Museo Correr

Museo Correr

WORDS AND IMAGES. Moments in the history of printing and print-making from the Museo Correr collection.


Room 6. “And it all begins and proceeds from printing, which has opened the eyes of the blind and brought enlightenment to the ignorant. Truly, a rare, marvellous and miraculous art.” This is how Tommaso Garzoni (1549-1598) praises the new art of printing in his Piazza Universale di tutte le professioni del mondo , a curious ‘encyclopaedia’ of all the trades and crafts of his day; and the words are an ideal presentation to this first section of the exhibition. Alongside a copy of his book, one can see examples here of the new art of print-making, with wonderful plates produced by the Padua-born Vittorio Zonca (1568-1602) (2) and the illustrations to a Italian-published edition of Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie . There is also the first work from the print-shop of Johan Gutenberg himself, the inventor of the craft: a fragment from his famous forty-two line bible of 1455 (also known as the ‘Mazarine Bible’), with dense angular type printed on parchment sheets. The exhibition continues with a stunning series of incunabula, the first works printed using moveable type (all pre-1500). Each work bears witness to the early days of printing and shows how the text might sometimes be printed on parchment itself and then illuminated with gold and colour, just as medieval manuscripts had been. Those earlier works were also the source for the iconography here – for example, the depiction of a writer as either seated at his own desk or dictating a text to an amanuensis. The former can be seen in the image of St. Ambrose in his studium , whilst the latter – with the author as dictator – appears in the very first ‘History of Venice’ , written by the nobleman Bernardo Giustinian (1408-1489). Thereafter, woodcut plates would be used alongside moveable type, giving rise to the first illustrated books; these were particularly numerous in Venice, whose printers excelled in the genre. And thus we come to those early printers. Given its role as a centre of trade and its close links with Germany (the birthplace of printing),Venice was the first city to have a number of print-shops active at the same time. The first known printer here was, in fact, a German – Johan von Speyer (Giovanni da Spira) – who settled in the city in 1469, along with his brother Wendelin (Vindelino) . Other names that stand out are those of Nicholas Jenson (c.1420-1480) and, at the end of the century, the Italian Aldo Manuzio (c.1450-1515). Known in English by his Latin name – Aldus Manutius – this scholar of Latin and humanist, remains one of the most famous figures in the history of printing. Producing books of extraordinary technical quality, he published works of various kinds: learned texts of Ancient Greek and Latin ; contemporary political texts; religious works like the letters of St. Catherine ; and literary works by the great Tuscan writers of the previous century (Dante and Petrarch). These latter he also produced in cheaper, small-format books, libelli portatiles, which were then widely imitated also abroad. A characteristic feature of all the early books printed in Italy – by either foreign printers or native-born Italian such as Manutius – was the beauty of the typeface. The capital letters were inspired by the script of Roman epigraphs, whilst the small-case letters were based on the littera antiqua that was already being used by the humanists of Tuscany and Venice. The elegance and legibility of the resultant Romano script would mean that it subsequently became adopted by printers throughout the world. Manutius was also the first to use italic script, in small, pocket-sized volumes which he began producing from 1501 onwards; based on humanist, the typeface was designed for him by the calligrapher Francesco da Bologna, also known as Francesco Griffo.

