Three Somerville students worked together to co-curate a display at the Bodleian library for the exhibition: ‘Aldus Manutius: The Struggle and The Dream’.
The main exhibition, which will run until 22 February, is curated by Somerville Fellow Oren Margolis. On 6 February, Professor Margolis delivered a lecture at Convocation House on the life and work of Aldus Manutius.
As part of the celebrations, an extra display case of printed works produced by the Aldine Press was also on display – it was co-curated by three second-year historians from Somerville: Jennifer Allan, Anna Clark and Qaleeda Talib.
“It was a great opportunity to get some real experience of how museums go about creating their exhibitions, researching and arranging, and of course experiencing the supreme difficulty of trying to say everything you can under the straining word limits of captions,” said Jennifer Allan. “I especially enjoy Aldus’s commitment to finding and printing first edition classic works. His inaccuracies and errata lists might be a little amusing given his professed commitment to total accuracy, but I admire his tenacity in following his dream nonetheless.”
For Anna Clark, it was the process of explaining an area she had studied to a non-expert audience that provided the central challenge of the experience.
“My favourite Aldine work has to be the 1513 Caesar’s Commentarii because it contains both a vividly colourful, hand painted polychrome map and corrections in Aldus’s own hand ,” she said. “This attention to detail to produce books that were not only beautiful but meticulously accurate is what I think set Aldus apart from contemporary printers.”
Qaleeda Talib was amazed to have the chance to work on a display at the Bodleian, and she was struck by Aldus’s great desire to make learning – especially classical learning -more accessible. Moreover, he didn’t just want reprints of existing works. He also wanted to improve on what was out there, by correcting and editing.
“More generally, Aldus was also not interested in using tried-and-tested formats for whatever old and new works his press released, which is why he made these innovations for typeface and harboured dreams to publish multilingual works,” said Talib. “And, of course, he introduced the revolutionary octavo.”
The octavo was a feature of the Renaissance era, offering a much more compact edition to readers – the size was often little more than today’s paperback. But it was the larger centrepiece of the main exhibition which particularly caught Qaleeda’s imagination.
“The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is definitely my favourite,” she said. “What I find really attractive about the work, other than the sheer trippiness of the plot and beautiful woodcuts, is speculating on what Aldus wanted out of it. The allegorical nature of the story and the strikingness of its handiwork is, I think, too distinctive for it to be just something Aldus thought would merely be profitable to print.”
More details about the exhibition can be found on the Bodleian website.