The famous roman type cut in Venice by Nicolas Jenson, and used in 1470 for his printing of the tract, De Evangelica Praeparatione, Eusebius, has usually been declared the seminal and definitive representative of a class of types known as Venetian Old Style. The Jenson type is thought to have been the primary model for types that immediately followed. Subsequent 15th-century Venetian Old Style types, cut by other punchcutters in Venice and elsewhere in Italy, are also worthy of study, but have been largely neglected by 20th-century type designers.
Downer’s fascination with these historical types began in the 1970s and eventually led to the production of his first text typeface, Iowan Old Style (Bitstream, 1991). Sometime in the early 1990s, he started doodling letters for another Venetian typeface. The letters were pieced together from sections of circles and squares. The n, a standard lowercase control character in a text typeface, came first. Its most unusual feature was its head serif, a bisected quadrant of a circle.
The first letters in Vendetta arose from pondering how shapes of lowercase letters and capital letters relate to one another in terms of classical ideals and geometric proportions, two pinnacles in a range of artistic notions which emerged during the Italian Renaissance. Such ideas are interesting to explore, but in the field of type design they often lead to dead ends. It is generally acknowledged, for instance, that pure geometry, as a strict approach to type design, has limitations. No roman alphabet, based solely on the circle and square, has ever been ideal for continuous reading.
In the course of developing his typeface for text, Downer had to make innumerable compromises. Each modification caused further deviation from his original scheme, and gave every font a slightly different direction. For example, not all the arcs remained radial, and they were designed to vary from font to font. Such variety added to the individuality of each style. The counters of many letters are described by intersecting arcs or angled facets, and the bowls are not round. In the capitals, angular bracketing was used practically everywhere stems and serifs meet, accentuating the terseness of the characters. As a result of all his tinkering, the entire family took on a kind of rich, familiar, coarseness—akin to roman types of the late 1400s.
It does seem a shame that only in the 20th century have revivals of these beautiful types found acceptance in the English language. For four centuries (circa 1500 - circa 1900) Venetian Old Style faces were definitely not in favor in any living language. Since then, reinterpretations of early Italian printing types have been returning with a vengeance.
A large measure of Vendetta's overall character comes from a synthesis of ideas, old and new. Hallmarks of roman type design from the Incunabula period are blended with contemporary concerns for the optimal display of letterforms on computer screens. Vendetta is thus not a historical revival. It is instead an indirect but personal digital homage to the roman types of punchcutters whose work was influenced by the example Jenson set in 1470.
For more information about Vendetta, download the free type specimen.