Room 7. For the merchants and gentlemen who arrived here from Germany and Central Europe, Venice was the first stopping-point on journeys into Italy or further afield, perhaps to the Southern Mediterranean and the East. In 1483 a group of clerics and laymen from Mainz stopped here before taking ship in two Venetian galleys for the Holy Land. With none of the explicit militaristic aims of a crusade, this pilgrimage made a profound impression not only upon those who took part but also upon the whole of European culture, thanks to thePeregrinatio, a faithful account of the journey. Published in Gutenberg’s home city of Nuremberg, the Latin text by the young canon Bernhard von Breydenbach would present European readers with an unknown world, describing not only ports, cities and holy places but also the peoples to be found there. Differences in clothing, language, script and even religious worship (both Christian and Muslim) were presented analytically; and the impact of the work was heightened by the fact that Von Breydenbach also drew upon the services of a Flemish artist, Erhard Reuwinck, who produced the woodcut illustrations for the book. The print plate of Christ Bearing the Cross is an example of the woodcut printing technique. In fact, from the late fourteenth century onwards, presses in Germany – and, slightly later, in Venice itself – were using woodcut plates to print individual sheets with text and images. The image on display here dates 1520 and is based on a Titian painting of a few years earlier (c.1508) which was the object of great popular devotion. Venetians themselves played a leading role in the explorations of the day – for example, at the beginning of the fifteenth century the Zen brothers would travel as far as Persia and then even to the Arctic regions and the shores of the New World. Hence, it was natural that the theme should be covered by the books printed in the city. Amongst the accounts of travels that were published in Venice are those by the Bologna-born Varthema and by the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci, the man who would give his name to the New World (even if in the Venetian text he is identified as ‘Albertutio’ or ‘Alberico’). Printed works could also act as guides for those who undertook such travels. Venetian printers produced not only navigational portolans and isolari , but also merchandise manuals, exchange computation tables and accounting handbooks . At the same time, printed works presented the armchair traveller with magnificent accounts of distant worlds – for example, in the imaginary travels of Sir John Mandeville – or with the religious marvels to be found in Jacopo da Varazze’s The Golden Legend. Printing also proved a powerful educational tool, with manuals that taught reading, writing and arithmetic. The authors of such works were figures like Giovanni Battista Verini , Domenico Manzoni and Giovanni Antonio Tagliente and Girolamo Tagliente, an expert in the use of the abacus who produced manuals for all types of practical skills. Manzoni, in fact, was a scribe and master arithmetician who worked from a humble house at the Rialto market, near the statue of the ‘Gobbo’ [Humpback] where public announcements were read; his printed works are unique because they use the mercantile script – a sort of Gothic italic – which was still being used by the masters of the abacus.

Room 8. Traditional schooling began with the study of Latin grammar, which opened the door to knowledge; and Elio Donato’s elementary text – Ianua – takes its name from that of the Roman god of doorways, Janus . The entire text is written in Latin, a tongue still unknown to the students, who therefore learnt the language only with great difficulty and through frequent punishments. After having acquired this rudimentary knowledge, they passed on to the short sentences of the Distichia Cathonis and then worked through more complex texts until they were ready for the various books that taught Retorica, the art of speaking in public and writing correctly. Works of this latter kind were produced by various Italian humanists of the day, including the Siena-born Agostino Dati , the Arezzo-born Tortelli (1400-1466) and the Venetian priest Francesco Negro (1450 ca.-1510). Printed in Nuremberg in 1493, the monumental Liber Chronicarum was written by a scholar of medicine and jurisprudence, Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), and offers a history of the world from the Creation onwards. Every page is crammed with illustrations – a total of 1809, from some 645 different plates – which depict biblical scenes, city views, portraits of popes and kings, historical events and even the Last Judgement. But perhaps what made the biggest impression on the reader were the illustrations of the monstrous creatures which Greek and medieval culture alike believed to inhabit the regions at the margin of the known world: sciapodes, who were men with a single large foot; blemmi, headless creatures with eyes in the middle of their chest; ponci, horse-hoofed monsters whose sexual organs were located on their chest; pygmies who were continually at war with storks; panoti, whose enormous ears enveloped their bodies like a cloak; and cynocephali, men with the heads of dogs. Albrecht Dűrer probably worked on these illustrations, later going on to reveal his own extraordinary standing as an artist in the Apocalypse, a folio book of woodcut prints that are entirely his own work; each signed with his monogram, the fifteen plates are of a vivid visionary quality and each has the relevant biblical text printed on the verso of the sheet. Dűrer would have extensive and wide-ranging links with artists such as Mantegna and Titian, as well as with Jacopo de Barbari, who in 1500 produced the famous woodcut print depicting the whole of Venice. Commissioned by a German merchant, this work was for a long time actually attributed to Dűrer (two of the prints and the six extraordinary original plates can be seen on the second floor of the Museo Correr). The exhibition continues with some folio volumes of works from Classical Antiquity , and some editions of religious texts. These latter include the sole-surviving copy of an account of the miracles associated with the Venetian confraternity of San Giovanni Evangelista and various works in the vernacular – for example, a Life of St. Francis and biographical tales of Jesus and Mary, known as Fioretti, (accompanied with powerful illustrations, such works were widely read before they were banned during the Counter Reformation). Alongside is the text of the Sermon on the Art of Making a Good Death , preached by the Dominican Girolamo Savonarola and faithfully transcribed by the notary Lorenzo Vivoli; Savonarola himself, a severe critic of corruption within the Church, would ultimately be burnt at the stake in 1498. The secular works on display include scientific publications by Erhard Ratdolt (ca.1443-ca.1528), a native of Augsburg who was active in Venice from 1476 to 1486. The volumes show him to have resolved the problems inherent in printing geometrical figures and even trying out coloured illustrations – for example, in the splendid Hyginus, which reveals how astronomy had yet to be clearly separated from astrology. Another curious work is the treatise on automata by Hero of Alexandria, a surviving record of the technical know-how of the Classical Antiquity. Then comes the first great medical work by the German Johannes de Ketham, in which the large illustrations reveal tradition (the old association of the various signs of the Zodiac with different bodily organs) surviving alongside a more modern approach (urinomancy and the study of anatomy through the dissection; Venice was one of the few places where such dissection of corpses took place).

