Italic, an Inseparable Ally

Another form of writing took hold during the Renaissance. It is thought that the scholar Niccolò Niccoli, a friend of Poggio Bracciolini, was one of the first to develop the “lettera antica corsiva” while copying manuscripts from his own library. Narrower than the upright, self-possessed Humanist script, “lettera antica corsiva” had a nervous look, running as the pen moves across the paper in an almost uninterrupted flow, with a variable tilt, conducive to ligatures and flourishes. It spread gradually through the Italian peninsula over the course of the 15th century.

Alde Manuce, assisted by his punchcutter Francesco Griffo, decided to adapt this style and, drawing inspiration from several different models, created a typeface tailor-made for a new collection of “portable” Latin classics published in a small format. He sold them at low prices to make them affordable to less affluent readers, especially students. The first volume came out in 1501, a Virgil anthology composed entirely in the type that would later be called italic. The slant and baseline of its letters are irregular, as if the original impulse driving the act of writing was to be preserved in the silhouette of the printed characters.

Italic promptly spread throughout Europe, its formal qualities were recognized and diversified, particularly by French punchcutters, who firmed up its resemblance to roman. At the same time, italic acquired the function it has retained ever since: to highlight certain parts of a title page or a paragraph of text, thereby serving as the first real means of typographic variation. Although some books, like collections of poetry, continued to be printed in italics, it definitively acquired its status as an essential accompaniment to roman in the 17th century.

Aldine italic was rivaled and then supplanted over the course of the 18th century by new designs, such as the modern italics of Pierre-Simon Fournier and those of Baskerville and Didot, which radically augmented the contrast between downstrokes and upstrokes. Whatever the underlying style, italic was challenged in the early 20th century when some designers substituted a slanted version of roman with a view to reinforcing their formal complementarity. The fact is a great many sans serif typefaces nowadays – including Helvetica and Univers, to cite two of the most familiar – offer an oblique roman in lieu of italics.

So, cursive or oblique? Infini italic leans resolutely towards oblique, albeit borrowing some stylistic features from cursive. In addition, it pays particular tribute to a remarkable predecessor: Joanna, created in 1931 by the Englishman Eric Gill, whose fonts bear the stamp of his training as a sculptor and stone carver. Like Joanna, Infini italic is narrow, only slightly oblique and moderate in its contrasts. It forms the ideal counterpoint, in the musical sense, to Infini roman, respecting the centuries-old division of parts, but also turns out to be its independent alter ego, capable of being used by itself for the setting of an ordinary text.