This course aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the transformation of books in Italy from Late Antiquity to the Enlightenment. It will trace the transition from the peak of manuscript production to the establishment of books printed through a hand press as the chief means of communication, assessing the impact this epochal shift had on different genres, from the classics to scientific and popular literature. 

After a preliminary insight into key historical notions (‘From Antiquity to Middle Ages’, ‘Humanism’, ‘Renaissance’, ‘Enlightenment’), the first six seminars will focus on the materials, physical structure and formats of manuscripts, the developments of their formal and cursive scripts both for Latin texts and Italian vernacular literature, and the history of their illustration and decoration by anonymous craftsmen or famous artists. The second half of the course will tackle the early days of Italian printing up to Aldus Manutius, the rise of vernacular publications and institutional censorship, as well as the evolution of the Italian book from the Baroque into Bodoni’s Neoclassicism. 

To encourage student involvement, classes will comprise ample illustration of digital facsimiles of manuscripts from international libraries, including the Vatican Library, Laurenziana Library in Florence, the British Library, and the National Library of France; guided exploration of the main online repertoires; and displays of manuscripts and printed editions from the remarkable collections of Senate House Library, the Wellcome Library, and the final private viewing of the magnificent collections of manuscripts and printed editions of the British Library.   




Additional Information

  • de la Mare,A.C., The Handwriting of Italian Humanists, I-1: Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Coluccio Salutati, Niccolò Niccoli, Poggio Bracciolini, Bartolomeo Aragazzi of Montepulciano, Sozomeno da Pistoia, Giorgio Antonio Vespucci (Paris, 1973)
  • Alexander, J.J.A., (ed.) The Painted Page. Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550, exhib. cat. (1994).
  • Buonocore, M. (ed.), Vedere i Classici. L'illustrazione libraria dei testi antichi dall'età romana al tardo medioevo, ed. (1996).
  • Coulson, F.T. and R.B. Babcock (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography (2020)
  • Davies, M., Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (1995).
  • Leister, V., Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World (2015).
  • Nuovo, A., The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance (2013).
  • Pettegree, A., The Book in the Renaissance (2010).


This course will take place in Senate House

Course Tutors

Dr Paolo Sachet

PhD; Ambizione Fellow at the Institut d’histoire de la Réformation