The late 1400s must have been very similar to current times. This was the tumultuous time when the printed word was changing the fabric of society, much like the digital revolution of the early 21st century. The transition from the bibles of Gutenberg to the widely available paperback type books which created a huge reading class of people sowing the seeds of public participation and democratic ways was a time of confusion and struggle as existing structures came tumbling down.
In the middle of this was Aldus Manutius, venetian printer, publisher and inventor. His legacy lives on today five centuries after him.
Before the invention of the movable type, the predominant books were hand copied bibles. Monks would spend a life time copying every word by hand. The Gutenberg printing press came as an invention to print bibles. The church, calligraphers and illustrators held complete sway over the printed word. These bibles were large, bulky and expensive. Gutenberg made Mainz, the industrial center of printing in Europe. However, the man responsible for democratizing books was not Gutenberg, it is a credit often given to Aldus Manutius and his Venetian printing press.
Aldus created modern typography by standardizing page layouting and printing methods. He created simple layouts by using whitespace. This enabled the printing industry to break free from the clutches of calligraphers and illustrators. He concentrated on the words and enhanced their power to reach the reader by removing embellishments. This was the first time that the gap between the writer and the reader was bridged. He created small and handy portable pocket editions of classics in a new book format called octavos. He innovated binding techniques and methods to standardize design for use on large schemes. Most important of all was his introduction of a standardized system of punctuation and the italic type.
His typefaces were all designed and cut by the brilliant Francesco Griffo, a punchcutter who created the first roman type cut from study of classical Roman capitals. However, he did not use his italic typeface for emphasis as we do today, but rather for its narrow and compact letter forms, which allowed the printing of pocket-sized books. He patented the exclusive use of the italic. He is also believed to have been the first typographer to use the semicolon.
Aldus Manutius used the motto “Hasten Slowly”. His editions are of great typographic excellence, at the same time,he shrived to make it cheap. Despite the hardships of war his work and enthusiasm lead to the production of some of the most remarkable books ever made. These inspired whole generations and preserved Greek literature The great typographer Herman Zapf produced a font in his honor and the publishing software company Aldus produced the page design software called Pagemaker, often given the credit of bringing printing to the desktop. An Italian free text project like the Gutenberg project is named after the great man and is called Progetto Manuzio.