During the Renaissance period, amongst the paintings of Boticelli and Carvaggio, was another artist, by the name of Nicolas Jenson. His type began as a roman type design used in Evangelical Preparation, which was a roman typeface. His use of the shapes in the spaces between the letters, are what make his type so beautiful, and remembered today. In the later years of his life, Jenson made Greek and Gothic fonts, and from the words of Philip B. Meggs, his “fonts aligned more perfectly than those of any other printer of his time.” His font was beautiful, but above all, it was legible; and this is what helped him succeed. Along with exquisite type, the Renaissance artists and type designers loved nature, and flowers in particular. A decoration that was printed excessively, the designs were embraced because of their organic look that came with the humanistic approach of renaissance design and beliefs. These flowers were eventually led into the type, and along came ornaments. Though they may seem outdated, and maybe only used in letters or small ending marks to old books, ornaments are actually very well known among type designers. An extension and more “authentic” take on Jenson’s type was taken on by Aldus Manutius and the typeface designer, Griffo. This text face remains today, and is known as “Bembo”. Italics then stemmed off of this typeface, creating the slanted letters we commonly use for emphasis or in names/titles. “Small caps” accompanied this slanted type that Manutius was also working on perfecting up until his death in 1515. Once the typography boom stopped thriving in Italy, it moved to France. Lead by the French language and the exquisite design influence of the renaissance, Geoffery Tory developed a Renaissance school of book design and illustration. His letterforms (consisting of very long ascenders and descenders), can be found in a 1506 manuscript called The Hours of Jean Lallemant. In a book made later on, called Champ Fleury, Tory created thirteen alphabets in the back of the book. One quirky, creative font consisted of letterforms made of tools. Meanwhile, Claude Garamond was creating a beautiful lighter roman typeface, which went beautifully with the Roman capital initials that Geoffrey Tory continued to make. Garamond was hired on as a punch cutter under a man by the name of Antoine Augereau. Once the combination of legibility and beauty was understood in regards to type, Garamond, Tory, and Augereau all continued to complete beautiful roman fonts.
Eventually, the fall of Garamond’s fonts occurred because of the popularity of metal type book making in place of the humanistic approach to letterforms that Garamond possessed. However, despite the desire to have less hand lettering, the shift to French printing did allow for a broader amount of typefaces and designs in books. From a more diverse use of caps and italics, to more than just one line weight in the design techniques, in less than 200 years the spectrum of type usage was broadening. Many printers, typographers, and illustrators flourished as the need for book printing (especially with this new and beautiful, unique style) emerged. In particular, Basel (a city in Switzerland), and Lyons in France, became the graphic design centers because of their printers, and prestigious schooling. Painters, illustrators, and type designers alike took on a morbid style during this time, because of the plague, and skeletons and graves became the go-to trend.
Throughout the Renaissance, type was not only developed, but argued about and then improved on. Whether you call the improvements stealing of previous styles or add-ons is a matter of opinion. But to give credit where credit is due, I believe all of the designers and printers of this time period deserve complete admiration from current designers who use ornaments and lettering as daily inspiration.
Meggs, Philip B. “The Prolouge to Graphic Design.” A History of Graphic Design. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 4+. Print.