Letters are essentially symbols for sounds and a certain combination of sounds make up a word. Words make up sentences. Sentences make up paragraphs and paragraphs make up texts. But how do you emphasise certain words? And how do you keep your readers focused on your text and most importantly... on the most important parts (or words) within your text?
Decorated initials or capitalising usually does the trick. Take a close look at the (so-called) illuminated, or rubricated words in the image above. You might notice that the first letter is elaborately decorated with images and gold-leaf. Further more small details are added for a new sentence or the word 'He'. The names of God (such as 'Lord' and 'Maker') have been written in three colours and gold-leaf has been applied. All purposely to keep you from being distracted and placing emphasise on the important elements within the text. When printing from cast or cut letters replaced handwritten initials, the tradition of decorating letters did not vanish but instead opened up the competition for printers to have their publications decorated with the most decorative CAPITALS.
Especially in the 16th century many publishers produced printed material such as books and broadsheets that often incorporated decorated initials. These initials were often the 'trade-mark' and a of these printing-studio's because these initials used could only be found in their publications and would act as a finger-print of their printing-qualities. The image shown above is from the printing-studio of Johannes Fröben (1460-1527) from Basel. Not only did he coöperate with Desiderus Erasmus (1466-1536) but he would also employ famous woodblock-cutters (or formschneiders) from that era such as Hans Holbein the younger (1497-1543) and Jakob Faber (ca. 1500-1550).
During the early modern period, or baroque era, some of the artists explored the aesthetic qualities of the letter even further. A print series titled as: Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum from around 1650, proves this quest for consolidation between illustration and type even further. This series of prints was published by Jan Chrystian Bierpfaff (1600-1690) and engraved by Jeremias Falck (1610-1677).
Especially during modernity or during the Avant-Gardist movements, artists such as Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945) started to use type and experimental printing techniques to produce works of art. Werkman combined stencilling and type to produce front-covers and really took the symbiosis of letter and print to a certain level in which the letter would actually could be appreciated as a piece of art 'as-such'. Werkman had to work clandestine during WWII since many of his works would take stance against the German occupation. Sadly Werkman was executed during the final days of the war. Take a look at some of his works over here.