Giovanni Antonio Tagliente
Bembo Condensed Italic (Fairbank)
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Bembo is a 1929 old-style serif typeface most commonly used for body text. It is based on a design cut by Francesco Griffo for printer Aldus Manutius around 1495, and named for his first publication with it, a small 1496 book of writing by the poet and cleric Pietro Bembo.
The revival was designed by the Monotype Corporation around 1928-9, as part of a revival of interest in the types used in renaissance printing. It has held lasting popularity since as an attractive, legible book typeface. Prominent users of Bembo have included the Everyman's Library series, Penguin Books, both Oxford and Cambridge University Press, the National Gallery and Edward Tufte.
The roman, or regular style of Bembo was designed by Griffo, sometimes called 'Francesco da Bologna' (of Bologna). He cut punches for the Venetian press of the humanist printer Aldus Manutius. Manutius at first printed only works in Greek. His first printing in the Latin alphabet in February 1496 (1495 by the Venetian calendar) was a book entitled Petri Bembi de Aetna Angelum Chabrielem liber, normally just called De Aetna by modern writers. This was a 60-page text about a journey to Mount Aetna written by the young Italian humanist poet Pietro Bembo, later a Cardinal and secretary to Pope Leo X. Six years later Griffo was responsible for the first italic types.
Griffo was the first punch-cutter to fully express the character of the humanist hand that contemporaries preferred for manuscripts of classics and literary texts, in distinction to the book hand humanists dismissed as a gothic hand or the everyday chancery hand. One of the main characteristic that distinguished Griffo's types from the earlier Venetian type tradition of Nicolas Jenson is the way in which the ascenders of the lowercase letters stand taller than the capitals; Griffo also apparently introduced the convention in roman that the cross-stroke of the 'e' be horizontal. Modern font designer Robert Slimbach described Griffo's work as a breakthrough leading to an "ideal balance of beauty and functionality." In France, his work inspired many French printers and punchcutters such as Geoffroy Tory and Claude Garamond, even though the typeface of De Aetna with its original capitals was apparently only used in about twelve books between 1496 and 1499.
Griffo's roman typeface, with several replacements of capitals, continued to be used by Manutius's company until the 1550s, when a 'wholesale change' brought in French typefaces which had been created by Garamond, Pierre Haultin and Robert Granjon under its influence. Ultimately, old-style fonts like all of these fell out of use with the arrival of the much more geometric Didone types of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only returning to popularity with the arrival of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Bembo's italic is based on the work of calligrapher and handwriting teacher Giovanni Antonio Tagliente (sometimes written Giovannantonio). He published a writing manual, The True Art of Excellent Writing in Venice in 1524, after the time of Manutius and Griffo, with engravings and some text set in an italic typeface presumably based on his calligraphy.[a] (Tagliente did not only publish on handwriting, but also self-help guides on learning to read, arithmetic, embroidery and a book of model love letters.) At the time italic fonts, based on calligraphy of the period, were often used in book printing as a way to save space and as an approximation of literary handwriting. It too, together with the work of his contemporary Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi, was imitated in France, with imitations appearing from 1528 onwards.
Monotype Bembo is one of the most famous revivals of Aldus Manutius's 15th-century roman type. It was created under the influence of Monotype executive and printing historian Stanley Morison by the design team at the Monotype factory in Salfords, Surrey.
Bembo's development took place following a series of breakthroughs in printing technology which had occurred over the last fifty years. Pantograph engraving had allowed matrices, the moulds used to cast metal type, to be precisely mechanically engraved from large plan drawings. This removed much of the labour and unpredictability of manufacturing, which previously had been done by carefully carving a punch in steel at the exact size of the desired letter before stamping it into copper to make the matrix. It also allowed the same basic design to be rapidly issued in a large range of sizes. In addition, hand printing had been superseded by the hot metal typesetting systems of the period, of which Monotype's was one of the most popular (in competition with that of Linotype's). Both allowed metal type to be quickly cast under the control of a keyboard, eliminating the need to manually cast metal type and slot it into place into a printing press. With no need to keep type in stock, just the matrices used as moulds to cast the type, printers could use a wider range of fonts and there was increasing demand for varied typefaces. Artistically, meanwhile, the preference for using mechanical, geometric Didone fonts introduced in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was being displaced by a revival of interest in 'old-style' serif fonts developed before this, a change that has proved to be lasting.
