Nicolas Jenson was born in France in 1420 and spent most of his later years as an engraver, a printer, a publisher, and a type designer at his printery in Venice, one of the most active trading centers in Europe at the time. In 1470, when he discovered the need of better typeface for readability for books than traditional gothic fonts that made reading difficult and rigorous, Jenson decided to design his own Venetian typeface based on local manuscript handwriting for his first book, Eusebius’s De Praeparatione Evangelica. Rather than perfecting the beauty of individual characters, Jenson focused on creating an even typographic trait in multiple lines of type. His interest was equally in the spaces within and surrounding the letters as in the letter shapes themselves. His handcrafted metal letterforms are highly readable thus suitable for prints with large amount of texts. Jenson’s letterforms were more modern and abstract approach on letter-forms at that time, while seen to have nostalgic feelings today.
Jenson was one of leading figures to mark the first roman typefaces and the beginning of the gradual 100-year shift away from Gothic to humanistic typeface use across Europe. He died in 1480; however, his types, based on the upright calligraphic styles of the time, are regarded as among the very best of the Renaissance. Jenson’s work inspired many future type designers, and some of Jenson’s offspring are Golden (Morris, 1890), Kennerly (Goudy, 1911), Cloister Old Style (Benton, 1913), Centaur (Rogers, 1915), and Berkeley Oldstyle (Goudy, 1938).
As a modern interpretation of Jenson’s typeface, Robert Slimbach, a head type designer of Adobe, released Adobe Jenson Pro in 1996 as a multiple master font, using careful interpolation to achieve a wide range of weights and optical sizes suitable for different text sizes. During this transition Jenson’s original “M” and “Q” were substituted by more contemporary forms, yet the originals are still available as alternative characters. In addition to Adobe Jenson, two more releases add to the availability of Jenson’s Renaissance letterforms: ITC’s Legacy and Jim Spiece’s Nicolas Jenson. ITC Legacy carried its iconic larger x-height to make it more legible, and cleaned up some of eccentricities of Jenson’s original design. On the other hand, Spiece’s Nicolas Jenson has a much smaller x-height. Therefore, increasing the point size is used to compensate. But it still carries all the wiggliness and slight variations of Jenson’s original handcrafted metal letterforms.
Humanistic, Classic, Original, Organic, Historic, Renaissance