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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Libelli Portatiles

Intro Panel

The First of the Libelli Portatiles


Maro, Publius Vergilius. 

Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius, April 1501.

This Virgil initiated a series of books that Aldus referred to as his Portable Library, intended for personal secular use in the same way that similar-sized devotionals or books of hours were used religiously. In the early 16th century the line between the manuscript and printed era was not finely drawn, and owners would occasionally have their books illuminated or decorated, as on the opening page of text of this Virgil. The owl, presiding over the text from his perch, possibly represents Athena or Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

An Illuminated Horace

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Flaccus, Quintus Horatius. 

Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius, May 1501. 

The second book printed in Aldus’s Portable Library series. This copy of Horace’s works is bound in contemporary brown goatskin for Mino Rossi (1451–1503), a Bolognese senator who served his city at one time or another as its ambassador to the Holy See, Milan, and the King of France. The book is illuminated throughout. The opening of the text of Horace’s Odes is richly gilt and illuminated, with the arms of the Rossi family at the foot. 

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

Constantly and Conveniently in Hand


Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius.

[Opera]. Venice: Aldus Manutius, January 1502.

The starkness of this simple titlepage reflects Aldus’s intent to print the great classics in simple, elegant editions. In his dedicatory letter to the Venetian historian Marino Sanuto (1466–1536), Aldus expresses the hope that “this small format enables readers to come and go with Catullus constantly and conveniently in hand.” There is a typographical error on the title page, which must have infuriated Aldus the perfectionist. Propertius is printed “Propetius,” and a corrected version of the titlepage was printed on a final leaf. This copy retains both the erroneous and original title page, as well as the intended cancellans on the last leaf.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

Cicero on Vellum


Cicero, Marcus Tullius. 

Epistolae Familiares. Venice: Aldus Manutius, April 1502. 

Although beautiful, printing on vellum is both costly and difficult, and the existence of vellum copies of Aldine imprints proves that there was demand for special copies in the early years of the Press. The opening page of this edition of Cicero’s Familiar Letters is illuminated by the Master of the Pico Pliny for the Frescobaldi family of Florence, whose arms are seen at the foot of the page. This is one of three known examples of this publication on vellum, and the only one in private hands.

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

The Divine Comedy on Vellum



Le Terze Rime. Venice: Aldus Manutius, August 1502.

 Although Aldus focused his publication program on ancient literature, he admired later writers whose style reflected the elegance of the classical era. Dante was printed as early as 1472, but this Aldine edition is the first appearance of the Divine Comedy in the smaller octavo format pioneered by Aldus. This copy is printed on vellum, with the opening initial of each book illuminated in red, blue, green, and gold.

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

Alea Jacta Est



[Pharsalia]. Venice: Aldus Manutius, April 1502. 

Lucan’s Pharsalia, an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, relates the story of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, sparked by Caesar’s violation of Roman Law by bringing his armies across the Rubicon and into Rome.  The edition is dedicated to Marco Antonio Mauroceno, who lent Aldus the manuscript from which the book was printed. This copy is rubricated throughout, with a two-page dedication at the end dated December 1533 from the miniaturist Giovanni Morelli to his patron Raffaele Vitali of Naples on the occasion of Vitali’s wedding day.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

Sophocles Alla Greca



Tragaediae Septem cum Commentariis. Venice: Aldus Manutius, August 1502. 

Within the first year of his Portable Library, Aldus applied his new format to Greek texts as well as Latin. The type used in this publication is the fourth and smallest Aldine Greek font, likely based on Aldus’s own handwriting. This is the editio princeps of Sophocles, bound in contemporary Venetian russet goatskin in the alla greca style usually reserved for larger folios, as seen earlier in the exhibition.  Previously owned by Baron Horace de Landau (1824–1903) and Major John Roland Abbey (1894–1969).

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

A Doge’s Sophocles



Tragaediae Septem cum Commentariis. Venice: Aldus Manutius, August 1502.

This copy of the editio princeps of Sophocles was bound for Marco Foscarini (1696–1763), who served as the 117th Doge of Venice from 1762 to his death the following year. Note the incorporation of the Lion of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, into his arms tooled in gilt on both covers. The text completed printing in the summer of 1502, in the Academy of Aldus the Roman, but Aldus’s dedicatory preface to Janus Lascaris, which was printed last with the front matter, speaks of the New Academicians gathered around the braziers during the subsequent winter.