Monotype commissioned from the calligrapher Alfred Fairbank a nearly upright italic design based on the work of 16th-century writing master Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi, a contemporary to Tagliente, and considered using it as Bembo's companion italic before deciding it was too eccentric for this purpose.[b] Monotype created a more conventional design influenced by Tagliente's typeface and sold Fairbank's design as Bembo Condensed Italic. It was digitised as 'Fairbank' in 2003, and sold independently of Monotype's Bembo digitisations.[c] Monotype's publicity team described the italic as 'fine, tranquil' in a 1931 showing, emphasising their desire to avoid a design that seemed too eccentric.
Among Bembo's more distinctive characteristics, the capital Q's tail starts from the glyph's centre, the uppercase J has a slight hook, and there are two versions of uppercase R, one with a longer tail following Griffo and one with a shorter tail. Many lowercase letters show subtle, sinuous curves; the termination of the arm of both the r and the e flare slightly upward and outward. The lowercase c has a subtle forward slant. Characters h, m, and n have a slight returned curve on their final stem, so the right-hand stem of the h is not quite vertical. In italic, the k has an elegantly curved stroke in the lower-right and descenders on the p, q and y end with a flat horizontal stroke. In the 1950s, Monotype noted that its features included: "serifs fine slab, fine-bracketed and in l.c. prolonged to right along baseline." This meant that many of the serifs (especially the horizontals, for example on the 'W') are fine lines of quite uniform width, rather than forming an obvious curve leading into the main form of the letter.
Bembo does not attempt to faithfully copy all the features of Renaissance printing, instead blending them with a twentieth-century sensibility and the expectations of contemporary design. A notable eccentricity of Griffo's type was an asymmetrical 'M' that does not seem to have a serif at top right, so odd it has been suggested it may have been the result of faulty casting of type, that was nonetheless often copied in French imitations by Garamond and his contemporaries. Monotype's revival declined to follow this, or the curving capital 'Y' used by Manutius in the tradition of the Greek letter upsilon, sometimes called a 'palm Y'.[d] (Nesbitt has described the capitals as 'a composite design in the spirit of [Griffo's] type.') Monotype also cut italic capitals sloped to match the lower-case, whereas in Tagliente's time capital letters were always drawn upright in the Roman inscriptional tradition. The expansive ascenders of Tagliente's type were shortened and the curl to the right replaced with more conventional serifs. The bold (Monotype's invention, since Griffo and his contemporaries did not use bold type) is extremely solid, providing a very clear contrast to the regular styles, and Monotype also added lining (upper-case height) figures as well as the text figures (at lower-case height) used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Mosley suggests that the numerals of Bembo were based on those Monotype had already developed for the typeface Plantin.
Poliphilus and Blado
Monotype had already designed two other types inspired by the same period of Italian printing and calligraphy, the roman Poliphilus (1923) and italic Blado. Made more eccentric and irregular than the sleek lines of Bembo to evoke the feel of antique printing, these remained in Monotype's catalogue and have been digitised, but are much less known today. Bembo can therefore be seen as an iteration of a preexisting design concept towards mass market appeal, taking the basic idea of the Griffo design and (unlike Poliphilus) updating its appearance to match the more sophisticated printing possible by the 1920s. Bembo's original working name, indeed, was 'Poliphilus Modernized'.
Poliphilus is named after the book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, one of Manutius's most famous books in the Latin alphabet, which was printed with the same roman as De Aetna but recut capitals. Blado is named after the printer Antonio Blado, a colleague of Arrighi. Morison preferred Bembo's roman and was somewhat dismissive of Poliphilus. However, he noted that he felt the eccentricity of the Blado italic was more interesting than the smoothness of that on Bembo, as has Mosley more recently. Unlike Bembo, both in metal featured a Greek-influenced 'Y' with a curving head, as in the original.
Monotype around the same time as Bembo licensed and released the font Centaur. Its roman is based on a slightly earlier period of Italian renaissance printing than Bembo, the work of Nicolas Jenson in Venice around 1470 (the so-called Venetian style). Like Bembo, its italic comes from the 1520s, being again loosely based on the work of Arrighi around 1520. Compared to Bembo it is somewhat lighter in structure, something particularly true in its digital facsimile.[e] Penguin often used it for headings and titles of 'classic' editions, particularly its capitals and italic. (Its lower-case does not so effectively harmonise with Bembo due to the different letter shapes.)
Monotype created several titling designs based on Renaissance printing that could be considered complementary to Bembo: Bembo Titling (based directly on Bembo's capitals, but more delicate to suit a larger text size) and the more geometric Felix Titling in 1934, inspired by humanist capitals drawn by Felice Feliciano in 1463. In the hot metal type era Monotype also issued a titling version of Centaur, which was often used by Penguin but has not been digitised.
- 1496 Griffo's roman
- 1501 Griffo's italic; development of italic type follows over the next fifty years.
- 1515 Death of Manutius
- 1518 Death of Griffo (approx.)
- 1520s Tagliente publishes in Venice, Arrighi in Rome (possibly also Venice). Both are former calligraphers who publish writing manuals.
- 1522-5 Tagliente publishes a writing manual The True Art of Excellent Writing, as does Arrighi, La Operina... around the same time.[f] Arrighi's friend Gian Giorgio Trissino writes of Arrighi that "in calligraphy he has surpassed all other men of our age so [he now does] in print all that was formerly done with the pen, in his beautiful types he has gone beyond all other printers." His contemporary Antonio Blado publishes in Rome in an italic apparently derived from Arrighi's work.
- 1527 War in central Italy. Arrighi is probably killed as a result of the Sack of Rome.
- 1528 Tagliente dies in Venice.
- 1535 Blado appointed printer to the papacy and remains in this role until his death in 1567.
- 1530s-1550s France becomes a centre of the typefounding industry under the influence of the work of Manutius and others. French typefaces replace old Italian designs at the Aldine Press in Venice. Tradition that italic capitals should slope like the lower case established.
- 1910s The italic calligraphy style of the Italian renaissance is revived by calligraphers including Edward Johnston and Alfred Fairbank.
- 1923 Monotype releases Blado, an italic based on the work of Arrighi and Antonio Blado, and Poliphilus, a roman based on the work of Griffo.
- 1926 Edward Johnston develops a font based on his italic calligraphy, but it remains obscure.
- 1926 Frederic Warde creates an italic based on the work of Arrighi. It is now almost always used as the companion italic of the font Centaur, but initially had an independent existence.
- 1928-9 Monotype develops and releases Bembo, based on the work of Griffo but much smoother in texture. After considering releasing an italic by Fairbank based the work of Arrighi, Monotype abandons the idea, making Bembo's default italic on the Tagliente model.
- 1929 Monotype releases Centaur and the Warde italic as a matching set.
- 1960s Monotype releases Bembo for phototypesetting.
Digitisations and derivatives
Monotype have released two separate digitisations named Bembo and more recently Bembo Book, as well as the more slender caps-only display font Bembo Titling and the alternate italic design Fairbank. Bembo Book is considered to be superior by being thicker and more suitable for body text, as well as for offering the alternate shorter R for better-spaced body text.
Monotype's original, early digitisation of Bembo was widely seen as unsuccessful. Two main problems have been cited with it: it was too light in colour, perhaps through failure to anticipate the reduced ink spread on modern printing equipment. In addition, the digital Bembo was based on the 9pt metal drawings, creating a font with a higher x-height (taller lower-case letters) than the metal type in the point sizes at which Bembo was most often used in books. This made the proportions of the digital font appear wrong, failing to match the subtlety of the metal type and phototype, which was released in three different optical sizes for different print sizes.[g] Future Monotype executive Akira Kobayashi commented:
"I got into a slight panic. None of the letters looked like Bembo! For a moment I froze in front of the computer, thinking about writing a letter of complaint to the company for sending us the wrong font. After a while I checked the Bembo Italic and I slowly began to realise that the fonts were Bembo. I calmed down enough to recall that the typeface was originally designed for metal type, and most of the specimens and texts I saw were set in metal type in text size. That was why the images of the characters did not overlap. I knew that a metal typeface was cut or designed separately for each size, but a film composition or digital face is a kind of compromise having proportions designed for reduction and enlargement. I was overwhelmed to see the huge gap. Then I looked into the types used in Western offset-litho prints to see the digital Bembo types in use...the types that were originally designed for hot-metal often looked too light and feeble...Bembo Book is more or less what I expected."
While Bembo Book is considered the superior digitisation, the original continues to offer the advantages of two extra weights (semi- and extra-bold) and infant styles with simplified 'a' and 'g' characters resembling handwriting; its lighter appearance may also be of use on printing equipment with greater ink spread. Cross-licensing has meant that it is sold by a range of vendors, often at very low prices. As an example of this, Fontsite obtained the rights to resell a derivative of the original digitisation, using the alternative name Borgia and Bergamo, upgrading it by additional OpenType features such as small capitals and historical alternate characters.
A major professional competitor to Bembo is Agmena, created by Jovica Veljović and released by Linotype in 2014. Intended as a unified serif design supporting Roman, Greek and a range of Cyrillic alphabets such as Serbian, it features a more calligraphic italic than Bembo with swash capitals and support for Greek ligatures. A looser interpretation of the Griffo designs is Iowan Old Style, designed by John Downer. With a larger x-height (taller lower-case letters) than the print-orientated Bembo and influences of signpainting (Downer's former profession), it was intended to be particularly clear and usable for reading at distance, displays and signage. It is a default font in Apple's iBooks application. Not explicitly influenced by Bembo but also influenced by Griffo is Minion by Robert Slimbach. Released by Adobe, it is one of the most popular typefaces used in modern books.
Two open-source designs based on Bembo are Cardo and ET Book. The Cardo fonts, developed by David J. Perry for use in classical scholarship and also including Greek and Hebrew, are freely available under the SIL Open Font License. Unimpressed by the first Bembo digitisation, statistician and designer Edward Tufte commissioned an alternative digitisation for his books in a limited range of styles and languages, sometimes called 'ET Bembo'. He released it publicly as an open-source font named 'ET Book' in September 2015.
Some organisations using Bembo have commissioned custom versions for their own use. The Yale face, developed by Matthew Carter as a corporate font for Yale University, is available exclusively to "Yale students, employees, and authorized contractors for use in Yale publications and communications. It may not be used for personal or business purposes, and it may not be distributed to non-Yale personnel." A notable, highly divergent adaptation of Bembo was used by Heathrow and other British airports for many years. Designed by Shelley Winters and named BAA Bembo or BAA Sign, it was very bold with a high x-height. It has never been made commercially available. More unusually, Aldine, a font inspired by Bembo, was made available for the IBM Composer, an ultra-premium electric typewriter system intended to be used for small-scale printing projects or producing copy to be photographically reproduced. The National Gallery in London used Bembo, its corporate font, as a plan for the carving its name into its frontage.
Bembo has been very popular in book publishing, particularly in Britain. Writing in the anthology Typographic Specimens: The Great Typefaces, Jeff Price commented that Bembo became noted for its ability to "provide a text that is extremely consistent in colour," helping it to "remain one of the most popular book types since its release." Prominent modern font designer Nick Shinn has also commented "Bembo has a sleek magnificence, born of high-precision technology at the service of accomplished production skills, which honours the spirit of the original, and an exotic grace of line which humbles most new designs made more ostensibly for the new technology." It was also recommended by HMSO in its style guide for outsourced printing jobs. Cambridge University Press's history describes Bembo as one of its most commonly used typefaces.
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- The Monotype Corporation limited, specimen blade 5-64, Bembo 270
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- Tagliente, Giovanni Antonio (1524). Lo presente libro insegna la vera arte de lo excellente scriuere de diuerse varie sorti de litere le quali se fano per geometrica ragione & con la presente opera ognuno le potra stampare e impochi giorni per lo amaistramento, ragione, & essempli, come qui sequente vederai. Venice. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
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- Osley, A.S. (1965). Calligraphy and paleography: essays presented to Alfred Fairbank on his 70th birthday. Faber & Faber. p. 18.
His only contribution to type design has been the so-called Narrow Bembo Italic...it was conceived as an italic type to be used entirely in its own right and not in any way related to Monotype Bembo, which Fairbank had not seen.
- Bixler, M & W. "Bembo Condensed Italic specimen". Retrieved 30 June 2015.
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- "Monotype Bembo advertisement" (PDF). Monotype Recorder 30 (242): 20. 1931. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
A roman lower case which seems to many critics to represent the finest Old Face design ever cut; classic capitals and small caps[;] a fine, tranquil italic and a notable series of Display Capitals combine to make Bembo an excellent investment for the wise printer
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The surviving records of the progress of some of the classic typefaces demonstrate that their exemplary final quality was due to a relentless willingness on the part of 'the works' to make and remake the punches over and over again until the result was satisfactory. The progression of series 270 from the weak Poliphilus Modernised to the familiar Bembo is an object lesson in the success of this technique. That it was [engineering manager Frank] Pierpont himself who was central to this drive for quality is made abundantly clear by the abrupt changes that are seen after his retirement in 1937.
