Drawing upon normally unexhibited material from the museum’s collections – including its Cabinet of Drawings and Prints and Library of Venetian History and Art – this exhibition offers an insight into the history of printing and print-making in Venice. From the early Venetian followers of Gutenberg, through Aldus Manutius and Dűrer, right up to the nineteenth century, this fascinating story is told through printed volumes, individual prints, engravings, woodcuts and copperplates.
The exhibits include not only rarities and curiosities but also some veritable works of art – all of them bearing witness to the importance and vigour of publishing within Venice from a very early date. As is well-known, the city was one of the first centres to produce printed books and engravings, which were noteworthy in terms of both quality and quantity. After the age of incunabula, it would maintain its importance as the industry gradually developed from the old hand-set printing presses to the first lithographic presses of the early 19th century.
The show illustrates how the form of printed works changed over the centuries: large in folio incunabula which imitated medieval codices; small format editions in which numerous illustrations accompanied texts in the vernacular; humanist works produced in convenient ‘pocket’ editions; sumptuous 18th century volumes crammed with illustrations; encyclopaedias and 19th century illustrated newspapers (enjoying huge circulation in Venice, these latter were often available throughout Italy in subscription instalments, sold by a network of booksellers similar to that one finds in contemporary publishing). The very variety of the publications also casts light on the social and cultural status of their readers – a status which would itself be transformed by the so-called “silent revolution” brought about by the advent of printing.