Matrice of Claude Garamont. Musée Plantin Moretus, Anvers, Ma 3Matrice of Claude Garamont. Musée Plantin Moretus, Anvers, Ma 3

The roman typefaces

Between 1530 and 1532, books published by Robert Estienne a began to display a series of roman, typefaces, in both upper- and lowercase, with sizes of roughly 40, 16, 13, 10 and 6 points. This was a first in the history of moveable type – a wide range of brand-new fonts completely harmonised between them, and they breathed new life into the world of typography. It is unlikely Garamont, who was an apprentice at the time, cut the punches for the "Estienne typefaces", and their origin remains something of a mystery.

At any rate, most of Paris's printers and type founders – including Augereau, Gryphe, Colines and Chevallon, – quickly acquired similar faces. When Claude Garamont began his career as a punch-cutter around 1536, he joined the ranks of Estienne's imitators, and showed himself to be one of the best interpreters of Estienne's work. Between 1536 and 1559, thirty-four different typefaces can be attributed to him, including seventeen romans and seven italics, as well as eight Greek and two Hebrew fonts. After a "first cutting" of roman characters around 1536, a "second cut" occurred between 1548 and 1561.

There is a certain mystery about the origins of the romans used in the works published by Robert Estienne.

The uppercase characters in Garamond's romans observed the proportions seen in classical Latin epigraphy and displayed the characteristics of Aldine typefaces. They were slightly shorter than the upstrokes of the lowercase letters and somewhat narrower than their predecessors. They are set apart by a nearly vertical slanting axis.

The lowercase "e", with its horizontal crossbar, stands in sharp contrast to its humanist counterpart. The major difference, however, lies in the "colour" of the composed text. It is more spaced out, more measured, and more pleasant and consistent to read. The "Garamond" romans became the fonts for body type par excellence. In the opinion of many, they still are.

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