By CATHARINE MORRIS
If you’re familiar with the concept of the “biblio-binge”, as Michael put it in his most recent post, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy a small exhibition at the British Library, of books printed by the Aldine Press, founded in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1494 and run by him and by two further generations of his family – all distinguished scholars and teachers as well as printers – until 1597. (The exhibition, which was curated by Stephen Parkin, Paolo Sachet and Jill Kraye and will run until January 25, marks the 500th anniversary of Aldus’s death.) The press was extremely influential in terms of design, and produced some exquisitely beautiful volumes, easily recognizable from their dolphin-and-anchor emblems and sought after by collectors.
We encounter, for example, Constantine Lascaris’s Erotemata, 1495, a popular Greek grammar and the first book Aldus printed, for which he brought in expert help to meet the considerable challenge of rendering Greek script. Then there is Hypnerotomachia poliphili (1499; see picture below), an esoteric love story in Italian attributed to the Dominican monk Francesco Colonna, which is accompanied by sophisticated (though, like the text, anonymous) woodcuts. It became Aldus’s best-known volume.