From the collection of H. George Fletcher.

An Illuminated Petrarch on Vellum

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Le Cose Volgari de Messer Francesco Petrarcha. Venice: Aldus Manutius, July 1501. 

This Petrarch is the first vernacular text printed in italic type and in the Portable Library format. Printed on goatskin vellum, the book contains two miniatures that have been ascribed to the Paduan artist Benedetto Bordone (1460–1531), who is likely the creator of the woodcuts in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili as well. The verso of the titlepage depicts Apollo crowning Petrarch with a laurel wreath, beneath the arms of the Johnstone family, which have been painted over the Bembo family arms. 

From the collections of The Morgan Library & Museum.

The Editio Princeps of Euripides



Tragoediae Septendecim. Venice: Aldus Manutius, February 1503.

The editio princeps of most of the plays of Euripides, four having been printed in Florence in 1495. The title announces seventeen tragedies, but a manuscript source for Hercules Furens was discovered once the book was already in the press, and this eighteenth play was included at the end of volume two. This copy is bound in 16th-century French calf with polychrome interlaced designs, perhaps by Pierre Roffet. Previously owned by Guglielmo Libri (1803–1869) and Samuel Putnam Avery (1822–1904).

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

As Bees to Flowers Fly


Greek Anthology. 

Florilegium Diversorum Epigrammatum in Septem Libros. Venice: Aldus Manutius, November 1503.

The title of this collection of Greek epigrams is derived from the Latin word florilegus, which refers to the behavior of bees as they fly from flower to flower seeking nourishment. In the same way, the reader is encouraged to draw intellectual sustenance from dipping into these models of Greek eloquence. This copy is printed on vellum, with the opening page illuminated in red, blue, green, and gold. The initial Greek letter tau takes the form of a scholar holding a book. Bound by Roger Payne for Sir John Hayford Thorold of Syston Park (1734–1815), and previously owned by Sir Mark Masterman Sykes (1771–1823) and William Loring Andrews (1837–1920), one of the founders of The Grolier Club. The Syston Park sale catalogue of 1884 notes that this copy “was probably Grolier’s.”

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

Sing, Goddess, of the Rage of Achilles



Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1504. 

Homer was one of very few Greek authors who was printed before Aldus established his press, although this represents the second printed edition of Homer following the Florentine editio princeps of 1488, and the first appearance of the father of Western literature in octavo format. Both volumes are printed on vellum. The Odyssey (shown closed) is bound alla greca, and the Iliad (shown open) is a later imitation by the binder Robert Rivière (1808–1882). Previously owned by Estelle Doheny (1875–1958).

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.


A Student’s Copy



Fastorum … De Tristibus…De Ponto. Venice: Aldus Manutius, February 1503. 

This third volume of the 1502–1503 Aldine imprint of Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE) includes poetry written during his exile, composed in a futile attempt to curry favor with the Emperor Augustus and secure his return to Rome. This copy is heavily annotated throughout in a contemporary Greek and Latin hand.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

Petrarch with Marginal Miniatures



[Sonetti et Canzoni. Triomphi].  Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, August 1514.

The second Aldine edition of Petrarch, following the 1501 imprint shown earlier in the exhibition.  The opening page of the text is illuminated with a floral border, the Greek initials “ΙΣ” at the top of the frame, and a blank shield for arms at the bottom. Note the birds to the right of the text, two of which hold golden leaves in their beaks and seem to be pointed at specific lines. Similar marginal miniatures recur sixty times throughout the text of this copy, each bearing a gold leaf and indicating a particular line of text … perhaps favorite verses of an early owner? 

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

A Georgian Silver Binding


Pliny the Younger.

Epistolarum Libri Decem. Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, November 1508.

Apart from a substantial fragment in The Pierpont Morgan Library, the 6th-century uncial manuscript on which this edition of the letters of Pliny the Younger is based no longer survives, making this imprint an essential source for all modern critical editions. This is the first Aldine imprint to note Aldus’s association with his father-in-law, Andrea Torresani, and the first with numbered foliation. Bound in a curious silver repoussé case, ornamented with birds, cupids, flowers, scrolls, etc. The top edge of the binding is hallmarked London 1793, with the maker’s initials of the silversmith John Wren.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

With Color Illustrations


Julius Caesar.

