Aldine Fonts

Aldine Fonts

Aldus Manutius is remembered for many things: the beauty of his editions; their innovatory style; the commitment to scholarship displayed by his press; but perhaps first and foremost (and linking all these together) were his typographical innovations, his various Greek, Roman, Italic and Hebrew fonts.

Isocrates 1493 - before Aldus

Isocrates 1493 – before Aldus.

Aldus certainly wasn’t the first printer to experiment with Greek type. As this image (from Worth’s copy of the works of Isocrates (Milan, 1493) demonstrates, there were various methods by which Greek might be rendered in print. The 1493 Isocrates was the brainchild of Demetrius Chalcondyles (1423-1511) who had initially come to Italy in 1447, prior to the fall of Constantinople six years later. Chalcondyles had been lucky to attract the patronage of Cardinal Bessarion (c.1403-1472) and he was connected with some of the most important sites of Greek learning in Italy throughout his life: he taught at the University of Padua before moving to Florence to mix in the circle sponsored by Lorenzo il Magnifico and from there he travelled to Milan where he played a vital role in the publication of the Isocrates. Barker (1992) argues that the type used in the Milan Isocrates, printed by Heinrich Scinzenzeler and Sebastian of Pontremolo, was based on the handwriting of the Gregoropoulos Venetian scribal family.

Aldine Roman font in Aristophanes.

Aldine Roman font in Aristophanes.

Roman fonts, based on the calligraphy of Renaissance humanists, had been utilized since Sweynheim and Pannartz first set up their press at Subiaco. One of the most successful efforts had originated in Venice where Nicolas Jenson produced a roman font c. 1470. However, in this area, as in all others, Aldus was concerned to perfect his publications. Updike (2001) suggests that Aldus used at least five, and possibly six, roman fonts but the most successful of these were those cut by Fracnesco Griffo da Bologna, who had also cut the Aldine italic font. Griffo, a shadowy figure, has been described by Soncino as ‘a most excellent cutter of Latin, Greek and Hebrew letters, a man whose genius finds no equal in this craft’ and clearly Griffo played an instrumental role in the development of the various Aldine fonts, including the Aldine roman.1 While the innovative character of Aldus’ (and Griffo’s) Greek and italic font have always been recognised, the importance of his roman type has proved more controversial. Stanley Morison’s hypothesis, that the Aldine roman type heavily influenced the development of Parisian romans in the next century, has recently been questioned by Amert (2008), who argues that though there are some similarities these are outweighed by a host of differences.


Amert. Kay (2008), ‘Stanley Morison’s Aldine Hypothesis Revisted’, Design Issues 24, no. 2, pp. 53-71.

Barker, Nicholas (1992), Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century (Fordham University Press, New York).

Johnson, A. F. (1959), Type Designs. Their History and Development (London: Grafton and Company).

Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell).

Updike, D. B. (2001), Printing Types. Their History, Forms and Use (Oak Knoll Press/The British Library).

1 Soncino, quoted in Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 88.