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geometrical letterforms: renaissance and modernism

A GEOMETRICAL APPROACH TO LETTER DESIGN:
RENAISSANCE AND MODERNISM

A geometrical approach to letter design has almost always been a marginal phenomenon, and its development has never been smooth. However, in the history of letterforms, there were periods when this approach engaged in competition with the established tradition of shaping letters according to calligraphic writing. These sudden influxes of interest in geometrical letter design seem to have never been explored in their relationship, although with further study it is evident that they have common origins and sources. This thesis aims to draw a line between the letterforms from two periods when geometry became a dominant concept: the Renaissance and Modernism. These periods are separated by almost half a millennium, and the letterforms from these periods are therefore so distant from each other, that, actually, do not invite to a comparison. That is why the first part of the work is written in a defensive tone and stands as a preventive reply to those statements, which might be put forward to contest the sustainability of this thesis. The second part provides arguments in support of the hypothesis. It discusses causes that might have facilitated the rapid progress of the geometrical approach, and consequences that manifested themselves in the characteristic features of the letterforms and principles of their construction. The interest in geometry within typographic practice is put into the socio–historical context of both epochs, and is treated as strongly dependent on it.

§ Introduction 

The two most significant fonts for today, roman and italic, originated from the scripts, or handwritten letters, by Poggio Bracciolini and Niccolò Niccoli.(1) Since then, the art of letter design has been inseparably connected with the art of calligraphy. However, as printing spread around Europe, a parallel way of making letterforms has been practiced. Faces have been not drawn, but constructed.

A geometrical, or rational, approach to type design emerged in the Renaissance. It was linked to the revival of ancient letters, and the first revived alphabet was the one by Felice Feliciano (c.1460). The majority of artists then agreed that geometry was a basis upon which classic inscriptions were made. As opposed to them, Giovan Francesco Cresci avowed that letters should be drawn freehand. In Essemplare di piv sorti lettere (1560), he said that when geometrically constructed letters were compared ‘with the true antique Majuscules’, they tended to be ‘confused and lack all proportions and grace by contrast’.(2) However, Cresci’s voice was muffled by the numerous adherents of the geometrical approach applied to the Roman capitals. Even those who were considered as Cresci’s pupils, ‘almost invariably provided geometrical rules for making them’.(3) To do justice to Cresci’s concept, even among the artists advocating geometrical construction of letters, there were quite a few who also sometimes preferred to rely on an eye and hand rather than on a compass or rule. Matthew Carter noticed this while examining Luca Pacioli’s letters, and concluded that ‘to attack his letters with rule and compass—or mouse—is to learn that Pacioli interpreted his rules to humour his eye, and that this is necessary in order to recapture his letter and its spirit’.(4) Carter also named Dürer: at some point he had to advise to lay the compass aside. Instructing readers on the letter O, he said that ‘with your hand you must shape the slender outline of the letter to a juster proportion’.(5) Feliciano also should be mentioned within this row. Discussing the letter R, he had to admit that its tail, the most difficult part, ‘cannot be perfectly described with the compass’,(6) and that one should be guided by his eye. From the later period, Paul Renner said that ‘the artistic value of a typeface has only to prove itself before the human eye; that is, in the sphere of appearances and not the sphere of mathematical concepts’.(7) Still, a geometrical approach was a major concept in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although not fully implemented in practice, but advocated vigorously as if no inconsistencies were permitted. But as the Renaissance was succeeded by the Modern times, this approach almost fell into abeyance. Another wave of interest in geometric forms within letterforms fell at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is obvious that, for example, Tschichold’s letterforms far from resemble those of Pacioli. However, I believe there is an intrinsic affinity between these experiments in the Renaissance and Modernist letter design, which I would like to examine and reveal in my thesis.

To justify that, I would like to provide arguments that most indicate this affinity. In my research, I have appealed to direct sources (like the facsimiles of the alphabets or specimens, texts of the treatises or essays), as well as to indirect sources. I found it useful to place geometrical experiments from both sides of the Renaissance and Modernism into the general social and cultural context. Thus, for instance, while talking about the Modernist works it seemed impossible to ignore the overall practice of the most influential Modernist school, the Bauhaus. That is why the name of Oskar Schlemmer, not a typographer but a participant of the school, will go along with the names of Herbert Bayer, who was preoccupied with the invention of the universal alphabet, and Joost Schmidt. Since it is impossible to embrace all examples of geometrical construction of letters, I tried to restrict myself to approximately equal quantities of names within each epoch, although, obviously, the range of choice that Modernism provides is incomparably larger. In relation to the twentieth century geometrically constructed letterforms, apart from Schmidt and Bayer, also works by Paul Renner, Jan Tschichold,(8) Kurt Schwitters, Cassandre will be discussed. On the part of the Renaissance, there will be analysed works by Felice Feliciano, Damianus Moyllus, Luca Pacioli, Giovam Baptista Verini, Geofroy Tory, Francesco Torniello da Novara, and some others.

1 In defense of the thesis 

At first sight this hypothesis may seem controversial, and I agree that it would be hasty to make a direct link between the Renaissance and Modernist letterforms only on the basis of the shared principle of geometrical construction. The relationship between these forms is more complicated, and at the same time also seems more deeply rooted in the sources and origins of the alphabets rather than simply in their external geometrical kinship. To start with, I would like to brush aside those arguments, which one may give against my attempt to compare the faces from such different epochs as the Renaissance and Modernism.

1.1 Common denominator

In both times, these were ancient Roman letters that were usually meant to be a model for the artists. In the Renaissance, the revival of the classic letterforms went along with a general rediscovery of Antiquity. Fra Giocondo da Verona carefully looked at and read the ancient inscriptions while preparing to form his alphabet.(9) Felice Feliciano, Antiquarius as he named himself, admitted in his book Alphabetum Romanum that he thoroughly studied classic inscriptions on marble slabs in Rome and other places, and the proportions of his letters ‘are precisely those of the classic Roman inscription letters’.(10) The same is true for Geofroy Tory. In his Champ fleury (1529) he always referred to ‘the wise Ancients’, who, as he believed, made the first of their letters represent a Compass and a Rule.(11) Damian Moyllus, Giovam Batista Verini, Luca Pacioli, all of them appealed to the classical Roman period. Surprisingly, the Modernists also looked back at classic inscriptions. Eric Gill during his trip to Rome at Easter 1906 had made several drawings on the construction of the Roman alphabet.(12) His letters, just as in the case of the Renaissance drawings, were supported by the construction lines, measurement marks and indications of where the compass leg should be placed. Edward Johnston, a typographer and Gill’s admired teacher, taught ‘‘the essential or structural forms’ of the Roman inscriptions as a basis for contemporary lettering’.(13) Jan Tschichold also stated that the forms of the Roman capitals ‘live in us as a model’, and ‘offered his ‘Block–script’ version as the ‘skeleton form of the ancient Roman script’.(14) Paul Renner admitted that his starting point for the design of Futura was ‘to use the forms of classical, Roman inscriptional majuscules as a basis for the capitals’.(15) Then, he adapted the design of the lower case to the forms of the upper case. Finally, there is an example of a direct reference to classic Roman inscriptions by Peter Behrens. The sans serif lettering on the façade of the truly Modernist building of Turbinenfabrik (Turbine Factory) was considered by Behrens as ‘modernized, or at least simplified, antique forms’.(16)

However, there was one Roman inscription, which distinctively stood out among the others—an inscription on the Trajan column. The column was erected in Rome in the year 114 AD (17) to commemorate the victory in the Dacian Wars under a Roman emperor Trajan, and its lettering has been commonly accepted ‘as the canon of orthodoxy’.(18)

There are six rows of lettering in the Trajan inscription, and the size of the letters diminishes towards the base of the inscription. This decrease was justified by the fact that the letters were placed above the eye–level. Therefore, it made the lettering ‘appear of uniform height from the observer’s point of view’.(19) This can serve as circumstantial proof that the ancients were aware of the basic principles of perspective. So, they should have been aware of the basic principles of geometry, too.

