Manutius in Monte: manufacturing Manchester Aldines

As we look back at all the events which took place over the 500th Aldus anniversary year, probably the most enjoyable and specifically Mancunian experience, which drew on all the skills of the team, was the week spent in Montefiascone, Italy as part of the 25th anniversary of the Montefiascone Conservation Project.

Since its launch by Cheryl Porter, the project has become a clearing house for conservators and collection care specialists from around the world who attend week-long courses during which they replicate the making of manuscripts and printed books under the stewardship of experts in the field. Our very own Caroline Checkley-Scott and Julianne Simpson have long been associated with the project, leading courses and helping with the conservation and cataloguing of the library of the Seminario Barbarigo which was built in 1666 and provided the catalyst for the launch of the conservation project (http://monteproject.co.uk/en/).

It seemed wholly fitting given the Barbarigo family’s status as patrons of the Aldine Press, that a week be given over in the anniversary year to teach participants to make a prestige Aldine, and that the Aldine concerned should be one from the Manchester collection at the John Rylands Library (JRL Aldine Collection 10635). Held between 17th-21st August, the class drew conservators from America, Canada, Belgium, Japan, UK and Korea and focused on a copy of an Aldine edition of the Greek poet Oppian, published in 1517, and bound by the Royal Binder for Henri II King of France. As part of the Royal Library at Fontainebleau, it was bound in full leather in the alla Greca style, wooden boarded and decorated with a Western /Greek style binding with claps and bosses, with gold finishing and hand painting. Such a complex book would ordinarily take many weeks and a high level of binding skill to complete. The challenge was to work as fast and carefully as possible over just 5 days to complete the volume. As a complete novice and a book reader, rather than maker, I approached the whole enterprise with some trepidation.

However, under Caroline’s expert guidance and the watchful eye of Stefania Signorello, book conservator from the Wellcome Library, London, something resembling the original began to take shape. As we worked Julianne gave daily talks on Aldus and his press and the particular history of the library at Fountainebleau.

From the initial sewing of the gatherings, through the working of the red leather binding and the stamping of the signature Fountainebleau plates, the whole process required the application of the Aldine motto ‘festina lente‘ to ensure all was in place prior to stamping and the application of gold-leaf. The more advanced participants were also able to add the appropriate gauffering with the tools provided.

Notwithstanding a total lack of experience, and thanks to the collegiality and advice of fellow classmates and tutors, the final product did indeed resemble an early printed edition.

The week ended with a celebratory evening to mark the 25th anniversary of the Montefiascone Conservation Project involving lectures on the history of the seminary library and the Aldine press and an exhibition of the seminary’s Aldine collection curated by Julianne and Caroline. A formal presentation was made to Cheryl Porter in recognition of all the work and dedication shown to the commune and the seminary down the years, and Nicholas Barker, as another adopted citizen of Monte, gave out certificates to all the participants who had completed the course.

Thanks to the documentary-making skills of local historian and project supporter Quinto Ficari, the short film below offers a brief taste of the week’s events and the fitting celebration of the combined anniversary of both Aldus and the Montefiascone Conservation Project at the Seminario Barbarigo. Long may its influence and impact throughout the world of conservation and collection care continue from its home beneath the roof of the seminary established by the family who were the original patrons of Aldus Manutius.Forza Monte!!

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