Room 9. There is a very close link between the medal and coins collection put together by Teodoro Correr and his library, the books in which were often acquired as sources of information on the former. This link is illustrated in a very special way by the book Numismata virorum illustrium ex barbadica gente. The central figure in the story is the Venetian Giovanni Francesco Barbarigo di Santa Maria del Giglio (1658-1730). Born into one of the oldest families of the city, he would have an important ecclesiastical career, becoming bishop and ultimately cardinal. From his youth he was interested in the collection of new medals, commissioning from Giovanni Francesco Neidinger (active in Venice from 1685 to c.1714) works which celebrated the achievements and virtues of his ancestors. As early as 1697 Barbarigo would decide to have his entire collection reproduced in a book, the illustrations being produced first by Domenico Rossetti (Venice 1651 – Verona 1936), then – from 1709 onwards – by Robert van Auden Aerd (Ghent 1663-1743), who would complete all the copper-plate engravings needed for the work. The project was not fully completed until 1731, and the volume was printed in Padua the following year; a further supplement was also produced in 1760. Each chapter opens with an engraving of the medal, the obverse bearing a profile portrait of the figure concerned, the reverse side showing a scene from his life or an allegorical depiction of his virtues. The medals are enclosed by an elaborate frame with allegorical figures that celebrate the member of the Barbarigo family depicted. The text describing his life opens with a decorated capital and ends with a clausula adorned with a symbolic image. The Museo Correr possesses not only various copies of the Numismata but also many of the original copper-plates for the illustrations and illuminated capitals, as well as almost all the medals and some of the original dies from which they were struck. This section of the exhibition contains a copy of the whole volume, complete with the portrait of Barbarigo himself, as well as a number of loose pages, each with the relevant medal and copper-plates. The illustration of the medal is accompanied by allegorical figures of Religion and the Old and New Testament. The illustration of the capital is the scene of the Annunciation. Then come other celebrations of famous members of the family, including Marco and Agostino Barbarigo, who were elected doge one after the other (in 1485 and 1486). The depiction of the former has an allegorical figure of Architecture (a reference to work carried out on the Doge’s Palace), whilst that of the latter commemorates the doge’s meeting with Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus, who would surrender her kingdom to the Venetian Republic; the illustration here has an allegorical figure of Gratitude, whilst the capital is decorated with a image of the Bucintoro, the doge’s ceremonial galley. The author of the whole volume, Giovanni Francesco Barbarigo, is commemorated as both a bishop and a Venetian senator; the capital letter is decorated with the crest of the Queen of Poland, whom he had met.

