The two-day symposium and the exhibition Gotico-Antiqua, Proto-Roman, Hybrid. 15th century types between gothic and roman was curated by Jérôme Knebusch and held at Atelier national de recherche typographique (ANRT) in Nancy, in April-May 2019.
The typeface Almost, designed by Jérôme Knebusch and published by Poem, was used at this occasion for the first time. It comes in a Roman and a Gothic style, in five weights. Using the OpenType menu, alternate glyph sets can be activated. Every font contains the same glyph set. You can take either a roman departure, and get step by step towards the gothic side. Or the other way around. Above, a full set of Initials and Uncialesque and Bizarre (Byzantine) alternates allow an almost infinite variation and hybridisation of gothic and roman letterforms.
Below, a conference video shows a lecture on the design process of Almost (in French). Below the video, some historical context, from the exhibition.
On 3 October 1458 King Charles VII sent Nicolas Jenson, “a brave boy and one of the good engravers”, from the Monnaie Royale to Mainz to spy on the German invention. Exactly one year later, Fust & Schöffer published the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, a book set with a typeface that looked like no other before. Until then, letterforms followed the Textura, Bastarda and Rotunda styles, or “gothic” for Alberti, who used this term for the first time in Della pittura in 1435 – also known as the “maniera tedesca”, a barbaric art form from the North of the Alps. As early as 1366 Petrarch had expressed, in a letter to Boccaccio, his desire for “a clear and restrained letter, no longer tiring for the eye”. As Humanists were chasing surviving texts from the Antiquity all over Europe, they copied them in their ‘humanistic’ writing, thus rediscovering roman capitals and carolingian minuscules.
When, in 1460, German printers searched for new places to settle and new texts to print, the wish for new typographic forms was in the air. The ‘Durandus’ type marked the beginning of an Italian ‘fashion’, which found its accomplishment in 1470 when Nicolas Jenson re-appeared in Venice with a remarkable roman type. It immediately became a model for printers, a kind of typographic archetype that we still read and use, almost exclusively, today. But roman types did not precipitate the death of gothic forms, and the two co-existed for some time. Thus gothic types remained the preferred choice for religious, theologic, law and vernacular texts. Roman letterforms were the ideal choice for classic literature and antique philosophy, and gained popularity for scientific works seeking light and clarity.
Between these two stylistic extremes, a wide variety of type developments took place during two decades, which were driven in part by the travels of early printers from the Rhine area to Italy and France. This transitory period – after Gutenberg and before the consolidation of Jenson’s model – extended from the earliest traces of ‘humanistic’ tendencies to ‘pure’ roman, and encompassed many cases of uncertain or experimental designs, voluntary hybridisations and proto- or archaic roman fonts.