Type Blog

Thursday, March 1, 2007

De Divinia Proportione & The School of Paris

A Short History of the Printed Word. Bringhurst & Chappell.

pg. 106
The Iconography of Letterforms
Fifteenth-century Italian printers – Fra Angelico, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Mantegna and others – took a passionate interest in letterforms. The masters of the sixteenth century – Michelangelo and Titian above all – were far more interested in movement and contortion. They focused on the writhing, shifting mass and stormy surface – and on the nimble feat of reading, not on the restful and legible form that is eternally waiting to be read. The letterforms taught by sixteenth-century calligraphers – Arrighi, Tagliente, Palatino – are imbued with the same excess of energy. They cannot quite be still.

Not only artists but art critics in those years were interested in letterforms, and most of them were looking for the geometric grail: a Platonic and eternal explication of the forms of roman letters. Luca Pacioli's book De Divinia proportione (Venice, 1500), Albrecht Dürer's Underweysung der Messung (Nürnberg, 1525) and Geofroy Tory's Champfleury (Paris, 1529) are three such attempts to rationalize the proportions of letters and divine their master patterns. But there are no such simple recipes. The perfect letter never lives alone. It is a live, organic trace that only glances off geometry. In the inscriptions that are painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and elsewhere in the works of Michelangelo and Titian – and in the work of Dürer himself – we see a masterful admission that all the theories failed.

It is likely, but not certain, that Arrighi died in Rome in 1527. The last typeface he produced came into the hands of Antonio Blado, who became the papal printer in 1545 and retained that post until 1567. Thus Arrighi's influence survived him directly for forty years. Blado produced work of great distinction and made a notable contribution in using single and compound typographic arabesques and florets (pieces of typemetal bearing floral designs). In 1556 he published Il Perfetto scrittore, by Giovanni Francesco Cresci, one of the classic books on letterforms.

pg. 109
Simone de Colines and the School of Paris
After her meager contribution to the first half-century of printing, France became for some time home to the best typographers in Europe. Simon de Colines, Robert Estienne, Claude Garamond, Robert Granjon and Jean de Tournes are among the major figures of the sixteent hcentury so far as the shaping of books is concerned – and in many respects Colines is the central of them all. He was born about 1480, possibly in Champagne.

Between 1520 and his own death in 1546, Colines created and repeatedly revised a large array of types with which he printed books of many kinds. In his hands, distinctively French, indeed distinctively Parisian, whiteletter type and typography evolved.

Robert Estienne. Chapter opening. Text by Guillaume Budé; type by Simon de Colines; initial by Geofroy Tory. Paris, 1535.

The Aldine book was printed in one font (occasionally two) – and with handmade type, a single font means type of a single size. Where emphasis was needed – principally for titles – spaced capitals of text were used. Colines created pages every bit as graceful as the finest Aldine page, but with more variation in texture. He cut matched sets of roman, italic and small capitals, and cut his basic Greek and Latin text fonts as a perfectly balanced pair. Over time, he also cut his romans and italics in graduated sizes and learned to mix them on the page. This increasingly complex High Renaissance typography came hand in hand with complicated texts.

Geofroy Tory. Horae. Paris, 1525.

Geofroy Tory wrote Champfleury – a meditation on letter structure, proportion and mystical significance. Like his contemporary Paracelsus, Tory was interested in alchemy – but in his case, it was the alphabetical alchemy practiced by printers and publishers, who attempted in their own way to turn lead into gold and language into immortality.

Garamond's type, used by the Heirs of Andreas Wechel. Frankfurt, 1586.

Another important Parisian figure of the period is Claude Garamond, or Garamont, who was born about 1500 and died in 1561. He apprenticed with the printer Antonie Augereau, a friend and colleague of Colines, and in later life established a small foundry close to the Sorbonne. Like colines, he cut distinguished roman and italic types in several sizes. His italics are among hte first to feature sloped roman capitals In the 1540s, on commission from François I of France and with Robert Estienne acting as adviser, Garamond cut the grecs du roi, a set of three cursive Greek types based on the hand of Angelos Vergikios, the king's Greek scribe.

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