The Aldine Anchor, 1555 (click to enlarge - 437 KB jpeg image)

The Aldine Anchor, 1555 (click to enlarge - 437 KB jpeg image)


The educational power of this emblem dynamic on title pages might be clearer if we examine a few examples of textbook title pages with emblems. The most common type of title page emblem was the printer's mark, and the best known such mark is also one of the earliest, that of Aldo Manuzio, which appeared on the many school texts from his press starting in 1502. The Aldine anchor-and-dolphin mark was one of a particular sort, where the image required the compliment of a motto, in this case Festina lente ("Make haste slowly"), but the motto was never displayed along with the mark. Such emblems with implied but not stated mottoes were common and intended to add a further dimension to the puzzle-like nature of the device. In the specific case of Aldo, the mysterious mark on so many schoolbooks not only identified the products of the Aldine press, it also invited discussion and explication. (28)

A missionary emblem (click to enlarge - 559 KB jpeg image)

A missionary emblem (click to enlarge - 559 KB jpeg image)

Most printer's marks were less mysterious. The typical printer chose an emblem with both an image and a motto that could be read and interpreted fairly easily. The reader had to search his memory for the classical references and he was intended to admire the ingenuity of the printer; but he was not taxed with overmuch obscurity. The mark of the Medici Oriental Press described above is of this sort. There was a great deal of visual/verbal word play in the book trade, which served in the market to commend the books to those who thought of themselves as witty.


Mr. Pozzo's mark (click to enlarge - 552 KB jpeg image)

Mr. Pozzo's mark (click to enlarge - 552 KB jpeg image)


When Francesco Moscheni of Milan put a tiny fly (mosca) in the middle of a mark that concerned other, weightier matters, he was just looking for a smile of recognition. Similarly, a play on the name of the Spanish Viceroy by another Milan printer was an elegant compliment that recognized a patron. On the other hand, when Cesare Pozzo included a title page emblem of Christ meeting the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well (pozzo), he was both punning and also making a serious statement about his evangelical religious stance. No motto was needed, for Jesus's speech on the living water of salvation was one of the most quoted passages in all of the New Testament. (29)


By the middle of the sixteenth century, it was essential for printers to display marks, and emblematic marks were the most common form. Only a few genres of printed matter were exempt. In government printing the arms of a town or ruler could take the place of a printer's mark. Pamphlets or handbills with no expectation of permanence also went without marks. These were the cheapest literary products on the market -- ballads, burlesques, and simple how-to books. Inevitably, heterodox or politically radical works also lacked marks (or employed false ones). The printer's mark on all other works assured buyers of the piety, good faith, respectability, and economic stability of the press. As the century wore on, religious conformity and even Counter-Reformation zeal were increasingly embodied in printer's marks as well. (30)

Sometimes these thoroughly Christian and bourgeois qualities were not quite enough. The case of Bernardo Giunta shows how this could be so. Bernardo was a third-generation printer from a prominent family that had branches in Florence, Venice, Burgos, and Lyon. He headed the Florence house from 1517 to 1551. All the Giunta affiliates used some form of the fleur-de-lis as their mark. It was the device of the Florentine Republic, and so displayed their pride in Florence as well as in their family traditions. The lily was not in itself an emblematic device. It represented a slightly older tradition of printer's marks, closer in design logic to a coat of arms or a traditional merchant's hallmark. Bernardo himself, however, favored a version which had been transformed into an emblem. His lily was supported by two putti holding vines emerging from a vase; the sometime motto was Nil candidius ("None more brilliant" or "None more famous," in effect, "None better"). This mark had moral and literary pretensions but it could as easily be read as pure advertising, a sort of product endorsement.

