Books printed between 1450 and 1500 were called incunabula (from the Latin incunabulum, cradle). During that period, 4,000 books were printed in Venice, making it one of Europe’s main typographical centres.

After 1520-1525, books started to shed the medieval aspect typical of incunabula. Pages were less compact and texts were highlighted by using different characters. Punctuation made reading easier, and phonetic characters (accents, apostrophes, cedilla, diaereses…) were introduced. The layout also changed: it included a title page (which became more ornate with time and included the publisher’s name), an introduction, a title heading on the top of each page, page numbering in Arabic numerals and a table of contents.

From the Renaissance and the Reformation to the mid-18th century, printing promoted scholarship, the translation of ancient texts, the production of new works and the creation of new typefaces.

Famous printers of the period included Plantin (Antwerp), Elzevir in Protestant Holland (Leiden) and Estienne, who fled France and sought refuge in Geneva during the Reformation.


Augustinus : De civitate Dei, Subiaco, Konrad Sweynheym & Arnold Pannartzt, 1467

Augustinus: De civitate Dei, Subiaco, Konrad Sweynheym & Arnold Pannartzt, 1467

Translation of the colophon:
‘ Here ends the 22nd book of the City of God against the pagans of Aurelius Augustine, outstanding doctor and Bishop of Hippo. The year 1467 after the birth of Christ. Under the papacy of Pope Paul II, the third year of his papacy, third year of the reign of the emperor of the Romans, the 12th day of the month of June.’


Augustinus : De civitate Dei,  le 12 juin 1467

Augustinus: De civitate Dei, 12 June 1467

The oldest transcriptions of ancient Roman texts were written in Caroline minuscule script. When the Humanists rediscovered these Classical texts in the 16th century, they believed they were originals and called the writing Roman script. In the second half of the 15th century, students of Gutenberg’s associate Schöffer used Roman type to print at the Subiaco convent outside Rome.


New characters

Bible polyglotte, Anvers, Plantin,1569-1572, écrite sous la direction d'Arias Montanus

Polyglot Bible, Antwerp, Plantin, 1569-1572, written under the supervision of Arias Montanus