Indeed, geometrical forms were discovered in Roman inscriptions.(20) Whether inscriptions were initially constructed geometrically is a disputable issue. Giovanni Mardersteig in his introduction to The alphabet of Francesco Torniello da Novara (1517) made an interesting observation. He said that ‘when a style of architecture or any other form of artistic creation has reached a definitive stage in rules and proportions, geometric laws are drawn up to fit the construction which has already taken shape’.(21) He had traced the same development in Greek and Roman capitals. In any case, by the time the model Trajan inscription came into being, this stage was already behind. Regardless of how the inscription was made, it showed a certain pattern of forms, which was quite easy to follow and therefore to reproduce. Richard D. Grasby stated that a regulated system of letter design was established already two hundred years before Trajan: ‘Constructed capitals in the style scriptura monumentalis, wherever they are found, reveal a remarkable consistency of proportion and letter outline. With their unit values of width and height secured by measurement, it is possible to predict the forms of letters which are missing from a fragmentary inscription but are necessary to its epigraphic restoration’.(22) This suggests a significant deduction: Roman inscriptions, and hence the letterforms, which the Renaissance artists derived from them, having certain regularity in their construction, are much closer to printed letters than the calligraphic exercises of the early Renaissance masters. Such letters can be reproduced with a fairly high level of precision, which would be almost impossible had they not supporting grids or certain rules of construction. The only thing the Renaissance artists permitted themselves was to offer several versions of the same letter. For instance, Feliciano made two drawings of the letter D, explaining that it ‘may be made, as you wish, in two ways’,(23) and of the letter R. Pacioli showed two letter Os, saying that ‘you can take which you like’.(24) But, interestingly, the same occurred later in the twentieth century, and Paul Renner in his original drawings for Futura showed several versions of the letters a, r, and g. However, any variations were prescribed in the treatises or specimens and no further digression was possible. This resolves quite a big issue, which might prevent from the comparison of the alphabets born in the Renaissance and machine–driven Modernism: there is a fundamental difference in the purpose of use of the alphabets from the different periods of time. Indeed, the very first treatise on the geometrical construction of letters was written by Felice Feliciano in the early 1460s, when printing had not yet reached Italy. Later, the Renaissance alphabets also were not considered as typefaces. They were large in size and aimed at stone–cutters rather than at printers. ‘There is no evidence that Feliciano, Moyllus, or Pacioli aimed their lettering treatises at typefounders; their capitals were for painting or cutting at monumental sizes or, better still, admiring in the abstract’,(25) said Matthew Carter. Only one alphabet, by Geofroy Tory, was definitely meant to be turned into punches. In Champ fleury the author provided a special drawing of a reversed letter A and explained: ‘Before the printed letter is complete it is made twice reversed & twice right. It is reversed the first time in the steel punches, in which the letter is to the left; the matrices have the letter right; the letter of cast metal is, like the said punches, reversed. And, lastly, on the printed page, the letter appears in the right position, and in the aspect requisite for reading currently’.(26) But it was certainly an exception, which also cannot be justified by the fact that Tory’s treatise was one of the latest. Verini’s Luminario, liber elementorum litterarum (1527),(27) being published just a couple of years before, also did not have any traces which would make us think he was writing for the typefounders. On the contrary, the alphabets of the early twentieth century were mostly purposed for machine use. The drawings might have been big (it is well–known that, for example, Eric Gill was first of all a stone–cutter, and one had to adapt his drawings to have been cut as type),(28) but the final size of the letters was significantly smaller. To say the least, Jan Tschichold submitted one of his geometric sans serifs (c.1929) to Deberny & Peignot. Bayer type by Herber Bayer (1933), in which, as the author claimed, ‘all letters were constructed with geometrical lines and arches’,(29) was issued by the Berthold type foundry. Paul Renner’s Futura (1927) was released by the Bauer Type Foundry. However, the abovementioned aspect of regularity serves as a common denominator for these alphabets and provides a basis for comparing them despite other factors, like the size of the letters, the tools used for producing an inscription, and the purpose of the alphabet.

1.2 Visual disparateness

There is another factor, which should be commented on: whereas all the Renaissance alphabets are serifed, the Modernist geometrical faces are usually sans serif. The latter also tend to have a very slight contrast between the strokes or have no contrast at all, compared to the contrasted Renaissance letters. Only Bayer type has serifs and is highly contrasted. Other types (Futura, Universal type) are sans serif and monoline. This striking difference in their appearance can at first sight be considered as separating the geometrical faces from the two epochs rather than bringing them closer. However, this would only be a superficial deduction.

One should remember that both the Renaissance and Modernist artists kept classic inscriptions as a model for their work. But the monopoly on our perception of the classic letterforms was laid by those who revived these forms first. These were the artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and they revived the two characteristic features of letterforms—contrasting strokes and serifs, which remained crucial in letter design until the end of the eighteenth century. However, as James Mosley stated, the ‘ancestry’ of these inscriptions is more diverse.(30) The uniform stroke in ancient inscriptions began yielding to the contrasting stroke in Rome only in the 1st century AD,(31) almost at the same time that the Trajan column was built. So, by 114 AD, when the model lettering was inscribed, not much time had passed since the letters were monoline, and it was still obvious that the Roman capitals had derived from the Greek monoline alphabet. However, this notable ancestry of the classic letterforms was beyond the scope of the Renaissance artists, despite the fact that the contrast in the Trajan inscription itself was still relatively slight.(32) Not because they might have not been aware of it, but because they, unlike the Modernist artists, were deliberately repeating particular classic forms, ignoring what was before and near. Their persistence in their wish to correspond to the model prevented them from moving a step further. The Modernists, on the contrary, almost never declared their sources of inspiration, maybe because often these sources were not even distinctly articulated. But perhaps that is why they could break through to the origins of the classic lettering and kept the strokes of their letters uniform. The monoline stroke was not a vogue; it can be directly linked to the initial pre–imperial way of making letters, especially taking into consideration the Modernist’s concern with the archaic and primeval. For instance, it is known that Paul Renner taught his students to reproduce the Roman capitals ‘with a tool that produced a line of even thickness’.(33) And he claimed to have begun with the same exercise in his design of Futura.(34)

For the same reason, the eradication of serifs in the twentieth century geometrical typefaces also does not ruin the affinity inherent in the Renaissance and Modernist letters. The Modernists, being not confined to the certain exemplary inscriptions within their practice, were able to develop the concept of the geometrical construction of letters. One of the fundamental principles of this concept was the simplicity of form.(35) If, as Morison suggested, ‘serifing is equivalent to a ceremonial embellishment’,(36) serifs actually appeared on the opposite side from this concept. The Modernists, who called upon ‘the complete elimination of all superfluous elements’(37) in letter design, got rid of them as decorative elements not essential to the basic forms of the letters. Considering Herbert Bayer, Arthur A. Cohen wrote that his rejection of the typographer’s traditional affection for fussy and ornamental typefaces, his return to a simplified Roman face and his advocacy of sans serif ‘reflects a logical continuity that extends the principles of functional design to the simplification of a classical Roman face’.(38)

Today no one can tell for sure whether classic inscriptions were actually constructed geometrically. In the preface to his study of the Trajan letters, L.  C. Evetts suggested that ‘since we know that the Romans used certain geometrical instruments for letter–craft, it is reasonable to suppose that their letters might have been considered as geometric units’.(39) Grasby also believed in the primacy of the geometrical approach over just a long established tradition. He found out that some inscriptions, apart from a horizontal grid or vertical lines indicating margins, even had ‘the finely engraved construction lines of the letters themselves including part of circles and their centres’.(40) As a convincing example for his hypothesis he gave the inscription on the tomb of Caecilia Metella,(41) where ‘squares, circles, triangles and the subdivision of the square into tenth parts of the line height make a powerful early example of constructed capitals’.(42) But, for instance, Allen W. Seaby, former professor of Fine Art at the University of Reading, exposed another point of view. Discussing the Trajan inscription, he claimed that ‘no compasses were used in setting out the letters’,(43) despite later numerous attempts to impose geometrical shapes on them. Stanley Morison stuck with the same assumption. In the introduction to Verini’s Luminario, he stressed that, according to F.  W. Goudy, the letters on the Trajan column did not ‘appear to have been constructed upon the basis of the square’. He then quoted Edward Johnston, who had come to a conclusion, that it could not even be said that the thickness of the mainstrokes within the inscription was ‘a geometrical constant’.(44)

However, whether or not geometry underpinned the construction of ancient letters is not that important. If it unambiguously did, we would have probably had to consider them in the same line we draw from the fifteenth and sixteenth century letterforms to the twentieth century ones. Important is the fact, which became the initial premise for comparing the Renaissance and Modernist letterforms: the artists in both times claimed geometry to have been a governor of their typographic practice.

