1. Typefaces of the Era / Origins

Johann Gutenberg used Blackletter for his 42 line bible. The first book ever printed using a press.
The specific type has a significant difference between thick and thin strokes, and the letters had fine
slanted serifs. His main was to create a typescript that resembled handwritten text by a scribe.
This typeface was very illegible and had very low ascenders and descenders.
-Blackletter sample.

-Johann Gutenberg 42-Line bible - Blackletter

Eventually typefaces were created particularly for books, which had smaller, neater letters. This made the
books more and needed less material to manufacture, and in turn made them cheaper.
These were based on variations of past typefaces, like Uncials or Carolingian.
Uncials script(above) and Carolingian script(below) - Nicolas Jenson's Antiqua type had many similarities between the two



Designed by Nicolas Jenson to replace the Blackletter typeface that was used for printing originally,
it is known as a Ventian (or Oldstyle) type. The Antiqua typeface has slightly thicker serifs and crossbars.
The letters are broken, not joined, compared to its predecessor Blackletter. The "S" of the Antiqua typeface
was elongated and resembled an "f" minus the crossbar.


Created by Claude Garamond, who first emerged when asked to create a greek typeface for french king Francis I.
His typeface consisted of elongated tails and legs in capital letters, and thin serifs. Highly influenced by roman text,
this typeface also tends to have extremely high cap heights and ascenders, and very low descenders. This typeface
has become known as "Oldstyle" and is still used widely to this day.


In 1506 Aldus Mantius and Franscesco Griffo developed the first italic (translated "from Italy") type.
Mantius based his italic typeface from the script of Italian Renaissance humanist Niccolo De' Niccoli.
The specific typeface had thin serifs with thin to medium strokes and was slanted to conserve
space, and therefore could fit more onto one page to conserve cost.The Italic lettering was originally
designed as a lowercase type, It wasn't until 25 years later italic capitalletters emerged . Italic became
the word for any type that had the appearance of slanted letterforms.

Niccoli's Italic script

2. Tools and Surfaces

external image 438px-Gutenberg_press.jpg
Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1445.

The expensive and laborious task of hand copying new books was quickly surpassed by the printing press. Because Gutenberg’s press could quickly produce books with little effort, bookmaking became significantly less expensive. The educated middle-class could now buy reading material. Soon demand for new books like Almanacs, travel books, chivalry romances, and poetry were all being published and sold throughout Europe. Renaissance life was creating industry and commerce as it thrived and forever ensured the literacy opportunities for the average person.

external image 800px-Metal_movable_type.jpg

Gutenberg's early printing process, and what tests he may have made with movable type, are not known in great detail.
In the standard process of making type, a hard metal punch (with the letter carved back to front) is hammered into a softer copper bar, creating a matrix.

external image 465px-Printer_in_1568-ce.png
Gutenberg-style printing press is the woodcut from 1568. Such presses could make 240 prints per hour.

After about 1550 this Swiss/German tradition was gradually overwhelmed by French influence. Towards the end of the century, the Wechel family of Frankfurt was producing fine books which used French typefaces in conjunction with heavy but resplendent woodcut ornaments to achieve a splendid page effect; but soon after 1600 there was a general, marked decline in the quality of both skill and materials, from which German printing did not recover until the 20th century.

3. Cultural and Political climate during the Renaissance and its influence on the history of typography

The Renaissance was a cultural movement originating in Florence, Italy known as the 're-birth of learning'. It spanned approximately two centuries from the 1400's to the 1600's, spreading across Italy and later the rest of Europe. It was a time of cultural and political change although there was a general stability and economic growth that was conducive to cultural and scholarly exploration and most significantly a revived interest in the teachings and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome.

School of Athens, Raphael, 1510-1550

During the 1400's the old political structures of the medieval period broke down rapidly with the emergence of an affluent new ruling class full of intellectual ideas and rationales taken from the classical texts. Secular political theories emerged for the first time in centuries and the very important book 'The Prince', was penned by Niccolo Machiavelli. It is thought that the Black Death plague of 1348 onwards contributed greatly to the rise of the new elite, with millions killed by the plague there was more wealth spread between a smaller population and far greater social mobility. The new ruling class combined forces with the existing elite and the Catholic church to forge new paths for traders and artisans and had more time to spend on scholarly and artistic pursuits. Great states were created in Italy such as Florence and Rome and ruled by families such as the di Medici, and this climate lead to the beginnings of the Humanist movement.

