Royal Academy of Art’s Type Blog

Historical Type and Music

The use of historical typefaces whose origins date back over 500 years, for example, is part of today’s typographic convention, which is quite eclectic. However, listening to music from that time is less common: we are not conditioned to this by default. How many of today’s typographers who use Adobe Jenson or Adobe Garamond will also find Renaissance music common? Moreover, if you are not aware of the historical origins of these digital typefaces, how do you actually look at Renaissance type? After all, if digital revivals are the basis of a person’s perception, how does one know that modern interpretations reflect the essence of the originals?

A comparison with recordings of music from the past, such as from the Renaissance and Baroque, is valid here. Through continuous research, insight is constantly changing and this has led to the development of the ‘authentic’ performance practice. And within this practice there are again different insights, resulting in different interpretations of the same scores. The listener hears the music filtered through the ears of the interpreters, while the typographer looks at historical type through the eyes of the revivalist.

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



Josquin des Prez (ca.1450/1455–1521):


He was primarily a music publisher, 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):


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 loud!


This famous composer bridges the gap between Renaissance and Baroque: Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) This is without a doubt one of the greatest hits of classical music:


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

By the way, the YouTube video shows my favorite instrument. You can hear that the organ is tuned differently than since the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. The music of the latter and his Baroque comrades cannot be played on an organ tuned like the one in the video (‘meantone temparament‘), because it uses a combination (A flat and E flat) that gives a shivering effect, hence the was called ‘wolf quint’.


Actually more of 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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