2 In proof of the thesis

2.1 Simplification and reduction

A geometrical approach imposes certain restrictions on the variety of forms used. Other restrictions are imposed by the artists themselves. In the Renaissance, artists assumed that there existed divine forms (no matter what field of arts or crafts they were applied to) and preferred some of them to others. Geofroy Tory, for example, called the circle, square, and triangle ‘the three most perfect figures of geometry’.(45) These three figures the ancients used ‘wishing to demonstrate the extraordinary perfectness of their letters’,(46) he wrote in the treatise Champ fleury. Giovam Baptista Verini notified a ‘gentle reader’ of his book Luminario that the circle was ‘the most perfect of figures’.(47) The circle, Rudolf Wittkower confirmed, among all geometrical figures was considered to be the most perfect and ‘was given special significance’.(48) It is obvious that the urge of perfection was the force that moved the artists of the Renaissance. ‘Antiquarians were confident in the rightness of the geometrically constructed alphabet. They believed that imperial stonemasons had used it not because it was the conventional alphabet of their time, but because it was the best alphabet’, wrote Christopher S. Wood.(49) This urge for perfection would be substituted by the urge for the universal in Modernism. But, interestingly, the way to both was the same. This way went not only through rationality, inherent to both epochs, but also through simplicity. Geometrical forms that the artists had chosen to outline the shapes of the letters were simple to the extreme. It was also a common practice to reduce the number of these forms, of which the alphabet consisted, within the typographic practice. The letters were (or were said to be) constructed only from certain units, or elements, the selection of which differed from one artist to another depending on one’s ingenuity. It is significant that Tory claimed that those were the two letters, I and O, ‘from which all the other Attic letters are made and fashioned’.(50) In Of the just shaping of letters (1525), on construction of the text or quadrate letters, Albrecht Dürer also said: ‘Although the alphabet begins with the writing of A, yet shall I (not needlessly) in the first place undertake to draw an I; because almost all the other letters are formed after this letter’.(51) I would say, their approach to the form making can be compared with factoring an equation: the solution is the most beautiful when it is ultimately clear and concise. In relation to that, it is interesting to follow Jan Tschichold’s words from the Die neue Typographie (1928) manifesto written at the beginning of the twentieth century. Paragraph 7 stated that typographic design was construction ‘in the simplest form’ and ‘with the minimum means’.(52) Moreover, in 1925, Tschichold talked about ‘elemental typography’, directly using the word ‘element’ to describe his understanding of typography. This trend to reduction, generally characteristic of the geometrical construction of letters and of the Modernist practice particularly, revealed itself in another quote of Jan Tschichold: ‘Inner organization is the limitation to the elemental means of typography’.(53) Remarkably, Tschichold echoed Tory’s statement and claimed that squares, circles and triangles were inherently elemental forms and should be used in constructing letters. Paul Renner shared this idea, moreover, linking the limited choice of the elements to the construction of the Roman capitals. In Typografie als Kunst (1922) he wrote that the Roman capitals occupy the top in the hierarchy of the characters. They consist of circles, triangles, and squares, which are the simplest possible forms.(54) Herbert Bayer in the essay toward a new alphabet (1925) also wrote that letters should be designed ‘with basic geometric elements to produce a harmonious character of the alphabet’.(55) Later, in basic alfabet (1960), he explained that then the text would be easier to perceive: ‘It seems reasonable to assume that the work of the eye and the brain would be facilitated if all symbols and their group images were made of the simplest and most exact design elements’.(56) In both times artists believed that the geometrical and elemental approach to the construction of alphabet influenced the comprehension of the text. Simple and clear letterforms were meant to transmit information clearly. The abovementioned Tory, who was concerned with language more than the usual typographer, said that the circle was not only the most perfect of all figures, but also, what is more important for us, ‘the most comprehensive’.(57) The same can be found in the statements of the Modernist typographers. Herbert Bayer put ‘simplification of form for the sake of legibility (the simpler the optical appearance the easier its comprehension)’(58) as a major requirement in his essay toward a new alphabet. Jan Tschichold in the essay Elemental typography (1925) proclaimed similar principles: ‘The communication must appear in the briefest, simplest, most urgent form’.(59)

The elemental approach also can be found in the use of grids, which was common in the both epochs. The grid is ‘a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts’.(60) In the Renaissance, it can be found in the fifteenth and sixteenth century drawings on human proportions and perspective as well as in the drawings on the construction of letters. Rosalind E. Krauss wrote that those grids of the Renaissance in perspective studies, which demonstrated ‘the way reality and its representation could be mapped onto one another’,(61) opposed the very essence of the Modernist grid. The latter was self–contained and had nothing in common with the representation of reality. It is true, the usual way the Renaissance masters used the grid is described in a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (fig.1), which Jack H. Williamson presented in his research on grids.(62)

fig.1

A lattice in front of the artist breaks the three–dimensional figure behind this lattice ‘into a set of modules for the purpose of transferring and reconstructing it on another surface with a corresponding grid’.(63) Interestingly, this seems to be partially relevant for the artists concerned with letters, too. Letters, as will be shown below, were considered rather as part of the architecture and could be perceived as objects in space. Characteristic is the image by Geofroy Tory where he put the letters A, I, and F on different sides of the cube, thus exposing them not on a plain surface, but three–dimensionally. Yet, actually, the grid was not quite a transferring tool for the artists drawing letterforms, but rather constructing. The grid in the Renaissance letter design was a more powerful and meaningful tool than one could imagine.(64) It should be compared not to the grids appearing in paintings or drawings of the periods (the ones Krauss discussed), but to the grids shown in architectural plans. In the Renaissance and Modernist architecture, a module served a principle role, just like in the letter design we explore.(65) 

A module governed the whole appearance of the letter. And the module was not chosen accidentally, but thoroughly calculated. Matthew Carter said that the grid by Geofroy Tory was ‘the first in the history of letter design’.(66) However, this can be questioned. Nicolete Gray in her essay on the Newberry alphabet seems to have displayed an earlier example. The alphabet, which was constructed at the end of the fifteenth century, had a grid, though not a square–based, like Tory had, but a line–based (a term by Jack H. Williamson). An anonymous designer had vertically divided a square in which a letter should be placed in nine equal parts (fig.2). One–ninth had become its unit, and the mainstroke of the letter was one unit width.(67)