Room 10. Throughout the Middle Ages, Ovid’s Metamorphoses was a source of conflict between readers and ecclesiastical authorities. This masterpiece of Latin poetry is full of the metamorphoses to be found in Classical myth, whilst the Church argued that the sole real metamorphosis was that by which God became man and saved the world. The result was that Ovid himself underwent a transformation, becoming Ovidus moralizatus; and each of his myths was accompanied by an allegorical interpretation that made it reflect theological doctrine. Along with two editions in the vernacular, the exhibition contains Giorgio de Rusconi’s 1517 Latin edition. In the latter, various illustrations depict scenes from the Rape of Europa, with the young woman being carried off to Crete by a Jupiter who had transformed himself into a bull. However, the accompanying commentary makes the whole tale into an allegory of the soul redeemed and carried off to Heaven by a sacrificial Christ/bull. What was particularly striking about these 53 splendid woodcuts (first used in 1497) was their realism and expressive power – plus the fact that they followed Classical Antiquity in the depiction of weapons, clothing and bodies (the nudity so alarmed the Patriarch of Venice that he obliged the printer and publisher to make corrections, first on the printed page and then directly upon the woodcut plates themselves). A total of 1,800 of these complete illustrations to Ovid would be sold in just four months upon their original appearance in 1497. The images would then be reproduced in numerous editions and translations throughout the sixteenth century, inspiring all the great artists of the day, from Titian onwards. However, before they made their effects felt in the Golden Age of Venetian painting, these incunabula would be reflected in the wonderful works of majolica istoriatathat are one of the highest forms of artistic expression of the Italian Renaissance. Decorated with mythological scenes, these majolica vases and plates are represented here by a 17-piece service generally attributed to Nicolò da Urbino known as Pellipario (1480-1537/8), whose works are to be found in the great museums of the world; he is said to have painted these plates in his youth, when working at Casteldurante (now Urbania). As an example of the possible links between the printed illustrations and the majolica istoriata decorations, note the cherub with bow and arrow that appears in the scene of the virgin taming the unicorn; his pose is very similar to that of the cupid being reprimanded by Apollo in the background between two scenes depicting the god killing Python and pursuing Daphne before she is transformed into a laurel tree. A similar parallel can be seen between the depiction of Salomon adoring an idol (in the majolica bowl IV, n°1) and the scene of the Achilles dying after being struck in the heel by Paris’s arrow (the hero is shown kneeling before a hostile god who is raised on an unusual pedestal that resembles a typical Venetian well-head). Given their location, the ancient fables depicted upon these plates would become visible gradually, as the food over them was eaten. This is why they are shown here with a copy of the treatise De onesta voluptate et valetudine by the courtier Bartolemo Sacchi (1421-1481), who was also known as ‘Il Platina’ after the name of his birthplace (Piadina, near Cremona). The frontispiece of the incunabulum is decorated with a miniature in the floral style that originated in the studio of Leonardo Bellini. The text is preceded by a “Table of Food, Fruits, Flavours and Victuals from Various Places”, for the convenience of those who were preparing these dishes; the recipes describe the ‘haute cuisine’ of the period’s royal courts and patrician homes in a language that would be understood by any Venetian.

Room 12. Dominated by the two different styles of Rococo and Neo-Classicism, the illustrated book was an important form of artistic expression in 18th century Venice. After a modest start, the century would see the triumph of prestige publishing, with attention being focused not only on the accuracy of texts but also on their elegant presentation in finely-bound and illustrated volumes. There was, in effect, a return to the classical taste of the sixteenth-century, with the heaviness of baroque frontispieces being replaced by elegant allegories on the flyleaf and light, copper-plate engravings. The large-scale format of the seventeenth century had often been due to the need for full-scale illustrations or erudite compilations; but now, alongside such volumes, there also more manageable books. The text itself would increasingly become little more than an excuse for a profusion of illustrations, decorative friezes, floral motifs and small (often bucolic) scenes. The numerous Academies and scientific societies that enjoyed the patronage of a rich and enlightened aristocracy continued to produce literary and scientific works; at the same time, there was still a taste for celebratory volumes produced for special occasions . The many printers active in eighteenth-century Venice included Giambattista Albrizzi (1698-1777), Giambattista Pasquali (1702-1784) and Antonio Zatta (1722-1804). Working in collaboration with the artists who were then adorning patrician city palaces and country villas, their print-shops would produce opulently-illustrated volumes. The Venice of the day was home to numerous engravers – for example, Marco Alvise Pitteri (1702-1786) – and it was thanks to their mastery of the new techniques for rendering shading and chiaroscuro that the works of such artists as Gaspare Diziani (1682-1767), Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Francesco Fontebasso (1709-1769) and Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) could be transferred to copper-plate. The greatest masterpiece published by Albrizzi was his 1745 edition of Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Liberata, dedicated to Maria Teresa of Austria. For this volume the artist Giovanbattista Piazzetta (1683-1754) produced original drawings for the copper-plate engravings of 26 full-page illustrations, one introducing each canto; he also designed the twenty headings and twenty-one tail-pieces with pastoral scenes (in the last one, the artist and publisher are recognisable). Almost twenty years later, in 1764, Albrizzi would produce one of the finest of Venetian celebratory volumes, the Componimenti Poetici per l’ingresso del procuratore di San Marco per merito di Su Eccelenza Lodovico Manin , for which Francesco Bartolozzi (1728-1815) did some of the work on the engravings for the flyleaf, frontispiece, portrait, 17 vignettes, headings, tailpieces and 38 elaborate frames that enclose the texts. Albrizzi’s Gerusalemme Liberata would inspire other luxury editions of the masterpieces of Italian literature: in 1757 Albrizzi himself would publish a Divina Commedia , which came one year after Antonio Zatta’s edition of Petrarch’s Rime , a work that involved various artists and engravers in the production of the over 120 illustrations. Between 1761 and 1777, the Pasquali print-shop would publish the 17 volumes of Carlo Goldoni’s Commedie , with engravings that admirably record life in contemporary Venice: the flyleaves, frontispiece vignettes and the illustrations introducing each play were designed by Pietro Antonio Novelli (1729-1804) and engraved by Giuliano Giampiccoli (1703-1759) and Antonio Baratti (1724-1787), whilst the portrait of Goldoni himself was engraved by Pitteri after a drawing by Lorenzo Tiepolo (1736-1786). Baratti and Bartolozzi would also produce the engravings for Paolo Colombani’s 1760 Quattro Elegantissime Egloghe Rusticali , in this case after drawings by Bartolozzi himself and Novelli.

