The introduction of Manutius's type in France

The city of Lyon, which hosted a large international trade fair four times each year, was a crossroads for merchants, who brought technological and cultural innovations with them from their home regions.

Its geographic proximity to Italy meant that Lyon was one of the main French cities to benefit from the many achievements of the Italian Renaissance. Hence, a great many Italian printers and booksellers opened workshops or branch operations there.

Counterfeit copies of Aldus Manutius's typefaces brought italic type to the attention of the French public.

In Venice in 1501, Aldus Manutius published an octavo edition of Virgil, in which his italic characters appeared for the first time. Balthazar de Gabiano, a Florentine bookseller living in Lyon, immediately copied this typeface and used it to print a replica of the Venice edition. Gabiano subsequently pirated many other works by Manutius, and it was these copies, no doubt more than the original editions, that introduced French readers to cursive type and led them to adopt it. It met with "complete and irresistible" success (Marius Audin), and italic became wildly popular in Lyon. Several printers, Sébastien Gryphe and Étienne Dolet among them, published complete collections of works set entirely in italic type.

The acceptance of Aldine roman type took a bit longer, however. Up until the 1530s, printers mostly still employed "Humanist" faces, similar to those created in Venice by Nicolas Jenson in 1470. Hendrik Vervliet has shown that it was during the 1520s that punch-cutters of French characters modernised their roman type . Starting in 1520, the printer Nicolas de La Barre used two sizes of a font similar to the Aldine roman. In 1522, Pierre Vidoue employed two small sizes of the new roman, and it was in the 1520s that Simon de Colines, who had married Henri Estienne's widow, cut punches for most of his fonts that were "equal (and perhaps superior) in quality to the best Italian typefaces" (H. Vervliet).

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