‘The minute type which is the most elegant of all…’

Erasmus on the Aldine italic font.1

Lucan 1502 italic font

Lucan 1502 italic font.

We don’t know whose handwriting was the original model for the Aldine italic, though, as Barker (1992) suggests, the fact that the Aldine Greek Type 4 which appeared at roughly the same time and in the same context (i.e. in the new octavo series of publications emanating from the press), was based on Aldus’ own handwriting, may be a clue. Indeed, it is likely that the combination of a portable octavo format, Greek Type 4 font and the new cursive Aldine was not a coincidence but were interlinked developments.

As Updike (2001) remarks, the new cursive included a large number of tied letters – initially made to reproduce a cursive handwriting style they were gradually reduced in number in later editions. Other unusual features, which may be seen in Worth’s copy of the 1502 Lucan, are the fact that the roman capital letters were shorter than the ascending part of the lower-case letters following them. Yet other features, such as Aldus’ decision to set off the first letter of each line of verse (in roman type and not slanting) might not have seemed so new to their audience who would have been used to the convention in manuscripts of the period. The Aldine press throughout Aldus’ lifetime used Roman capitals for this purpose (possibly not solely as a stylistic device but also because it saved them cutting capitals in italic) but their Lyonese imitators quickly adopted slanting italic capital letters. The piracy of the Lyonese contrefactions, works by the Lyonese printers Balthazar da Gabiano and Barthélemy Trot, which aimed to cash in on the new Aldine italic/octavo format, shows the immediate popularity of the new portable Aldines – and also the failure of Aldus’ attempt to claim a patent for his italic font.


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

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

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

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

1 Geanakoplos, Deno J. (1960) ‘Erasmus and the Aldine Academy of Venice’. A neglected chapter in the Transmission of Graeco-Byzantine Learning to the West’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 3, 112.