We all know the button I in Microsoft Word, but did you ever wonder who invented the italic type? We actually have to thank a man that lived in the 15th century: Aldo Manuzio.
Up to the present day, we don’t know a lot of details concerning the origin of Manuzio. He was probably born between 1449 -1452 in Bassiano, south of Rome, he studied Greek and Latin and was starting from 1482 in contact with a certain Giovanni Pico, better known as Pico della Mirandola*. Pico was also one of Aldo‘s first investors who settled down in Venice when he was aged around 40 years in order to open a publishing house.
In these years Venice transformed itself from an economic power to the Republic of humanism and arts and respectively in one of the most important centres of letterpress printing in Europe.
Manuzio specialised himself in printing the Greek and Latin classics and produced the first printed version of the works of Aristotle. He didn’t achieve this on his own: One of his most important helping hands was the engraver Francesco Griffo (from Bologna) who worked closely with Manuzio and developed a series of fonts for him.
Hardly 10 years after opening the publishing house in Venice, Manuzio created one of his most important inventions that we still use, without knowing it, day in day out: In the year 1500 Manuzio had experimented a new font that imitated the beauty and elegance of the handwritten court documents of the 15th century in the Epistole di S. Caterina da Siena. This font was called “aldinian” and was produced by Francesco Griffo respecting the instructions of Manuzio. Later on the font was rebaptized in French „italique“ and in English „italic“. A very fitting name considering the origin of this font: Italy.
Furthermore, Manuzio was the first one who used the „formato in ottavo“** that we know today as paperback book for classic texts. This size already existed for religious and devotional texts, but Manuzio was the first one to use it also to print the Greek and Latin classics. The advantage was crystal clear: It was easy to take this kind of book with you, contrary to its big sized brother, and thus one could read anywhere he/she wanted.
It’s thanks to Manuzio that we can take books everywhere with us, just like Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), and pass our time reading in the bus, the train or in the airport.
*Pico della Mirandola was a Renaissance philosopher that wrote about the free will of men and got in conflict with the Pope.
**The octavo is a sheet of paper that was folded 4 times to create 16 sheets and 32 pages.