Giambattista Bodoni

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Portrait of Bodoni (c. 1805-1806), by Giuseppe Lucatelli. Museo Glauco Lombardi.

Giambattista Bodoni (February 26, 1740 in Saluzzo[1] – November 30, 1813 in Parma[2]) was an Italian typographer, type-designer, compositor, printer and publisher in Parma.

He first took the type-designs of Pierre Simon Fournier as his exemplars, but afterwards became an admirer of the more modelled types of John Baskerville; and he and Firmin Didot evolved a style of type called 'New Face', in which the letters are cut in such a way as to produce a strong contrast between the thick and thin parts of their body. Bodoni designed many type-faces, each one in a large range of type sizes. He is even more admired as a compositor than as a type-designer, as the large range of sizes which he cut enabled him to compose his pages with the greatest possible subtlety of spacing. Like Baskerville, he sets off his texts with wide margins and uses little or no illustrations or decorations.

There have been several modern revivals of his type-faces, all called Bodoni. They are often used as display faces.

Working life[edit]

Early years in Rome[edit]

Giambattista Bodoni was born on 16 February 1740 at Saluzzo in Savoy (now the Piedmont region of Italy). He came from a printmaking background, his father and grandfather both being in that trade.[3]

He worked for a time in Rome as an apprentice in the Roman Catholic Church's Propaganda Fide printing house. There, it was said, he impressed his superiors so much with his eagerness to learn, studiousness in mastery of ancient languages and types, and energy of effort, that he was allowed to place his own name on his first books, a Coptic Missal and a version of the Tibetan alphabet.[3]

Career in Parma[edit]

With John Baskerville in Britain and the Didot family in France, Bodoni became a leader in originating pseudoclassical typefaces.[4]

In 1768 after recovering from a long battle with malaria, Bodoni was hired by the Duke Ferdinando of Bourbon-Parma to organize a printing house in Parma, to be one of the great houses of Italy, called la Stamperia Reale (Royal Printing-house). Bodoni got to work publicizing the house with the creation of specimen books, which were well received.[3] He followed these with his first book - Descrizione Delle Feste Celebrate In Parma L'Anno MDCCLXIX. Per Le Auguste Nozze Di Sua Altezza Reale L'Infante Don Ferdinando Colla Reale Arciduchessa Maria Amalia (1769). Soon, fine editions of classical and respected works followed, such as Homer's works and Gerusalemme Liberata of Torquato Tasso. Eventually Bodoni's success was such that he was permitted to open a printing house under his own name, Officina Bodoni.

Bodoni had been appointed by Minister Guillame du Tillot to grow learners in the art of printing and typemaking. The Amoretti Brothers proved to be his best pupils until 1791, when they claimed authorship over the famous Bodoni type. Master and learners argued tremendously and the latters left him, to establish their own typefoundry in the native hamlet of San Pancrazio Parmense.

Bodoni died on 30 November 1813.

Character of his work[edit]

Non-roman character samples in manuscript, Bodoni, ca. 1800

Bodoni achieved an unprecedented level of technical refinement, allowing him to faithfully reproduce letterforms with very thin "hairlines", standing in sharp contrast to the thicker lines constituting the main stems of the characters. He became known for his designs of pseudoclassical typefaces and highly styled editions some considered more apt "to be admired for typeface and layout, not to be studied or read."[5] His printing reflected an aesthetic of plain, unadorned style, combined with purity of materials. This style attracted many admirers and imitators, surpassing the popularity of French typographers such as Philippe Grandjean and Pierre Simon Fournier.

Unflagged by his famous rivalry with Didot, in his life Bodoni designed and personally engraved 298 typefaces, and the various printing houses he managed produced roughly 1,200 fine editions.[6] After his death at Parma, 1813, his widow published Il Manuale tipografico (The Manual of Typography), presenting 373 characters, 34 Greek and 48 Oriental or exotic ones. William Morris considered Bodoni's mechanical perfection in typography the ultimate example of modern ugliness, saying his typefaces were 'shatteringly hideous'.[7] On his chest, when examining his dead body they found the deep scar left by the bar of the printing press.[8]

Bodoni Museum[edit]

The Bodoni Museum, named for the artisan, was opened in Parma, Italy in 1963.[9]

Notable editions[edit]

  • Horace (1791)
  • Vergil (1793)
  • The Divine Comedy (1795)
  • Homer (1808) This work has been singled out for praise for the fidelity of the Greek letters to the form of those in Greek manuscripts.[10][11]


Further reading[edit]

  • G. de Lama, Vita del Cavaliere Giambattista Bodoni ... Ristampa ... cura di Leonardo Farinelli e Corrado Mingardi (1816; 1989)
  • De Azara - Bodoni [correspondence] ed. A. Ciavarella (1979)
  • M. E. Cosenza, Biographical and bibliographical dictionary of the Italian printers ... to 1800 (1968)
  • G. Giani, Catalogo delle autentiche edizioni bodoniane (1948)
  • H. C. Brooks, Compendiosa bibliografia di edizioni bodoniane (1927)
  • R. Bertieri, L'Arte di Giambattista Bodoni (1913)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Treccani Encyclopedia entry.
  2. ^ Museo Bodoniano biography.
  3. ^ a b c Beat Brechbuhl. (2001, July). Giambattista Bodoni: King of typographer, typographer of kings. Graphis, 58(334), 90-100.
  4. ^ Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition; 7/1/2010, p1-1, 1p
  5. ^ Bodoni, Giambattista. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition [serial online]. January 2009:1-1. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 7, 2009.
  6. ^ Beat Brechbuhl. (2001, July). Giambattista Bodoni: King of typographer, typographer of kings. Graphis, 58(334), 90-100.
  7. ^ Lawson, A. (1990). Anatomy of a typeface. Boston: Godine, p.200.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Bodoni Museum". briar press official website. briar press. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  10. ^ Public Domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bodoni, Giambattista". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  11. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bodoni, Giambattista". Encyclopedia Americana. 

External links[edit]