Aldus Manutius
Contract Concerning the Loan of Originals for the Printing of the Epistole di Santa Caterina

Venice, 17 April 1499
Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, It.XI.207(=4071); now combined with codex Lat.XIV.311(=4071) part V, cart., f. I

The document was drawn up in Aldus’ own hand and helps to reconstruct the publishing venture that led to the printing of the Epistole devotissime (cat. 86). Manutius asks a certain Antonio Condulmer, perhaps a nobleman mentioned in Marin Sanudo’s Diari (P. Scapecchi, in Aldo Manuzio tipografo 1994, p. 73, no. 37), to lend him three vellum codices, a paper manuscript and a printed book in the possession of a monastery, whose name is not included, containing St Catherine’s letters and other writings. Any damage was to be compensated at the rate of 20 ducats per vellum codex and 14 lire for every paper one. Aldus also undertakes to donate ten copies of the Epistole to the monastery. The contract is therefore an interesting example of the way damage often caused to manuscripts on the way to the printer’s was dealt with (Marcon 1994, p. 110). Equally intriguing is the fact that Aldus acts on behalf of Margherita Ugelheimer (“li quali volumi ho recepito per stampare per Madona Margarita oglemer”; “le quali tute promissioni [...] facio per nome de la dicta M. Margarita” – “which volumes I have received so as to print them for my lady Margarita oglemer”; “all commissions that [...] I undertake on behalf of the abovementioned M. Margarita”), who countersigns the contract. Margherita was the widowed wife of Peter, a well-known merchant who owned a number of splendid illuminated incunabula published by Jensen, whose partner and executor he was. The publication of the Epistole was thus a company undertaking, in which the last member of one of the leading publishers of the fifteenth century shared her financial risks with Manutius’ emerging company (Lowry 2000, p. 167). The Aldine edition constitutes the editio princeps of the saint’s correspondence, thanks to the exemplary work of the editor, the Dominican Bartolomeo da Alzano from Bergamo, who, during twenty years of research, greatly increased the amount of material available (D. Giunta, in Il potere e la grazia 2009, p. 250, no. 10.2). This much emerges from the contract, partly as a result of the risks Aldus took to obtain the texts the monk needed (Lowry 2000, p. 167). In recognition of the editor’s fine work the Republic of Venice granted Aldus’ workshop a ten-year copyright on the Epistole (Saffrey 1982, p. 300).

Chiara Ponchia