Summer 2004

A new understanding of spaces

Type spaces: In-house norms in the typography of Aldus Manutius

By Peter Burnhill
Hyphen Press, £17.50

There are many good reasons why the names of Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) are revered by typophiles. Together they perfected a form of Roman type which informed type design for 200 years, and upon which Bembo was subsequently based. They created the first italic types and they printed books such as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which flaunted their new-found skills as typesetters and designers. Aside from all that, Manutius was a pioneer of mass-market books with his series of octavo classics, produced between 1502 and his death in 1515. Peter Burnhill’s new book suggests that they may also have used a rational, related set of typographic measurements some 200 years before Jean Truchet at the French Royal Academy of Sciences . . .

The book has the straightforwardness of a memorandum. Illustrations are line scans of photocopies. It makes for a simple, understated and fascinating work that raises fresh questions about the typographic norms and working practices of the day. In one respect it seems too good to be true, but there is too much for it to be mere co-incidence and it should prompt much further study of the period. The book also re-affirms the status of Manutius and Griffo, showing just what they achieved with one size of a single typeface to create beautiful and articulate pages.

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