More than just a lily (click to enlarge - 249 KB jpeg image)

More than just a lily (click to enlarge - 249 KB jpeg image)

Apparently, Nil candidius did not suffice for Grand Duke Cosimo I (1519-1574). He wanted Florence's oldest and most productive press to work to the highest standards of scholarly printing in Europe. With his sanction, the court poet and cultural impresario Vincenzo Borghini (1515-1580) pressured an aging and apparently reluctant Bernardo to acquire better type and equipment and to adopt a new, emblematic printer's mark devised by Borghini himself. The new mark would conform to the highest expectations of emblematists and the greatest pretensions of printers. With it, Borghini and the Duke exhorted still greater effort from Bernardo and advertised Florence's claims to be a European cultural capital. From 1547 until his death in 1551, Bernardo's title pages displayed a finely wrought image of a snake shedding its skin between two rocks. Behind and above the serpent rose an elegant, naturalistic lily to reflect Giunta tradition. But the motto, Novus exorior ("I arise renewed”), referred only to the snake. In Borghini's own words, the motto "yields the meaning of a book that with extreme care and labor, as if rubbed between two stones, has left behind the skin of old errors and negligences that once weighed it down." For his compliance, Bernardo was rewarded with a noble title, but his heirs continued to use the new device only until 1559. Thereafter they reverted to a stylized fleur-de-lis more in keeping with family tradition. (31)

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(28)   Renouard 1834, 410-419; Wolkenhauer 2002, 165-185.
(29)   John 4, 7-26. These devices are explicated in Stevens and Gehl 2003, 275-277 citing the pertinent earlier literature.
(30)   Pinkus 1996, 43-45, 130; Sandal 2003, 589-90.
(31)   Bertoli 1999, 89-93.

Posted by admin on September 22, 2008
Tags: Chapter Seven

Total comments on this page: 12

How to read/write comments

Comments on specific paragraphs:

Click the icon to the right of a paragraph

  • If there are no prior comments there, a comment entry form will appear automatically
  • If there are already comments, you will see them and the form will be at the bottom of the thread

Comments on the page as a whole:

Click the icon to the right of the page title (works the same as paragraphs)


No comments yet.

Richard Mallette on paragraph 7:

And so here we see the merging of a traditional patronage system with the newer concerns of commerce, do we not? And the snake emblem is the product of this shotgun marriage.

July 17, 2009 6:42 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 7:

The emblem makes a particularly good opportunity to cross over between commercial and non-commercial culture, insofar as it allows businessmen to display their intellectual bona fides. In this particular case, Bernardo Giunta never received court subsidies in the measure he hoped for, but he did get a noble title out of the deal.

July 17, 2009 7:06 am
Ken Gouwens on paragraph 5:

The Giunta Press motto “Nil Candidius” reminds me of Giulio de’ Medici’s “Candor Illaesus.” given that Bernardo spent time in Florence while Giulio was running the place (from Rome, via Cardinal Passerini et al.), might this be an intentional connection?

September 28, 2009 11:01 am
Paul F. Gehl :

The link might well be there, but I don’t know of any documentary evidence for it, merely the temporal coincidence you mention. I would have to look at the Giunta books in the period very closely to say exactly when the “Nil candidius” was added to their long-standing lily motif. I may just ask Bill Pettas (who published on the Spanish Giunta a few years back and is working on the Italian branches of the family now) to weigh in on this one.

September 28, 2009 1:53 pm
William Pettas on paragraph 5:

The first Giunti device (70 x 28 mm), two putti holding cornucopias in one hand and with the other hand holding the fleur-de-lis above, appears in the 1512/13 edition of the Opera of Lucius Apuleius. It then appeared often and was the only device by the press used until 1517. It contains no motto.
Zappella, fig. 645; Kristeller, Early Florentine Woodcuts, 1897, fig. 43 and Roberts, Printers’ marks (London, 1893), p. 224.

The second device has two putti standing on a chest, each holding a cornucopia and together supporting overhead an elaborate fleur-de-lis. On the front of the chest are the initials ‘F.G.’ The whole enclosed in a folded ribbon border (135 x 94 mm). The same border appears also in the 1506 Giunti edition of Dante. This, the second Giunti device, first appears in the 1517 Orationes of Aristides, the Vitae parallelae of Plutarch and the Icones of Philostratus. Davies says that Kristeller shows three devices with a similar border: nos. 21, 77, 182. This is the largest and most important of the early Giunti devices (Kristeller 46) and was last used in the 1527 Xenophon. Davies, Devices of the early printers, 1457-1560, pp. 312-313, fig. 66 and Zappella, Le marche dei tipografi e degli editori italiani del Cinquecento fig. 646.

