Printed on vellum by Andrea Torresanus and Bartolomeo de Blavis in Venice, 1483
Opening, Volume 1: Aristotle and Averroes Disputing by Girolamo da Cremona
Purchased in 1919
This luxurious two-volume edition of the works of Aristotle was called by Henry Yates Thompson "the most magnificent book in the world." The trompe-l'oeil tendencies already evident in Girolamo da Cremona's Augustine of 1475 have been developed even further in the two frontispieces of this copy. In the first volume, the vellum of the page appears to have been torn away to reveal Aristotle conversing with a turbaned figure, possibly the Cordovan commentator Averroës (1126–1190). Beneath is a richly decorated architectural façade set into a landscape populated with satyrs, putti, and deer. A Latin inscription on the façade states that one Petrus Ulmer "brought this Aristotle to the world." Some scholars have identified this figure with Peter Ugelheimer, a Frankfurt bookseller resident in Venice who sold to Torresanus the punches of the celebrated printer Nicolas Jenson.
In 1469—some fourteen years after Johannes Gutenberg printed a bible using movable type—this transformative technology arrived in Venice, and the city rapidly became Europe's preeminent center for book publishing. During the last few decades of the fifteenth century, a new kind of volume appeared: the hand-illuminated printed book. Trained scribes and artists carefully added chapter headings, initials, borders, and lavish frontispieces to the printed text. These luxury items were created for a wealthy and prominent clientele—predominantly Venetian nobility.
The impossibility of hand decorating ever-increasing numbers of books led Venetian printers to adopt mechanical means to embellish their printed texts. From the 1490s, it became common to illustrate books by incorporating woodcuts. As the market for printed material flourished, artists such as Titian and Battista Franco produced masterly woodcuts and engravings to enhance their reputations.