|Of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typesetter|
Monotype Corporation, under the direction of Stanley Morison, 1929
Based on type cut by Francesco Griffo (sometimes styled "da Bologna"), Venice 1495, for use in De Aetna, an account of a visit to Mount Etna by Pietro Bembo; the italic is based on Giovanni Tagliente, Venice, 1520s.
first (1928) effort at an italic produced what is
now called Fairbank Italic (sometimes Bembo Condensed
Italic, a chancery italic cut by Alfred Fairbank; Monotype considered
it inadequately related to the roman. (Morison: "It had the great
virtue of all the chancery cursives: it was legible in mass and can
easily be read by the page. So much so that, in fact, it looked happier
alone than in association with the Bembo roman.")
Griffo designed the type for Aldus Manutius, whose type was, at the beginnings of the modern revival of typography, considered by many to be less good than that of Nicolas Jenson, of twenty-five years earlier. (William Morris: "The famous family of Aldus" were "artistically on a much lower level than Jenson's, and in fact they must be considered to have ended the age of fine printing in Italy.")
Morison himself prefered type cut by Griffo for Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, printed by Aldus in 1499. Monotype called its revival (1923) "Poliphilus." Subsequent taste has, however, favored Bembo.
Bembo is one of my favorite text faces. Adobe Bembo, however, has received a lot of criticism in the typophilic community for not living up to the quality of the metal version. It is said to be light and spindly and to produce a palid gray page. (Some of this criticism may be overdone.) Some recommend Minion as an alternative, but I am not a fan of Minion. Another proposed alternative is Dante, but I think it has an entirely different feel. There are a couple of new versions of Bembo-like digital fonts that might be worth looking into. One is JY Aetna by Jack Yan. Another is the new Yale typeface by Matthew Carter, but it is only "available to Yale employees, students, and authorized contractors for use in Yale publications and communications," a restriction that is a giant step backward.
Now, in 2005, Monotype has released a new digital version of Bembo, called Bembo Book. It is said that this version restored many of the admirable qualities of the letterpress Bembo; I haven't tested this assertion.
For more discussion of digital Bembo, see these links:
The type has (as Bringhurst observes) a serene quality. It calls attention to itself by refusing to call attention to itself, and yet it is elegant (without being as fancy as Centaur). It is an excellent book face.
I have used Bembo as the text face in many books. In Dale Pendell's Pharmako/Poeia, for example, where I paired it with Adobe Garamond Titling.