fig.2

I assume this proportion was not accidental as the same one could be found in the alphabets by Giovambattista Palatino(68) and Luca Pacioli.(69) Both made the width of the mainstroke one–ninth of the height of the letter. Palatino made dividing marks on his drawing. He showed that the width of the heavier stroke of his A is proportioned 9:1 to its height by indicating this width on the side of the square against a nine unit scale (marks a and c). Drawing letters for De divina proportione (1509), Pacioli did not make a grid, but actually the question itself—the ratio of height to thickness of the capital stem—is a question of the fundamental unit, or a grid. This question was of major importance, and almost every artist had his opinion on it. Geofroy Tory denounced the proportions of Pacioli(70) and divided both sides of his square in ten equal parts. Not only did Tory imply that ten was the perfect number of the ancients, but he also mentioned the nine Muses and Apollo (which is ten) that would, along with the human proportions, comprise a perfect harmony within the Attic letters.(71) His square grid is more familiar to our eyes and more alike to the Modernist grid. But what is important: considering that all the artists had a square as a figure to inscribe their capitals, it did not matter whether to divide it both vertically and horizontally or only vertically, like the author of the Newberry alphabet did. Because in order to resolve the former question of ratio, a vertical grid would be enough, taking into account that the sides of the square were equal. A one hundred unit grid is also seen behind the Alfabeto delle maivscole antiche (c.1590) by Luca Horfei da Fano, the constructing function of which is evident in the drawing of the letter M. The stems of the letter at its bottom and top did not exactly correspond with the marks dividing the sides of the square in ten. Thus Horfei provided additional marks indicating the width of the stem, which were obviously equal to the unit of the grid. The same ratio 10:1 was taken by Felice Feliciano, since ten was the perfect number: ‘It was an old usage to form the letter from a circle and square, the sum of which forms amounts to 52, whence is derived the perfect number, which is ten’.(72) But it is crucial that, although Feliciano’s drawings did not provide a grid, there seems to be an invisible grid behind them, which Feliciano had articulated, but had not drawn. Apart from the proportion of the mainstroke to the height of the letter, he mentioned how much of the square the mainstroke should occupy: ‘And thus the thickness [of the mainstroke] of your letter should be the tenth part of the height, and in this manner it will have as much of the circle as of the square’.(73) A grid is found in the treatise on the alphabet by Fra Giocondo da Verona, which resulted from dividing a square into four smaller squares and drawing diagonals within them. This grid, as the accompanying text explained, would be a basis (or the fundamental thing) for the construction of any letter.(74) Finally, Francesco Torniello da Novara introduced a logical system of measurement within his grid, which was later adopted and developed by type designers. To draw a letter, he said, one ‘must draw a perfect square and divide it into eighteen parts along each side by means of vertical and horizontal lines’.(75) One–ninth of the height, or the distance equal to two scale divisions, he named ‘punto’ (point). This basic measurement was used to define all the proportions of the letter, including the lengths of the radius of the circles needed to make curvy lines and serifs. 

As for Modernism, the grid is commonly known as a crucial element within the visual arts, and obviously needs a less detailed explanation. To say the least, Jan Tschichold recommended writing exercises in letter design on squared paper, which is confirmed by numerous examples. What is remarkable, ‘the grid was only taken as a guideline on the vertical axis’,(76) just like in the case of the Renaissance artists. Joost Schmidt, a tutor at the Bauhaus who taught geometrical construction of letters, also practiced drawing letters ‘with compass and ruler within the confines of a grid’.(77) Paul Renner had Futura capitals drawn on graph paper. Although the original drawing has disappeared, it was reproduced in the documents of the Bauer foundry in 1959.(78) The author of Futura also recalled such a method of drawing on a grid in his memoires.(79) The most evident example of a grid performing its constructing function is a constructible block–script by Tschichold (c.1930). Due to the construction lines, it was accessible even for those with no previous experience in drawing letters.(80) 

The same trend for simplification and reduction manifested itself in the desire to keep only one case in the geometrical alphabets. It seems more natural for the Renaissance alphabets. The most evident reason for this is that the artists were following inscriptions from the epoch that did not know lower case. For the same reason they, for example, did not draw some letters, like W. Obviously, they were restricted by the tradition. Lower case, as Herbert Bayer noticed, was developed from the use of the pen,(81) and its construction within the geometrical principles would have been a complicated task for that time for sure. But, first, the Renaissance letters also had calligraphic features. Secondly, the whole idea of designing a lowercase upon the same principles as the Roman capitals was not something unconceivable then. Tory mentioned that a Compass and Rule ‘are necessary and requisite for making well, not only the Attic letter, but also the lettre de forme’.(82) There was also a daring artist Ferdinando Ruano, who ‘applied the geometrical method to the Chancery Cursive’(83) in both lower case and upper case in his Sette alphabeti di varie lettere formati con ragion geometrica (1554). So, perhaps, other reasons than mere tradition might have restrained the artists to one case.

In Modernism, the decision to keep only one case was definitely more conscious and deliberate. Although, certainly, not everybody accepted it, it was not a single fact but a major trend advocated by such influential typographers as Jan Tschichold and Herbert Bayer. The Modernist artists usually suggested leaving only lower case. In 1925, at Bayer’s suggestion, who was then in charge of the Typography Department at the Bauhaus, ‘Gropius abolished the use of majuscules in all printed matter and correspondence at the Bauhaus’.(84) Bayer manifested that ‘we do not speak a capital “A” and a small “a”. To convey one sound we do not need large and small letter symbols. One sound, one symbol’.(85) His premise for the use of lower case was that capital letters were used much more rarely. Tschichold, also preferring lower case to upper case, said that ascenders and descenders of the small roman letters increased legibility.(86) Later Bayer would agree on this subject, and in basic alfabet he would say: ‘Lower case letters are more legible than capital letters because the ascenders of b, d, h, l, f, and to some degree the descenders of g, p, y, lend the eye a supporting point of reference’.(87) His next move would be towards creating an ‘optofonetic alfabet’—forms that would depend on the sound of the letters. Following the same path of reduction Bayer would suggest eliminating double letters, such as ph, omit letters which are not pronounced, etc. More proof that these practices of sticking to the one case alphabet with the choice of either upper case or lower case are related, is found in the teaching method of the Bauhaus. An obligatory course on letters taught by Joost Schmidt was at first confined to the geometrical construction of capital letters. In due course, capital letters were substituted for the letters from Bayer’s universal alphabet.(88) There are also less known examples, which still appear to be more conclusive in terms of this research. One of them is Kurt Schwitters’s Systemschrift (1927). As a matter of fact, he, being concerned with the problem of the ‘two alphabets’, preferred to stay with the upper case. Like Bayer and Tschichold, he also offered not just a typeface, but a script, exploring the correspondence between sound and spelling. What is noteworthy is that in the forms of the letters he was unmistakably influenced by Theo Van Doesburg, whose typeface of rectangular–shaped letters had been designed on the basis of the Roman capitals.(89) Another example is the solely upper case display typeface Bifur (1929) by Cassandre, which in such forms as A, M, R seems to have been following the Roman capitals. Significantly, in the original specimen to another of his one case types Peignot (1937), Cassandre wrote that lowercase letterforms ‘will soon come to seem as archaic as the shapes of Gothic characters’,(90) thus putting emphasis on the Roman origin of his letters.

2.2 Social and cultural contexts

However, not only the forms themselves are important, but also how they are proportioned. Proportions should also be perfect, and calculating these, the artists of the Renaissance referred to the man as a measure and model. Definitely, this was a part of the greater changes in the human’s perception of the world. A human being was then placed into the centre of the Universe. But, surprisingly, the adoption of Protagoras’s statement, that the man is the measure of all things, did not make that man an untouchable model. On the contrary, the man was then examined as a carcass on the slab. The humanists almost literally came up with a ruler and started to measure the human’s body relating it to the predetermined geometric shapes, or rather relating shapes to the figure. Exemplifying this is the image of the Vitruvian man—a male figure with his arms and legs stretched out inscribed in a circle and a square. A similar image can be found in many treatises on the construction of letters we discuss. Giovam Baptista Verini placed a picture of a man inscribed in a circle with a compass indicating a distance from his feet to his navel as a diameter of the circle (fig.3).

fig.3

A perfect figure, according to Verini, should be formed of nine units, where one unit is a head. ‘Roman letters were derived from such a man’, that is, a well–built man, Verini wrote in Luminario.(91) However, curiously, the man in the picture is only six heads tall, but this only proves that a Renaissance artist was guided by the ratio only, not the vision or his other senses. Geofroy Tory claimed that his letters were ‘so well conformed to nature that they agree in measurement and proportion with the human body’.(92) Unlike Verini, Tory thought that a perfect man standing firm consisted of ten units. Therefore, he divided both sides of the square in which a letter should be placed in ten, arranging the abovementioned grid of a hundred units. He also included pictures relating a human face to the basic letters, like I, and to the square in which all of them were placed. Luca Pacioli did not include in his book De divina proportione a full picture of a man, but also claimed that ‘every measurement, with its name, is derived from the human body’ and that ‘in the human body every sort of proportion and proportionality can be found’.(93) He placed a plate of the human head showing the correct proportion just before the plates showing the construction of the Latin letters.(94) The abovementioned drawings are universally recognised as corresponding with the age in which they were created. The concept born in the Renaissance, or the age of humanism, which put the man as the greatest value, was visualised in such complicated schemes. But, noteworthily, a similar attitude towards man can be found later, in the age of Modernism. Oskar Schlemmer, a Bauhaus participant and teacher, provides a significant example. He was not a typographer, but his ideas, I assume, reflected the general spirit of the Bauhaus, and those who constructed letters, too. Hans Fischli, a student of the Bauhaus, recalled Schlemmer’s course titled ‘Man’. Apart from teaching the Golden Section (incidentally, rediscovered by Pacioli and defined as the ‘divine proportion’), Schlemmer talked about human proportions governing arts and crafts, about ‘the human body with its harmonic series of measurements’.(95) Fischli wrote about the artist: ‘A painter and dancer showed us—young people—Man at the centre of all things and revealed his image. He taught us the theory of harmony by using the human body as an example’.(96) These words can be easily illustrated by the pictures made in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but also by Schlemmer’s own drawing—Man in the sphere of ideas (1928), which served as a teaching board during his course (fig.4).

