Royal Academy of Art’s Type Blog 

Historical Type and Music

The use of historical typefaces of which the origins are, for example, more than 500 years old is part of today’s typographic convention. However, this is not by definition the case for music from that time. How many of the present-day typographers that apply Adobe Jenson or Adobe Garamond will consider music from the Renaissance also common? On top of that, if one is aware of the historical origin of these typefaces, how does one actually look at Renaissance type? After all, if digital revivals form the basis for one’s perception, how does one know that the modern interpretations capture the essence of the originals?

A comparison with recordings of music from the past, such as from the Renaissance and Baroque, is applicable here. Due to ongoing research, the insight changes constantly and this has lead to the development of the ‘authentic’ performance practice. And within this practice there are again different insights, resulting into different interpretations of the same scores. The listener hears the music filtered through the ears of the interpreters, as the typographer looks at the historical typefaces through the eyes of the revivalist.

For those who are working on a revival based on type from the Italian or French Renaissance I post here a couple of links to (interpretations of) music from these style periods.



Josquin des Prez (ca.1450/1455–1521):


He was above all a publisher of music, Pierre Attaingnant (ca.1494–1551/1552):


Nicolas Gombert (ca.1495–ca.1560):


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina


Andrea Gabrieli (ca.1532–1585), was the uncle of Giovanni Gabrieli (below):


IMHO this is perfect music for drawing sophisticated, delicate, and slightly swinging Renaissance-revival serifs. It dates from 1597 and was created by Giovanni Gabrieli (ca.1554/1557–1612):


Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca.1548–1611):


Giulio Caccini (1551–1618) was the father of Francesca Caccini (further below):


Sebastián de Vivanco (ca.1551–1622).This has always been one of my all-time favorite tracks (I have it on CD). My advice: play it loudly!


This famous composer bridges the Renaissance with the Baroque: Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) This is definitely one of the greatest hits of classical music:


He stood with one leg in the Renaissance and with the other one in the Baroque: Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643):

BTW, the YouTube video shows my favorite instrument. You can hear that the organ is tuned differently from what is done since the times of Johann Sebastian Bach. The music of the latter and his Baroque peers cannot be played on an organ that has been tuned as the one in the video (‘meantone temparament’), because it uses a combination (A flat and E flat) that gives a shivery effect, hence it it was called ‘wolf‘s quint’.


Actually more an early Baroque composer, Francesca Caccini (1587–after 1641) was also a singer, lutenist, poet, and teacher. She was the daughter of the Renaissance composer Giulio Caccini:


A Renaissance-related highly entertaining musical intermezzo:


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