Room 14. The large-scale publishing ventures of the eighteenth century were made possible by sales techniques which relied on ‘associations’ or ‘subscriptions’: costs were covered – and an adequate profit guaranteed – by the fact that an edition was ‘underwritten’ beforehand by future purchasers. In the first half of the 19th century, bookselling focussed on production for a wider public who had the necessary minimum of education and were attracted by low-cost, easy-to-read publications. Some innovative publishers thus turned their attention to the lowering of costs and the increasing of print runs. This trend is exemplified by the Teatro Universalepublished by a Turin publisher, Giuseppe Pomba, who had acquired a steam-powered printing press from England in 1830. Inspired by similar publications elsewhere in Europe, the periodical came out in weekly, eight-page instalments and cost only 10 cents; as with the review Il Caffè, which had first been published in the previous century, the name was chosen to reflect the new venues of entertainment and assembly, where public opinion – and national awareness – were formed. In effect, the declared aim was to “bring knowledge to the tradesman’s entrance”. Similar periodicals would then be published in other cities – for example Il Cosmorama Pittorico in Milan. An important step forward was made in Venice, where one product that stood out was L’Emporio artistico-litterario, ossia raccolta di amene lettere, novità, aneddoti e cognizioni utili in generale, published by Giuseppe Antonelli (1793-1861). These instalment publications could be bound together in an annual volume, and the text was “interspersed with drawings” in order to make the reading more pleasant and appealing. This new layout was made possible by ‘lithographical transfer’, which meant that the reproduction of illustrations no longer relied on woodcuts. Awarded a Gold Medal in 1838, this new process made it possible to transfer fine-line drawings of great expressive power onto a lithographic plate that could be used over and over again. One result was the huge output of the Privilegiato Stabilimento Antonelli, totalling more than 500 editions – 10 million books – of works of popular education. With a workforce of almost 300, the firm brought together all the phases of production at its 17th century premises on the Fondamenta della Misericordia in Venice; and the books were sold through agents and bookshops in major cities throughout Italy and abroad. Like the early printers of the fifteenth century, the Antonelli company also had a die-casting division where it produced its own moveable type, which was regularly renewed to maintain sharpness of character on the printed page. And as the cost of paper was a major factor in determining the final price of a book, the company started to produce small-format books – for example, the 188-volume Parnaso Classico Italiano – which were worthy heirs to Manutius’ libelli portatiles. Another Venetian printer who would leave his mark on the publishing industry was Ferdinando Ongania (1842-1911), whose name remains linked with the monumental work La Basilica di San Marco, which came out in instalments from 1877 to 1888. Like the Antonelli – who had drawn inspiration from the example of Manutius – Organia felt himself to be continuing the great Venetian tradition of printing, often producing high-quality facsimile volumes of earlier publications . Many of the pages that he reproduced in this manner were drawn from now lost privately – owned volumes – look, for example, at the series of lace designs which he reproduced in limited editions of 100 to celebrate the opening of the Burano Lace School in 1872 and Vavassore , with illustrations based on the work of such 16th century engravers as Tagliente. Another field in which Ongania made his mark was that of art books and guides, publishing splendid volumes that were a clear forerunner of the richly-illustrated works that play such a role in contemporary culture.