fig.4

It showed man’s relationship to space, time, and ideas, providing details on the human anatomy. Interestingly, his drawing of the man was just as crude and obviously disproportioned as Verini’s drawing. A painting Human bone structure compared with architectural structures(97) by Herbert Bayer, creator of the universal type project, is also characteristic of its time. A human skeleton and its parts were drawn against a pillar and an arch, discovering the relationship between the human anatomy and architectural forms.

I should say that although texts on typography were discussed above, it is obvious that their authors were mostly pondering over the forms and proportions in general, sometimes not even anchoring their reflections to certain alphabets. The clue lies in the concept of the Renaissance man. Having no differentiation between designer, artist, and scientist, the Renaissance man, or the universal man (actually, a polymath), had the same principles for all of his activities. While constructing the letterforms the artists could easily switch to the architectural science, or mathematics, if they found it appropriate for their research, and could even be architects or mathematicians themselves. For instance, in their search for divine proportions, almost all the Renaissance artists were examining Vitruvius’s book De architectura. This book is where partially the perfect number ten came from in the letter drawings of Felice Feliciano, Geofroy Tory. According to Vitruvius, ‘this number was held by the ancients to be perfect and that Plato ascribed its origin to the ten fingers of the hand’, noticed Giovanni Mardersteig.(98) Basically, the idea of relating objects and forms to the human body also came from architecture. Some of his passages combined an interest in the human anatomy as a source of perfect proportions with a love and respect towards mathematics. It was Vitruvius who had introduced in his treatise ‘the famous remarks on the proportions of the human figure, which should be reflected in the proportions of temples’.(99) Modernism revived this type of man, who wanted to embrace as many skills and as much knowledge as possible. Artists again wanted to avoid confinement to a certain activity despite the growth of specialisations and despite the division of labour that took place in the Modern times. Herbert Bayer, author of the universal alphabet, demonstrated this longing for such a type of man: ‘The universal man, as Goethe represented him, is extinct through the accumulation of knowledge which can no longer be mastered by the individual mind. A division of knowledge into defined areas took place and created the specialist. The artist also is a specialist, but to his specialty must be added the understanding of a wider orbit’.(100) Architecture among other fields, as will be shown further, turned out to be strongly connected with the geometrical construction of letters both in the Renaissance and Modernism.

The point is that the architectural principle, a special attitude to the act of building, is a cornerstone in the ideology both during the Renaissance and Modernist periods. No other field of art was this important and this influential. It should be mentioned that, not only were the perfect forms and proportions first of all discovered and elaborated in relation to the architecture, but also the letters themselves were considered first of all as part of the architectural science. Luca Pacioli, for instance, explained his wish to include a part on typography in De divina proportione by the fact that the letters were placed upon pillars, tablets, and monuments. They should make the work beautiful and declare the purpose of the building, and that is why he would like to show a fine ancient alphabet in his book.(101) It is for the stone–cutters and architects that this part was purposed. Felice Feliciano took as a model for his geometrical alphabet an inscription from the monuments and public buildings, not a hand written script. Damianus Moyllus is likely to have printed his treatise on classic letter design (c.1480) ‘for an author, who was perhaps a teacher of some branch of architecture’.(102) One should admit that, although for a polymath all arts and sciences are equal, during the Renaissance and Modernist periods architecture seemed to become the first among equals. Alina A. Payne pointed out that during the age of humanism architecture took ‘a leading role amongst the arts in materializing a Weltanschauung rooted in a mathematical conception of the universe’.(103) Therefore it is not surprising that general principles of construction had come into letter design directly from architecture. The same is true for Modernism. The Bauhaus manifesto proclaimed that it strove ‘to unite all creative activity within a single whole, to reunify all the practical artistic disciplines—sculpture, painting, the applied arts and crafts – as the inseparable components of a new architecture’.(104) Consequently, no wonder that the same word – construction—was actually used (by the artists themselves, not only by the scholars) for both designing a geometrical alphabet and erecting a building. Important was the figure of ‘the engineer’. ‘It is the Corbusian vision that lies behind the talismanic figure in Tschichold’s Die neue Typographie: ‘the engineer! This engineer is the designer of our epoch’, said Robin Kinross.(105)

2.3 On romain du roi

‘Construction is the first word of geometry, its method’, said Patricia Railing.(106) However, time has come to introduce an example where construction and geometry are divorced. Talking about geometrically constructed letterforms it is impossible to ignore the Romain du roi, the production of which was undertaken in France in the late seventeenth century.(107)

Nicolete Gray said that ‘the history of lettering can be seen as the repeated revival of the Roman letter’.(108) Departures and comebacks to the ancient tradition she also compared to ‘the alternation between classical and romantic’.(109) Calculating the periodicity of the classical phase succeeding the romantic one, almost equal time spans between the Renaissance revival of the ancient letterforms and the Romain du roi (approximately 1460—1690) and later between the Romain du roi and the Modernist revival (approximately 1690—1920) can be observed. This may suggest that the production of the Romain du roi, which is exactly in the middle between the years 1460 and 1920, is a separate phase. However, I believe it is not. ‘This was naturally the end, reached in 1692—1702, of the use of the geometrical method, as applied to calligraphy or typography’, said Stanley Morison.(110) Indeed, it was not a new stage in revival of the ancient letterforms. It was a protracted tail of the same stage, the culmination of which fell at the fifteenth and sixteenth century.(111) It should be remembered that, apparently, occasional geometrically constructed alphabets appeared until as late as the seventeenth century.(112) The French academy did not refer directly to the classic Roman lettering exemplars, but referred to the letterforms shaped by Tory, Pacioli, and Dürer.(113) This is after them that a geometrical method of constructing letters was taken by the Académie des Sciences. Thus, a double distortion of the perception of classic letterforms took place. In addition, the development at its end had already come not only through the long Renaissance period, but also through Mannerism and the Baroque. And what was left from the initial Renaissance premise was a formal compliance with such principles as the geometrical construction of letters and the use of the grid.

A grid seems to have been adopted after Geofroy Tory’s Champ fleury. However, the grid of the Romain du roi was something completely different from the Renaissance (as well from the Modernist) model. According to the plan adopted by Jacques Jaugeon and his colleagues, it was a square–based grid, but the main square, in which a letter was placed, had been ‘divided into 64 parts, each subdivided into 36 others, making a total of 2,304 little squares for roman capitals’.(114) With such a tiny module, such a grid could serve neither as a constructing tool, nor even as a transferring tool, especially considering that the scientists knew their alphabet would become a printing type. There was another attempt to construct letters by Louis Simonneau (1695). In his engravings, the sides of the main square were divided into eight, arranging a grid of sixty four units. Although in that case the mainstroke of the letters was equal to one unit, the proportion 8:1 was quite arbitrary and could hardly be explained by any other reason than ‘taste’. Proportions 9:1 and 10:1 were explained above. But even the less popular proportion 12:1, used, for instance, by Moyllus, can be justified by its reference to Vitruvius. Millard Meiss mentioned that in relation to Andrea Mantegna, whose preferred ratio was just the same, and who then ‘may have intended to conform to ancient authority, particularly Vitruvius’. ‘While many of the “ancients” held 10 to be the perfect number, others preferred 6. Twelve was an essential part of the numerical pattern that is inherent in 6, and it was called displasios’, he wrote.(115) However, this proportion 8:1, most likely, incidentally, coincides with the one in Ruano’s alphabet. Ferdinand Ruano suggested dividing the square in ‘eight heads’ and ‘give to one of these heads the size of your character’.(116) But even then, not the module was chosen as a guide, but the eye. Jaugeon spoke: ‘We made letters of every size and proportion, for which we took our eyes as judges, and those which they found most to their taste were the ones we chose’.(117) The grid served rather as a background, a squared paper onto which the letters would be drawn (fig.5).

fig.5

Nicolas Boileau, a French poet and critic of the same period, produced an opposition of the two concepts—vérité (truth) and vraisemblance (verisimilitude) giving preference to the latter. In the drawings of the Romain du roi, a verisimilitude of the letters being constructed geometrically also seems to have been more precious than the truth.(118) Geometry was present, but numerous lines and circles were outlining, not constructing the letterforms. The words of the contemporary of Pierre–Simon Fournier were aimed to criticise the Romain du roi for the geometrical approach in design, but paradoxically seem to have been related to the thoughts of the scientists themselves: ‘I would beware of going into the details of the different geometrical constructions necessary to form each letter. Taste certainly has more place than reason in the beauty and proportion of the characters. Geometry may have followed invention by providing a rule for an approved form, but it did not precede it’.(119) They interestingly correlate with Tschichold’s statement presumably from the 1940s, when he had stepped back from his Modernist convictions and fell into the classicist stage. A typescript for one of his lectures stated: ‘Geometry is a good servant, but a bad master’.(120) Gray expressed the same idea, that geometry was actually not involved in the construction of the Romain du roi. She said, that those alphabets of the Romain du roi ‘are shown on a grid, but they were not constructed on a grid; the final arbiter of the design was the eye, not mathematics’.(121) It is valid to say that the French Academy also adopted Torniello’s point system. But unlike Torniello, then and till now it has been used not as a construction method, but as a system to measure type size.

It is important to note that the Romain du roi also violated the fundamental principle of the geometrical construction discussed above—the tendency towards simplification and reduction. Not only because multiple lines and curves were sometimes obviously superfluous: ‘Are so many squares needed to make an O, which is round, and so many circles to make other letters which are square?’(122) But also because it included not even four alphabets as it would be generally accepted and later on (roman and italic with upper and lower case), but at least twenty.(123)

As for the forms of the letters, most of the capital letters of the Romain du roi indeed more or less corresponded to the classic models. Among them was the pointed A. Its horizontal bar was also thicker than the thin leg, which can be considered as a reference to Geofroy Tory’s letter A. Among the Renaissance alphabets such a proportion could be found only in his alphabet. Unusual was a vertical stress, which though had been provided as an option by Luca Pacioli in O and by Ferdinando Ruano. There was more serious deviation in the letter P. It did not have an ‘unjoined loop’,(124) which was a characteristic feature of the ancient Roman alphabet and was carefully preserved by Pacioli, Verini, Tory, and all others. But the truly exposing letter is R. Its curved leg reveals the calligraphic origin (or, as Morison suggested, an influence of the seventeenth century engraving practice) of the Romain du roi, which is most evident in the lower case. Any geometrically constructed R would have a straight leg at the junction with the head, and only its tail would be curved. This was proved by the drawings of Feliciano, Alberti, Pacioli, Moyllus, Tory, Verini, and even an anonymous designer of the Newberry alphabet, whose drawings with a ‘fairly complicated geometry’(125) could be at first sight collated with the Romain du roi construction engravings. It is significant that the same curved R would become an illustrious feature of Gill Sans, whose geometrical construction has always been a debatable issue.(126) On the contrary, all truly geometrical typefaces like Futura or Tschichold’s sans serif typeface have a straight leg in this letter.

Not a geometric principle, but a calligraphic one was dominating the design of the Romain du roi. ‘Were not the new types of Grandjean, like Simonneau’s models, an attempt to rival the grace and elegance of the calligraphy of Jarry and his successors?’ asked Jammes.(127) At their core, calligraphic features are hostile to geometrical construction. The Renaissance artists, consolidating serifs and the contrast in the thickness of strokes in their geometrical drawings, are likely to have been unconscious of their calligraphic origin, although basically these features are ‘the result of laying out the lettering on stone with a broad brush’.(128) The Modernists would reduce this and other inconsistencies, having got rid of the ‘shaded’ stroke(129) and serifs in their designs. Christopher Burke wrote that Paul Renner, in his published statements during the design and production of Futura, ‘clearly expressed his desire to suppress any visible reference to the calligraphic heritage of small letters, and to bring them under the influence of the static form that governed capitals’.(130) As well as Jan Tschichold, who praised Futura for its manifestation of his major requirement for an ideal sans serif: ‘the eradication of calligraphic features from the lower case’.(131) The Romain du roi, on the contrary, although went for a vertical stress, still forced calligraphic features of the letterforms. James Mosley stated that the greater contrast between thick and thin strokes, and the smoothness of the curves and the thin serifs ‘are features engendered by the new school of calligraphy that had spread from Italy to France during the century, and which was brilliantly deployed in engraving on copper plates’.(132)

§ Conclusion

As this dissertation shows, there were only two periods when the geometrical approach to letter design became if not a dominant, but a major and significant trend: the Renaissance and Modernist eras. On the one hand, it was connected with the general spirit of the epochs, which turned out to be alike. Geometrically constructed letterforms were produced by so–called Renaissance men, who aimed to break the boundaries, not only to provide a legible type, but stand for more ambitious aims: the reformation of the language, for instance. While Geofroy Tory enlightened on the proper use of the French language, the Modernists (Herbert Bayer, Jan Tschichold, Kurt Schwitters) suggested new types of script. Geometry was a tool that helped him to achieve a new order. It also added to the consolidation of this order by providing exact rules, so that the artists were sure that their precepts would not be broken. The major source for these artists was the Roman capital alphabet. ‘One of the paradoxes of the Renaissance is that, while it appears to strive forward, its inspiration is frequently backward–looking; its aims were often to resurrect the practice of ancient Rome and to probe the rules which governed this practice’, noticed A.  S. Osley.(133) Interestingly, the same can be said in relation to Modernism. The Trajan inscription, which was commonly accepted as a model, provided ground for these alphabets to have been constructed geometrically. Not only because of the hypothesis that ancient lettering was constructed with the help of a compass and rule, but also because this particular inscription featured letterforms, ‘in which the calligraphic traces are only vestigial’.(134) The common source was treated with a different degree of reverence. During the Modernist period, artists became sufficiently bold to remove all the calligraphic features that the Renaissance artists could derive from the ancient times. However, despite therefore quite different appearances of the letterforms, artists from the Renaissance and Modernism shared the same principles, which a geometrical approach and the spirit of the epochs dictated. Among them were the simplicity of form, restriction to only a certain range of these forms, which sometimes even revealed itself in the restriction to a one case alphabet. On the other hand, the use of geometry can be justified by technical reasons. ‘Typographic design is conditioned by the kind of printing being used; a designer designs specifically for an intended process and materials, just as an architect designs for steel, glass, stones or bricks’, said Ruari McLean.(135) If the Roman inscriptions have been constructed geometrically, the reasons for that seem to be clear: it is quite inconvenient to draw the letters of such height freehand. The Renaissance artists took after the grand size of letters, which is proved by most of the treatises discussed above. But the Renaissance witnessed a crucial change in the use of type. Since then it was being more and more used in printing books rather than in cutting inscriptions. A gradual decline of interest in geometrical constructions might be linked to the inability to accurately reproduce these on a smaller scale. Two factors might have pushed the artists in the twentieth century to revive geometrical principles and transfer them onto the typeface industry. The first is the widespread use of the pantograph, which permitted the scaling of type drawings. The other is the mechanisation of type manufacture. Compared to punch–cutters’ skills, a machine showed almost perfect conformity to the type drawing regardless of which type size was required.

