When I was a child, I loved going to the school library and wandering around the white metal bookshelves. I loved the Einaudi editions. They had a white cover and a beautiful red line around. I loved the elegant font and the small size of the book. I knew that if I chose one of those novels, it would be a wonderful discovery! And I would never miss a book fair in my town: I spent hours reading the books on the stands and since I was just a girl, no one ever dared coming to me and explain, those books were to buy and then to read 🙂
Here is a precious present from my grandfather which I treasure: The book of Marco Polo called Milion, Einaudi edition, 1974 (what else?!):
This year, so dramatic and violent, is the 500th anniversary of Aldo Manuzio’s death. Who was Aldo Manuzio? A very well-known typographer and humanist that chose Venice as the cradle for a great innovative publishing project. It was around the year 1490. At that time Venice was a cosmopolitan city, a crossroad of different civilizations, tolerant and open to novelties. Many printers from all over Europe were moving to Venice. Especially the ones from Germany that knew Venice was going to be the perfect spin-off for their business. Aldo Manuzio chose this centre of humanistic culture which he wanted to protect in that historical moment, “when the use of weapons is more common than the use of books” (Aldo Manuzio, Introduction of Aristotle’s works).
I asked a dear friend, Alessandro Marzo Magno, author of the book “Bound in Venice” (Europa Editions, 2013) to tell what he believes Aldo Manuzio’s contribution has been:
“The pleasure of reading. I believe this is the greatest significance of Aldo’s heritage nowadays. Sure: he codified the book, he invented the italic type font, he imported the punctuation from ancient Greek. There is no doubt. But what has radically changed our way of approaching books has been that of considering them a means to spend pleasant hours and no longer just a means to work or study with. Before Aldo Manuzio books were an utilitarian object, after him they became a pleasure. This is the real and authentic revolution of the book that has definitely changed our reading experience. Drawing parallels between the ancient times and the modern times is always a hazard, but I believe we can say that Aldo Manuzio was like Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs’ genial idea was not to invent objects that didn’t exist before, like iPhone or iPad, but to create needs that nobody believed they could have. Manuzio took an object that existed before, the book, and turned it into something that was brand new, an object to spend pleasant hours with.”
What is then Aldo Manuzio’s heritage in Venice today?
Far from St Mark’s square but not too hidden, there are several artisans’ workshops of excellence! I have chosen three for you.
Bruno Polliero’s bookbinder’s workshop was opened in 1935. Bruno’s son with his wife and the grandson work in this tiny shop next to the Frari church. Fifty years ago they moved here and till the 1990s they collaborated with the Giorgio Cini Foundation, the Marciana Library and more to bind the old books, make new covers and restore the ancient editions. Later on, they specialized in stationery decorated with the printed or marble paper they personally create or with leather tanned in Tuscany. Small notebooks with wonderful Amalfi paper for those that love writing, drawing, making ink sketches and painting watercolors. And they still work with high end publishers selling books about art or Venetian history.
Paolo Olbi’s workshop is close to the University of Ca’ Foscari main building. Paolo will welcome you with an open smile and if you are with children, he will be glad to teach them how to decorate a pencil with marble paper. In the rear of his shop he still prints with the hand press. Since 1962 he has been involved in the book’s world: restoration, bookbindery in collaboration with the most important libraries in Venice. Since the 1990s his activity has opened to producing high quality stationery: objects that echo the ancient byzantine, classical and Venetian patterns. And Paolo’s dream is exactly that of starting a school for printers!
Finally one last project, away from commercial goals. Have you already heard of the Book of the Night? Or Metropolis? The Book of the Night is a 66-meter long (around 217 feet) book built like an accordion and published in three editions by Atelier Aperto. The idea is by Andreas Kramer who has collected the engravings of 110 different artists to whom it was asked to create three works each about the concept of the night. The night, when we sleep, when we get some rest, when we love… It’s a traveling book, since it was shown in Berlin, Leipzig, Rome and, of course, Venice.
This year instead, the same Atelier Aperto gave birth to Metropolis, a similar project, still by Andreas Kramer: 100 meters long, accordion like, over 300 artists creating around the concept of the city. A great idea, I think, that seems to suggest that if Venice was a great city to spread Aldo Manuzio’s ideas, now it’s Venice that, thanks to an artist book, can evoke and narrate the idea of the city.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy