Retype’s Modern Interpretation of François Guyot’s Type

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One of the high points of European typography was the 16th century when Simon de Colines, Robert Estienne, Jacques Kerver, Christoffel Plantin and other printers established many of the norms we still follow in book typography today; and punchcutters Claude Garamont, Robert Granjon and Hendrik van den Keere created typefaces we still admire and emulate. The work of these French and Flemish punchcutters lives on in such popular fonts as Stempel Garamond, Sabon, Adobe Garamond, ITC Galliard, Lyon, DTL VandenKeere and Quarto. But the period is so rich in talented punchcutters that contemporary type designers have taken to looking beyond these well-known names for inspiration to the second rank of Antoine Augereau, Pierre Haultin and François Guyot. The latter is the source and namesake of Guyot by Ramiro Espinoza of Retype.

Little is known of the Parisian-born Guyot prior to 1539 when he began working as a punchcutter in Antwerp. Until his death in 1570, he was the principal supplier to Christoffel Plantin, the leading printer of his day. In the last year or two of his life, Guyot was apparently in London providing types to the English printer John Day. His typefaces were not only in great demand in the Netherlands, but also in Germany, Scandinavia, England, Spain and Portugal. In England they were still in use into the 17th century, including in The King James Bible (1611) and several folio and quarto editions of Shakespeare.

Just before his untimely death in 2003, Frank Heine designed Tribute, a typeface based “third-hand” on Guyot’s Ascendonica roman (1544) and Ascendonica italic (1557) types. He described it as “third-hand” because his source was a photocopy of a reprint of a type specimen. Because of this and other reasons, Heine’s version of Guyot’s faces is notable for its low stroke contrast and chunky serifs. But at heart Tribute is surprisingly faithful to its model. In contrast, Espinoza’s Guyot, despite its name, is much less authentic—and, on the whole, better for not being so.

Guyot 2-line Double-Pica Roman (1546)

Guyot Double-Pica Italic (1557)

Guyot Double-Pica Roman (1544)

Guyot was a punchcutter of the second rank. His types lack the consistency and refinement of those of Garamont and Granjon. They are often awkward and because of that have a sense of charm. That is what drew Heine to them. He liked the tension between the French Renaissance perfection that some letters achieved and the lack of polish in others. Guyot’s inconsistency also caught Espinoza’s attention. But instead of reveling in it, he sought to integrate the most interesting elements of the punchcutter’s Gros Canon (1546) and Ascendonica (1544) types into a modern interpretation that could function in today’s editorial market.

In Guyot, Espinoza has altered, erased and ignored much of the personality that makes the types of Guyot the punchcutter so distinctive. Gone are the tall ascenders, the small eye of ‘e,’ the quirky ‘g’ with its small bowl and long neck, the straight tail of ‘y,’ the clumsy ‘M’ and ‘N,’ the strangely bent tail of ‘Q,’ and so on. In their place are letters that are more refined with more open counters, consistent serifs and a larger x-height. In short, Guyot is a typeface of the 21st century rather than the 16th. What survives of the original Guyot—at least in the roman—are small traces such as the shape of the top curve of ‘a,’ the curvature of the hook of ‘f’ and arm of ‘r,’ the spike on ‘q,’ the spur serifs of ‘C’ and ‘G,’ the sharp bottom serif of ‘E’ and ‘L,’ the leg of ‘R,’ the pigeon-toed serifs of ‘X,’ and the swoop of ‘3.’ These are little touches, but in the aggregate they infuse Espinoza’s design with a character that sets Guyot apart from types inspired by Garamont and Granjon.

Comparison of Retype Guyot Text Regular with Guyot’s Double-Pica (Ascendonica) Roman.

The weakest aspect of Guyot’s types is his capitals. And that is where Espinoza’s transformative magic is most evident. He has created a harmonious whole while still retaining many of the subtle aspects that give Guyot’s Gros Canon and Ascendonica types their personality. He has tossed out the quirky yet ugly ‘M,’ ‘N’ and ‘Q’ that instantly identify Guyot’s Ascendonica in favor of keeping less obvious yet equally flavorful letters such as the ‘G’ with a high jaw and the ‘S’ with a slight cant.

The Parisian punchcutter was at his best in his italics, especially the lowercase of the Ascendonica. There is little to complain about and much to celebrate. The leg of the swash ‘k’ is a bit weak and, as with almost all French Renaissance italics, the ‘v’ and ‘w’ feel out of place. But overall, there is a graceful—and very French—flow to Guyot’s italic. The ‘g’ is particularly lovely and the ‘ff’ ligature has a wonderful lilt. They are both gone in the Retype Guyot. Espinoza’s interpretation has more of a “Dutch” sensibility due to its larger x-height and more open counters (most notable in the ‘a,’ ‘b,’ ‘d’ and ‘q’). It is still a very pleasing italic, but it is significantly different in tone.

Guyot’s italic capitals were uneven in quality. But once again, Espinoza has knocked them into shape. He has opened up the overly narrow ‘A’ and ‘V,’ improved the curves on the swash capitals (especially the ‘J’), and added missing regular capitals (such as ‘R’). At the same time he has kept the jaunty swash ‘M’ and redrawn the swash ‘T’ to have more zest. Unaccountably, he has dropped the swash ‘G’ and the second, more elaborate, swash ‘N.’

Comparison of Retype Guyot Text Italic with Guyot’s Double-Pica (Ascendonica) Italic.

Retype Guyot was designed for editorial purposes, hence the large x-height and the removal of characters with too much character. Thus, in the roman there are no quaint ‘ct’ and ‘st’ ligatures; only in the italic. But not all is severe. Espinoza has included a suite of beautiful leaf ornaments and a less exciting manicle. Retype Guyot has two optical sizes: Guyot Headline in four weights (Light, Regular, Bold and Black), each with a corresponding italic; and Guyot Text in three weights (Regular, Bold and Extrabold) with matching italics. The discrepancy between the weights of the two sets is unusual in this age of formulaic and standardized type families. However, it is an inconsistency that should have little impact on actual typographic practice as any good designer will simply match the weights that look best together for a project rather than worry about their names.

Array of ornamental leaves and printer’s fist from Retype Guyot.

In the end Retype Guyot is more Espinoza than Guyot. For most designers this should not matter. The heritage of a typeface is less important than its functionality and its fitness for purpose. In that, the new Guyot is a welcome addition to the increasingly crowded ranks of typefaces. It may not stand out amidst all of the sans serifs and scripts clamoring for attention, but that is a tribute to its quiet but solid demeanor—the perfect choice for an editorial project.


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One thought on “Retype’s Modern Interpretation of François Guyot’s Type

  1. LetterModeller

    Perhaps of interest is the fact that the development of Ramiro’s excellent typeface started at the Expert class Type design (EcTd) course of the Plantin Institute of Typography in Antwerp .

    For the record: Paul mentions DTL VandenKeere in his introduction. The italic of this revival is based on Guyot’s Ascendonica Cursive. I reckon that it was one of the first or even the very first digital revival of a Guyot italic –already 25 years ago.

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