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§ Works consulted

54 Goines, David Lance. A constructed Roman alphabet: a geometric analysis of the Greek and Roman capitals and of the Arabic numerals. Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.; London: Kudos & Godine, Publisher, Ltd., 1982
55 Hurlburt, Allen. The grid: a modular system for the design and production of newspapers, magazines, and books. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1978
56 Mardersteig, Giovanni. Alberti and the revival of the Roman inscriptional letter in the fifteenth century. Translated by James Mosley. In: Stiff, Paul, ed. Typography Papers 6, London: Hyphen Press, 2005, 49 – 65
57 Morison, Stanley. Early Italian writing–books: Renaissance to Baroque. Verona: Edizioni Valdonega; London: The British Library, 1990
58 Mosley, James. An introduction to Pierre Simon Fournier’s Modéles des caracteres de l’imprimerie. London: Eugrammia Press, 1965
59 Mosley, James. Roman tragedy. [online] London, May 2008. Available from [Accessed 21 August 2012]
60 Smith, Virginia. Forms in Modernism: a visual set. The unity of typography, architecture & the design arts. New York: Watson–Guptill Publications, 2005
61 Sparrow, John. Visible words: a study of inscriptions in and as books and works of art. Cambridge: University Printing House, 1969


2012

Submitted as dissertation for the University of Reading
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(1) Gray, Nicolete. A history of lettering: creative experiment and letter identity. Oxford: Phaidon, 1986, p. 122.








(2) Cresci, Giovan Francesco. Essemplare di piv sorti lettere. London: Nattali & Maurice Ltd., 1968, p. 42.
(3) Mosley, James. Giovan Francesco Cresci and the baroque letter in Rome. In: Stiff, Paul, ed. Typography Papers 6, London: Hyphen Press, 2005, p. 116.
(4) Carter, Matthew. Theories of letterform construction, part 1. In: Printing History, 1991/2, vol. 13 – 14, p. 4.
(5) Carter, ref. 4, p. 7.
(6) Feliciano, Felice. Alphabetum Romanum. Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1960, p. 128.
(7) Burke, Christopher. Paul Renner: the art of typography. London: Hyphen Press: 1998, p. 100.


























(8) Before he started thinking that ‘identical formation of individual, unrelated elements in geometrically constructed letterforms decreases in a dangerous way the individuality and clarity of the letters and thereby the legibility of the whole’. (Burke, Christopher. Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007, p. 196).









(9) Ciapponi, Lucia A. A fragmentary treatise on epigraphic alphabets by Fra Giocondo da Verona. In: Renaissance Quarterly, 1979, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 24.
(10) Feliciano, ref. 6, p. 36. (11) Tory, Geofroy. Champ fleury. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967, p. 85. 
(12) Holliday, Peter. Eric Gill’s photograph album ‘Rome 1906’. In: Holliday, Peter, ed. Eric Gill in Ditchling: Four essays. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2002, p. 1.
(13) Holliday, ref. 12, p. 7.
(14) Burke, Christopher. Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007, p. 178.
(15) Burke, ref. 7, pp. 95 – 96.(16) Burke, Chris. Peter Behrens and the German letter: type design and architectural lettering. In: Journal of Design History, 1992, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 29.
(17) Evetts, L.  C. Roman lettering: a study of the letters of the inscription at the base of the Trajan column, with an outline of the history of lettering in Britain. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1960, p. 12.
(18) Carter, ref. 4.
(19) Evetts, ref. 17.
(20) See below on this point.
(21) Torniello, Francesco. The alphabet of Francesco Torniello da Novara. Followed by a comparison with the alphabet of Fra Luca Pacioli. Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1971, p. xviii.










(22) Grasby, Richard D. Processes in the making of Roman inscriptions: introduction to the studies. Oxford: The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, 2009, p. 2.



(23) Feliciano, ref. 6, p. 125.
(24) Morison, Stanley. Fra Luca de Pacioli of Borgo S Sepolcro. New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1969, p. 57.











(25) Carter, ref. 5.







(26) Tory, ref. 11.


(27) Further called Luminario for the sake of brevity.




(28) Carter, Sebastian. The Morison years and beyond: 1923 —1965. In: Boag, A.and L. Wallis, eds. One hundred years of type making: 1897—1997. The Monotype Recorder, 1997, no. 10, p. 19.
(29) Bayer, Herbert. Herbert Bayer: painter, designer, architect. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation; London: Studio Vista, 1967, p. 42.



















(30) Mosley, James. The Nymph and the Grot: the revival of the sanserif letter. London: Friends of the St Bribe Printing Library, 1999, p. 17.
(31) Morison, Stanley. Politics and script. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, p. 31.
(32) Morison, ref. 31, p. 35.












(33) Burke, ref. 7, p. 96.
(34) Ibid.






(35) See below on this point.

(36) Morison, ref. 31, p. 11.

(37) Burke, ref. 14, p. 154.





(38) Cohen, Arthur A. Herbert Bayer: the complete work. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: M I T Press, 1984, p. 215.


(39) Evetts, ref. 17, p. v.
(40) Evetts, ref. 17, p. 3.
(41) Giovanni Mardersteig in his introduction to the Alphabetum Romanum by Felice Feliciano gave the same example as proof that ancient inscriptions ‘were based on exact geometrical drawings’. (Feliciano, ref. 6, p. 10).
(42) Grasby, ref. 22.
(43) Seaby, Allen W. The Roman alphabet and its derivatives. London: The Polyglot Printing Co., Ltd., 1925, p. 2.

(44) Verini, Giovam Baptista. Luminario, or the third book of the Liber elementorum litterarum on the construction of Roman capitals. Cambridge: Harvard College Library; Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1947, p. 5.










(45) Tory, ref. 11, p. 26.

(46) Ibid.

(47) Verini, ref. 44, p. 15.


(48) Wittkower, Rudolf. Architectural principles in the age of humanism. Chichester: Academy Editions, 1998, p. 38.
(49) Wood, Christopher S. Forger, replica, fiction: temporalities of German Renaissance art. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008, p. 289.





