The first example of italic type was commissioned in Italy by Aldus Manutius and designed and cut by Franceso Griffo at the end of the fifteenth century. They based their designs on the cursive handwritten script of Renaissance humanist and copyist of many ancient manuscripts, Niccolo de’ Niccoli. The purpose of this new typeface was to meet a demand for humanistic cursive writing in print, and to condense the classics into volumes that would be more easily carried, and therefore read.
Mautius first used the type to publish an edition of Virgil in 1501. Originally called Aldino, the type was soon more often referred to as italic, in reference to its Italian roots. Its most distinctive feature relative to modern italic faces was its style of capital letters, which were printed as roman capitals and were shorter than the lowercase letters. Around 1527, Ludovico Arrighi developed his own italic type (shown above and to the right) that more closely resembles most modern examples. He increased the size of capital letters, reduced the slant, and further separated lines of print, creating a face that was more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read. Many publishers copied one of these italics with varying degrees of accuracy, and most surviving books from the 1500s were printed in some version of italics. During the second half of the century, italics began to take on their current use and were used primarily for citations, emphasis, and abbreviations.
Italics are currently used as a typographical substitute for underlining, and vary greatly in different typefaces. Though some oblique types are labeled italic (first done by Adrian Frutiger for his Univers and Frutiger typefaces), true italics still maintain the distinctly elegant feel of calligraphy.
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