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Math italic variations (was Re: Miscellany)

> the actual mechanism used in metafont to generate the different shapes
> is to increase the value of certain parameters, in particular the
> unit width.  the shape of the cap I simply doesn't have enough
> distinct features that such manipulation will yield an instantly
> perceptible difference.  i doubt that knuth thought much about the
> likelihood of I being used in theorems as a pronoun, but he did
> have distinct preferences for the shape of italic letters used as
> symbols.

I was rather assuming that cmmi mimics a real lead Monotype Modern
typeface. Is there a metal math italic? Does it also differ in shape from
the text italic in the same way? Or did Knuth design the (variations in
the) math italic himself?

> ``If the great type designers of the past were alive today,
> how would they design fonts for the new equipment?'' [knuth, gibbs
> lecture, ibid, p.17]

Isn't he just talking about the influences that photocomposition or digital
composition have on the traditional typefaces? As exemplified by Lucida
(specially designed for new technologies, eg low res printers and faxes)?
The problem of distinguishing "maths" from "text" must predate Knuth's "new