Antiqua (typeface class)

Antiqua (/ˈæntɪkwə/) is a style of typeface used to mimic styles of handwriting or calligraphy common during the 15th and 16th centuries.[1] Letters are designed to flow and strokes connect together in a continuous fashion; in this way it is often contrasted with Fraktur-style typefaces where the individual strokes are broken apart. The two typefaces were used alongside each other in the germanophone world, with the Antiqua–Fraktur dispute often dividing along ideological or political lines. After the mid-20th century, Fraktur fell out of favor and Antiqua-based typefaces became the official standard.


Antiqua typefaces are those designed between about 1470 and 1600, specifically those by Nicolas Jenson and the Aldine roman commissioned by Aldus Manutius and cut by Francesco Griffo. Antiqua letterforms were modelled on a synthesis of Roman inscriptional capitals and Carolingian writing. Florentine writer Petrarch was one of the few medieval authors to have written at any length on the handwriting of his time; in his essay on the subject, La scrittura[2] he criticized the current scholastic hand, with its laboured strokes (artificiosis litterarum tractibus) and exuberant (luxurians) letter-forms amusing the eye from a distance, but fatiguing on closer exposure, as if written for other purpose than to be read. For Petrarch the gothic hand violated three principles: writing, he said, should be simple (castigata), clear (clara) and orthographically correct.[3]

Boccaccio was a great admirer of Petrarch; from Boccaccio's immediate circle this post-Petrarchan "semi-gothic" revised hand spread to literati in Florence, Lombardy[4] and the Veneto.[5] A more thorough reform of handwriting than the Petrarchan compromise was in the offing. The generator of the new style (illustration) was Poggio Bracciolini, a tireless pursuer of ancient manuscripts, who developed the new humanist script in the first decade of the 15th century.

The Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci recalled later in the century that Poggio had been a very fine calligrapher of lettera antica and had transcribed texts to support himself— presumably, as Martin Davies points out—[6] before he went to Rome in 1403 to begin his career in the papal curia.

Berthold Ullman identifies the watershed moment in the development of the new humanistic hand as the youthful Poggio's transcription of Cicero's Epistles to Atticus.[7] By the time the Medici library was catalogued in 1418, almost half the manuscripts were noted as in the lettera antica.

The new script was embraced and developed by the Florentine humanists and educators Niccolò de' Niccoli[8] and Coluccio Salutati. The neat, sloping, humanist cursive invented by the Florentine humanist de' Niccoli in the 1420s and disseminated through his numerous scholars is usually characterized as essentially a rapid version of the same script. Rhiannon Daniels writes, however, that "this was not humanistic bookhand written cursively, but a running script written with a very fine pen; a modification of contemporary gothic chancery script influenced by humanistic bookhand; hence it is sometimes known as cancelleresca all'antica".[9]

In the late fifteenth century this "chancery script in the Antique manner" was further developed by humanists in Rome. Calligraphic forms of this "chancery italic" were popularized by the famous Roman writing master Ludovico Arrighi in the early sixteenth century.[10] In the history of Western typography humanist minuscule gained prominence as a model for the typesetter's roman typeface, as it was standardized by Aldus Manutius, who introduced his revolutionary italic typeface based on the chancery hand in Venice, 1501, and was practised by designer-printers Nicolas Jenson and Francesco Griffo; this is the reason why they are also known as Venetian types and occasionally as old style, differentiated from modern styles by the more or less uniform thickness of all strokes and by slanted serifs.

Roman type has helped establish the remarkable resistance to change of the modern Latin alphabet.[11] The term "Antiqua" later came to sometimes be used for Roman type in general as opposed to blackletter, as in the Antiqua–Fraktur dispute in the German-speaking world.


  • Berne Nadall (18691932), an American designer — Caslon Antique (1896–98) [12]
  • Peter Behrens (1868–1940) — Behrens Antiqua (1907-9)
  • Vojtěch Preissig (1873–1944), a Czech designer influential in the areas of book and type design who created 'Preissig Antiqua' (1923-25) specifically for the Czech language[13]
  • Paul Renner (1878–1956) — Renner Antiqua (1939). Paul Renner also created the typeface Futura.[14]
  • Hermann Zapf (1918–2015) — Zapf Renaissance Antiqua (1984–87). Created many different fonts over the years.

Forms and types

Antiqua's Germanic opposite is blackletter, in which the letter forms are broken or fractured. In 19th- and 20th-century Germany there was a dispute over whether German should be written in Antiqua or the highly developed Fraktur blackletter. In 1911, the German Reichstag rejected an official switch to Antiqua by only three votes: 85 to 82. Hitler expressed a desire to switch to Antiqua as early as 1934, however it took until 1941 for the transition to be made law when Martin Bormann issued a decree requiring blackletter to be phased out in favour of Antiqua.
Preissig Antiqua
Made by Vojtěch Preissig (1873-1944), a type designer and writer.
Renner Antiqua
Made by Paul Renner, Revived by Patrick Strietzel (1939) Crafted at D. Stempel AG Foundry.[15]
Zapf Renaissance Antiqua
Made by Hermann Zapf, Typeface Designer.

See also


  • Nesbitt, Alexander The History and Technique of Lettering (c) 1957, Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-20427-8, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 57-13116. The Dover edition is an abridged and corrected republication of the work originally published in 1950 by Prentice-Hall, Inc. under the title Lettering: The History and Technique of Lettering as Design.
  1. Eisenstein, Elizabeth (12 September 2005). The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press. pp. 123–163. ISBN 978-0-521-84543-4.
  2. Petrarch, La scrittura, discussed by Armando Petrucci, La scrittura di Francesco Petrarca (Vatican City) 1967.
  3. Petrarch, La scrittura, noted in Albert Derolez, "The script reform of Petrarch: an illusion?" in John Haines, Randall Rosenfeld, eds. Music and Medieval Manuscripts: paleography and performance 2006:5f; Derolez discusses the degree of Petrarch's often alluded-to reform.
  4. Mirella Ferrari "La 'littera antiqua' a Milan, 1417–1439" in Johanne Autenrieth, ed. Renaissance- und Humanistenhandschriften, (Munich: Oldenbourg,) 1988:21–29.
  5. Rhiannon Daniels, Boccaccio and the book: production and reading in Italy 1340–1520, 2009:28.
  6. Davies, in Kraye (ed.) 1996:51.
  7. Ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script (Rome) 1960.
  8. Stanley Morison, "Early humanistic script and the first roman type", reprinted in his Selected Essays on the History of Letter-Forms in Manuscript and Print, ed. by David McKitterick, 2 vols. 1981:206-29.
  9. Daniels 2009:29.
  10. "Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture", Library of Congress
  11. S. Morison, "Early humanistic script and the first roman type", The Library 24 (1943:1–291); Lane Wilkinson (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), "The Humanistic minuscule and the advent of Roman type" (online text in pdf format).
  12. The Inline Printer (Page 382), Designer and Engravers of type by William E.Loy No. XXVII — Berne Nadall Available online in PDF format
  13. "Vojtěch Preissig's types for Czech alphabets." University of St. Thomas – A private, Catholic liberal arts university in Minnesota — University of St. Thomas : Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 December 2011.
  14. Linotype, Font designer — Paul Renner
  15. Linotype, RENNER ANTIQUA-Renner Antiqua – Reviving a serif typeface from the designer of Futura – PAUL RENNER URL:
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