> Skip to content
  • Published: 1 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9781784742652
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $38.99

The Bookseller of Florence

Vespasiano da Bisticci and the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance




An exhilarating and untold account of a Florentine bookseller working at the frontiers of human knowledge, and the epochal shift from script to print that defined the Renaissance

'If you want to celebrate the place that bookmaking and bookselling still have in our lives . . . immerse yourself in Ross King's rich history of Vespasiano da Bisticci, "the king of the world's booksellers," in 15th-century Florence . . . wonderful' SIMON SCHAMA, NEW YORK TIMES

'A spectacular life of the book trade's Renaissance man . . . King's supreme ability is to imagine himself into the past . . . The scope of his knowledge is staggering' JOHN CAREY, SUNDAY TIMES

An exhilarating and untold account of a Florentine bookseller working at the frontiers of human knowledge, and the epochal shift from script to print that defined the Renaissance

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. Besides repositories of ancient 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 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 printed book. By 1480, the 'king of the world's booksellers' was swept away by this epic technological disruption.

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 long lost to history - one of the true titans of the Renaissance.

'A brilliant narrative that seamlessly weaves together intellectual debate, technological exploration and the excitement of new ways of thinking about ethics, politics and human capability' ROWAN WILLIAMS

  • Published: 1 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9781784742652
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $38.99

About the author

Ross King

Ross King is a renowned expert in the Italian Renaissance. He is the author of numerous bestselling and acclaimed books include Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, Leonardo and the Last Supper and Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. His love of Renaissance Florence, which he has been studying, writing and lecturing about for over twenty years, made Vespasiano’s long-forgotten story – never written about before – an irresistible next subject. He lives just outside Oxford.

Also by Ross King

See all

Praise for The Bookseller of Florence

In the mid-fifteenth-century it must have seemed as if all the wisdom of the world was distilled into a single street in Florence. In this deft, sparkling book, Ross King reanimates the Street of Booksellers and the life of its most fascinating figure: Vespasiano da Bisticci

Peter Moore, author of Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World

A brilliant narrative that seamlessly weaves together intellectual debate, technological exploration and the excitement of new ways of thinking about ethics, politics and human capability as they evolved in one of the liveliest cultural environments in European history. It conveys a rare sense of immersion in the daily sights and sounds (and even smells) of fifteenth-century Italy

Rowan Williams

The Bookseller of Florence does for books what Ross King did for the art of Brunelleschi, Leonardo and Michelangelo: it conjures a vivid, lost world of manuscripts and learning. Written with an exquisite touch and enviable flair, King has written a book in defence of the pursuit of knowledge that's needed today more than ever

Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps

A beautifully constructed work of popular scholarship, at once celebratory and elegiac. Ross King skilfully illuminates the career, interests and connections of a fifteenth-century maker of manuscript books, and in the process paints a compelling picture of Florence in the age of the Medici, and of the fascinating, fractured world of the European Renaissance, in the decades witnessing the final fall of the Byzantine Empire and the fateful appearance of the new technology of print

Peter Marshall, author of Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation

Magnificent . . . King's meticulous research provides an immersive reading experience as he expertly weaves the political intrigue of families vying for power and currying favour with the pope into a riveting intellectual history covering the evolution of books, Renaissance Italy, classical philosophy and literature, and the invention of the printing press. A profoundly engaging study of a time when books were considered essential to a meaningful life, and knowledge and wisdom were cherished as ends in themselves

Bill Kelly, Booklist

A terrific and utterly absorbing read, full of narrative pace and remarkable breadth and depth of scholarship. It deserves to make the bestseller lists. How ingenious to find a way to tell such a compelling and important story, that of the epochal shift from script to print, through the experience of a single individual. I haven't enjoyed a history book as much for years

John Guy

A spectacular life of the book trade's Renaissance man . . . King's supreme ability is to imagine himself into the past . . . The scope of his knowledge is staggering

John Carey, Sunday Times

In this fascinating biography, King weaves Vespasiano's story into the fabric of the tumultuous times in which he lived . . . The result is a narrative about a man and his books, and so much more, including the origins and history of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the influence of Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press on the arc of history

Linda Frederiksen, Library Journal

Excellent . . . a fascinating read . . . Though ostensibly a biography of Vespasiano, he is less the book's subject than its method: a window on to the intellectual, political and technological developments of a time in radical ferment. It is an astute choice by King, just as King - entertaining, witty and expert - is a fortunate fate for Vespasiano

Tim Smith-Laing, Daily Telegraph

The Bookseller of Florence is a way of entering the world of Renaissance humanism and its fascination with the writings of the past at a time when these were still - but not for much longer - handwritten

Charles Saumarez Smith, Oldie

If you want to celebrate the place that bookmaking and bookselling still have in our lives . . . immerse yourself in Ross King's rich history of Vespasiano da Bisticci, "the king of the world's booksellers," in 15th-century Florence . . . wonderful

Simon Schama, New York Times

A marvel of storytelling and a master class in the history of the book. The Bookseller of Florence is a dazzling, instructive and highly entertaining book, worthy of the great bookseller it celebrates

Ernest Hilbert, Wall Street Journal

The Bookseller of Florence is a delight, a popular history that makes the complexities of the past understandable... [an] enthralling book

Sarah Dunant, Literary Review

Related titles