Giambattista Bodoni

_King of typographer, typographer of kings Graphis
Graphis, Jul/Aug 2001 by Brechbuhl, Beat

A historical portrait of the greatest Italian typographer of the 18th century.
By Beat Brechbuhl

On the last day of November, 1813, the great bell at the Parma Cathedral rang-somewhat more sluggishly than usual-signaling that a major figure of the court or a member of a ruling family had died. Sure enough, Giambattista Bodoni: "II re dei tipografi, tipografo dei," had passed away at the age of 73 in the Officina Bodoni, his printing shop at the former Farnese Palace la Pilotta. Bodoni left behind not only 289 typefaces designed and engraved by his own hand, the Oratio Dominico, exemplary specimen books, and more than 1,000 volumes printed at his press and using his typefaces, but also his incomplete masterpiece, the Manuale Tipografico. Bodoni also left behind his wife Margherita Dallaglio, 20 years his junior.

Giambattista Bodoni was born on February 26, 1740, in Saluzzo, Piedmont, Italy. Both his father and his grandfather before him were printers, so it was hardly surprising that the young Giambattista elected to learn the same trade. For his apprenticeship he went straight to the top: Propaganda Fide, the Vatican's printing house in Rome, and there he learned how to draw and engrave type, the art of typesetting and printing, and the basics of papermaking. This erudite environment was the ideal place for a young man thirsty for skills and knowledge: he learned foreign languages and the scripts of cultures from Greece to Russia to China, as well as Ulfilas Gothic, Etruscan and Armenian, and studied philosophy and history. It also was at the Propaganda Fide that he printed, at the age of 22, his first books: an Arabic-Coptic missal and the Tibetan alphabet. To the eyes of his masters these works were so accomplished that he was allowed to put his own name on them: Romae excudehat Johannes Baptista Bodonus Salutiensis. After five years of his apprenticeship, Bodoni had not only mastered his trade, but had learned many foreign scripts as well, such as Punic and Tatarian Manchu, and was promoted to head of exotic scripts. [Ler mais...]