The Renaissance period also saw the invention of the printing press with Gutenberg completing work his press in Germany in 1440 and Caxton printing the first book in England by 1478.
‘Gutenberg’s brilliant innovation was the production of individual, reusable characters, rather than casting an entire page as one piece’, (A Typographic Workbook, p. 46). These innovations in printing saw a massive change in the literacy and writing skills of all classes of the populations across Europe and led to the creation of typography as an art form to be studied and developed.

4. Key Players and Movement


Humanism was an intellectual and cultural movement based on the recovery, interpretation, and imitation of Greek and Roman antiquity. It began in the fourteenth century and continued to flourish until the seventeenth, making an impact not only on scholarship but also on literature, art, and science. A variety of different attitudes towards the body can be found in the writings of humanists. What all these views have in common, however, is that they derive from the study of the classical past.
  • Humanism was concerned above all else with the ‘the genius of man… the unique and extraordinary ability of the human mind.

  • Major humanist scholars included Machiavelli, Thomas Moore and Palmieri among others.

  • Humanism believed in the power of education to transcend to the afterlife with a perfect mind and body.


The Renaissance movement is most famous for its great artists, Leonardo da Vinci, who suggested improvements for the printing press, Michelangelo, Raphael and many, many others and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is overflowing with great works of art from this period donated from the di Medici family's collection. Albrecht Durer, 1471-1528, was a leading German printmaker and painter who was also instrumental in outlining correct proportions and construction methods for the Roman alphabet.


Dürer's Rhinoceros, 1515


  • The Estienne family were well known French scholars and printers working in Paris in the 15 and 16 century.
  • Simon de Colines, 1480-1546, assisted the Estienne family.
  • Antoine Augereau, 1485-1534, was an engraver and also Garamond's teacher and mentor.
  • Johan Fust, c.1466, fiananced Gutenberg's work perfecting the art of printing from moveable type.
  • Claude Garamond, 1480-1561, type designer and punch cutter and designer of his own fonts later called Garamond.
  • Robert Granjon, 1513-1589, designer and printer known for Meno, St Augustine and Civilite typefaces.
  • Francesco Griffo, 1450-1518, Venetian type designer best known for his design of Bembo.
  • Johan Gutenberg, 1398-1468, inventor of the art of printing from moveable type.
  • Nicholas Jensen, 1420-1480, became a type designer at the request of King Charles VII of France.
  • Aldus Mantius, 1449-1515, Renaissance scholar and publisher of fine books, founded Aldine Press. He printed smaller versions of large classical works that were affordable to more people.
  • Peter Schoffer, c.1425-1502, printer and publisher and former assistant to Gutenberg before becoming parters with Fust to publish books with Gutenberg's process.
  • Geofroy Tory, c.1480-1533, author and teacher as well as printer and typographer, well known for the high quality of the typography in his Book of Hours, 1525.

(Source: A Typographic Workbook, Appendix C: Key Players)

5.Typefaces used in popular substrate/print media of the times

1. Bibles
2. Maps
3. Music
4. Text books

1. Gutenberg Bible, first substantial book printed with movable type. Printed at Johann Gutenberg's shop in Germany and completed in 1454 or 1455.
Gutenberg.jpg font_type_in_bible.gif<<<---Gutenbergs font type

2. Theatrum orbis terrarum created by Abraham Ortelius, 1570


3. Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, Ottaviano Petrucci, 1501

4. -(left) One of many requested royally ordered book series by Robert Estienne type designed by Claude Garamond in 1541:
Robert_Estienne.jpg Vesalius_Fabrica_fronticepiece.jpg
-(right ) De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (on the fabric of the human body in seven books) is a textbook of human anatomy written by Andreas Vesalius:

-(below) Renaissance illuminated books: Lighter, whiter and elegant:
renaissance_illuminate_1.jpg renaissance_illuminate_2.jpg

-(Below) Mainz Psalter : Peter Schoeffer, 1457
gothic.jpg Venetian.jpgVenetian type, Nicolas Jenson, 1470

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gutenberg_press.jpghttp://www.realarmorofgod.com/renaissance-era.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Western_typography#Renaissance_Germany_and_Switzerland
5. www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/gutenberg http://tanyarobertson.edublogs.org/2011/03/06/history-of-print-media-and-graphic-design/