Aldus Manutius and his innovations

Type that imitated Italian humanist scriptwas introduced in 1465. This handwriting, which was very clear and readable, was very successful in Italy until the end of the 15th century. It is characterised by its hand-crafted appearance: "its firm line, a certain rustic simplicity arising from the lack of contrast between downstroke and upstroke" (René Ponot). One of the handsomest examples of this is the roman faces that was cut in 1470 by Nicolas Jenson, an expatriate Frenchman living in Venice.

By the tail end of the 15th century, however, the design of roman characters had considerably improved. This was the work of the celebrated printer, Aldus Manutius, a renowned humanist engraver and innovator. Manutius set up shop in Venice in 1494, and formed a partnership with Francesco Griffo, an Italian punch-cutter (also known as Francesco da Bologna). Aldus commissioned Griffo to cut the punches for a new roman typeface. In 1495, after several attempts, Griffo created a typeface that was particularly elegant and innovative, characterised by sharply-contrasting upstrokes and downstrokes, capitals that were shorter than the long letters, and a weight that was distributed across a more vertical axis. It was used for the first time in Pietro Bembo's De Aetna, which Manutius published in 1495.

The late 15th century witnessed two important innovations by the Italian printer Aldus Manutius: the creation of a new roman typeface and the invention of the smaller-format book, the ancestor of today's paperbacks.

The new face became the prototype for all the roman faces that became popular in the 16th century, and this was the design that Claude Garamont improved upon in the 1540s. Hence, when the International Typography Association (ATypl) set up its typeface classification system, the name it chose for the category of modern roman faces was "Garalde" – a combination of the names Aldus and Garamont.

Aldus Manutius's innovative spirit did not stop there: he commissioned Griffo to cut punches for the first italic characters in 1499, as well as a cursive Greek typeface, complete with breathing marks and accents. This Greek face, inspired by Byzantine manuscripts, came as a welcome substitute for the rare and poor-quality Greek fonts that printers had been forced to use up until then. Finally, it was Aldus Manutius who invented the (octavo, abook size, a smaller format that was easy to handle and readily transportable – the ancestor of the modern-day paperback.

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