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The Renaissance Alphabet: The Fine Art of Lettering

The meticulous and systematic design of letters, a practice that was of great interest to Renaissance artists, is brought to light with our new correspondence cards

Our exclusive correspondence cards with gold-stamped lettering

Our exclusive correspondence cards with gold-stamped lettering

Our exclusive, monogrammed Northern Renaissance Alphabet Correspondence Cards feature a single letter embossed in gold on white, with matching foil-lined envelopes in sets of twelve, and pay homage to the past.

The first printed book known to treat the construction of the alphabet and to examine the shapes and proportions of classical Roman letters is Divina proportione of 1509. Written by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, it was designed after the work of his acquaintance Leonardo da Vinci. In stressing the simplicity and monumentality of the letters, Pacioli intended his alphabet to be a model for carving epitaphs and inscriptions. About ten copies of the 1509 edition of Divina proportione are in the United States, including one in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. It is the original source for the Met’s iconic “M” logo, which reproduces the shape and proportions of the letter “M” discussed in Pacioli’s treatise.

The "M" from Divina Proportione, 1509, after Leonardo da Vinci

The “M” from Divina Proportione, 1509, after Leonardo da Vinci

Our gold-embossed cards showcase a slightly later sixteenth-century alphabet, a handsome version by the great northern Renaissance master, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, who was an accomplished artist in many disciplines. During his impressive career he published three books. In The Architectural Treatise of Sebastiano Serlio, Books I–V, Coecke discusses the formulation of letters and presents an example of an alphabet that he designed; it appears in Book IV in the Met’s collection, which he published in Antwerp in 1545.

Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s alphabet design was published in 1545

Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s alphabet design was published in 1545

These renowned artists believed that lettering should be beautiful and well proportioned, and we agree. Choose your favorite letters from our correspondence cards here.

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