The objective is to show how the advent of printing changed the nature of the book and the library as a place where books are kept


The Importance of Being Aldus

Aldus Manutius was born in Bassiano, a small hill-town near Rome, in 1449 or 1450; he died in Venice on 6 February 1515. His contribution to Western civilization has been deep and long-lasting. Every time a computer is switched on and the default font is Times New Roman, Aldus is visibly present on the screen. At the same time what was his achievement? His Roman type designs elaborate existing models by Jenson and other Venetian printers; printing in Greek was successfully conducted in Milan from the 1470s onwards; octavo format was well known to Renaissance printers before he used it for his enchiridia of the classics in 1501; and italic type derived from the humanist handwriting of the time. One answer is the synthesis of all these elements into a coherent whole; another is that Aldus, more than anyone else, invented the Western canon, or the idea that the formation of a gentlemen, or the ruling élite, rests on the study of a remote dead language.


Heathrow flight BA 054 depart 1455 arrive Bologna 1800

Coach to Ravenna

Aperitivi and dinner.


Library Visits


Monday, February 23

Cesena, Malatestiana Library


The Malatestiana has a good claim to being the  oldest, continuously extant, public library in the world, since its founder, Malatesta Novello, gifted it equally to the Franciscan monastery of the time and to the city of Cesena. Constructed on the model of the Library of Saint Mark in Florence, it presents a central nave and two rows of benches on each side, where the original manuscripts – large books in imposing bindings – are still chained to the benches. The room is exactly as it was five centuries ago. On the wooden door to the entrance is inscribed the date 1454: by the bitterest of ironies in far-off Germany , a machine was being perfected for a new-fangled “artificial writing”, which in a short time would turn the world of the book upside down and make this state-of-the-art library into a dinosaur.

         Discussion. “Manuscripts before printing”. In all its long history the Malatestiana has only ever lost two books, in 1797 to the invading French army, and this fact shows the virtue of chaining volumes to the pluteus. Together with the curator of manuscripts, dott.ssa Paola Errani, we shall examine some items which represent the state of the book arts in the middle of the Fifteenth century and see how they determined the nature of the Renaissance library before the advent of printing.


Tuesday, February 24


Classense Library


The present civic library was founded in 1803, but the building is much more ancient, since it was the Abbey of the Camaldoli order. It has maintained intact the library of the same, built and decorated at the beginning of the Eighteenth century by the abbot, Pietro Canneti, in which the volumes are stored according to the “wall system”, in bookcases made of wood around the walls of the room, with illumination coming from high windows. The library is famous for its collection of early editions of Dante, who, after his exile from Florence, is buried in Ravenna, as well as for its numerous manuscripts and incunabula.

         Discussion . “The beginnings of printing”. The Classense holds three remarkable manuscripts by Jacopo Rubieri, a Fifteenth-century humanist, who inserted printed woodcuts as dividers between sections. These remarkable survivals are quite unique. Together with the librarian, dott.ssa Licia Lapazi, we shall examine some early printed artefacts, including the Subiaco De oratore by Cicero (1465) and the Pliny, Historia naturalis printed in Venice on parchment in 1469.


Wednesday, February 25

a..m. Venice,

Marciana Library


The Marciana owes its origins to cardinal Bessarion, who in 1468 left his manuscripts to the Venetian state, with the condition that a public library be created to hold them. It was an imposing collection, 482 texts in Greek and 246 in Latin, and with other donations the library quickly passed the thousand. Little or nothing was done to make the books available for nearly a century, when the architect, Jacopo Sansovino, began the construction of the present building, Today the “Libreria Sansoviniana” is separate from the library itself and hosts exhibitions and other temporary events.


Discussion. “The beginnings of Aldus”. The discussion will look at the organization of the book trade in Venice, including Aldus’ first editions, produced from 1494 onwards, of which the Marciana has an almost complete set. Printing in Greek occurred only sporadically in Venice before the arrival of Aldus and most production came from the Milan shop of Bonus Accursius. Cutting punches, striking matrices, and founding type in Greek involves many complexities, due to the presence of accents and spirits. The discussion will also include Aldus’ greatest visual achievement and only real incursion into the field of illustrated books, the 1499 edition of the Hypnerotomachia, as well as the 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine of Siena, in which italic type appears for the first time.



Library of the Fondazione Cini


The Giorgio Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was established in 1951 by the industrialist Vittorio Cini in memory of his son, who had died a few years earlier in an airplane crash. The space it occupies is that of the Benedictine monastery, which goes back to 982, which conserves intact the furnishings of the library built by Baldassare Longhena in the second half of the Seventeenth century. The Foundation is home to a specialist library in the history of art and architecture, for which Cini purchased important collections of early Venetian illustrated books, most notably those of Victor Masséna, Prince d’Essling, whose five-volume study is still a standard work in the field.

