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46th Erasmus Lecture: Angela Nuovo, “The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance: Structure and Regulation”

October 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Angela Nuovo, Universitá di Udine

Printing spread widely and swiftly in Italy in the fifteenth century. The first phase of expansion was followed by a concentration in the major population centers, in particular in the city of Venice, which soon became the typographic center of the Italian peninsula. Venice was where a great number of printers, booksellers, and typographers operated and the major dynasties of the book – the Manuzio, Giunti, and Giolito families – became established. The phenomenon of the book trade in the long Cinquecento can be studied from a number of points of view and divided up into various periods, depending on whether one focuses on the diffusion of editorial types, on the evolution of the technical aspects of printing and on the book as a product, or instead on the impact of external elements. Among the latter, one much-studied aspect has been and remains religious censorship, which followed complex paths to subject book production and the book trade to new rules.

The geographical distribution of book production and the chronology of its development provide the basic coordinates of even a phenomenon as complex and fully articulated as the book market in Renaissance Italy, but an explanation of its structure and its evolution must also be backed by an analysis of the legislation of the time. During the 16th century, a number of legislative interventions and the bookmen’s own ability to utilize and bend the juridical institutes of the age to their own benefit gave form and structure to the book market. The most important development of the bookmen’s inventions was the Venetian privilege system, which was shaped in an anti-monopolistic manner, certainly one of the reasons for the flourishing of printing in that city. At a certain point, however, other Italian states began to take initiatives linked to the use of privileges that affected the print industry. Such initiatives were not intended to place all printers on the same plane, as was true in Venice, but quite obviously to favor one printer, who was given the title of ducal printer.

Papal privileges were substantially different from all the others, as they claimed to be valid throughout Christendom, under penalties that were not only temporal but also spiritual. After the Council of Trent, when the Pope became the promoter of the new editions of the most important canonical books, he decided to use his privileges in order to make sure, using the controlled production of one sole printer in Rome, that only the reformed and perfectly correct version of these works was in circulation. The consequences of this distortion of the use of the institution of privileges hit the Venetian press hard.


October 21, 2010
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
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Emmanuel College, Room 119 (75 Queen’s Park Crescent)
75 Queen's Park Crescent
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 Canada
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