Letters of ink and lead

Items necessary for the proper practice of writing, from the Libro de Giovambattista Palatino
cittadino romano, nel qual s’insegna a scriver ogni sorte lettera, antica, moderna,
di qualunque nationes, con le sue regole, misure, essempi…

(first ed. Rome 1540; this page comes from the
second ed., Rome 1550)

Giambattista Palatino’s name is best known from the Palatino font family named after him. However, this Calabrian author, a contemporary of such great typographers as Claude Garamond (1491-1561), was never interested in printing, and never produced any typeface. He was a maestro di scrittura, a calligrapher, and at the dawn of book printing his art, handwriting had a very different form of relationship to printed word than today. The handwriting remained for centuries a principal and highly appreciated form of the acquisition, dissemination and preservation of knowledge. A few months ago, when presenting the manuscript notes and additions in an incunabula of Fasciculus temporum, we have already reflected on the coexistence and connection of these two media.

By enlarging the image, you can clearly see the details of the studiolum of the scribe. This work is Juan de Icíar’s Arte subtilíssima por la qual se enseña a escrevir perfectamente… (The subtle art of learning the perfect handwriting), Zaragoza, 1550, first edition 1548. This manual, published almost at the same time with that of Palatino, had a long success in Spain, with nine editions throughouth the 16th century. It has been studied in detail, along with other examples of this genre, by Ana Martínez Pereira: Manuales de escritura de los Siglos de Oro. Repertorio crítico y analítico de obras manuscritas e impresas, Mérida: Editora Regional de Extremadura, 2006.

In these days, after the publication of Miquela Forteza’s Los orígenes de la imprenta en Mallorca, (The origins of printing in Mallorca) – the prologue of which was our  honor to write – we could consider the development of the relationship between the two media from the other side. In these pages you can see the complicated process of implementation of the new and strange trade of printing in the cultural and economic context of the island, as well as the printer’s ambiguous social and economic situation. Although these latter energetically sought to point out the noble origin of their craft, nevertheless they could not acquire any prestigious aura, no matter how much they were dealing with the products of spirit. On the contrary: 16th-century criticism depreciates them with some repeated allegations as to exploit their apprentices or, more specifically, to be too inclined to drunkenness. * In fact, the Renaissance has left no written praise of the typographer similar to the ones extolling the late medieval copyist. The dirty machines and “mechanic” work of the press were not adequate to shape an image of respectability or spiritual elevation equivalent to the respectable scriptoria. The art of the copyist was considered as equivalent to that of the notary, as both of them worked to fix the word, thereby honoring and rendering it safe from volatility. Moreover, his representation, following the iconography of the evangelists, elevated him to the highest possible grade of transcendence in this world. This is how the most important codex of medieval Mallorca, the lavishly illustrated Llibre de franqueses i privilegis del Regne de Mallorca (1334-1341) ostentatiously shows on its frontispiece the copyist of the work, Romeu des Poal (or Romeu Manresa, a royal notary indeed), sitting at his desk at the foot of the monarch, and offering to the public eye all his tools, almost improving the iconography of John, Mark, Matthew and Luke seen on so many miniatures, paintings and reliefs.

Llibre de franqueses i privilegis del Regne de Mallorca (1341)

The monarch, enthroned and with a book in his hand is but a background of the copyist. It seems rather a hieratic Maestà (or even a Coronation of the Virgin) than a portrait of Jaime I or III (the scholarship has not yet decided it). On the contrary, the name of the copyist (“Romeus Poal, scriptor”) is clearly recorded for the posterity on the parchment copied by him. The importance of the scene thus shifts from the person of the ruler to the act of writing, which preserves in the codex of the highest authority the inescapable laws and regulations. The representation of the abstract and vision-like image of power is seen as an old tapestry hanging on the wall, in contrast to the particular book with its text active in the present and projected into the future.

Aldo Manuzio, Institutionum grammaticarum libri quatuor, Venice, 1508 or 1514

In contrast, the printer never found such a high-level prototype for his self-representation. His complex role as a merchant and as a disseminator of knowledge was difficult to fit to the patterns of Renaissance society, especially in the southern part of Europe. His success and the acceptance of the valuable cultural products offered by him depended in the first instance on his technical expertise and merchant’s skills, and this original sin necessarily blurred his image, however complete humanistic education he could boast with. It is true that the first praises of printing are published in the 16th century, but the figure of the printer (with a few exceptions in northern Europe, where a different work ethics ruled) remained outside the glory of the humanist dignitas. In this respect is remarkable the importance of Aldo Manuzio of Venice – certainly increased by the enthusiastic comments of Erasmus – as a first example of the highly appreciated “scholarly printer”, who served as a theoretical and ideal model for other countries as well. It is important to observe how the heirs of Manuzio use from 1570 the portrait of the founder of the business (and not that of themselves!) in the works published by them. Aldo himself did not consider important this strategy, unlike his successors who had a personal experience about the scarce economic success and social acceptance of those amphibious beings who, while devoting themselves to philological and humanistic delicacies, are daily accused of selling for money and degrading to the level of the masses their lofty knowledge. The effigy of the great Aldo recalled the reader of the “noble origins” of the craft, thus trying to influence his judgments on the work of his descendants. *

