Typographic Exploration of Italy

Oops, I’ve failed to post for 2 weeks! Oops. Seriously, oops. I’m very house-proud, and family came into town, and our apartment wasn’t done yet, and a series of unfortunate mistakes were made, and well… my personal indulgence that is This Blog fell by the wayside.  I’ve no excuse for last week. Other than to say I was still tired. Because I was.  Moving on.

Right, so to make up for missing a few weeks, I’m going to load this post with 3 different typefaces.  There is a theme, however 🙂  I am going to give you an explanation for typefaces for which names can be traced back to places/things in Italy.  It wasn’t hard to choose.  I hope you like it. Probably not adding my own pics in this week, though. Ah well.



As mentioned in a previous post, Palatino was originally designed by Zapf in 1948, and later expanded with Akira Kobayashi.  Since I’ve already written about Zapf, I’ll write a bit about Kobayashi.  He has a career of designing type inspired by the past, and shows calligraphic influence.  He’s won awards for his typefaces (including Conrad) and glyphs (Japanese Garden). Take some time to peruse his work here.  He’s really very talented 🙂
Palatino has been a part of the Macintosh OS since the beginning.  It is an option in many email interfaces, and was the preferred typeface before preference shifted to Times New Roman.  It’s a very simple, readable typeface, part of the humanist serifs.  Palatino is named *in honor of* Giambattista Palatino, a master calligrapher and handwriting guru, though the letterforms have no resemblance to anything in his body of work.
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Where there is a resemblance, however, and perhaps it is coincidental, is the Palatine Hill at the Forum Romanum.  The top of the hill is where the Emperors lived, and inscriptions/engravings along the walls and on the columns are very similar to how this typeface was designed. That can be said for a lot of serif typography for the last 100 years, so maybe don’t think too much about it.
Also… Interrobang*.  😀




When you’re looking to make a Roman statement, Trajan is an obvious choice. It evokes the engraved letterforms of Roman square capitals very effectively.  I can’t think of an all caps typeface that I like better.  Designed by Carol Twombly in 1989, it’s made prominent appearances in move and television, including Titanic, The West Wing, as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Any time one wants to give the feel of dignity, permanence, and stoicism, Trajan is an obvious choice.   University of Texas, Rice, and Penn State all seem to think so, as they’ve used it in logotypes and their identities. Also, Trojan condoms.
It is highly recognizable and makes a clear statement.  As such, it is a typeface that should be used sparingly.  For example, I mentioned it is used on The West Wing.  It would be used for subtitles, when a place, time, or event would be identified for the viewer.  Since this drama relies on political events and personalities, it is essential to the program that the viewer be aware of the context of the scene.  Trajan grabs the viewers attention, and is not so flashy that it detracts from the tone of the program.  However, if Trajan were used for subtitles for the dialogue, it would be overwhelming.  The letters do command attention in such a way that a constant stream would be very distracting to the scene in progress.  And then again, on their own, they may continue to make a bold statement, and so have been used for streaming credits.
Twombly took inspiration from letter forms engraved into a column erected in Rome.  Said column honors… well, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not germane to this topic.  What is important is that the column is among the most popular examples of early Roman alphabet and use of serifs.  The reason Trajan is an all caps typeface is Twombly stuck to the material offered.  Lower case letters are not displayed in this era  of typography/engraving, and it would be several hundred years before it would be so.
Twambly has a very impressive body of work beyond Trajan, including contributing to Caslon and designing Myriad.  If you ask me, she becomes very inspired by Greek and Roman engravings. Maybe this is why she first studied sculpture before the allure of typography took her.



Designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1990, and currently sold in a set called “Before Gutenburg” this typeface is… um… kind of cutesy.  While the previous two typefaces are based on engraved/carved letterforms, this typeface is based on letters in clay.  These letters would have been applied with a stylus or a brush, so of course the shapes are less rigid and have more character.  However, this is far too informal for my taste.  Again, time and place for any typeface.
We’re leaving the Roman Forum to find the geographical relation to this typeface. This type is named for Herculanuem, a sister city to Pompeii.  Herculaneum was wealthier, and was likewise destroyed/preserved by the Vesuvius eruption, but was buried/preserved to a higher degree than Pompeii, preserving even a library.
Compared to the previous typefaces mentioned in this post, this type has more of a Greek influence.  That would be in keeping with the history of the island for which it is named.  Frutiger has contributed a LOT to the world of typography.  Do check out his body of work.

That’s pretty much it for this week.  Thanks for sticking with me.  As always, feedback is welcome, and if there’s a typeface you want to know more about or you just want me to write about it, just drop me a line.

*Let’s all just take a moment and come to terms with the fact that this scarcely used symbol, only about 50 years old, has a name while this symbol “@” used multiple times on a daily basis and predates electronic computers is still just designated “at sign.” Despite being designated the asperand in press releases by the MoMa, and the ampersat by others, as well as a handful of French, Portuguese, and Italian words, nothing seems to catch on.  Just something to noodle.


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