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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > S > Konrad Sweynheim

Konrad Sweynheim

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Printer, b. at Schwanheim, Frankfort, Germany; d. in Rome, 1477. Sweynheim and Arnold Pannartz of Prague, both of whom were ecclesiastics, were the first printers in Italy. At the invitation of Cardinal John Turrecremata they established a printing-press for books in 1464 at the Abbey of Subiaco; in 1467 they removed their press to the Massimi Palace at Rome, and carried on the business jointly until 1472. The first books they printed were: "Donatus" (1464); Cicero's "De oratore" and the "Divinarum institutionum libri septem" of Lactantius (1465). During the years 1464-72 they issued over 12,000 copies of thirty-seven works, these works being chiefly the classics and the Fathers. This shows the remarkable skill of the two printers, who were entirely dependent on themselves. Being an engraver Sweynheim was probably the die-cutter, the type-founder, and the type-setter of the undertaking, while Pannartz had charge of the actual printing and of matters connected with it. The dies cut by Sweynheim deserve special attention as they embody the preliminary steps of the present type for Latin characters. Sweynheim's typographical capitals are the first to show the forms used in the Roman inscriptions on stone, while some of his small letters repeat the characters used in manuscripts of the ninth to tenth centuries. He also cast the first Greek type; it is to be found in his third book, that of Lactantius, and the type copies the forms of Greek characters found in manuscripts of the seventh to the eight centuries. Notwithstanding the greatest industry and technical skill the two printers had no pecuniary success. In 1472 their patron and fellow-worker as editor and proofreader, Bishop John Andreas Bussi of Aleria, secretary of the Vatican Library, asked Sixtus IV to aid them. The papal assistance was given in the form of an expectancy. Sweynheim received a canonry in the collegiate Church of St. Victor at Mainz to whose secular brotherhood the inventor Gutenberg also belonged. In 1472 Sweynheim and Pannartz dissolved partnership. Sweynheim worked until his death as engraver on the maps of the "Cosmography" of Ptolemy. He was the first to apply copper engraving to the production of maps; twenty-seven of the beautifully executed plates of the edition of the "Cosmography" of 1478 are his work. Especially characteristic of Sweynheim as a maker of matrices is the fact that the beautiful even writing of the names of places are stamped in the engraving plate by means of individual dies. It is certain that Sweynheim was in close connexion with Mainz until his death, although he did not return there to enjoy his benefice. There is no doubt that he learned the art of printing at Mainz.


HARTWIG, Festschrift zum 500 jahr. Geburstage von J. Gutenberg (Mainz, 1900).

About this page

APA citation. Wallau, H. (1912). Konrad Sweynheim. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Wallau, Heinrich. "Konrad Sweynheim." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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