Printed Matter During the Italian Renaissance

Renaissance Printing… has fascinated me lately. I began researching the subject in preparation for launching my 16th century apothecary. I wanted to make sure that the printed material for the shop resembled period pamphlets and was inspired by Katherine Kerr’s Hermitage website where she lists her projects down in Lochac. Here is what I have found so far:

Chapbooks (mostly 17th century, though) were small publications that contained songs, poems, political treatises, folk stories, religious tracts, and all manner of short texts. In general, chapbooks were inexpensive publications designed for the poorer literate classes. They were typically printed on a single sheet of low-quality paper, folded to make eight, sixteen, or twenty-four pages, though some examples were longer still. Closely related to the chapbook were two other forms also hawked in the streets during the same period.

Chapbook 8 page from library dot sc dot edu

The Lilly Library Chapbook Collection, comprising 1900 texts, has a web-based search engine dedicated solely to chapbooks.

The Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections Department has a web-based search engine that lists over 1200 “chap-books”.

Broadsides were printed on one side, and a broadsheet was printed on both. In its heyday of the first half of the 17th century (though there are many 16th century examples), a broadside ballad was a single large sheet of paper printed on one side (hence “broad-side”) with multiple eye-catching illustrations, a popular tune title, and an alluring poem—the latter mostly in black-letter, or what we today call “gothic,” type. They ranged from large proclamations (approx 1000 x 500 mm) to small handbills (200 x 150 mm); typically with a multi-sentence title header, a large woodcut illustration and a double-column, right-registered format with a large woodcut initial and smaller woodcut sidebars. This link hosts Broadsides. Smaller slip-poems were printed on a long strip of paper cut from a larger sheet. You can find more facsimiles of many of the original 16th century sheets here:

broadside 1620 Magdalene college pepys 1248-249

During the 15th century a type of book called a zibaldone became popular on the Italian peninsula. A zibaldone, a predecessor to the item known as a commonplace book in English, was written in the Italian vernacular and contained handy information for the owner in a portable bound volume.

An English zibaldone dating to the 15th century, the Book of Brome, contains poems, notations on memorial law, lists of expenses, and diary entries.

Zibaldone were made of paper and were much smaller than the large desk registers of the time. They often lacked the ornamentation and illumination of other types of books, and contained devotional, technical, literary, and documentary texts. The Zibaldone da Canal, a Venetian merchant’s book, contained taxes, exchange rates, medical remedies, recipes, quotations, ship drawings, merchant culture information, and excerpts from popular literary works. Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai was the compiler of the most well known examples of zibaldone (Kent 2000). Giovanni was well-acquainted with the classics and he kept a zibaldone into which he copied his translations of passages from Greek and Latin authors such as Senaca the Younger and Aristotle (Cosenza).

The zibaldone, or commonplace book, can be used as a model for event booklet, personalized journals, recipe collections, etc. A blank or pre-printed journal with passages collected under common headings: quotes, poems, recipes, lists, laws, prayers, jokes, heraldic blazons, predictions, mathematical tables, astronomical/astrological lore etc, representing the writer’s interests or whatever “noble thoughts” the education system or parents through they should have. Their format varied (period examples: 312 x 200mm, 207 x 140mm). Usually paper, with vellum commonly used as a cover, tied with silk ties; sometimes covered in a leather wallet binding, closed with a strap and buckle. See Commonplace Books, Yale

View over 250 digitized Renaissance festival books (selected from over 2,000 in the British Library’s collection) that describe the magnificent festivals and ceremonies that took place in Europe between 1475 and 1700 – marriages and funerals of royalty and nobility, coronations, stately entries into cities and other grand events.

Vade mecum** (aka girdle book, belt book, folded book, my favorite type of book for the apothedary) is a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation. It was used in period for ball cheat sheets, event information. A veritable “period filofax”, it consisted of sheets folded into a small size and bound together so as to be readily tucked into a belt for ready reference; used for astronomical almanacs and doctors’ manuals with each sheet holding a different topic. The formats main feature is the stab-stitch binding of a series of folded single sheets. Boston College example here

This blog, also reports links to more sites with facsimiles of vade mecum (lit. go with me) like the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

girdle book boston college

More links:

A 1595 Geneva Bible at Northwestern . . . and water damage. An interesting Renaissance Bible owned by a Revolutionary War-era family in Massachusetts is at Northwestern today, and its inscriptions tell us something about its remarkably damaged condition.

News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries.” I discuss the first stage of a Humanities Without Walls Initiative project designed to register Northwestern’s early imprints (1473-1700) with the English Short Title Catalogue.

A 1549 Giolito Anthology at Northwestern. I examine an influential early anthology of Italian poetry at Northwestern’s McCormick Library of Special Collections. Interesting foredge inscription & marginalia.

MS Annotations in a 17c Polyglot Dialogue Book. A book of dialogues in eight languages currently held at Northwestern University. Professor Susan Phillips has written about it, and it includes some interesting French marginalia in the Italian column.

Guest Post: A c16 Italian Grammar Owned By Robert Sackville. Published in the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center blog, this post recounts my discovery of Robert Sackville’s copy of William Thomas’s Principal Rvles of the Italian Grammer (London, 1567). Sackville was son to Queen Elizabeth I’s cousin Thomas Sackville; the owner’s inscription appears on the book’s title page.

A c16 Italian Grammar Book owned by Robert Sackville. A longer post on the Sackville copy of Thomas’s Principal Rvles held at the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center.


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