Friday, November 26, 2010

Manual of Tipography

Manual of Typography- Manuale tipografico by Giambattista Bodoni and reprinted by Taschen is a great “incunable” book created to the art of printing. The two-volume work contains stunning arrangement of 142 roman alphabets (with corresponding italics), numerous script and exotic typefaces and wonderful collection of flowers and ornaments. Well, there are no images inside the book and not so many comprehensible words. However, Manuale Tipografico is tremendously large; it has 279 compact pages and a handbook about the life of Giambattista Bodoni.

Born in a family of printers, Bodoni left home as a boy to go to Rome, where he served an apprenticeship at the press of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the missionary arm of the Roman Catholic church. Together with his father collected a standard encyclopedia for printing the alphabet with Manuale Tipografico in 1818. The encyclopedia was first published posthumously in a limited edition of just 250 and features 142 sets of Roman and italic typefaces, borders, ornaments, symbols and flowers as well as typefaces from different alphabets including Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, Phoenician, Armenian, Coptic and Tibetan. Bondoni was the official printer for the Duke of Parma, a former small Italian state and Bondoni’s philosophy on type was founded on 4 main principles including uniformity, design, sharpness, good taste and charm.

The Bodoni typeface is still widely used even today(you remember Bondoni family font in Microsoft word), both in digital media and in print, and TASCHEN's accurate reprint of Bodoni's masterwork gives readers an excellent opportunity to inquire into the origins of the Bodoni typeface and learn about its creator. Regarding the historical reasons, this book could be likened as the bible of typography. It is truly one of the most monumental culmination of fonts made by man, which is made all the more challenging by the period when it was collated when cultures and languages weren’t as tightly fused and borders weren’t just a plane trip away. This astonishing typography encyclopedia is justified by 4 decades of work by Bondoni. This was his career and lifetime achievement.

At the end of the Manuale tipografico is a handbook, an extended foreword of the reference material edited by Stephan Fussel. I suggest you to read first this booklet to understand the context and the life of Bondoni which influenced him to create this amazing book. It is then followed by letters from the widow of Bondoni, and Giambattista Bondoni himself reflecting on the typefaces which are just a pleasure to read. It’s fascinating to hear Bondoni’s widow fathom the importance of Manuale Tipografico in a letter she wrote to the Princess of Austria:

To Her Majesty the Imperial Princess, Maria Luigia Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, etc. etc.

Your Majesty,

In every age, within every nation, there has always been the noble competition to create monuments in honour of those Princes who are worthy of the gratitude of men, to suitably transmit their eminent and illustrious memory to posterity. Statues, paintings, temples by the most celebrated artists, either perished in ruins, or were devoured by flames: but it was not so for the press. This art, the most useful of human discoveries, as it speedily diffuses all other discoveries; this art, that spread all over the world from Germany where it originated, endures fires, vicissitudes, time itself. It alone was able to broadcast the virtues of monarchs, the great deeds of our ancestors, and the ideas of the most sublime minds.

As a reference book this isn’t fantastic. There is no contents, no structure, no captions or justifications. It is only a book of fonts. But for someone who loves typography this book is a beauty.

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