After Aldus

After Aldus

‘Now that Aldus has gone, the load he carried seems to have fallen upon me… I have imitated him insofar as I could, and whatever course he, an expert in all the learned sciences, thought he should follow, I too have followed.’

Andrea Torresani d’Asola, 1516.1

Isocrates 1534 re-issue

Isocrates 1534 re-issue.

Andrea Torresani d’Asola (1451-1529), who took over the running of the Aldine press following Aldus’ death on 6 February 1515, had been Aldus’ business partner since the inception of the press in the mid 1490s. A notarial act makes it clear that in 1495 Torresani and Pierfrancesco Barbarigo had provided the financial backing necessary for the setting up of the press. Torresani, who would later become Aldus’ father-in-law, has been excoriated by Erasmus’ famous dialogue Opulentia Sordida, which paints a very unattractive picture of him as a business man solely interested in money – an unworthy associate of Aldus. However, the fact remains that without Torresani Aldus’ scholarly printing project would have come to nothing for without money Aldus would not have been able to develop his fonts or print his wonderful editions of the classics.

Musaeus 1517 title-page

Musaeus 1517 title-page.

Torresani, a native of Adola in Mantua, had studied printing at the famed press of Nicholas Jenson and had set up his own press in the 1470s. As Lowry (1979) argues, by the 1490s, Torresani was established as a leading Venetian printer who specialised in ‘safe’ publications – i.e. texts such as legal and philosophical texts which had a ready market at the University of Padua. It may have been his close connections with the University of Padua which encouraged Torresani to enter into a financial partnership with Aldus, for the staff of the University of Padua were at the forefront of the humanist drive to reinterpret Aristotle. In this academic climate, a project of printing classical authors, particularly the Greek classics, might be seen to be not only an educational good, but also a financial opportunity. Whatever Torresani’s aim, we know that in 1495 he, Pierfrancesco Barbarigo and Aldus set up ‘a company for the printing of books’.2 Lowry (1979) reminds us that in 1506, when Aldus and Torresani formally unified their assets, Andrea was said to own the bulk of the property – he thus clearly had a major say in the day-to-day running of the Aldine press. His cautious approach to business was particularly evident following Aldus’ death where a number of works were re-prints rather than first editions of new works. We see this in the 1517 edition of the Byzantine poet Musaeus’ tragic love poem, which had been one of the earliest publications of the Aldine press, edited by Markos Mousouros in c. 1495.

Musaeus 1517 woodcut 1

Musaeus 1517 woodcut no.1.

Worth’s copy of the Musaeus is the 1517 edition of the text. The 1495 edition was the first edition of a Greek text to include woodcuts and, though the 1517 editions woodcuts did not use the same blocks as those of 1495, these illustrations are equally rare in the context of Aldus’ output. In this illustration we see the towns of Sestos and Abydos, divided by the Hellespont. The heroine, Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, looks on as her lover Leander attempts to swim across to her during a storm.

Musaeus 1517 woodcut 2.

Musaeus 1517 woodcut no.2.

Unfortunately in this case, the course of true love did not run smooth, for, as we can see in this woodcut, Leander was drowned in the process. Hero, heartbroken, may be seen in the act of throwing herself from her tower. The poem became popular in the Renaissance period, with translations and allusions to it by many noted poets.

If Andrea Torresani was content to rely on tried and trusted editions his son Gian Francesco Torresani was considerably more adventurous and was, as Cataldi Palau (2012) argues, the driving force behind a number of editions, not only after his father’s death in 1528 but also before it.3 He played a major role in the publication of medical Aldines and was the true successor of Aldus. His role as leader of the Aldine press would, however, later be challenged by Aldus’ son Paolo Manuzio who further extended the range of the press as this image from his 1558 edition of the works of Archimedes demonstrates. Worth collected Aldine editions printed by all three successors to Aldus but was seemingly uninterested in the output of Aldus the Younger, who continued the Aldine press until 1597.

Archimedes 1558 diagram

 Archimedes 1558 diagram.


Bühler, Curt F. (1945), ‘Some Documents concerning the Torresani and the Aldine Press’, The Library 4th Series 25, pp. 111-121.

Cataldi Palau, Annaclara (2012), ‘Gian Francesco Torresani of Asola and the Aldine printing press: A new chapter in intellectual and printing history’, Intellectual News, 10: 1, pp. 28-44.

Staikos, Konstantinos SP. (1998), Charta of Greek Printing. The Contribution of Greek Editors, Printers and Publishers to the Renaissance in Italy and the West (Cologne).

Lowry, Martin (1979), The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell).

1 Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 166.

2 Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 83.

3 1529 is often given as the date of Andrea Torresani’s death but as Bühler (1945), citing Marino Sanudo’s diary, points out, it is likely that this occurred on 20-21 October 1528.