Rethorica ad Herennium

Venice: Aldus Manutius, March 1514, 4°
Verona, Biblioteca Civica, Ald. 395

The collection of Cicero’s works on Rhetoric was published by Aldus in 1514, edited with great “diligence, accuracy and learning” by Andrea Navagero (G. orlandi, in Aldo Manuzio editore 1975, II, p. 294). The edition was printed in quarto, but its proportions continued to be in accordance with the rules of “divine proporzioni” (divine proportions) of the “sezione aurea” (golden section) (cats. 78, 87). The typeface was still the italic engraved for Aldus by Francesco Griffo from Bologna, the first cursive typeface in the history of printing with movable type. It was used for the first time for the name and epithets of “Iesu” in the woodcut of St Catherine in the Epistole devotissime dated 1500 (cat. 86) and subsequently employed by Aldus for all his in octavo editions, beginning with his Virgil dated April 1501 (cat. 58). In designing the typeface, Griffo was influenced by the all’antica cursive script used by scribes in the late-fifteenth century and by chancery hands employed in registries of the various Italian states, which he reinterpreted and adapted to the needs of the printing process, while keeping a certain number of ligatures and creating variants so that the letters were “bellissime [...] pareno scritte a mano” (so beautiful as to seem written by hand) (Aldus’ Petition to the Senate, 17 october 1502: Venice, Archivio di Stato, Senato di Terra, Deliberazioni, Registro 14, f. 112r; see Castellani 1889, pp. 76-77). Both Manutius and Griffo were fully aware of the revolutionary nature of their invention and in March 1501 Aldus, having “facto intagliare una lettera Corsiva, et Cancelleresca de summa bellezza, non mai più facta” (letters formed in a cursive and chancery script of great beauty and never before created), immediately asked the Venetian Senate for an ante litteram patent, so that “niuno possa restampar de niuna sorta lettere in forma minor de quarto de foglio comun” (no-one may be able in any way to use these characters to reprint in a smaller format than quarto of the common paper) (Ten-year privilege granted to Aldus by the Senate, 23 March 1501: Venice, Archivio di Stato, Registro 15, f. 33v). Nonetheless, the ten-year privilege, dated 23 March, could not avoid the counterfeiting of the typeface and of the editions beyond Venice boundaries (cat. 10), nor could he do anything to avoid Griffo’s defection in favour of Soncino (despite Manutius had sung his praise in the 1501 edition of Virgil) (Mardersteig 1964, pp. 139–143 and passim; Balsamo, Tinto 1967, pp. 29–31, 33–34).

The typeface was perfectly suited to Aldus’ new pocket-sized series of Latin, Greek and vernacular classics; moreover, as the typeface was narrower than the tondo, it allowed him to contain the costs of expensive paper. The series met the immediate favour of Aldus’ sophisticated clientele, as proven by the preciously illuminated exemplars. Moreover, the layout of the editions, highly refined in the balance between text-block and blank spaces and the use of small epigraphic capitals for the titles, created pages of great beauty, even when left entirely or partly devoid of decoration, ensuring the pleasure of reading even to less affluent clients (cats. 70, 92). The same characters and graphic devices also recurred in the 1514 version of Cicero; but the book, with its text in prose, seems a different object with a totally new appearance. once again, Aldus managed to create a new book: the innovative layout of his books for works in prose would go on to influence the aspect of books all through the sixteenth century.

Catalogues: edit16, cnce 12196; Renouard 1834, pp. 65–66, no. 1; Scapecchi 2013, p. XXIX, no. 121.

Laura Nuvoloni