Commentariorum de Bello Gallico libri. Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, April–November–December 1513.

This first Aldine edition of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War perfectly illustrates Aldus’s intent that his publications be put to scholarly use. The two-page map of France was colored by hand stencil while in production. The color scheme laid out in Aldus’s preface is designed to enable the reader to follow the geography of the action of the text. As in most copies, this exemplar includes corrections in the hand of Aldus. Bound in contemporary Venetian calf, annotated throughout in a contemporary hand.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

The Smallest Device


Pontano, Giovanni Gioviano. 

Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius, August 1505.

The crowded title-page of this collection of verse by Giovanni Giovano Pontano (1426 or 1429–1503) in the normal course of events would have prevented the appearance of the dolphin and anchor device for want of adequate space. It happened, however, that the diminutive Greek Hours of the Virgin, of July 1505, a 32mo, had required the contemporary creation of a device considerably smaller than the device printed in the octavos. The Greek Hours of 1505 is an exceedingly rare volume, so the small device’s employment here has enabled it to be seen more readily than otherwise would have been the case. 

From the collection of H. George Fletcher.

Help Me



[Odes]. Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, January 1513.

This editio princeps of the lyric poet Pindar contains what may be an intentional typographical error by Aldus. In a forthcoming article in the Princeton University Library Chronicle, Douglas Bauer draws new attention to Pindar’s ode Olympian 13, where the word αἰδῶ (“prestige” or “self-respect”) is misprinted ἀλδῶ, the Greek form of Aldus’s own name. That serves to turn the meaning of the passage into something like, “Zeus, grant the sweet good fortune of happiness to Aldus.” This is perhaps a simple typographical mistake, but Bauer suggests that it was a private signature on Aldus’s dedication of the book to his friend Andrea Navagero. 

From the collection of T. Kimball Brooker.

Aesop’s Fables



Vita, & Fabellae Aesopi … Venice: Aldus Manutius, October 1505.

Although not strictly part of Aldus’s Portable Library, this Aesop nonetheless represents Aldus’s desire to spread the knowledge of Greek through the dissemination of great literature. According to Herodotus and Aristotle, Aesop (ca. 620–564 BCE) was a slave on the Greek island of Samos who collected stories and eventually earned his freedom through his wit. In this sole Aldine edition of Aesop’s Fables, the Greek and Latin text is interleaved to aid those readers who knew Latin but not Greek. Yet the texts are separable. The Greek pages are numbered sequentially, and are occasionally found bound together without the Latin translation.

From the collection of G. Scott Clemons.

Jean Grolier’s Blue-Paper Virgil …

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Maro, Publius Vergilius.

Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, October 1514. 

Aldines printed on blue paper were a phenomenon from the late summer and autumn of 1514, and intermittently thereafter. Blue paper imprints were more likely intended as gifts for important patrons rather than commercial use, and today are generally rarer than copies printed on vellum. Shown here is a previously unrecorded copy of the 1514 Virgil on blue paper, the only other specimen residing in the Ahmanson-Murphy Collection at UCLA. This is Jean Grolier’s copy, likely bound for him by Jean Picard, and bearing his imperfectly erased signature “Grolierij et amicorum” at the end of the text.

From the collections of the Clark Art Institute.

… And Its Plain Paper Cousin


Maro, Publius Vergilius. 

Opera. Venice: Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, October 1514.

The guide-letter at the opening of Book 4 of the Aeneid indicates the rubricated or illuminated capital letter, here added in red and blue in the French style. The binding is also French, gilt Parisian black goatskin from the middle of the 16th century, perhaps by Claude Picques. Combined evidence suggests that this copy was originally exported to France, and it eventually found its way to Mainz, or rather Mayence, during the Napoleonic era. The book was formerly in the Junius Spencer Morgan collection of Virgil at Princeton. From the original 1514 printing, with the errata, it is displayed to show the notable contrast between regular copies on white paper and Jean Grolier’s splendid blue-paper copy.

From the collection of H. George Fletcher.