The Typographic Manual of Giambattista Bodoni
is the greatest monument ever constructed to the art of printing
from metal types. The two-volume work contains a dazzling array of 142
roman alphabets (with corresponding italics), numerous script and exotic
typefaces, and a striking collection of flowers and ornaments. These
typefaces and decorative materials were the culmination of more than
forty years of devotion by Bodoni to the typographic arts, both in his
capacity as printer to the Duke of Parma, and as the owner of his own
private press and typefoundry.
The son of a master printer, Bodoni held to four principles from which
a good typeface derives its beauty: uniformity of design, smartness
and neatness, good taste, and charm. At the time of his death Bodoni
was working on the first volume of this book, of which only 250 copies
of the two-volume set were later published by his widow Margherita.
The original book imaged for this digital edition:
13 1/8 x 9 inches (333 x 229 mm)
In his preface to his Manuale Tipografico, the celebrated printer and type designer Giambattista Bodoni enumerates four principles of qualities from which a good type derives its beauty. Regularity or uniformity of design is the first, and consists of understanding that many of the characters in an alphabet share common elements which must remain “precisely and exactly the same in them all.” The second is “smartness and neatness,” in other words, well-cut and finished punches that produce clean matrices from which sharp and mirror-smooth type can be cast. The third principle consists of good taste. Here the type designer must maintain a “neat simplicity” and an awareness of his or her debt to the best manuscript letterforms. The fourth, and final quality evident in a beautiful type is charm, difficult to define, but present in those letters which give “the impression of being written not unwillingly or hastily, but painstakingly, as a labor of love.”
The first volume of Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico (1818) set the standard for printing the modern alphabet, containing 142 roman typefaces and their corresponding italics. But his second volume is equally important and in some ways more interesting. Here he established standards for numerous exotic typefaces, including Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Arabic, Coptic, Armenian, Phoenician, and Tibetan alphabets, among others, often in more than one font. In this volume Bodoni also included a large collection of ornaments, borders, and flowers, as well as symbols covering algebra, geometry, medicine, music, and the Zodiac. Learn more about Bodoni’s vast contribution to the art of printing by examining the Octavo Edition of his Manuale Tipografico.
Though Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico was published posthumously in 1818, he had completed the preface for his work in which he discusses aesthetic issues in publishing that go beyond typography. Bodoni emphasizes good paper and strong ink, for example, and he advocates calendaring, the process of putting the sheet under a roller after it is printed to make it smoother. He also argues against decorative plates, feeling that the typeface, which in itself could contain ornamentation, should shine on its own, offering “beauty which hath no borrowed plumes.” Learn more about Bodoni’s aesthetic and have a look at his type and ornament design in the Octavo Edition of Manuale Tipografico.