The Invention of Roman

Roman type, so familiar to readers in our day, was developed by several generations of Italian and French humanists. The exceptional circumstances of the Renaissance sparked the rediscovery of numerous ancient Latin texts previously disseminated in the Middle Ages by monastic scribes. In the early 15th century, scholars like Poggio Bracciolini, chancellor of the Republic of Florence, took up the Carolingian miniscule script of the manuscripts which they recopied, annotated and edited. By personalizing it and favoring its use over then dominant Gothic scripts, the Humanists established a typeface destined to enjoy a brilliant future: the lettera antica formata.

In 1464, two German printers, Arnold Pannartz and Konrad Sweynheim, established the first Italian printing press in the Abbey of Saint Scholastica (aka Subiaco Abbey), near Rome. The Latin classics that they printed were composed using a font clearly inspired by the lettera antica but with a rough, irregular appearance akin to Gothic script. It was in Venice, several years later, that other printers were to overcome this formal indecision: Nicolas Jenson, a Frenchman, cuts a type of surprising aesthetic quality and maturity, thus giving rise to roman. Roman, however, was to remain seldom used in books until the end of the century, when a decisive push was provided by the Venetian publisher Alde Manuce with the aid of punchcutter Francesco Griffo. Their new fonts broke free from the sway of handwritten letters, establishing themselves as the first standards of Humanist typography.

In the early 16th century, roman spread to most of the print shops in Europe, particularly in France, where the Humanists encouraged its development, championed by punchcutters like Claude Garamont and Robert Granjon, and consolidated its dominance in publishing, thereby ensuring its hegemony as a typeface. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that roman was stylistically renewed to yield its modern incarnation thanks to the typefaces of John Baskerville, Firmin Didot, and Giambattista Bodoni. The early 19th century saw a sudden outpouring of novel styles designed for the burgeoning media of the age, such as advertising posters. Amid this revolutionary ferment, sans-serif type gradually set itself apart as a style unto itself and a fixture of the international typographical repertoire.

The history of typography is often synonymous with that of roman type, with its durability and continual regeneration. Giving roman a form that is original or pays tribute to its heritage, a form that is functional or spectacular, is a major challenge for every type designer striving to define a suitable contrast between the upstrokes and downstrokes of a typeface, its modulation, its horizontal and vertical proportions, its serifs and spacing etc.

Stamped into Infini’s design is a multi-faceted memory of past typographical developments. One conspicuous facet, and the oldest of them, is the capital letter of Roman stonecutters, with its subtle inflections depending on the ambient light. Another, more recent one is Humanist miniscule, followed by its typographical standardization. A third, dating from the 20th century, is the resurgence of incised type, which has been modernized, printed, engraved, drawn and painted.

With regard to Infini roman’s lower case characters, it was essential to give them the formal traits peculiar to capitals that inform their incised spirit, and yet improve their legibility thanks to their ample proportions and open counters (i.e. blank spaces inside a letter).