Italian typefaces

Early in the 15th century, Italian scholars had abandoned blackletter in favour of a more flexible script, commonly referred to as humanist. It was based on Caroline miniscule script and ancient Roman capital letters. When Konrad Sweyheim and Arnold Pannartz set up their printing presses in Subiaco in 1465, they quickly realised that the Gothic characters so popular in Germany were not to the taste of Italian readers.

They then created the first font based on humanist script. These typefaces, known as Antiqua or roman faces, were enormously successful, and are still the dominant typefaces today. Cursive variants, known in calligraphic circles as Cancellaresca (or Chancery script), were first created in Venice for the printer Aldus Manutius in 1499. It would become known as italic type.

These typefaces, known as roman faces, were enormously successful, and are still the dominant typefaces today.

These typefaces were first used in Italy; soon, however, they crossed the Alps and became very popular in Switzerland (Basel in particular, starting in the 1470s) and France. Throughout Europe, printers – even when they continued to print with blackletter fonts – used roman type for Latin humanist texts.

Initially, the new roman and italic faces were somewhat thick and ungainly, but they were perfected by French printers such as Antoine Augereau, Simon de Colines, Claude Garamont ou Robert Granjon. In the 1530s, the typefaces became more slender and elegant. Very quickly, the major European type foundries such as Plantin's foundry in Antwerp or Le Bé's in Paris) acquired these fonts. Italian typography, having been improved by French punch-cutters, spread to every printing workshop in Europe, where they were used until the late 18th century.

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