Oren Margolis

Oren Margolis

Deborah Loeb Brice Fellow
Aldus Manutius: A Cultural History


Oren Margolis is a historian of humanism, of history-writing and antiquarianism, and of the art and culture of the Renaissance book. With interests ranging from epigraphy to Erasmus, his work is concerned with bridging gaps: between Italy and the north, between culture and politics, between literary and intellectual history. He was curator of the exhibition “Aldus Manutius: The Struggle and the Dream” (Bodleian Library, Oxford), and he is the author of The Politics of Culture in Quattrocento Europe: René of Anjou in Italy (Oxford University Press, 2016). 

Project Summary

Aldus Manutius, heroic editor and tireless benefactor of the republic of letters, was a figure who emerged from his own press. Not just the inventor of the italic type and the octavo for literature, he also invented the myths that defined his enterprise and for the first time distinguished the learned publisher from the laboring printer. The model by which all subsequent European scholar-printers were judged, his press was both an agent in and an artefact of the intellectual, artistic and political ferment of Renaissance Venice in the decades around 1500. Aldus Manutius: A Cultural History will be the first monograph on this central figure in Renaissance Europe in any language in almost four decades. It also represents an attempt to reclaim the history of the book for cultural history. Pushing back against the overwhelmingly commercial focus of so much early book scholarship, it seeks to understand how and why printing—from its origins recognized as a mechanical skill—was reconceptualized as a liberal art by looking at the evolving practice and ideology of its most important exponent. Architectural theory, Neoplatonic philosophy, new discourses around gender and religion, and changing political contexts and ideas all contributed to the invention of the publisher, while Aldus’s refashioning of printing as a humanistic discipline harnessed the new philology to new forms of scholarly mobility, thus paving the way for the creation of a European Republic of Letters.