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An Introduction to Printing

introduction : early history of printing : printing in europe : the spread of print : printing in england : printing in scotland : later printing illustration : type faces - gothic or black letter : roman : italic : paper : paper manufacture

Prompt Copy of a Midsummer Night's Dream

Image courtesy of University of Edinburgh Library - view details

Roman type faces

Although printing was invented in Germany, it soon spread to other European countries. In Italy the early printers also designed type-faces which were inspired by the manuscript books written in Italy before the introduction of printing. These manuscripts were written in what is know as the Humanistic style, a result of the rediscovery of Classical texts during the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy and known as Renaissance humanism. The writing style drew its influence from the beautiful letter forms found carved on classical remains in Rome and other cities in Italy, and from the clear writing used in 11th and 12th century manuscripts which were found to contain the texts of Classical authors and were therefore rediscovered at the same time by scribes wishing to copy these texts. The clarity and regularity of the Roman letter-forms and the writing found in the rediscovered manuscripts inspired the Italian scribes to reject Black-letter.

This move away from Black-letter was adopted by the earliest printers in Italy, many of whom had actually fled war in central Germany and the economic upheaval which followed. The German monks Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz moved to Subiaco outside Rome and established a printing press in 1465,and then to Rome itself in 1467 where they useda type-face which avoided Black-letter and shows the influence of Humanistic scribes, a style of type-face that we now call ‘Roman’. In 1469 two more Germans, John and Windelin of Speyer (da Spira) established a printing press in Venice, also using a similar ‘Roman’ type-face. In 1469 Nicholas Jenson, originally from France arrived in Venice and designed type-faces rooted firmly in these Renaissance traditions of humanism. The clarity, regularity, and beauty of the design of his type-faces has proved enormously influential with other type-designers since the 15th century. Many of the type-faces we see today (especially in the newspapers) and that we use in computers and word-processors (especially Times New Roman) are based on Jenson’s designs.

The Roman type-faces soon spread out from Italy to other European countries, where they were especially used to print editions of Classical authors which became enormously popular as well as a most scholarly and scientific books.

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