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Indices : Type and Lettering Styles : Venetian

Early Old Style of the Renaissance period, also called Humanist. Letterforms are based on calligraphic principles, including modulated stroke, humanist axis, lachrymal terminals, large Aperture. The single most distinctive letter to distinguish Venetians from their cousins is the slanted crossbar in the miniscule ‘e’. The Venetian italics were designed separately from Roman fonts and were used independently.

The archetypal Venetian font is that of Nicholas Jenson, as used in the 1470 Evangelica Praeparatione by Eusebius. In fact, it is Jenson’s city, Venice, that gives this family its name. The Eusebius was an absolute masterwork of printing, and is widely considered to be the first appearance of our entirely modern Roman letterforms.

Many Venetian fonts are adaptations of the Eusebius, with varying levels of literalness. “Nicolas Jenson SG”, (metal) Monotype Eusebius, Abrams Venetian, and Adobe Jenson are all fairly faithful adaptations. Centaur is a reinterpretation based on the calligraphic structure that Bruce Rogers saw from his study of photographic enlargements of the Eusebius. ATF Cloister falls somewhere between the literal and calligraphic categories, as does the similar Doves Press font. Goodchild, by Nick Shinn, and its headline companion Nicholas, is a modern update of the calligraphic approach, with a large x-height and tight letterspacing.

The Zeno type of Giovanni Mardersteig can also be classified as a Venetian, and bears many similarities, while also displaying the master craftsmanship and distinctive style of Mardersteig’s hand, working in collaboration with punchcutter Charles Malin.

One branch of the Venetian family tree caricatures the relatively heavy serifs compared with the later movement to hairlines, culminating in the Didones. The Kelmscott Press and Golden types of William Morris are the best known examples, both exhibiting heavy slablike serifs bearing little resemblence to the Eusebius original, which was impressively refined not only for its day but for several centuries afterwards. ITC released its revival of the Golden type in 1989. ITC Italia also shows clear influence from the Golden tradition, but also mixes in elements of Souvenir and the slab serifs.

In an even more radical interpretation, Monotype’s Legacy Sans claims to be a sans serif based on the skeletal structure of the Eusebius.

Venetian was a brilliant and highly readable advance in the design of letterforms. The Garalde style was clearly an incremental evolution of the standard set by Jenson, and its differences are primarily in small details such as the crossbar of the ‘e’. Designers continue to draw inspiration from this landmark font, and new designs in the Venetian tradition are still going strong.