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The Printing Revolution - Renaissance print culture in Rome & Venice

The arrival and impact of printing in Renaissance Italy: manuscripts, printed books and the visual arts 1450–1600.

Special displays of manuscripts and books and privileged access to spaces not usually seen by the public.

Accompanied by two expert lecturers, a British Library curator and an art historian specialising in the Italian Renaissance.

No more than 18 participants.

An extra day in Venice on the 2018 departure.

  • Rome, Vatican Library, wood engraving c. 1880.
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This tour explores the culture of Renaissance Rome and Venice from a new and unusual perspective – the history of printing. The arrival of printing in Rome in the 1460s, followed by the exponential growth of publishing in Venice, had far-reaching and profound consequences. It was nothing less than an information revolution.

Beginning in Rome and at the first site of printing in Italy, the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco, the tour introduces the new technology and what this entailed for the way books were made, bought, collected and read. It shows how the transition from manuscript to print took place, and presents the leading personalities involved in the advancement of printing – cardinals, aristocrats, scholars, printers and booksellers.

Many of the great collections of manuscript codices and printed books which were built at the time survive intact today in splendidly decorated libraries. Foremost among them was the Pope’s own library, the ‘Biblioteca Apostolica’, buried within the great Vatican complex. The story continues in Venice, which in the sixteenth century became the European centre of the publishing and bookselling trades. The monumental libraries here, places of architectural beauty themselves, house some of the greatest collections of illustrated books and manuscripts.

The focus of this tour leads not only an understanding of the role of printing in Renaissance culture but also to an enhanced appreciation of the art of the period, and an understanding of the place of the book in early modern history.

Day 1

Fly at c. 12.45pm from London Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino (British Airways). Evening lecture and first of four nights in Rome.

Day 2

Subiaco. Drive to the Roman countryside to visit the Benedictine monasteries at Subiaco, the first site of printing in Italy. In the library of Sta. Scolastica there are copies of the first books printed there, including Lactantius’ De divinis institutionibus, printed in 1465.

Day 3

Rome. Spend the morning in the Vatican, visiting the Pope’s own library, the ‘Biblioteca Apostolica’ (by special arrangement) and the Vatican Museums. In the afternoon there is an out-of-hours visit to Raphael’s frescoes in Villa La Farnesina, where there was once a printing press. The Palazzo Farnese, now the French embassy, is the most magnificent Renaissance palace in Rome.

Day 4

Rome. The Biblioteca Casanatense belonged to the Dominicans, who were in charge of attempts to control printing by means of the Index of Prohibited Books. The Biblioteca Angelica was the first public library in Europe. In the afternoon there is a printing demonstration at the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica in the Palazzo Poli, which abuts the Trevi fountain.

Day 5

Rome, Venice. Travel from Rome to Venice by first class rail (c. 4 hours). After settling into the hotel, visit the beautiful Biblioteca Marciana in the Piazzetta. Begun in 1536 by Sansovino and finished by Scamozzi in 1591, among its collections are many sculptures, Fra Mauro’s 1459 world map and important manuscripts and books.

Day 6

Venice. Andrea Palladio’s monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore has a library, now part of the Fondazione Cini, which has one of the greatest collections of 16th-century illustrated books, broadsheets and pamphlets. The small monastic library attached to the church of S. Francesco della Vigna is the repository for all Franciscan libraries in northern Italy and houses the only copy of the first printed edition of the Koran (1537). The Museo Correr, the museum of the history of Venice, has a library containing many fine manuscripts and incunabula.

Day 7

Cornuda. Travel to Tronchetto by vaporetto and from there drive to Cornuda, a small town in the foothills beyond Treviso. Visit the delightful Museo Tipoteca – the only museum of ‘type’ in the world (out-of-hours opening). The site holds more than 180 printing presses and typecasting machines. Lunch in the restaurant here before returning to Venice for some free time.

Day 8

Travel by motoscafo to Venice airport and fly to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 2.15pm.

The tour is dependent on the kindness of many individuals and organisations, so although this gives a fair picture of the itinerary, there may be substitutes for some places mentioned.

Price – per person


Two sharing: £3,830 or £3,670 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,260 or £4,100 without flights.


Flights (Euro traveller) with British Airways (aircraft: Airbus 319); travel by private minibus and first class rail; private motoscafo transfers between the station / airport and the hotel in Venice; a vaporetto pass for the duration of the stay in Venice; luggage porterage between Rome and Venice and between the hotel in Venice and the airport; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 2 lunches in 2017 or 3 lunches in 2018 and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all taxes; all tips; the services of two lecturers.


Hotel Bernini Bristol, Rome: a 5-star hotel excellently located on the Piazza Barberini. Hotel Splendid, Venice: delightful, quiet 4-star hotel situated half-way between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.

How strenuous?

There is unavoidably a lot of walking in both cities: the historic area in Rome is vast and vehicular access is restricted, and in Venice there is a lot of walking along the flat and up and down bridges. Standing around in museums and churches in both cities is also unavoidable. The tour should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 8 and 18 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: