October 20

Although the great Italian printer, Giambattista Bodoni, died in 1813, his native city of Suluzzo waited fifty-nine years before honoring him with a statue, unveiled upon this day in 1872. The inscription upon this statue, unfortunately, was most carefully composed in old style letters!

To a craftsman of the stature of Bodoni this was indeed a most unkind cut, since he was lionized during his lifetime for his sharply contrasted types which today form the basis for the “modern” classification of types. His reputation as the great printer of his era was well-earned, even if his status was immeasurably aided by a subsidy from the Duke of Parma, allowing him great freedom to print without any concern for the more commercial aspects of running a printing office—presumably a problem with many of his competitors.

As a typographer Bodoni was supreme. Everything which he undertook was produced with meticulous care. He was lavish with the use of white space in a period when most books appeared to be overcrowded with type, ornament, and illustration. His use of capital letters in title pages can not be faulted for optical spacing and careful selection of sizes and grouping of elements.

A visit to Parma to see Bodoni was considered to be a part of the Grand Tour of the continent indulged in by wealthy men and their families, along with notables of the literary and artistic world. The novelist Stendahl described his visit to Parma in an anecdote which is indicative of the attitude of the great printer to his work:

“To do my duty as a traveler I presented myself to Monsieur Bodoni, the celebrated printer. I was greatly surprised. This Piedmontais is not at all ostentatious but in love with his art. After having shown me all his French authors he demanded of me which I preferred, the Telemaque of Fenelon, the Racine, or the Boileau. I vowed they all seemed equally beautiful. ‘Ah Monsieur,’ cried Bodoni, ‘you don’t see the title of the Boileau? I looked at it for a long time and was forced to admit that I could not see anything more perfect in that title. ‘Ah Monsieur,’ cried Bodoni again, ‘Boileau Desproux in one single line of capitals. I spent six months before I could decide upon exactly that type!’”

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