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Nicolaus Jenson, portrait

Nicolas Jenson (also spelled Nicolas Janson, Nicholas Jenson, or Nicolaus Jenson; 1420 in Sommevoire, France – 1480 in Venice, Italy) was a French engraver, pioneer printer and typographer who did most of his work in Venice.

Type founder, punch cutter, printer and publisher, Nicolaus Jenson, was born in Sommevoire, France and is esteemed as the creator of the first model "roman" typeface. This typeface was widely imitated and served as inspiration for the likes of Garamond and Aldus. The style later came to be called "Venetian oldstyle".

During his tenure as Master of the French royal mint at Tours, Jenson relocated to Mainz in October 1458, by order of King Charles VII. From 1458 to 1461, Jenson learned the art of metal movable type in Mainz. From whom Jenson learned this is in question. Some hypothesize that during this time Jenson studied under the tutelage of Gutenberg. However, there is no historically verifiable evidence of this. By this time Gutenberg's first press had been seized by Johann Fust and historians are unsure of his activities during this period. Further, by the time Jenson arrived in Mainz, there were a number of established printers under which he could have apprenticed.

By the time of Charles' death in the year 1461, Jenson had yet to return with the technique to France. It is thought that he had little desire to return under the rule of Louis XI. Consequently, he spent some time in Frankfurt and, in 1467, arrived in Venice.

A specimen of Nicolas Jenson's archetypal roman typeface, from the "Laertis", published in Venice ca 1475.

From 1468 onward, Jenson lived in Venice, where he opened his own printing workshop, eventually producing around 150 titles.

Jenson's typographer's mark

Jenson constructed his first roman typeface deliberately on the basis of typographical principles, as opposed to the old manuscript models. It was first employed in his 1470 edition of Eusebius, De Evangelica Praeparatione. In 1471, a Greek typeface followed, which was used for quotations, and then in 1473 a Black Letter typeface, which he used in books on medicine and history.

He is also responsible for launching two book trading companies, first in 1475 and then in 1480, under the name of Johannes de Colonia, Nicolaus Jenson et socii. A particular advertisement from 1482 exhorts Jenson's books:

Do not hinder one's eyes, but rather help them and do them good. Moreover, the characters are so intelligently and carefully elaborated that the letters are neither smaller, larger nor thicker than reason or pleasure demand.

Following his death in 1480, his respective typefaces were employed by the Aldine Press, and have continued to be the basis for numerous fonts. Examples include Bruce Rogers' "Centaur" in 1914, Morris Fuller Benton's "Cloister Old Style" in 1926, and Robert Slimbach's "Adobe Jenson" in 1996.



  1. ^ Lowry, Martin: Venetian Printing. The Rise of the Roman Letterform. With an Essay by George Abrams. EWdited, introduced and translated into Danish by Poul Steen Larsen. Herning: Poul Kristensens Fporlag, 1989. The first book to present the typeface Abrams Venetian, designed by George Abrams.

v. Lieres, Dr. Vita. "Nicolaus Jenson." in: Schriftgießerei D. Stempel AG [ed.]: Altmeister der Druckschrift. Frankfurt am Main, 1940. (pp. 35–40). (In German)

See also

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