When we consider typefaces, people tend to think of ones familiar to them, that were produced in the early 20th-century or later, created solely for computer usage. We tend to forget that, since Gutenberg invented the printing press, there have been typefaces—and type designers. For Tuesday Typefaces this week, we’ll be looking at Bembo, a typeface revived by Stanley Morison for the Monotype Corporation in 1929 that has its origins in a humanist typeface cut by Francesco Griffo in Venice around 1495.
|The original Bembo typeface by Griffo|
Francesco Griffo originally designed and cut this face for the humanist printer Aldus Manutius. It was first used in 1495 for a 60-page text about a journey to Mount Aetna written by the poet Pietro Bembo, from whom it gets its name. A second version of the type followed 4 years later, in 1499, and was used to print the famous Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream), a beautifully illustrated Italian romance. As we see with modern typefaces, Griffo’s work became a bit of a type sensation, inspiring the typefaces of Claude Garamond, the Voskens, and other European typefaces of the 16th- and 17th-centuries.
|Bembo today, by Stanley Morison|
In the 1920s, the designers at Monotype worked with antique books set with Griffo’s typefaces to use a a foundation for what would become Bembo, designed by Stanley Morison and released in 1929. Although Griffo was also known for cutting the first italic typeface in the early 1500s, the original Bembo had no italic version: today’s Bembo Italic is based on the work of Giovanni Tagliente, a 16th-century writer.
What makes Bembo so timeless is its delicate calligraphic feel, particularly in its use of serifs, that make it reminiscent of hand-drawn letters without feeling sloppy or overdone. This is especially clear in the lowercase letters. The serifs, even within the same letter, are not symmetrical: the curve on the first stroke of the “m” differs from the flat, straight lines across the bottom, while the serif on the top of the “z” is longer than its bottom counterpart. The same goes for the “t,” which the dash through the letter is not even on both sides, but hangs over slightly more on the right, a natural occurrence in handwriting. This naturalness can also be seen in the “e,” which final stroke seems to ever-so-slightly reach outward, as if anticipating the next letter.
|A crab from Bembo’s Zoo, by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich|
Bembo’s serifs are also not distracting, but smooth and simple, making it easy on the eyes yet elegant. In fact, Bembo is a popular book typefaces, used for the main text of a work just as it was when Griffo created it.
For those typeface aficionados (or Bembo lovers) with children, this might be appreciated: Bembo’s Zoo, a children’s ABC book creating animals and scenes out of the Bembo typeface, one for each letter, as seen with the Crab at right.
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