I stumbled across a print copy of Dürer's Of the Just Shaping of Letters in a second-hand bookshop years ago. This slim book — an English translation of part of book three of Dürer's Applied Geometry from 15351 — contains descriptions of how to draw uppercase Latin letters2. Each letter is described as a series of geometric instructions and relationships within the containing square.
As far as I am aware, Dürer is not known as a typographer per se, these letter forms are presented as a description of a how letters may be formed, rather than as a description of a specific designed typeface, they seem to be intended for an audience designing monumental stonework rather than cutting typefaces.
My interest is particularly piqued because the descriptions are close to being algorithms for each letter, the geometric instructions amount to a constraints system.
As an example, here is the original description of the letter ‘V’ — chosen to be a short description, but not too short!
V you shall thus make in its square: Bisect c. d. in the point e.; then set the point f. one-tenth of the whole line a. b. beyond a., and in like fashion g. to the hither side of b. Then draw the broad limb of your letter downwards from f. to e. and sharpen it; & thence draw upwards your slender limb to g.; and at the top produce it in either direction, as you did before at the bottom of A; just as you see it shown below.
The CoffeeScript is not quite as pithy, but is also doing a little more housekeeping...
drawV: (id, variant, proportions) -> outline = new OutlineDrawer sys.ctx outline.drawLine @labels.a, @labels.b outline.drawLine @labels.c, @labels.d outline.drawLine @labels.a, @labels.c outline.drawLine @labels.b, @labels.d @labels.e = midPoint @labels.c, @labels.d @labels.f = @labels.a.towards @labels.b, @serif @labels.g = @labels.b.towards @labels.a, @serif ll_tr = @labels.f.towards @labels.b, @wide ll_trr = ll_tr.towards @labels.b, @serif ll_br = @labels.e.towards @labels.d, @wide outline.drawLine @labels.f, @labels.e outline.drawLine ll_tr, ll_br llls = outline.drawTouchingCircle @labels.e, @labels.f, @labels.a llrs = outline.drawTouchingCircle ll_trr, ll_tr, ll_br rl_tl = @labels.g.towards @labels.a, @narrow rl_tll = rl_tl.towards @labels.a, @serif rl_bl = @labels.e.towards @labels.c, @narrow outline.drawLine rl_tl, rl_bl outline.drawLine @labels.g, @labels.e rlls = outline.drawTouchingCircle rl_bl, rl_tl, rl_tll rlrs = outline.drawTouchingCircle @labels.b, @labels.g, @labels.e render = new FillShape sys.ctx render.moveTo @labels.e render.addArc llls, true render.addArc llrs, true render.lineTo (intersect ll_tr, ll_br, rl_tl, rl_bl) render.addArc rlls, true render.addArc rlrs, true render.closeAndFill() outline.labelPoints @labels return
narrow are proportions of the
FillShape are classes that manage
drawing the construction lines that are used for the constraints, and managing rendering
the glyph respectively
- Fortunately now available on Project Gutenburg
- There is also discussion and examples of lower case letters, but not ones that would match the uppercase latin letters