Palma: Lleonard Muntaner, Editor, 2011. isbn: 978-84-15076-75-9

The first printing shop in Mallorca was installed in Miramar of Valldemossa in 1485, a very early date overall Europe. The pioneers, unlithe craftsman Nicolau Calafat (Valldemossa, ca. 1433 – Palma, ca. 1501) and the priest Bartomeu Caldentey, a follower of Raimundus Lullus (Felanitx, 1447 – Palma, 1500). The typeset of the press, probably designed and cast by Nicolau Calafat, was also entirely made in Mallorca, without any external borrowing or influence. Despite the immense effort and merit of this work, the enterprise was short-lived, and in 1490 the partnership was dissolved. Calafat also failed in his subsequent office of municipal clockmaker before returning to his profession of casting master, but he had no time to finish his commission, the recast of a bell before his death, as it was recorded in a notarial document of 1501. In contrast, Caldentey even had money to lend, the repayment of which is ordered in his will to the benefit of his brother who had financially supported him in the installation of the press. Subsequently, a further fifty years had to pass until the arrival of another brave man, Fernando Cansoles (1540 – 1601), who tried to establish his own printing shop in the island.

The colophon of the first publication of the Calafat-Caldentey press. Jean Gerson, Tractatus de regulis mandatorum, 1485

Author’s or copyist’s portrait. F. Oleza, Obra del menyspreu del món en cobles. Palma: Fernando Cansoles, 1540

The Cansoles press, active between 1540 and 1600, also went through several difficulties, related in detail in the book of Miquela Forteza. It had some moments of brilliance, such as the publication of the popular relation about the entry of Charles V in Palma (Llibre de la benaventurada vinguda del Emperador y Rey don Carlos en la sua Ciutat de Mallorques y del recebiment que li fonch fet, 1542), but after the founder’s death his two unmarried daughters took over the business, and their inexperience and inability to carry it further definitely facilitated the establishment of the new press of Gabriel Guasp, finally a success story in Mallorca.

Initial letters of the Llibre de la benaventurada vinguda del Emperador y Rey don Carlos… Palma: Cansoles, 1542

The press founded in 1576 by Gabriel Guasp – about which we have already written – is an unusual case in Europe, as it continuously operated until 1958 and was always run by the members of the same family. It had an overwhelming production of broadsides, holy images and other popular materials, known then as “menudencias de imprenta”, “printing trifles”, and whose publication made out the greater part of the livelihood of peripheral Spanish printing shops. *

Capítols de la Bolla dels Redres de la Universitat i Regne de Mallorca, Palma: Gabriel Guasp, 1625

Relación verdadera de los espantos, y notables daños que hizo un gran terremoto en la Pulla, parte del Reyno de Nápoles, a 30 de Iulio de 1627, Gabriel Guasp, 1627

The book by Miquela Forteza prefaced by us gives comprehensive information on the activity of these three presses, including the catalog of the works published by them as well as their complete documentation known today, both on the basis of firsthand knowledge and the critical literature. At the same time, of course, several questions require further clarifications, considering the relationship of these printers to the cultural life of the island, the equipment of the first presses and their technical development, the spreading of the books and – an equivalent of modern copyright – the acquisition of privilegia for five or ten years, the influence of the competition of foreign printers, the factors affecting the choice of works for publication and the type of works which still continued to be copied by hands… On these we will return in some later posts.

4 comentarios:

Diane dijo...

Thanks for this wonderful post.As ever, one of the brightest gleams in my day, reading it.

One thing I wish I understood, and that is the custom of making kings and other figures look wall-eyed. Does anyone know the reason for this?

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...


Thank you so much for your marvellous posts, the blog find of 2011.

Enjoy your end of year celebrations.

Studiolum dijo...

wall-eyed??? what a sharp observation! Can you tell more examples of it? Perhaps we can find out the reason together.

Thank you, Rupert, both for following and for posting about Río Wang!

Gratefully wishing you all the best for the end of the year and for all the new one!

walter dijo...

"Manuscript publishing continued to thrive for three centuries after Gutenberg, because it was often cheaper to produce a small edition by hiring scribes than by printing it". From 'The Library: Three Jeremiads' by Robert Darnton.

Thanks for so many interesting posts. Best wishes for Christmas.