Cardinal Pietro Bembo, De Etna and the publisher/printer Aldus Manutius

The man who was much later to become Cardinal Pietro Bembo wrote in the 1490s of his travels up the slopes of Mount Etna. The text was in the form of a dialogue between Pietro and his father, Bernardo, the latter twice an ambassador for the Venetians in Florence and also a highly respected connoisseur of the arts. The book was taken up by Aldus Manutius in 1495, partly to make money since the publisher was, to paraphrase Updike, commercially driven, as shown by his commissioning some years after the publication of De Etna, an italic face. [See below.]

The roman designed for Cardinal Bembo’s travelogue is not considered by experts in the field as much good. Updike, quoted by Morison, says there’s only one roman that comes

Aldus Manutius book
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

close to distinction, and that’s from the 1499 edition of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili [‘The Strife of Love in a Dream of the Lover of Polia’ by Franciscus Colona]. Both this and the italic were cut by Francesco Raibolini da Blogna, more popularly known as Griffo. [From the Strife of Love also came the publisher’s device, though it was first on a coin said to have been sent by Cardinal Bembo to his publisher.]

The Bembo known to us was recut by the Monotype Corporation in 1929 [overseen by Morison].

Tally of types Bembo
From Tally of Types

As a tailpiece, Updike has a brilliant note [2nd edition, p.127] regarding the Aldine italic, observing its use was to make books in a smaller size [16mo] so they could be portable. The note, a quote from another author, reads: ‘We think of the cheap book and the public library as blessings coming direct from the invention of the printing-press, and at first thought we may be inclined to suppose that in Rome, when copies had to be written by hand, books must have been as dear as they were during the Middle Ages…This was not the case. Copyists had been trained to attain such a speed in writing, and slave labour was so cheap, that in the first century of our era, as Martial tells us, his first book of poems, which contains about seven hundred lines, could be had at a sum amounting to thirty or forty cents, while his Xenia could be sold for twenty cents. At these rates, books did not cost more than twice what they do to-day’.

Texts consulted: Updike, D.B. Printing Types, 1937; Morison, S.M. A Tally of Types, 1973; HMSO. Early Printers’ Marks. 1962. Printing and the Mind of Man, 1963. Grafton, A. Locum, Lacum, Lucum. 13/9/2018, London Review of Books. [The last was the inspiration for this blog.]

Aldus Manutius device
Dolphin and Anchor device


History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Bodoni, Officina Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig

There are some printers who are also scholars. One such was Giovanni Mardersteig (1892-1977). His press, Officina Bodoni, published some 200 books, many using type cast from the original matrices of Giambattista Bodoni. These illustrations are taken from a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of the press’s work, held at the British Library in 1978.

Mardersteig had no formal training in press work, the catalogue reports, with his primary reason being “the slow process [a hand press] permits printing on damp hand-made paper. The ink is more easily received by a paper made of rags and hemp which has become flexible through wetting. Considerably less ink is required than in dry-printing and a sharper and more even impression is obtained”.

Mardersteig’s first type ‘design’ was Griffo (cut in 1929 by the French punch-cutter Charles Malin, who had a strong relationship with Mardersteig). This was cut on the instance of Stanley Morison, and based on the roman by Francesco Griffo for Aldus Manutius, first used in Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna of 1495. Morison thought it better than Monotype Bembo, being closer to the original.

Other designs by Mardersteig include Zeno (1937) and Dante (1955), which also has a resemblance to Bembo, being cut by Malin between 1947-1954. Morison had the face cut for Monotype, and it has become one of the ‘great’ faces.

Mardersteig noted that Dante was the finest achievement by Malin, who completed it before his death in 1956. “When the inventive powers of Malin came to an end so did my pleasure in type designing,” Mardersteig wrote.