Romans and Serifs and Printing, Oh My!

Many people have already written about the topic I’m going to cover today. However, because I’m well-known among my circle of close friends for talking about things everyone else has already spoken on, I have no qualms in saying that today I’d like to talk about the Renaissance period—with regards to typography.

The Renaissance was a time of great creative and mechanical advances which began in Italy. Typography was one of many things which received a boost in this period. The invention of both Gutenberg’s printing press and Roman-style typefaces helped to pave the way for modern typography.

It’s the typeface that I’ll be discussing in a little more detail. Nicolas Jenson’s Roman-style typeface set the stage for modern lettering. In contrast with the heavy strokes and dense, complicated flourishes of the blackletter typefaces which were used for print after Gutenberg’s printing press was developed, this new typeface is far more clean and easily legible. It has an appearance which would not be out of place even in a modern typesetting application.

Aside from the fact that the image is very small (good images are hard to come by) and the text is in Renaissance-era Italian or Latin, the letters are easily legible. I know for a fact that blackletter typesetting is not nearly so readable at small sizes—I’ve tried to read printed text set in blackletter before (in German, and in a physical book, no less), and it went quite badly. Jenson’s typeface, however, is easy to decipher.

This break from tradition into something new and wonderful with an influence that lasts so long is typical of the Renaissance era. Works of art such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper are still regarded as some of the greatest paintings of all time. They are still as beautiful now as they were then; just the same, Jenson’s idea of Roman-style letters for typesetting is every bit as functional today as it was then—if not more so, because blackletter is no longer a feasible fallback option.

In my opinion, making note of such huge successes in classical design is incredibly important. The design of a typeface which inspires the style of lettering for centuries to come is a clear example of ideas gone very, very right. It’s inspiring to me that such a huge change from the norm of the times could take off and have such success long-term. It’s exactly this that I feel is the largest benefit to studying older design, in fact. The possibility for such huge success is still around today, and that’s incredibly inspiring.

And isn’t inspiration the biggest factor in coming up with successful design to begin with?


“Timeline of Typography.”, n.d. Web. 4 March 2015. <;

Token718. “Nj_ceaser.jpg.” Photograph. Wikipedia. Wikimedia upload, 17 November 2011. Web. 4 March, 2015. <;


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