Printers: new cultural actors in Europe beginning in the late fifteenth century

Albrecht Dürer, A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds Playing a Viola and Panpipes, watercolor and gouache heightened with pen and ink and gold.


Printing was born in Germany with the production of the Gutenberg Bible, although printers set up shop across all of Europe beginning in the first decades of the century. They specialized, organized, and collaborated with merchants and bookshops. This new industry was particularly concentrated in merchant cities and university towns. Their editorial strategies sought to reach an increasingly broader audience which was not limited to persons of letters, although important printers worked with the Humanists for the diffusion of high quality revised editions. Their collaboration involved ancient texts, such as the Greek editions of Aldus Manutius, as well as religious texts, the Bible in particular. Printing was thus a driver of religious and intellectual renewal, but was also suspected of conveying harmful and heretical ideas; with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, printers were increasingly controlled by political and religious authorities, a control that some of them were able to circumvent.