How Printing Changed Everything

  • The invention which did the most to end the “Dark Ages” was printing.
  • Printing was resisted by some people. Purists maintained that printed type was inferior to calligraphy.
  • Despite these criticisms, education increased as the price for a book dropped.

The German Illustrated Book

Printing in Europe - german illustrated book
  • In Germany, woodblock illustrators and typographic printers collaborated to develop illustrated books and broadsheets.
  • Design innovation led to a new, simpler style of book.
  • The reuse of woodblocks from earlier books—like for an edition of Aesop fables—is similar to our use of clip art today.
  • Edward Reuwich created illustrations to chronical a journey to Jerusalem, in 1486. This was the birth of pictorial journalism.
  • Nuremberg, Germany became a major center for printing businesses. One of the more notable printing professionals was Anton Koberger.
  • Koberger employed a hundred craftsmen operating 24 presses. His firm printed over 200 editions, including 15 different bibles, and the 600-page Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel.

Nuremberg Chronicle

printing in europe - Nuremberg Chronicle
  • Includes 1,809 woodcut illustrations.
  • The pages were carefully designed. Some pages were text only, and some were full-page designs. When the design became repetitious, the reader is jolted by an unexpected page design.
  • Illustrators were encouraged to use their imaginations to create unseen monstrosities, unvisited cities, awful tortures, historical battles and to express the story of creation using graphic symbols.
  • Layouts for the pages were sketched out beforehand.
  • Scribes wrote out the text to fit in blocks based on measurements of the font used. This is an early form of copyfitting, which before the Macintosh became the norm, was a major task for graphic designers.
  • Artists were paid advances on their work and guaranteed one half of the net profits on the book.
  • While the book was printed only in black ink, hand-colored editions were also available.
  • Koberger was godfather to an apprentice who worked on the Nuremberg Chronicle: Albrecht Dürer.

Albrecht Dürer

printing in neurope - albrecht durer - munster rhino
  • Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was widely known for his paintings, drawings, prints and theoretical writings on art.
  • He had a profound influence on 16th century artists.
  • In a self-portrait, he painted himself to resemble Christ. It represented his belief that an artist has status above other patrons of the arts—he is one step closer to God. Yes, he had an ego.
  • The detail in his woodcuts were far beyond anything Germany had seen.
  • Germany’s trade with Italy and Dürer’s trips to Venice —where the Renaissance was in full swing—led to his more humanistic approach to art.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words – since literacy was still not something the masses were accustomed to, Dürer’s pictures spoke volumes. Readers found they could get a lot more from Dürer’s detail woodcuts than reading the gothic text that accompanied it.
  • As education was reborn, scientists began to understand natural phenomena and printers disseminated this knowledge, as with discoveries in astronomy.
  • A very famous woodcut by him was of the broadside of a rhino. It was reasonably accurate, in spite of him never having seen a rhino. He based his drawing on someone else’s sketch and a short description.
  • Dürer studied to tools and techniques the Italians used for accurate perspective in drawings. He wrote a book on the subject.
  • Dürer also applied geometric theory to the design of letterforms and decoration. However, if the design didn’t look right, he would override the exactness of the geometry to get it corrected visually.
Albrecht Durer self portrait

The Spread of Printing

printing in europe - the early printing press
  • Gutenburg got started with his press in 1450-55.
  • Fust and Shoeffer distributed Gutenburg’s bible all over the place. Printing becomes the norm in Germanys.
  • Trained printers began to face competition, so then packed up their metal type and presses, and moved to new towns to set up shop.
  • Within a period of fewer than 50 years, printing was all over Europe.
  • The city of Venice, Italy—known for its Renaissance art—was about to do wonderful things with typography.
  • Several books on type design were developed in the wake of Dürer’s. As with pre-printing days, regional styles were developed.

Letter Design

Johannes de Spira typeface
  • In Italy, Peter Schoeffer and Arnold Pannartz established a press, set up to publish Latin classics. Instead of basing their type on the blackletter standard of Germany, they started toying with adapting the letters to the work of Italian scribes.
  • By accident, they found some old classics written in the style of the Caroline miniscules (from the 9th century). They thought what they found was actual Roman type and set about adapting it to work with the Roman Capitalis, adding serifs along the way.
  • This created a prototype for what became our TWO alphabets.
  • The letterforms in print still looked rough because the matrices from which the letters were molded were made from wood. The paper was also not as smooth as what we use today.
  • Mainz goldsmith Johannes de Spira was given a five year monopoly on printing in Venice. As part of his design, he also cast off the German blackletter/Gothic style. He developed a different sort of letter—lowercase.
  • When de Spira died, the monopoly was broken and other printers moved in to fill the void.
  • Nicholas Jensen built Venice’s second print shop. He was an experienced die cutter. He used to make coins, so cutting punches for type was one step away from his earlier craft. His Italian type was an improvement on the earlier design.
  • Jenson’s type was notable for being more stylized than Trajan letters, cleanly legible, and of an even tone throughout the page. He wasn’t afraid of white space on the page.
  • Multicolor printing wasn’t around yet. So if someone wanted to print in color, they would have to be limited to a few run on the same press, or they could pay more for a hand-colored edition.

