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  • Alle origini dell'editoria volgare. Niccolò Zoppino da Ferrara a Venezia. Annali (1503-1544) by Lorenzo Baldacchini
  • Neil Harris (bio)
Alle origini dell'editoria volgare. Niccolò Zoppino da Ferrara a Venezia. Annali (1503-1544). By Lorenzo Baldacchini; with a 'Note' by Amedeo Quondam. (Cinquecento. Testi e studi di letteratura italiana, 40.) Manziana (Rome): Vecchiarelli editore. 2011. xxvii + 355 pp. €40. ISBN 978 88 8247 306 8.

In the global Hamlet, populated by ever-larger and ever-faster cataloguing resources, with the prospect of even bigger, better, and brighter in the offing, it is an interesting question, posed from the beginning by Lorenzo Baldacchini, as to whether there is still a place for the painstaking bibliographical endeavour that consists in compiling the annals of a Renaissance printer and/or publisher. Here the query appears rhetorical, since the asker answers himself with this substantial tome describing the editions of Niccolò d'Aristotele de' Rossi da Ferrara, known — presumably on account of his limp — as lo Zoppino.

Who? might well ask those used to thinking of Italian Renaissance printing in terms of Aldus, and yet more Aldus. Just imagine a publisher/printer as opposite as possible, who never published in Greek, very little in Latin, and whose vernacular output experimented with every variety of literary Italian circulating before Bembo's Prose della volgar lingua imposed the suffocating dominion of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Imagine a publisher who on only four occasions employed folio format (for Bordoni's Isolario in 1528 and 1534, a Vitruvius in 1535, and a volume of statutes in 1539), who chose octavo for some ninety per cent of his publications, but at the other end of the scale only ventured three times into aristocratic duodecimo (for a couple of Petrarchs and a New Testament). Imagine a publisher who concentrated on short, often attractively illustrated books, avidly read at the time, which therefore survive in only a few copies, very often only one. Imagine all these things and you have Niccolò Zoppino, enormously successful, with a gigantic catalogue, which — even after this considerable effort by Baldacchini — remains in part uncharted.

His dates of birth and death are unknown and can only be approximately deduced from his editions. His first book appeared in Bologna in 1503, his last in Venice in 1544. It seems likely therefore that he was born in the 1470s, almost certainly in Ferrara, and lived to a ripe age, perhaps retiring rather than dying, since there are no publications by his heirs, though he is known to have had a son, Sebastiano. Success meant a network of bookshops across Northern Italy, even down perhaps as far as Rome, and, unusually compared to his Venetian colleagues, from time to time he commissioned editions in minor centres such as Perugia and Pesaro, suggesting that he may have travelled extensively to look after his business interests. One issue to have caused ample debate is whether the publisher was the same person as the well-known cantimbanco, or mountebank, also called Zoppino (i.e. a poet who improvised his verses standing on a bench, providing not only entertainment but also news). Some scholars have struggled to accept this thesis, but documentary sources show that his long-standing partner, Vincenzo di Polo, also led a double life as a bookseller (bibliopola) and as public reciter (cantor circumforaneus) and felt no [End Page 213] embarrassment about admitting the fact in his will. So perhaps the two figures were closer than we should like to believe and we ought to rethink our view of oral communication and its relationship to print culture.

This volume furnishes a listing of 438 editions in chronological sequence. They are divided between Zoppino's first period, up to and including his partnership with Vincenzo (nos 1-161, 438) and, afterwards, following the latter's death, on his own (nos 162-437). As well as the author's introduction it contains a 'Nota' by Amedeo Quondam, surveying recent work on the publisher, which belies its title by being twenty pages long and could have been curtailed without loss. Other complaints are unfortunately necessary, beginning with the slipshod proof-reading and the weakness of the indexing, in particular the omission...


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