segni esemplari

A voyage around the shape of lettering to celebrate the bicentenary of Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico

Only recently the year ended in which the bi-centenary of the publication of Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico occurred, and the occasion has prompted an exhibition and study day organised by the Fondazione Museo Bodoniano of Parma.    The manual was published posthumously by Bodoni’s widow in order to bring to completion a long-matured project taken on by her husband. It consists of a collection of 665 different alphabets and a series of around 1,300 friezes, as well as a foreword in which Bodoni lays out some of his working methods.    There was a previous collection of typefaces printed by Bodoni in 1788, at the time also entitled Manuale Tipografico, but the work lacks a preface or other explanatory text. It is probable that the letter founder from Parma had borrowed the title from a small technical manual by Fournier, the Manuel Typographique of 1764, but in reality the two volumes, although sharing the same name, were objects with very different functions. Indeed, Fournier’s was a manual in the real sense of the term, an explanatory publication describing the essential elements of the complex activity of the letter founder, from punch-cutting to producing matrices and ultimately moveable characters. Whereas that of Bodoni was a sample book displaying typefaces and ornaments that he had designed.    The Manuale Tipografico of 1818 is something else again, being more of a hybrid that, despite its name, belongs neither to the field of manuals, nor to the field of typeface catalogues. Here, what we find is a proud and monumental summary of his activity, which Bodoni wanted to conserve in time, setting it down in black and white.    Taking these elements as a starting point, alongside the display of Bodoni’s books, his punches and matrices, hand-written notes and archival documents we are showing a selection of manuals and typeface catalogues, or specimens as they were then called, designed by other typographers (before and after 1818), with the aim of bringing to a less-specialised public these two distinct and little known types of publications. What they have in common, however, is the object at the centre of the work, which is to say alphabet letters in their printed form: writing that as it spread has had such a weighty effect on western culture over the last five centuries.    In parallel, part of the exhibition is dedicated to printing today. A select group of international graphic designers has contributed to the making of a typographical poster. The objective of this section is to set up a visual recognition of concepts around the potential of writing expressed by designers who are known for their outstanding and conversant approach to printing. If the poster can be defined as a programmatic document that lays out rules and inspirational principles, we find ourselves in the unusual situation in which the object in question and its shape coincide, as do the designer and contributor.    Exemplary Signs, therefore, are visual testimonies that allow us to trace our changing history by means of the evolving shapes of lettering, and to take the opportunity to set in motion new critical discussions on the theme of writing as a tool of knowledge.   —  Silvana Amato


—  the exhibition segni esemplari was curated by Silvana Amato;

—  in collaboration with Grazia De Rubeis and Caterina Silva;
—  it was made possible thanks to the valuable contributions of Majid Abbasi, Peter Bilak, Matthew Carter, Simon Esterson, Vince Frost, Mark Gowing, Joost Grootens, Jianping He, Henrik Kubel, Zuzana Licko, Sascha Lobe, Ellen Lupton, Karel Martens, Ahn Sang-Soo, Gerwin Schmidt, António Silveira Gomes, Erik Spiekermann, Astrid Stavro, Sumner Stone, Lucille Tenazas, Patrick Thomas and Rudy VanderLans;
— many thanks to Chiara Medioli;

—  the volumes on display come for the most part from the collection at the Palatina Library; further loans were kindly made by the Tipoteca Italiana and the AIAP Archive of Graphic Design;
—  Rosanna Lama and Nicolò Mingolini collaborated with Silvana Amato on the exhibition’s graphic design;
the typeface used in the text is Caponi by Paul Barnes and Christian Schwartz, Commercial Type 2014, whose shapes are based on typefaces designed in the early years of Bodoni’s activity;
—  ornaments and other occasional signs are taken from Bodoni Ornaments and ITC Bodoni by Sumner Stone;
—  Fedrigoni is the technical sponsor of the exhibition.

— the exhibition has the patronage of AGI Alliance Graphique Internationale, Aiap, Università Isia di Urbino.