Printer’s Marks

printers marks - orb and cross
  • One of man’s oldest symbols, the orb-and-cross motif is found in a chamber at Cheop’s Pyramid at Giza. It was hewn there into stone as a quarry mark.
  • In Jenson’s time, the orb-and-cross symbolized that “God shall reign over earth.” Dozens of printers adapted this mark.
  • In the early 20th century, an orb-an-cross was adapted by type artist Frederic Goudy. Another was adapted by lettering artist Oswald Cooper for his studio.
  • National Biscuit Company created their own version, as a logo to represent the company. This company evolved into Nabisco.

Erhard Ratdolt

Erhard Ratdolt calendarium
  • Ratdolt achieved significant design innovations in moving everything to a press.
  • For the most part, coloring and illumination were still being finished by hand. Having everything done on press is simply the next step in an efficient system.
  • Science was starting to take hold. Eclipses were starting to move from black magic to predictable fact. In the book Calendarium, astronomical phenomena were explained geometrically.
  • In the back of this book, a mathematical wheel was added for calculating the solar cycles. A primitive paper grommet was at the center.
  • Printers were beginning to use cast metal to generate horizontal rules and decorative borders.

Aldus Manutius

Aldus Manutius trademark
  • Medieval Christianity fostered a belief that the value of human life was primarily its effect on God’s judgment after death. Or, if your life sucks now, don’t worry, things will get better after you die.
  • However, during the Renaissance, human dignity and worth that defined humans as capable of using reason and scientific inquiry to achieve both an understanding of the world and self-meaning. Or, life doesn’t really have to suck. Go out and learn all you can!
  • Renewed interest in classical writings from Greek and Roman cultures became the rage.
  • Aldus Manutius was there as a publisher of the major works of the great thinkers of the Greek and Roman worlds.
  • Next to Gutenberg, Aldus was perhaps the most important printer of the Renaissance and the first of many great scholar-printers.
  • A successful publisher and businessman, Aldus produced some of the most beautiful and technically accurate books of the 15th century.
  • He demanded perfection from his workers—and hired only the best. Unfortunately, he also showed very little understanding of, or good will toward, those who worked so hard for him.
  • Aldus never mentioned his co-workers or staff in any of his writings. And what little is written about them is not complimentary. In the preface to one of his books, he once referred to his workers as his “damned runaway slaves,” and in another piece he complained that “my hired men and workers have conspired against me in my own house. But with the help of God I smashed them that they all thoroughly regret their treachery.”
  • Many historians tell us that Aldus first invented small books. Not entirely true, small books had been around for years – specifically as prayer books, small devotional books one could carry with them. But at the time, the majority of printed books were quite large—the kind intended for libraries, newsstands, oral readings.
  • What he did do – was expand the idea of smaller books to cover a larger field – to be more than simply prayer books. So actually, pocket books were sort of Aldus’ idea.
  • From a marketing standpoint, this worked out quite well – people could have access to all kinds of literature in editions small enough to carry around. He made reading convenient and learning “user friendly.” His small books were a vital development in helping the uneducated.
  • With less paper—and smaller type being cut for them—the books cost less to produce.
  • But were the books inexpensive? Not quite. They were convenient, but never really intended for a mass audience. Aldus made no bones about it, he worked for the wealthy and successful.
  • Aldus’ typeface designer—known as Griffo—cut the Bembo typeface for De Aetna. Griffo researched pre-Caroline scripts to produce a roman type that was more “authentic” than Jenson’s designs. Since it was based on essentially “lower case” scripts, the first version was only available in lower case. Capitals were pulled from other fonts.
  • Aldus was a pioneer in the cover design of books.
  • Epistole Catherine of Siena is of interest because it displays for the first time a few letters of a new typeface Aldus had Griffo working on—italics.
  • A letter style called cancellaresca—employed by educated people of Italy—can be traced back to around 1400. By the late 1400s, this style of writing had become the official writing style of the learned and of professional scribes of southern Italy. So in creating a typeface in this style, Aldus and Griffo were making their books appealing to their intended audience. Today, we call this tactic marketing for your target audience.
  • But appealing to Aldus’ audience wasn’t his main reason for developing italics. The italic type was thinner than Roman letters, so more text could fit on a printed page. Fewer pages, lower costs to produce books.
  • For Dante’s Divine Comedy, a full set of Capitals hadn’t been developed for the italic font. So letters from other fonts were used.
  • Today italics are used for emphasis. But in this case, it was designed to work as an exclusive typeface, for the rich and the people in power.
  • Aldus was the first to ever seek patent privileges for a type style.
  • Aldus died in 1515 at the age of 65. It is said that as he lay in state, his prized possessions – his books – were grouped around him.
Aldus Manutius portrait