With the invention of the printing press, visual communication made headway, most especially when it coincided with the Renaissance. Living up to its name which meant “revival,” the period saw a rediscovery of the Classical legacy of Ancient Greece and Rome, particularly through its literature. In addition to emphasizing Greek and Latin learning, humanists, the proponents of the Renaissance, believed that each individual had significance within society, a departure from what was taught to them by the Church. The rise of humanism led to the changes in field of the arts and sciences. To be more specific, there was a need to make these subjects accessible to the individual, not just to a select few in society. The printing press has proven to be a game changer in the sense it opened these proverbial doors to everyone.
Humanist writers sought a typeface (or font as they are called today) that they felt was more appropriate to the message they wanted to convey; something more secular, more legible, and more elegant that would appeal to the majority who would be the end consumers of their work. With the introduction of paper, there was no longer a need for parchment which was exclusive only to the elites and gothic typefaces was also becoming outdated and they felt was no longer relevant. Designing pages quickly became lighter, and more white space started to show.
When Gutenberg’s printing press was exported all over Europe, along with it was the typefaces he created which had a very German character in it. This did not appeal to non-Germans and therefore had to come up with something uniquely theirs which fit their culture and tastes.
Italian artisans, the ones who would design these typefaces or fonts, studied the past in order to get ideas on how to create better typefaces in their time, with particular attention to the Roman Empire. The challenge they faced was Ancient Romans used only capital letters in their writings. They never had any lowercase letters. Renaissance typographers were now challenged to come up with lowercase letters and spent a lot of time on it. To help them make it possible, they drew inspiration from Carolingian text of the early Middle Ages but modified them to match the Roman uppercase letters which would later be incorporated with Gutenberg’s printing press as soon as it was introduced. From Italy would emerge some prominent typographers whose styles are still used today.
When one mentions the name “Aldus Manutius,” the name might ring a bell. When you think of the application software such as PageMaker and Freehand, they were made by a software company named after the said person (before it was acquired by Adobe Systems, the company that developed PhotoShop). Surely, there has to be a reason why a company would be named after him.
Aldus Manutius was a humanist scholar and educator and also had a printing business as well. He was driven by his desire to preserve Classical literature. He used to print them in Greek but found the Greek alphabet complicated for the average Italian to understand (which probably gave birth to the idiom, “sounds Greek to me”) although he continued printing Greek texts for those interested to read them in the original text. Yet, he still saw the need to create a new form of typeface based on Greco-Roman forms but should embody the humanist ideas he wanted to spread. He commissioned artisans and typesetters to come up with something that would approximate the original Italian cursive script. Probably the best known typeface he created was italics and it continues to be used to this day in word processing.
Garamond was a French type designer from Paris and was one of the best designers in the business at the time. Like Manutius whose system he also followed, he also printed books in Greek for the purpose of preserving Classical texts in its original form. But he also designed original styles based on the old serif design which would later be called Garamond in his honor. Incidentally, there is a font called Garamond in every MS Word application.
Baroque was influenced by the Renaissance and typeface was no exception. The former took Renaissance styles a step higher. Pages became even “cleaner” with the use of clean white paper, margins became wider and type became more improved with several refinements made characterized by typographic flourishes and elaborate borders. Hand in hand with artwork of the period, Baroque style is exaggerated and clear meant to elicit varying emotions or moods. This was clearly shown in the typefaces of the likes of Philippe Grandjean, William Caslon, John Baskerville and Philip Simon Fournier.