restricted access Chapter Three. The Voodoo Economics of Space: From Gothic to Roman

From: Out of Sorts

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c h a p t e r t h r e e • The Voodoo Economics of Space: From Gothic to Roman Renouard asserts that the return to Gothic character was forced upon the printers of Italy by the demands of the reading public for inexpensive books. There certainly was a large economy in space, and therefore in cost, secured by the use of Gothic type. Sardini [Esame] proves how great that saving is. He calculates that the Mamotrectus of Jenson (1479), if printed in the equivalent Roman character, would occupy double and four per cent. more space than it does in Gothic.1 Horatio Brown’s comments from his The Venetian Printing Press of 1891, quoted above, were an effort to explain what to bibliographers for over a century had seemed a basic paradox concerning the history of Venetian printing in the fifteenth century—the printing of books in gothic type by supposed humanist printers. To nineteenth-century bibliographers, Venetian printing was enmeshed in the ideology of the Rise of Humanism, and many details of its typographical history were read to support that. For example, fifteenth-century Italian printing culminates in the books of Aldus Manutius and thus has as an endpoint the production of presumably inexpensive editions of the classics; these texts were printed in italic or roman type rather than gothic type; Nicholas Jenson created one of the most important roman typefaces of the period, one that would centuries later receive the important endorsement of William Morris. Printing history thus shows the replacement 58 chapter three of so-called ‘‘Mainz’’ characters (textura, blackletter, gothic) with modern roman or italic typefaces. A problem or paradox embedded in this largely ideological history is that Jenson also produced books in gothic type. The earliest systematic bibliographies (most important, Michel Maittaire in his Annales typographici of 1719) revealed something even more inconvenient.2 Jenson does not replace his gothic fonts with roman fonts, nor does he increase the number of books printed in roman type, as the myth of the rise of humanism seems to require. The reverse appears to be true: Jenson prints more books in gothic during his later years. For eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bibliographers, the most basic bibliographical facts of Jenson’s printing career thus seemed at odds with the bibliographical myth (or hope) that the rise of printing could be associated with the rise of humanism. The real or mythical rise of humanism is still a standard cliché of many popular printing histories (see, for example, the comments of Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin cited in the conclusion to this chapter). Why is the paradox that so troubled eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bibliographers no longer threatening to modern bibliographical versions of the same myth? This chapter focuses on the comments of Giacomo Sardini, Esame sui principj della tipografia ovvero storia critica di Nicolao Jenson (1796); this life-and-works biography of Jenson seems to be the sole basis for the comments by Brown.3 Giacomo Sardini and the Defense of Jenson’s Gothic Jenson’s roman type has been the subject of praise since the earliest systematic bibliographies in the eighteenth century; it was used as a model by William Morris and still used as a standard in Daniel Updike’s classic Printing Types, the only type deserving of a full fold-out page.4 Because of its presumed excellence, and because of the obvious replacement of gothic type by roman type in Western European history, historical bibliographers were hard pressed to explain Jenson’s design and use of gothic type. Why did he bother producing such a retrograde typeface? Sardini’s Esame is the first book-length study of Jenson, and the first serious attempt to answer this question.5 Sardini provides a biography, a full bibliography and chronology of Jenson’s press, a discussion of the paper used by Jenson, and most important, of his type. In his discussions of type, Sardini The Voodoo Economics of Space 59 is responding to two questions raised by eighteenth-century bibliographers: (1) was Jenson responsible for introducing gothic type to Italy? and (2) why did he continue to use it? Maittaire had addressed these issues in 1719; his words suggest that he is responding to what was then a familiar question: Subit interim, cur Nicolaus Jenson characteres, cum Romanos haberet tam peculiari venustate praecellentes, Gothicos aliquando maluerit , in Bibliorum potissimum, Theologorum ac Juridicorum editionibus. Quod sic ab eo factum non arbitror, quasi litteras humaniores pluris quam...


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Subject Headings

  • Transmission of texts.
  • Bibliography, Critical.
  • Printing -- History.
  • Incunabula -- Bibliography -- Methodology.
  • Type and type-founding -- Historiography.
  • Printing -- Historiography.
  • Early printed books -- Bibliography -- Methodology.
  • Bibliography -- Methodology.
  • Bibliography -- Methodology -- History.
  • Type and type-founding -- History.
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