Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Gerard Unger - Alverata: hedendaagse Europese letters met wortels in de middeleeuwen

The subject of this thesis is Alverata, a twenty-first-century typeface whose design was inspired by the shapes of Romanesque capitals such as those found in inscriptions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

The inscriptions of the Romanesque period are characterized by letterforms that were employed with great originality and in extraordinary variety, chiselled in stone, painted on walls, engraved in metal and executed in other ways. What turned the capitals in inscriptions dating from shortly before ad 1000 to soon after 1200 into Romanesque capitals was the mixing and matching of characters from three different scripts.

The result is a single script, a homogeneous set of letterforms, a clear and enduring model with basic forms and details that for two hundred years were shared by the vast majority of Romanesque capitals and which spread over the whole of Europe. The Romanesque letterforms used in inscriptions were constantly varied on the basis of this clear and enduring model, often by apparently arbitrary variation in the positioning of the three sorts of letter.

In inscriptions, Romanesque capitals gradually mutated into Gothic capitals, particularly in the second half of the twelfth century. Romanesque letters can be seen as European letters, just as those of Alverata can: they permit the reproduction of all the languages and dialects of Europe (and can also be extended beyond its borders).

The key questions addressed in this thesis are these: how can a medieval concept of letterforms be combined with a modern typographic concept, and how can such a combination be used to design a typeface for the twenty-first century? These questions have their roots in my fascination for the Romanesque capitals in inscriptions, for their richness of form and the amazing variety in the ways they were used, and in my wish to connect these letterforms with the modern practice of typography.

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