Staying Afloat: The Vavassore Workshop and the Role of the Minor Publisher in Sixteenth Century Venice
In the increasingly polarized historiography of the printing industry of Venice, the workshop established by Giovanni Andrea Vavassore around 1515 offers a refreshing perspective on the role of the minor publisher in the Renaissance lagoon. Neither focused on a specific genre or format of book, nor interested in employing innovatory techniques of production, Vavassore instead emerges as a printing poligrafo: a man willing to turn his hand to the production of printed wares of every kind; a maker of prints and maps, as well as a publisher, printer, and seller of all types of edition. Beginning with the formation of his press, this article follows Vavassore’s journey to the lagoon and charts the establishment of his workshop. It also examines the process by which a new artisan might learn skills and amass contacts from other members of the printing trade. Rather than an inherently competitive trade, Vavassore’s experience of printing in Venice stresses the importance of collaboration, cooperation, and networking. Working with other publishers, printers, mapmakers, and itinerant performers, he was able to establish an extensive and vibrant market for his printed wares both in Venice and beyond. The printing policy of the workshop – chiefly, to print what sold, and make the largest profits in doing so – emerges as key to the success of the Vavassore over the course of eight decades. Through the examination of a series of graphic prints, maps, pamphlets, and editions, this article questions the contemporary outreach and lasting influence of one of Venice’s many minor publishers in the Renaissance.