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The Renaissance in Florence conjures images of beautiful frescoes and elegant buildings—the dazzling handiwork of the city’s artists and architects. But equally important were geniuses of another kind: Florence’s manuscript hunters, scribes, scholars and booksellers, who blew the dust off a thousand years of history and, through the discovery and diffusion of ancient knowledge, imagined a new and enlightened world.
At the heart of this activity was a remarkable bookseller: Vespasiano da Bisticci, known as ‘the king of the world’s booksellers’. Besides repositories of wisdom by the likes of Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, his books were works of art in their own right, copied by talented scribes and illuminated by the finest miniaturists. His clients included popes, kings and princes from all across Europe who wished to burnish their reputations by founding magnificent libraries.
Vespasiano reached the summit of his powers as Europe’s most prolific merchant of knowledge when a new invention appeared—the printing press—that forever changed how books were produced and knowledge transmitted. By 1480, after almost fifty years in business, Vespasiano closed his shop in Florence’s Street of Booksellers and retired to the country to write his gossipy memoirs of everyone he had known.
A thrilling chronicle of intellectual ferment set against the dramatic political and religious turmoil of the era, The Bookseller of Florence is also an ode to books and bookmaking that charts the world-changing shift from script to print through the life of an extraordinary man—one of the true titans of the Renaissance.
RossKing is the author of numerous award-winning books on the art and architecture of Italy and France, including Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, and Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. His new book, published in April 2021, is The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance.