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Bembo is the name given to a 20th-century revival of an old style serif typeface cut by Francesco Griffo around 1495. It is named for the poet Pietro Bembo, an edition of whose writing was its first use. The revival was designed under the direction of Stanley Morison for the Monotype Corporation around 1929, as part of a revival of interest in the types used in renaissance printing. It has held lasting popularity as an attractive, legible book typeface. Major users of Bembo have included the Everyman's Library series and Penguin Books.
Griffo cut punches for the Venetian press of the humanist printer Aldus Manutius. The face was first used in February 1496 (1495 more veneto), in the setting of a book entitled Petri Bembi de Aetna Angelum Chabrielem liber, 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, cut for Aldus.
A second version of the roman face followed in 1499 and this type was used to print the famous illustrated Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This typeface served as a source of inspiration for typefaces of the Parisian typefounder Claude Garamond, for Voskens and many others, which were themselves the sources for Caslon types and many other European types of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
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 earlier Venetian forms is the way in which the ascenders of the lowercase letters stand taller than the capitals.
Monotype Bembo is generally regarded as one of the most handsome revivals of Aldus Manutius’s 15th-century roman type. Monotype designed a variety of other types inspired by the same period of Italian printing in different sizes and styles, which included Poliphilus and Blado. Some of these were ultimately merged into the Bembo family or used for titling purposes.
The calligrapher Alfred Fairbank created an upright italic design based on the work of 16th-century writing master Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi. It was sold as Bembo Condensed Italic, after plans to use it as Bembo's companion italic were scrapped due to its eccentricity. It was digitised as Fairbank in 2003, independently of Monotype's Bembo releases.
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 straight tail and one with a curved tail. A calligraphic feel is particularly evident in the serifs, which show a delicate transitional curve that rises up into the stem of each letter. Many lowercase letters exhibit hints of sinuous curves reminiscent of those generated by hand-drawn letters; 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, a reversal of the oblique stress of the o. Characters h, m, and n have a slight returned curve on their final stem. Lowercase italic k has an elegantly curved stroke in the lower-right. In the 1950s, Monotype noted that its features included: "serifs fine slab, fine-bracketed and in l.c. prolonged to right along baseline."
According to the authors of Typographic Specimens: The Great Typefaces, Bembo became noted for its ability to "provide a text that is extremely consistent in color and texture," helping it to "remain one of the most popular book types since its release." Designer Nick Shinn 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."
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. Bembo Book is considered to be superior by being thicker and more suitable for body text, as well as for offering the alternate R.
Monotype's original, early digitisation of Bembo was not universally liked. 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."
Meanwhile, 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. An infant variety also exists, which contains single-story versions of the letters A and G.
Two recent font development projects based on the De Aetna face (and the italic created by Monotype to go with it) are Cardo and Yale. 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. The Yale face, developed by Matthew Carter, 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."
- 270: Bembo roman/italic
- composition-matrices UA.91: 6D - 14pt 
- variants: long and short descenders
|corps:||6pt (6D)||7pt (7D)||8pt (8D)||9pt (8D)||10pt (10D)||10.5pt (9D)||11pt (10D)||12pt (11D)||13pt (12D)||
- large composition matrices: 14pt-24pt
|corps:||14pt (14D)||16pt (16D)||18pt (18D)||24pt (24D)|
|corps:||14pt||16pt||18pt||22pt op 24pt||24pt||30pt||36pt||48pt||60pt||72pt|
- 428: Bembo bold romein/cursief
- composition-matrices: UA.368: 6D - 14pt 
|corps:||6pt (6D)||7D op 8p E||8pt (8D)||9pt (8D)||10pt (10D)||10.5pt (10D)||11pt (10D)||12pt (11D)||13pt (12D)||14pt (14D)|
- groot-zetselmatrijzen: 14pt-18pt
|corps:||16pt (16D)||18pt (18D)|
- 294: Bembo condensed Italic cursief
- composition-matrices: UA.360: 4 sizes: 10pt - 16pt UA.361: 16pt 
|corps:||10pt (10D)||12pt (12D)||13pt (12D)||16pt|
- 428: Bembo Heavy (zie: 428 Bembo Bold)
- 509: Bembo semi-bold romein/cursief
- composition-matrices: UA.91: 5.5pt 
- 370: Bembo titling romein/cursief
- Doubleday, Richard. "Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books: A Resurgance of Classical Book Design" (PDF). Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- The Monotype Corporation limited, specimen blade 5-64, Bembo 270
- "Scalable Fonts". PC Mag. 24 September 1991.
- "Poliphilus Pro". Monotype. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "Poliphilus and Blado". The Chestnut Press. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "Bembo". Chestnut Press. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Bixler, M&W. "Poliphilus". Michael & Winifred Bixler.
- Bixler, M & W. "Bembo Condensed Italic specimen". Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "Fairbank". Monotype. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "Fairbank". MyFonts. Monotype.
- Shaw, Paul. "Flawed Typefaces". Print magazine. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Hardwig, Florian. "How And Why Type Faces Differ – Detail I". Flickr. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Shinn, Nick. "Lacunae" (PDF). Codex. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- "Bembo". MyFonts. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Bembo Book". Monotype. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Bembo Titling". MyFonts. Monotype. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Bembo Book". Monotype. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Sowersby, Kris. "Why Bembo Sucks". Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Jackson, Brandon. "The Yale Type". The New Journal. Yale University. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Kobayashi, Akira. "Akira Kobayashi on FF Clifford". FontFeed. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- "Borgia Pro". FontSpring. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- Perry, David (April 20, 2011). "The Cardo Font". Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- "Introducing the Yale Typeface: Font Download". Yale University. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- The Monotype corporation ltd, 3-46 en 3-71
- The Monotype corporation ltd, 8-59
- The Monotype corporation ltd, 5-51
- The Monotype corporation ltd, 5-76
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (September 2009)|
- 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
- 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