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First Impressions

Sweynheym & Pannartz d.1477 and 1476

Printing came to Italy in 1465 through two Germans, Konrad Sweynheym (d.1477) and Arnold Pannartz (d.1476), who were part of the exodus of printers from Mainz in the 1460s. Both men were clerics and they enjoyed the support and patronage of the Church; they set up their press in a Benedictine monastery at Subiaco, 50km east of Rome, where they lived as lay brothers. Chief amongst their innovations was their development of a more rounded, less 'spiky' typeface than the Black-letter or Textura used by Gutenberg and other early printers in Germany. It was modelled on the formal Italian handwriting known as humanist script. Sweynheym and Pannartz printed just three books in Subiaco before relocating to Rome, where they printed twenty-eight volumes in editions of up to 300 copies, which equates to over 8,000 volumes! They must have over-estimated the market for their books, as they failed to sell and in 1472 they applied for financial assistance from the Pope, in a letter published in one of their books.

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