Help: Venetian type designers

arachhne's picture

Hello there, I'm new here. I'm doing a research for my final work in college (I don't know how you call this is english, it's a big final work we have to do in order to graduate - btw I'm brazilian).

I need to edit a book. And in my particular case I will have to write it too, and it will be about typography history. At first I thought about writing on Nicolas Jenson's work, but there is so little material on him, I would have to travel to Venice to do a decent job and that is out of the question right now. So I broadened my subject to venetian type designers in the early renaissance. I've been trying to collect enough material on this, but I still have little, and I'm tired to get books that dedicate only a small chapter (most of them not even a chapter) on the subject. I know there is a book about Aldus Manutius, but what about others like Nicolas Jenson? Do you have some good recs for me? I already have things like Megg's History of Graphic Design, the book on Aldus Manutius written by Enric Santué, and some others. I'm at a point where I'm almost changing my subject to old english type designers… there is a lot more material on them, but I really wanted to write about those venetians, I felt in love with the examples I saw.

I will also need as many images as I can find to illustrate my work.

This is not a book that will be actually published, but I have to print 2 or 3 copies of it and I understand I need to get permissions to use images.

Thank you for any tips,


Synthview's picture

try to contact James Clough, a calligrapher and professor of typographic history at politecnico di Milano (Italy). His roman alphabet knowledge is impressive, and he knows extremely well Aldo Manuzio and his associate Francesco Griffo; the one who designed the first italic ever, in Venice.

blank's picture

There really isn't much information about those early printers, especially Jenson. They were just skilled tradesmen who did not live especially extraordinary lives (unlike the French type designers, who did stuff like get burned at the stake). The best reference I can think of would be the relevant chapters of the first volume of D. B. Updike's Printing Types, which covers a few more of them, but in no great detail.

Honestly, I think you probably need to reconsider your topic. The best you can do with this topic is regurgitate the same factoids about the Venetian printers that everyone else has been regurgitating for the last century. Your time would be much better spent finding a way to examine their work as it is relevant to contemporary design that has not already been covered ad infinitum.

arachhne's picture

Thank you both. And yes, I think I will have to reconsider my topic, once more…

Nymus's picture

Actually there is a lot of information about all these early printers in the following books:

Harry Carter, A View of Early Typography up to 1600

Lowry, Martin. Nicolas Jenson and the Rise of Venetian Publishing in Renaissance Europe. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991)

Nesbitt, Alexander The History and Technique of Lettering (c) 1957, Dover Publications, Inc.

Art of The Printed Book 1455-1955

Nesbitt, Alexander The History and Technique of Lettering (c) 1957, Dover Publications, Inc.

BA Thesis - Transparent Book Design 1350-1950.pdf (Blowing the Crystal Goblet:
Transparent Book Design 1350-1950) by Jon Bath

There are a few more books but I have to look for them if you wish.

Through the above books a 10.000 words ++ thesis about 'Early Venetian Type Designers' is possible.

I have OCR-ed most of the relative texts from the above books and I could send them to you if you would like me to.

arachhne's picture

Nymus, thank you so much, your post made my day! I'm going to write to you.

Nick Shinn's picture

History does tend to look for precedent and subsequent professional acclaim, rather than record the overall picture of an era.

Hence the dominance of Jenson.

When I see the work of other printers of the Incunabula, I am struck by the variety of their work, extending to alphabetic form—in particular widespread adoption of the lower case "h" with a curved right leg, which Jenson demonstrated was Not the way ahead; he defined the roman alphabet, with the exception of the "e"s crossbar, which was later flattened, and the inside serifs on the top of the capital "M", which were subsequently removed.

riccard0's picture

the lower case "h" with a curved right leg

That’s interesting. Could you point at some sample?

eliason's picture

Sweynheym & Pannartz, 1465.

ncaleffi's picture

A well informed book about Aldus Manutius is "The World of Aldus Manutius" by Martin Lowry (Basil Blackwell, 1979).

Nick Shinn's picture

Da Spira, Venice, 1472:

arachhne's picture

I really like Jenson's "e", and all the reinterpretations of his style that also use that e, like Adobe Jenson, Brioso, Centaur, Rialto. Thank you for those beautiful examples.

arachhne's picture

For those who are also interested in this subject, I just found a website full of incunabula (incunabulii? What's the plural? I need to resume my latin studies!)

Here is one:

riccard0's picture

Thank you all for the samples! And sorry for steering the thread off track :-)

Also, Shendel’s link shows to a very interesting “hybrid” 'h'.

Synthview's picture


riccard0's picture

It’s incunabula, by the way:

Mugford's picture

I came across this flickr stream recently while doing a school project about Slimbach's typefaces:

A question: on these pages and on the sample images in this thread, there is a frequent accent over letters that looks kind of like a tilde. Does anyone know what this is called and what it means?

For my project I set a Jenson page from that flickr stream using Adobe Jenson (see image). I eventually gave up on kerning tildes over all the letters. Also there is an odd character on the page I chose that is not in the Adobe Jenson font: a q with a squiggle. Anyone know what that's called?


eliason's picture

Those are abbreviations of longer words. Here's a pretty thorough (though not visual) page outlining these and others.

Mugford's picture

Wonderful, thanks.

ben_archer's picture

There is a gallery of the original woodcut images belonging to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili at Thames & Hudson's free online resources. You might find this – and a copy of their 1999 reprint of the same title, useful.

Reed Reibstein's picture

Here are a few potentially useful sources that haven't been mentioned yet. Many are particularly relevant to Aldus, since he was the subject of my recent paper. Barker and Fletcher were my two best sources for Aldine information, and Wardrop is excellent for understanding letter-making in the period.

Barker, Nicholas. Aldus Manutius and The Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century. 2nd ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.

Burnhill, Peter. Type Spaces: In-House Norms in the Typography of Aldus Manutius. London: Hyphen Press, 2003.

Fletcher III, Harry George. New Aldine Studies: Documentary Essays on The Life and Work of Aldus Manutius. San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, 1988.

Johnson, A.F. Type Designs: Their History and Development. London: Grafton & Co., 1934.

Osley, A.S. “The Riddle of the Aldine Italic.” From The Society for Italic Handwriting. Available at

Smeijers, Fred. Counterpunch: Making Type in the Sixteenth Century, Designing Typefaces Now. London: Hyphen Press, 1996.

Wardrop, James. The Script of Humanism: Some Aspects of Humanistic Script, 1460–1560. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

There's also Mardersteig if you read Italian: Scritti di Giovanni Mardersteig sulla storia dei caratteri e della tipografia has an essay on Griffo's fonts, I believe.

arachhne's picture

That's wonderful Reed, thank you so much. It is funny because I've been doing so much research and still there are many titles that I haven't come across. Yesterday I also found all the images I will need and then some more. There are whole books by Nicolas Jenson OCRed by a german library (and they are all BEAUTIFUL):

arachhne's picture

I forgot to mention that the Bath thesis which Nymbus mentioned is available online as a pdf:

Nymus's picture

I also found the following book which is of some interest to the theme 'Venetian type designers' that we are pursuing:

Reader in the History of Books and Printing By Paul A. Winckler

It reads like a historic novel by the way.

Also these two books:

The magic of the book: more reminiscences and adventures of a bookman, By William Dana Orcutt

Reader in the History of Books and Printing, By Paul A. Winckler

They are somewhat readable at Google Books...

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