Garamond in 16th-century France

Starting in 1536, Claude Garamont created roman typefaces that were similar to those used by Robert Estienne since the beginning of the decade. However, Estienne's fonts were for his use alone, while Garamont became one of the first punch-cutters to sell his creations. Previously, printing workshops cut punches and founded their own type, using them exclusively for their own editions or those of partner workshops.

The golden age of French typography was as much a product of the arrival of the Renaissance in France as of the religious reform.

In the early 16th century, the situation was reversed: printers rarely owned their own type, and the type foundry trade expanded. Garamont's case is significant in this respect. Within the book trade, his name became synonymous with the increased autonomy of punch-cutters, even though they nourished the ambition (like Garamont himself) of becoming printer/booksellers. Robert Estienne exerted considerable influence, both through the quality of his editions and the innovative, functional appearance of his typography. Many printers and punch-cutters, including Michel de Vascosan, François Gryphe and Jean I de Tournes, copied his page designs and acquired new typefaces similar to those he began using in 1530.

The design of his books went hand-in-hand with more widespread reading of sacred texts – works that the growing Protestant movement – in which Estienne was a major figure – had brought to prominence. The golden age of French typography that began under the reign of François I was as much a product of the arrival of the Renaissance in France as of the religious reform which the book trade by and large embraced. The model that Estienne's typefaces represented was given impetus by Protestant printers and booksellers such as Jean II de Tournes, Pierre Haultin and André Wechel. Like Estienne, they left France to seek a safe haven in Switzerland or in lands east of the Rhine. They brought their skills, and often their equipment, with them, thus spread the quality of the "garamonds" beyond the boundaries of France.

Display timeline