From the Library: Florentine Publishing in the Renaissance
February 1 – August 2, 2015
West Ground Floor Gallery 21

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

With neither a unified state nor even a common vernacular language among the various regions of the Italian peninsula, printing presses were established in every city and in many smaller towns. The needs of the population, the disposition of the scholarly community, and the availability of source material would have all affected local book markets. Florence was undoubtedly the cultural beacon of Europe in the Renaissance—a city with a humanist tradition dating to the late thirteenth century, where much vernacular literature originated, the scientific method was cultivated, and artistic development flourished. Surprisingly the printing press, though a catalyst for spreading these new ideas throughout Europe, took longer to catch on in this city at the heart of Tuscany, a region with an insular culture and close ties to the church. When it did, the books produced there remained mostly scholarly and religious works with little embellishment or illustration until the mid-sixteenth century.

This exhibition presents a variety of books from the late fifteenth through the early seventeenth century and explores the development of publishing related to the artistic and scholarly community in Florence. With active academic organizations and a community of highly skilled artists, Florentine scholars had a unique relationship with the more prolific Venetian presses. Though never approaching the innovation of Venice, the printers of Florence gradually established their own tradition. Theoretical treatises, literary and historical works, and festival books were all popular fare in Florence and evolved over time. Especially relevant to art history are the editions of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, which first appeared in Florence in the sixteenth century, the material published in conjunction with Michelangelo’s funeral in 1564, and theoretical works by the likes of Leon Battista Alberti and Benedetto Varchi.

 

Image: Paolo Giovio, 1483–1552, Iscrittioni poste sotto le vere imagini de gli huomini famosi, Florence: Appresso Lorenzo Torrentino Impressor Ducale, 1552, David K. E. Bruce Fund

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