(50) Tory, ref. 11, p. 22. Herman Zapf noticed a parallel between this passage and the words from Edward Johnston’s calligraphy manual Writing & Illumination, & Lettering. There he expressed almost identical thought: ‘Le O peut être considéré comme la forme clé d’un alphabet. Si l’on regarde le O et le I de n’importe quel alphabet, on peut en déduire avec quasi certitude la forme des autres lettres’. [O may be regarded as the Key letter of an alphabet. Given an O and an I of any alphabet, we can make a very good guess at the forms of the other letters]. (Zapf, Herman. Typographie des caractères Romains de la Renaissance. In: Cahiers GUTenberg, 2000, no. 37 – 38, pp. 48 – 49. English text from: Johnston, Edward. Writing & illuminating, & lettering. London: J. Hogg, 1906, p. 270).
(51) Dürer, Albrecht. On the just shaping of letters. From the Applied geometry of Albrecht Dürer. Book I I I. New York: Grolier Club, 1917, p. 35.
(52) Burke, ref. 14, p. 29.
(53) Burke, ref. 14, p. 311.
(54) ‘Dans son ouvrage Typografie als Kunst, publié en 1922, il avait déjà affirmé leur suprématie: «Au sommet des caractères européens se situent les capitales romaines, élaborées à partir de cercles, triangles et carrés, les forms les plus simples possibles et le plus contrastées qui soient’. [In his Typografie als Kunst, published in 1922, he had already affirmed their [the Roman capitals] supremacy: ‘At the summit of all the European characters, there are the Romans capitals, which are made of circles, triangles and squares, the simplest and the most contrasted forms’]. (Rauly, Alexandre Dumas de, et al. Futura: une gloire typographique. Paris: Éditions Norma, 2011, p. 20. Translation by the author).
(55) Bayer, ref. 29, p. 26.
(56) Bayer, ref. 29, p. 78.
(57) Tory, ref. 11, p. 48.
(58) Bayer, ref. 55.
(59) Burke, ref. 53.
(60) Krauss, Rosalind E. The originality of the avant–garde and other modernist myths. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: M I T Press, 1986, p. 9.
(61) Krauss, ref. 60, p. 10.
(62) Williamson, Jack H. The grid: history, use, and meaning. In: Design Issues, 1986, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 19.
(63) Ibid.
(64) The plan either of the building or letterform was even more meaningful than this plan’s implementation. Wittkower noticed that the mathematical relations which the Renaissance architects used for their plans actually could not be perceived when one did not see the plan but was just walking about in a building. Then the perception of the sophisticated and thoroughly calculated geometrical scheme represented ‘an absolute value, independent of our subjective and transitory perception’. (Wittkower, ref. 48, p. 18). The same was true for the artists drawing letters. Tory’s indignation of Pacioli’s proportions was actually indignation of the plan, not the letters. The difference between the ratios 1:10 and 1:9 is not perceptible ‘as Stanley Morison demonstrated by placing side by side a 1:9 A and a 1:10 A’. (Bowen, Barbara C. Geofroy Tory’s “Champ Fleury” and its major sources. In: Studies in Philology, Winter 1979, vol. 76, no. 1, p. 20). This is also justified by the fact that though the artists were manifesting faithfulness to the geometrical principle of construction, a few had cheated producing certain letterforms.
(65) Relevant are the words of L.  C. Evetts who discussed the proportions of the Trajan inscription: ‘It is possible to establish proportions at two important points. These are where the strokes are widest, and on the centre–line where they are narrowest. The proportion at the commencement of the serifs, where the strokes reach their greatest width, is one–tenth of the height of the letters, whilst that on the centre–line of the lettering where the bi–concavity reaches its limit, is one–eleventh. As a unit of scale in the construction of the letters of this alphabet, the former proportion repeats itself again and again, and appears to be used as a unit in much the same manner as the module in classical architecture’. (Evetts, ref. 17, p. 14). Also see more on Andrea Palladio and Le Corbusier in: Sherer, Daniel. Le Corbusier’s discovery of Palladio in 1922 and the modernist transformation of the classical code. In: Perspecta, 2004, vol. 35, pp. 20 – 39.
(66) Carter, ref. 4, p. 9.
(67) Gray, Nicolete. The Newberry alphabet and the revival of the Roman capital in fifteenth–century Italy. In: Paul Stiff, ed. Typography Papers 6. London: Hyphen Press, 2005, p. 12.
(68) Ryder, John. Lines of the alphabet in the sixteenth century. London: The Stellar Press & The Bodley Head, 1965, p. 59.
(69) Feliciano, ref. 10.
(70) Tory, ref. 11, p. 86.
(71) Tory, ref. 11, pp. 40, 46.
(72) Feliciano, ref. 23.
(73) Feliciano, ref. 23.
(74) Ciapponi, ref. 9, p. 21.
(75) Torniello, ref. 21, p. 86.
(76) Burke, ref. 14.
(77) Ibid.

(78) Although Christopher Burke in his book attributes this drawing (c.1925) either to Paul Renner or to Ferdinand Kramer. (Burke, ref. 7, p. 89).
(79) Rauly, Alexandre Dumas de, et al. Futura: une gloire typographique. Paris: Éditions Norma, 2011, p. 21.
(80) Burke, ref. 14, p. 180.



(81) Bayer, ref. 55.





(82) Tory, ref. 11.

(83) Morison, ref. 31, p. 322.











(84) Cohen, ref. 38.

(85) Bayer, ref. 55.



(86) Burke, ref. 37.


(87) Bayer, ref. 56.









(88) Burke, ref. 14.








(89) Schmalenbach, Werner. Kurt Schwitters. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1970, p. 183.

(90) Mills, Mike. Herbert Bayer’s universal type in its historical contexts. In: Lupton, Ellen and J. Abbott Miller, eds. The abc’s of [triangle, square, circle]: the Bauhaus and design theory. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993, p. 42.


































(91) Verini, ref. 44, p. 18.




(92) Tory, ref. 11, p. 47.








(93) Taylor, R. Emmett. No royal road: Luca Pacioli and his times. New York: Arno Press, 1980, p. 272.
(94) Taylor, ref. 93, p. 255.










(95) Whitford, Frank, ed. The Bauhaus: masters & students by themselves. London: Conran Octopus, 1992, p. 267.
(96) Ibid.





























(97) Bayer, ref. 29, p. 44.




















(98) Feliciano, ref. 6, p. 35.





(99) Wittkower, ref. 48, p. 22.









(100) Bayer, ref. 29, p. 13.















(101) Taylor, ref. 93, p. 274.




(102) Morison, ref. 24, p. 17.





(103) Payne, Alina A. Rudolf Wittkower and architectural principles in the age of Modernism. In: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 1994, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 327 – 328.
(104) Whitford, ref. 95, p. 38.




(105) Kinross, Robin. Modern typography: an essay in critical history. London: Hyphen Press, 2004, p. 110.
(106) Railing, Patricia. The idea of construction as the creative principle in Russian avant–garde art. In: Leonardo, 1995, vol. 28, no. 3, p. 197.
(107) It should be noted, that the first complete specimen of the Romain du roi is dated 1760. (Mosley, James. French academicians and modern typography. In: Stiff, Paul, ed. Typography Papers 2, London: Hyphen Press, 1997, p. 13).
(108) Gray, ref. 1.
(109) Ibid.


(110) Morison, ref. 83.


(111) The fact that the Modernist stage was much shorter than the Renaissance one may perhaps be justified by the general increase of speed inherent to the epoch.
(112) In his article on Cresci, James Mosley showed such late examples as from 1598 (Marc’ Antonio Rossi), 1602 (Cesare Domenichi), and even 1789 (Fabrizio Badesio). (Mosley, ref. 3, pp. 144 – 145).
(113) Jammes, André. Académisme et typographie: the making of the Romain du roi. In: Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 1965, no. 1, p. 76.
(114) Ibid.















(115) Meiss, Millard. The painter’s choice: problems in the interpretation of Renaissance art. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976, p. 181.
(116) Ruano, Ferdinando. Sette alphabeti di varie lettere. Nieuwkoop: Miland Publishers, 1971, p. [not paginated] (Translation for the author by Pio De Rose).
(117) Jammes, ref. 113, p. 78.














(118) Interestingly, Boileau was among those who assured the texts for the publication known as the Cabinet du Roi. (Jammes, ref. 113, p. 75). 



(119) Jammes, ref. 117.



(120) Burke, ref. 14, p. 196.



(121) Gray, ref. 1, p. 162.









(122) Carter, Harry. Fournier on typefounding: the text of the Manuel typographique translated into English. London, 1930, pp. 6 – 9. (From Jammes, ref. 113, p. 77).
(123) Jammes, ref. 113, p. 83.




(124) This is how Allen W. Seaby called it. (Seaby, ref. 43, p. 3).






(125) Gray, ref. 67, p. 13.



(126) James Mosley discusses the abrupt departure from the straight–leg R to a curved–leg one by Eric Gill in his blog. This departure revealed itself in an inscription cut by Gill in 1907 to the memory of Irene Nichols. Some new features to the characters were introduced, including the curved–tailed R, and none of them resembled the letters of the Trajan column or any other lettering of Imperial Rome. The origin of this tail, Mosley says, lies in the Florentine lettering of the fifteenth century. Particularly, he finds a striking resemblance between the new born Gill’s R and the letter from the inscription on a monument to the Marchese Spinetta Malaspina (dating from the second quarter of the fifteenth century) from a vanished church in Verona. This becomes interesting in relation to the fact that the authors of the Romain du roi also used not the Trajan model as a source, but the Renaissance lettering, which still appealed to ancient inscriptions. (Mosley, James. Eric Gill’s R: the Italian connection. [online] London, December 2009. Available from: [Accessed 02 September 2012]).
(127) Jammes, ref. 113, p. 80.
(128) Mosley, ref. 30.
(129) A term by Joyce S. and Arthur E. Gordon.
(130) Burke, ref. 33.
(131) Burke, ref. 14, p. 150.
(132) Mosley, James. French academicians and modern typography. In: Stiff, Paul, ed. Typography Papers 2, London: Hyphen Press, 1997, p. 8.
(133) Cresci, ref. 2, p. 12.
(134) Mosley, James. Trajan revived. In: Hutchings, R.  S. Alphabet: international annual of letterforms. vol. 1, Birmingham: Kynoch Press, 1964, p. 32.







(135) McLean, Ruari. Jan Tschichold: typographer. London: Lund Humphries, 1990, p. 15.