Florence: "Athens on the Arno"
By the time printing was introduced to Florence in 1471 the city-state had established itself as the center of humanistic thought and republican idealism in Italy. The honor was largely a result of the patronage and protection afforded by the Medici family to the great thinkers of the time. Scholars such as Angelo Poliziano, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo Bruni, and Marsilio Ficino graced the streets and piazze of Florence, holding debates and discussing the works of their ancient predecessors. Printing was immediately put to use as an instrument for teaching the classics and for helping to spread humanistic ideas.
It is fitting that Florence should be given an esteemed post in the history of Italian printing given the importance of the city to the development of the Renaissance ideal of civic humanism. After almost 800 years of relative neglect, the study of classical Greek and Roman writers took on new life during the century preceding the first Florentine printed book. Scholars in Florence during the fifteenth century were primarily concerned with reviving classical ideas, especially in their regard to the government of a populace, the worth of art, and the possibilities of human intellectual achievement. As one modern scholar observes, "Italian genius was at the height of its scientific achievement."1 Early Florentine printing, in particular, shows a large output of classical texts and grammars and other humanistic works as opposed to the religious works that most other Italian cities of the time were producing. It is for these reasons that Florence has been called "the new Athens on the Arno."2
The books described on this website demonstrate the wide range of subjects that Florentines undertook to print between the years of 1471 and 1501. The works are important to understanding the cultural and scholarly atmosphere of one of Renaissance Italy's most productive cities. In the words of the great Florentine printer Bernardo Cennini: "Florentinis ingeniis nihil ardui est," or "Nothing is beyond the power of the Florentines."
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1. Victor Scholderer, Printers and Readers in Italy in the Fifteenth Century, Annual Italian Lecture of the British Academy, 1949 (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1949), 1.
2. Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 6.