Giambattista Bodoni, the father of modern type by Nicholas Fabian.
The father of modern type
Giambattista Bodoni, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Giambattista Bodoni was born 1740 in Saluzzo, Italy. His father was a printer, so he was also trained in the printing trade from his early youth. As a youngster, he travelled to Rome and worked as a printer at the "Propaganda Fide". (The Latin phrase "Congregatio de Propaganda Fide" translates to "Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith." The Congregation was formed in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV of the Roman Catholic Church to aid the dissemination of church doctrine throughout the world.) Bodoni left the "Propaganda Fide" after the director of the press, who was his mentor, committed suicide. To get away from it all, he decided to try his luck in England. On his way North, he stopped in Saluzzo to visit his family when unexpectedly he got too ill to travel. After his recovery, in 1767, Ferdinand, the Duke of Parma appointed him to head the "Stamperia Reale" in that city. While there, he supervised the printing and production of many elegant editions of the classics and a celebrated edition of the Lord's Prayer in 155 languages. The print shop was located in the old ducal palace of "La Pilotta" which is the building that currently houses the Bodoni Museum.

Bodoni's editions became enormously successful because he maintained very high production values for all his publications. He combined expertly engraved illustrations with elegant typography on sought after subjects, thus creating highly desirable products for his customers. Scholars, collectors, socialites, and members of the European aristocracy were delighted with the exquisitely created books. Bodoni mixed his own ink, used the best quality paper, designed elegant pages, and insisted on immaculate presswork and binding. He produced Classical Greek, Latin, Italian, French, English, and Russian editions for the appreciative continental market. Some of his best known editions included "Epithalamia exoticis linguis reddita" (1775), the works of Orazio (1791) and of Poliziano (1795), "La Gerusalemme liberata", the "Oratio dominica" (1806) and the ever popular "Iliade". Because of the new look and the exceptional quality of his works, Bodoni became a celebrity. The city of Parma issued a medal in his honour. He was also honoured by the Pope and several European Kings, and Napoleon Bonapart granted him one of the three pensions he received. Bodoni also corresponded with Benjamin Franklin on typographical subjects.

Around 1798, Bodoni designed an extremely high-contrast modern typeface, Bodoni Book, which created a visual revolution in the typographical design community. The thick stems and horizontal strokes flowed flawlessly into very fine lines and terminated with thin, straight serifs. The first impression one has of a Bodoni typeface is that it is crisp. Given the correct type size, weight, leading, line length and page margins, the effect can be very elegant. The classical Bodoni typeface is still used today, mostly in high class advertising, fashion, art oriented printed literature, and limited edition private publishing.

Bodoni variation
Surprising Bodoni variation by Giambattista Bodoni in
"Manuale Tipografico" p: 240

Bodoni published in two volumes, the first edition of his outstanding "Manuale Tipografico" in 1788 which contained 291 alphabets. These included Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Etruscan, Turkish, Tartar, Ethiopian and several other non-Latin alphabets, as well as hundreds of decorative borders and printing ornaments. The edition also contained many beautiful script types with exotic sweeping flourishes in the capital letters. The edition's pages are surrounded by the most generous margins, and each page becomes an elegant gallery-type presentation to the viewer. The second and final edition was produced by his widow, Margherita Dall'Aglio, five years after his death, in 1818. This final edition contained examples of 373 alphabets.

Bodoni script
Elegant script by Giambattista Bodoni in "Manuale Tipografico" p: 262

Bodoni was a great admirer of John Baskerville and he also studied in fine detail the designs of Pierre Simon Furnier and Firmin Didot. Bodoni's initial design inspiration may have been rooted in the works of other masters but he did not copy the work of his peers. What he produced was stunnigly unique, his own style — BODONI.
His striking contemporary design created a new visual era in typography, one which fully embraced the age of the industrial revolution. The cold precision, and logical methods of automation, as well as the pretentious pomposity of the "nouveau riche", are foreshadowed by the meticulously crafted symmetrical forms.

Some of the modern Bodoni designs are:

ATF Bodoni by M. F. Benton (1907-1915), Mergenthaler Linotype Bodoni (1914-1916), Monotype Bodoni (.), Haas Bodoni (1924-1939), Bauer Bodoni by Louis Hoell (1924). Berthold (1930), Intertype, Ludlow (1936), Stempel, and the Amsterdam Typefoundry also produced adaptations of the Haas Bodoni. There were at least twenty five hot metal Bodoni variations produced by the various foundries, including Bodoni Open and Bodoni Shaded. J. Wagner re-cut some Bodoni fonts in 1961.

In digital form, Bodoni fonts are available from all the major suppliers including Adobe, Bitstream, Monotype, Linotype, and others. As an example of the range of choices available, the following Bodoni fonts are offered by Monotype: Old Face Roman, Old Face Bold, Old Face Italic, Old Face Medium, Old Face Medium Italic, Book, Book Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Poster, Poster Italic, Poster Condensed, and Poster Compressed. The Monotype Bodoni Expert Series includes: Additional ligatures, Non-lining old style figures, Sub/Super characters for fractions and notations, and Small Caps.

Over 25,000 original Bodoni punches are preserved in the Bodoni Museum's collection in Parma, Italy.


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