The third and fourth devices, both appear in the 1517 Valerius Maximus, one on the title page, the other at the colophon. These are the only two devices, of the more than 40 used by the Giunti in Florence up to 1625, to use the motto in question. Zappella, figs. 649 and 647. Fig. 649 last appeared in 1588 in Dottrina Christiana breve per insegnare in pochi giorni by Diego de Ledesma which is the second part of the work Della scelta d’orazioni divotissime by.Girolamo (in religion Silvano) Razzi; Fig. 647 made its final appearance in 1617 at the end of the text of Achilles Tatius’ Dell’amore di Clitofonte, e Leucippe. I find it remarkable how long some of the devices were used–or revived after several decades. I have not used a loupe on the later appearances, but to the naked eye they seem to be identical.

As to your correct remark about the fleur-de-lis and its relation to the Giunti and the city, I might add one little-known note. The lily is still visible, carved on the stone lintel of their onetime store in the via Proconsolo, opposite the Badia in Florence. It is now a store selling briefcases and suitcases and the sweet people running the store knew their place had a long history but were unaware that it was for a century the bookstore of Florence’s most famous publishers. Sadly, even the city of Florence has done nothing, not even a plaque, to record the fact. I believe it was Douglas McMurtrie who pointed out that the first printer’s devices were closely related to the signs over their shops. And one small correction–Bernardo was the second generation printer, not third. I am still puzzled by the remark made a century ago by Fumagalli to the effect that Bernardo was made a “comte palatin.” I know of no archival evidence for this, and Fumagalli cited none. On the face of it, it seems highly unlikely.

September 28, 2009 4:31 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 5:

Thanks, Bill. You are the man with the answers as usual!
So, Ken, this means that the “Nil candidius” motto was devised in 1517, at a moment when Bernardo was still newly in charge of the Giunta house in Florence and when he/they experimented with the mark. The theme of fame is certainly appropriate to Valerius Maximus, where it first appears, but I leave it to you to tell us if Cardinal Giulio is likely to have had any direct influence. Giulio would have been firmly in the saddle as archbishop of Florence, right? And Bernardo would have had every good reason to want to curry favor.

September 29, 2009 4:37 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 6:

As Bill Pettas remarks above in his note to paragraph 5, the notion that Bernardo was rewarded by a noble title is probably a myth.

September 29, 2009 4:40 am
tessa on whole page :

I think the use of printer’s marks is a fascinating way to identify one’s work in the absence of any sort of verification system. Also, the economic concerns in general regarding emblems and title pages are interesting to think of in combination with moral/educational goals.

October 11, 2011 7:33 pm
Paul Gehl :

Right! It is always a little hard for us to place a price on morality, but printing made the whole issue more acute. That the economics of publishing end up influencing what ideas got out there and which ones became influential. Publishing on line eliminates one part of the economic equation, but it leaves another important question on the table. How do you get attention for your ideas in the babble of the internet?

October 11, 2011 8:13 pm
Courtney K. on paragraph 7:

It seems as though the printer’s emblem was a way in which to locate the work within geographical space. This makes me wonder, how popular was it for printers to also reference their works temporally by also including a date of publication?

March 11, 2013 6:01 pm
Paul Gehl :

Interesting that you make this geographical leap, Courtney. The printer’s mark certainly identified his firm, and usually printers had only one location, but most of the marks do not have geographical references. They tend to be based on literary sources, just as other emblems do. And some of them were deliberately international — firms like the Giunta had branches in several cities in Italy, Spain, and France but they always used some form of a lily mark. As for dates, they are rare in very early printed books but become pretty much universal by the end of the fifteenth century –except in exactly the case where the mark might be omitted, when the printer did not want his work to be easily identified or traced.

March 11, 2013 7:43 pm
Paul Gehl on paragraph 2:

The Aldine mark is itself the subject of an immense literature. The best recent contribution with a useful bibliography is Oren Margolis, “The Coin of Titus and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” in Mario Infelise (ed.), Aldo Manuzio. La costruzione del mito, Venice, Marsilio, 2016, pp. 58-68

January 16, 2019 8:19 am

You must be login to comment.
Create an account or login