         Discussion. “Venetian illustrated books”. Venetian illustrated printing, using woodcuts, was among the glories of Renaissance publishing and the Cini is home to one of the finest collections of this kind. In the seminar we shall look at the techniques of woodcut and its relation to art history, including some landmark examples from the history of Venetian printing. The Cini collection was formed for the most part by one of the great scholars of Renaissance Venetian publishing, Victor Masséna (1836-1910), duke of Rivoli and Prince d’Essling, grandson of Napoleon’s general. Most of his copies are in bespoke Nineteenth-century Parisian morocco bindings, which have destroyed all the evidence about the Renaissance history of the same, but remain remarkable objects in their own right.


Thursday, February 26


Library of the Correr Museum


The Library was founded in 1830, as part of the Correr Museum, and specializes in the history of Venice. As well as the reading room on the top floor, with a magnificent view over the lagoon, it contains numerous manuscripts and early printed books, many of them from the collection of the great Venetian scholar, Emmanuele Cicogna.

         Discussion. “Aldus and the coming of Italic type”. The Correr holds extraordinary collections of minor material, including ephemera, from the Sixteenth-century Venetian printing industry. We shall look at a selection of books produced up to and after Aldus’ death in 1515, with a particular attention for the changes in book design and format. As well as printing in Greek, Aldus’ fame rests on the introduction of italic type to print his famous series of octavo editions, beginning with an edition of Virgil in 1501. The discussion will illustrate the rise and fall of Italic type during the Sixteenth century.

The Correr is also home to one of Venice’s most famous galleries and we shall take the opportunity to examine another remarkable instance of printing, the huge aerial view map of Venice, printed with six huge woodblocks and measuring 1.345*2.818 metres, by Jacopo de’ Barberi, of which the original matrices are on display in the museum.



Library of the Foundation Querini-Stampalia


The Library was founded in 1869, together with the museum, and is one of the most friendly and welcoming libraries one could hope to find, much loved by the students of the University of Venice, also for its late opening hours. (The downstairs bar is one of the few truly secret places in the centre of Venice, where one can sit down in a garden, eat a plate of pasta, and drink a glass of wine in absolute peace; and those who know it, love it). The Querini has important collections relating to the history of Venice, but also a significant number of incunabula and Sixteenth-century books. A visit to the museum and art gallery on the top floor reveals how quality art made up the domestic environment of an aristocratic Venetian family. The gallery, wrongly ignored by many visitors to Venice, contains some extraordinary pictures, including the Presentation of Christ in the temple (c. 1469) by Giovanni Bellini and thirty paintings of Venetian society in the Eighteenth century by Pietro Longhi.

         Discussion. “Ferdinando Ongania and the memory of Venetian printing”. Ferdinando Ongania (1842-1911) was a remarkable Venetian bookseller with a shop in Piazza San Marco,  who conducted a vigorous campaign to save Venice’s monuments, including the history of her books.  Together with Mariachiara Mazzariol, author of the recent catalogue of Ongania’s editions, we shall look at the remarkable output of this late Nineteenth-century Venetian publisher.


Friday. February 27


Tipoteca Italiana


Founded in 1995 by Silvio Antiga, member of an important family of printers, the Tipoteca is an archive and museum of type, matrices and printing machinery, and actively promotes study in the history of typography. A visit allows us to inspect at first hand punches, matrices, type, presses, and all the paraphernalia of printing, including Linotype and Monotype machines. After a week of talking about and looking at books, it also provides us with an opportunity to set type and print a text of our choice. Dinner


Saturday, February 28

Water taxi to Venice Marco Polo airport

BA 0579 depart 12.45 arrive Heathrow 1400



NH Hotel, Ravenna ****  2 nights

Hotel Londra Palace, Venice ****   4 nights


Flights (not included in the cost .)

February 22 London Heathrow to Bologna BA054, depart 1455, arrive 18.00

February 28 Venice Marco Polo to London Heathrow BA 0579, depart 12.45, arrive 14.00



Per person sharing in a double room         £1975

Per person single in a double room         £2376


Should anyone prefer to arrange own accommodation in Venice, the cost is £1620

plus single room supplement in Ravenna £61


Cost includes hotels, b&b, transfers from airport to hotel to airport for those on the recommended BA flights,

2 lunches, 2 dinners.



Please note.

Very few hotels in Italian cities have single rooms or offer a reduced price for single use of a double room.

Flights are not included. Those who have booked to come on the  tour will be told as soon as the minimum number to guarantee that the tour will run has been reached ( mininimum 12, maximum 20 ).. At that stage, for obvious reasons, there are advantages in booking early.  If by 8 weeks before the start of the tour there is not a quorum, the tour will be cancelled and deposits returned.


John Hall

John Hall has been involved in cultural travel in Italy since 1966 when he set up the first Italian Villas and Gardens tours for Swan Hellenic Tours, and was subsequently responsible for planning many Swan Hellenic Art Treasures tours, and tours for C.I.T. He has organised tours for various institutions including the Fellows of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, the Directors of the Washington Choral Arts Society, the Garden History Society of Great Britain, the Garden Club of America as well as several made-to-measure tours for individual groups of friends.


John Hall c/o Mrs.Vicky Gillions

9 Smeaton Road, London SW18 5JJ


Tel: 44 (0)20 8872 4747

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