Week 4: Nicolas Jenson

Nicolas Jenson (spelled various ways it seems) will be the focus of my first major project. Jenson (1404 – 1480) was a French engraver who worked in Venice, Italy, as an artisan in the early printing establishments there, and who is attributed with developing the first pure Roman style typeface.

Nicolas Jenson

Jenson was originally a cutter of dies for coinage, and served as Master of the French Royal Mint at Tours. In 1458 he was sent to Mainz, Germany by King Charles VII to study metal movable type under Johannes Gutenberg. This inspired a career change for Jenson, for shortly after his study with Gutenberg ended, Jenson opened his own printing shop in Venice. The first work he produced was a Roman style lowercase type.

The reason for Jenson’s new lettering was his strong distaste for Gutenberg’s Gothic Textura or Blackletter: an elaborate imitation of handwriting, like what is seen in manuscripts. Jenson decided to work with the Roman style lettering that he preferred for its open and round characters, and merged it with a Gothic lettering known as Rotunda. This new lettering style was evenly colored, very legible, and Humanistic in nature.

Jenson’s Roman style typeface

Jenson’s early training as a cutter of dies for coinage proved to be quite useful in creating type because it made him sensitive to careful shaping. His capitals were especially appreciated, for their beautiful, meticulous sculptural quality. In Venice, Jenson thrived not only as an artist but as a financially successful artist. He published more than 150 titles, playing a principal part in Venice becoming a widely known center of the printing press.

Several designers throughout the centuries have imitated and reinterpreted Jenson’s typeface, but the most notable is William Morris, the 19th century English (primarily textile) designer, who based his Golden Type on Jenson’s Roman style type.

Morris’s Golden Type


Photos Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and creativepro.com


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