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Bembo® Book

By Monotype

The origins of Bembo go back to one of the most famous printers of the Italian Renaissance, Aldus Manutius. In 1496, he used a new roman typeface to print the book de Aetna, a travelogue by the popular writer Pietro Bembo. This type was designed by Francesco Griffo, a prolific punchcutter who was one of the first to depart from the heavier pen-drawn look of humanist calligraphy to develop the more stylized look we associate with roman types today. In 1929, Stanley Morison and the design staff at the Monotype Corporation used Griffo's roman as the model for a revival type design named Bembo. They made a number of changes to the fifteenth-century letters to make the font more adaptable to machine composition. The italic is based on letters cut by the Renaissance scribe Giovanni Tagliente. Because of their quiet presence and graceful stability, the lighter weights of Bembo are popular for book typography. The heavier weights impart a look of conservative dependability to advertising and packaging projects. With 31 weights, including small caps, Old style figures, expert characters, and an alternate cap R, Bembo makes an excellent all-purpose font family.

Starting in the 1920s, under the direction of Stanley Morison, Monotype entered a period of achievement that is still considered a “golden age” in modern typographic history. It was during this time that Monotype developed the foundation of its current library, including new designs such as Gill Sans, Perpetua and Romulus. The company also undertook revivals of historic typefaces that had been lost for centuries. Bembo was one of this latter group. Now, in the twenty-first century, Bembo is enjoying yet another important revival, with the release of Bembo Book.

The story of Bembo began in Venice, an important typographic center in 15th and 16th century Europe. Many printers started businesses in Venice at this time, but the most significant of these was Aldus Manutius, the first of the great scholar-printers. Next to Gutenberg, Aldus would prove to be the most influential printer of the Renaissance.

Late in the 15th century, Aldus published a relatively insignificant essay by the Italian scholar Pietro Bembo. The type used for the text was a new roman design commissioned by Aldus and cut by Francesco Griffo, a goldsmith-turned-punchcutter. Griffo’s design was lighter and more harmonious in appearance than earlier romans. It was also easier to read than previous designs.

Despite the modest vehicle that prompted its launch, the Bembo typeface became eminently popular in Italy and soon found its way to France. Here the design came to the attention of Claude Garamond, the famous French type founder. Through his efforts to duplicate it, the design eventually spread its influence to Germany, Holland and the rest of Europe. The “Aldine” roman, as it came to be known, served as the foundation of new typeface designs for hundreds of years.

Monotype’s designers used antique books and specimen material set with Aldus’ original fonts as the basis for their Bembo revival in the 1920s. The first phototypesetting and digital versions were based on hot metal 9-point drawings. This gave good legibility in small sizes, due to the design’s comparatively large x-height, but lacked some of the elegance of the larger metal sizes.

The new digital version of Bembo, called Bembo Book, has been designed to better suit setting text in the 10 to 18 point range. This new face has been carefully drawn to produce results comparable to those achieved from the letterpress version. Outlines were taken directly from the metal type drawings and digitized, then meticulously edited to preserve the design features and overall color of the original design.

Bembo Book is slightly narrower than existing digital versions of the face; this makes it more economical in use and gives excellent color to continuous pages of text. Ascending lowercase letters are noticeably taller than capitals, giving an elegant look to the design.

Bembo Book is available in Regular and Bold weights with complementary italics. Each font has both lining and old style numerals, with small capitals available for the Regular and Bold roman fonts.

Bembo Book is slightly narrower than existing digital versions of the face; this makes it more economical in use and gives excellent color to continuous pages of text.

Old Style Serif