Aesop’s Fables: restoration and digitisation of a unique copy

Aesop's Fables, Venice, Bernardino Benali, c. 1490 © Noemi La Pera
The rediscovered page © Noemi La Pera
Presentation of the found page and its exact position © Matteo De Fina
The opening of the volume before restoration © Noemi La Pera


The Fondazione Giorgio Cini library holds the world’s only copy of an illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables, printed in Venice in the late 15th century. The project aimed to insert a rediscovered page in its correct original position in the book.

the project

The Fondazione Giorgio Cini library holds the world’s only copy of an illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables, printed in Venice in the late 15th century. Having entered the library in 1962 together with the collection of Tammaro De Marinis (1878-1969), the Fables had been part of the collection of Charles Butler (1821-1910), whose library was sold by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in London in April 1911.

The scholar and previous owner, Tammaro De Marinis, had described the unique copy of the Aesop in 1940, in his publication Appunti e ricerche bibliografiche (Milan, Hoepli); here we can learn that already in 1940 unfortunately, several pages of the book were missing.

In 2019, at a Florentine auction house, within a heterogeneous lot with De Marinis provenance, a page of the Venetian incunabulum was found, probably kept separately by the owner, and re-emerged on the market almost 60 years after its donation (1962). Thanks to a generous contribution, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini library came into possession of the rediscovered page and a conservative restoration project was drafted, approved, financed, and implemented. The project aimed to insert the rediscovered page in its correct original position and make the digitisation of the book available online.


After analyzing the copy and the edition, the project aimed to insert the rediscovered paper in its correct original position in the book making an accurate photographic documentation of it, restore the volume, digitise it and then publish it online.


Since the book is the only surviving copy of this particular edition from about 1490, no direct comparison with a similar copy could be made to see where to insert the page (the book has no signature to indicate the proper sequence). After a very thorough analysis of the text, the restoration project was supported by the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige Archival and Bibliographic Superintendency and completed in November 2021.
The restoration process initially involved the complete removal of the block of pages from the binding and its 19th-century stitching. The pages were restored by removing additions made in previous repairs with materials that had darkened over time, causing further stains. In the end, the booklets were stitched up using the same holes of the previous binding and the book is once again available to readers.

Detaching the binding © Noemi La Pera
Removal of previous restorations © Noemi La Pera
Removal of stains © Noemi La Pera
Stitching of the booklets © Noemi La Pera
The finished stitching © Noemi La Pera
The book under press © Noemi La Pera


The book was digitised by ARCHiVe team using high-resolution colour photography. Given the rare opportunity of having the pages and booklets of an antique book unbound for a while, photographic documentation was also carried out, including with transmitted lighting, so that a comparative analysis of the restored unbound bifolios could be conducted.
This brought out the watermarks of the paper that were compared and, in part, identified thanks to the repertories (Briquet 758 and 3442).  Thanks to the high-resolution photographs, other material aspects were revealed and helped to provide further information about the unique artefact.
The restored book ready for digitisation © Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Photographic acquisition phase © Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Photographic documentation of the paper © Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Photographic documentation of the watermark with transmitted light © Fondazione Giorgio Cini


The results of the restoration project and digitization allowed a very in-depth analysis of the entire volume, leading to new information on this unique copy in the world.
This unique copy of the Aesop’s Fables is available in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini’s Digital Library.


  • Esopo. Una favola ritrovata / Aesop. A rediscovered Fable, in Lettera da San Giorgio, N. 46 (2022), pp. 56-61.
  • L’Esopo di De Marinis. L’esemplare unico, la carta ritrovata, il restauro, in ‘Multa renascentur’ : Tammaro De Marinis studioso, bibliofilo, antiquario, collezionista, Venezia, Marsilio 2023.


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