- Mosley, James (2003). "Reviving the Classics: Matthew Carter and the Interpretation of Historical Models". In Mosley, James; Re, Margaret; Drucker, Johanna; Carter, Matthew. Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 31–34. ISBN 9781568984278. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
In 1923 [Monotype engineer Frank] Pierpont made a version of the type of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus in 1499 for a publisher who planned to produce an English translation which in the end never materialised. The result is an astonishingly close recreation of the original type…Monotype has a page from the Hypnerotomachia reset in the new type, which is almost indistinguishable from the original. Morison scornfully wrote of Pierpont's 'pathetic' pride in the achievement. This, in Monotype's terms, was a 'rough' revival, staying faithful to all the distortions caused by the ink-squeeze and damaged letters of the printed page…Monotype's Bembo, originally named 'Poliphilus Modernised', is the "smooth" version of the same type in the form used a few years earlier by Aldus in the De Aetna of Pietro Bembo, a usage of which Morison mistakenly believed himself to be the discoverer. The Monotype classics dominated the typographical landscape in which Matthew Carter [and I] grew up…in Britain, at any rate, they were so ubiquitous that, while their excellent quality was undeniable, it was possible to be bored by them and to begin to rebel against the bland good taste that they represented.
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- Harry Danks (1 January 1979). The Viola D'amore. Theodore Front Music. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-900998-16-4.
- Mosley, James. "The National Gallery’s new inscription: a very English blunder". Type Foundry. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- Price, Jeff (1993). Meggs, Philip; Carter, Rob, eds. Typographic specimens: the great typefaces. New York: VNR. pp. 40–50. ISBN 9780471284291. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- Shinn, Nick. "Lacunae" (PDF). Codex. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- David Finkelstein; Alistair McCleery (23 November 2007). The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, Volume 4: Professionalism and Diversity 1880-2000. Edinburgh University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7486-2884-1.
- McKitterick, David (2004). A history of Cambridge University Press. (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 245, 286, 367. ISBN 9780521308038. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
- Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface. Godine: 1990. ISBN 978-0-87923-333-4.
- Meggs, Philip B. and Rob Carter.Typographic Specimens: The Great Typefaces. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 1993. ISBN 0-471-28429-7
- Meggs, Philip B. and McKelvey, Roy.Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces. RC Publications: 2000. ISBN 1-883915-08-2
- Meggs, Philip B. History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 1998. ISBN 0-470-04265-6
- This is a shortened form of the full title.
- Fairbank reported that he was not told that his italic was intended to be a complementary design.
- Monotype executive Stanley Morison said that the design "looked its best when given sole possession of the page."
- This style of 'Y' was used or at least available in Poliphilus and Blado, although not in the modern digitisation of Poliphilus. A more muted form of it is used in Hermann Zapf's Palatino.
- Unlike Bembo, Centaur's first rather spindly digitisation was never augmented with a more text-oriented one, possibly because it is particularly commonly used in titles anyway.
- Arrighi's book had a complex publication history apparently involving a dispute between Arrighi and his publisher, making its dating and printing location(s) both somewhat involved.
- Many early typeface digitisations now look too light even when they were digitised from the original metal type drawings. The type was made lighter than the desired appearance on paper to take account of the fact that the ink would spead as it soaked into the paper. However, modern printing methods show less ink spread than metal type.
- Typowiki: Bembo
- Bembo Infant at Fonts.com
- Monotype digital releases of Griffo-inspired typefaces
- Fonts for Scholars: the Cardo Font
- Borgia Pro
- Specimen of Bembo in hot metal type (3 pages)
- Bembo type specimen from 1950 (Danish)
- Sample of Bembo Titling
- Index of Monotype order numbers
- Research Report on Bembo (Vaishnavi Murthy, University of Reading; MA thesis)
- Digital scan of De Aetna (Internet Archive, via Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze)
- Who Was Francesco da Bologna? - Anthony Panizzi, 1858. An article on 'Francesco da Bologna' from before modern research. Notable as an article on his reputation in the nineteenth century, at a time when old-style serif fonts had apparently been superseded by the Didone types of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.