DECEMBER 2, 2015 – FEBRUARY 28, 2016

“If books were handled more than weapons, we would not see so many massacres, many crimes and so many bad things.”
Aldus Manutius

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, in vernacular, 1499

From December 2 2015 to February 28 2016, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana celebrates Aldus Manutius (1449-1515), the most important printer of publishing history, 500 years after his death.

The exhibition, curated by Marina Bonomelli and Angelo Colombo and organized in partnership with Generali Italy, traces the work of the most important Renaissance publisher through a selection of about thirty printed books of the Ambrosiana Library.

Enhanced by typographical tools of the Renaissance period from the collection of publisher Enrico Tallone, the exhibition spans over the entire career of Manutius, from the Erotemata by Lascaris, printed on Feb. 28, 1495, up to the De Rerum Natura by Lucretius, published in January of 1515, which marks the end of the Aldine editions.

[Nggallery id = 46]

On display there are great masterpieces, such as the incunabulum De Aetna by Pietro Bembo (1495). The work, which marks the literary debut of the future Cardinal Bembo, describes in dialogue form his stay in Sicily and his ascent to Mount Etna. In 1496, the printing of this book intensified Manutius’ relationship with patrician family Bembo, who owned a rich humanistic library. There, Aldus took inspiration to create together with carver Francesco Griffo the beautiful Roman character, considered a model of unsurpassed formal elegance. In this section it is possible to admire other inestimable incunabula: the Epistles of St. Catherine of Siena (1499), where Manutius  experiments for the first time the italic characters in the words Jesu dolce, Jesu amore, and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), recognized as the most beautiful illustrated book of the Renaissance.

There is also a section devoted to the cinquecentine, with seven specimens produced in 1502 and three in 1501, including the Virgil of 1501, the first edition in octavo and in italics. Its pocket size – libelli portatiles in formam enchiridii – eased the circulation of books in the sixteenth-century, facilitating the revival of classical culture.

Another treasure on display is the Moralia of Plutarch of 1509, a huge volume of 1068 pages containing ninety-two treatises, of which the Ambrosiana also owns the archetype thirteenth century manuscript used by Aldus for printing.

The exhibition also deals with the close friendship between Aldus and Erasmus of Rotterdam. The Dutch philosopher, who was hosted for over a year at Manutius’ home, appreciated the great care of the Aldine editions. Most of all, he considered it crucial that his works were printed by Manutius himself, to ensure the widest possible circulation of his thoughts throughout Europe. It is no coincidence, in fact, that the second edition of the Adagia – on display – saw the light in Venice right in Manutius’ laboratory. At the entrance – as recalled by the curators of the exhibition, Marina Bonomelli and Angelo Colombo – Manutius placed the inscription “if books were handled more than weapons, we would not see so many massacres, many crimes and so many bad things.”

In commemoration of the exhibition a special medal was coined, bearing the effigy of Aldus on one side and the one of the Ambrosiana with the anchor and dolphin of Manutius. Film director Antonio Marogna produced an educational video on the figure and work of Aldus.

Accompanying the exhibition, the scientific catalogue (editions Grafiche Trotti) of all Aldine editions of the Ambrosiana, which will be available in 2016.

Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana (Piazza Pio XI, 2)
December 2, 2015 – February 28, 2016
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.00 to 18.00 (Closed on December 25 and January 1)
Admission: Adults: € 15; Reduced: € 10; Schools: € 5; University students: 10 €
The ticket includes admission to the whole Pinacoteca Ambrosiana
Information and reservations:
Biblioteca Ambrosiana press office:
CLP Public Relations
Francis Hall, tel.