An even more significant contributor to the neoclassical style was Giambattista Bodoni, born in Italy in 1740. He learned his art from his printer father, developing his skill from cutting woodblocks. At the age of 18, he became a compositor in the Vatican printing office, growing his interest in the cutting of punches for almost 10 years. In 1768, he accepted the offer of Ferdinando, the seventeen-year-old Duke of Parma, to oversee the royal printing house. It was in Parma where Bodoni had the chance to work with a press of the highest quality and the finest paper and ink. When he first began to print, Bodoni employed the characters and ornaments of P. S. Fournier and produced several delightful specimens with this material. Likely enough it was Baskerville’s undecorated and classical edition of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in 1773, handsomely printed in Italian, that sparked his admiration, and within the next few years Bodoni is to be found widely spacing his types and pages following Baskerville’s example of plain typography, wide margins, and title pages with minimal ornament or pure type.

Manuale Tipografico, Specimen manual of Bodoni's Press, 1818. (published after his death)


In his first type forms, it was still notable the inspiration of the transitional models of Fournier, although he progressively started to develop his own style in the following years and escaped his dependence, probably because he had also became aware of the books being printed in France by the Didots, whose designs competed with Fournier’s.[8]  When he presented the first part of the Manuale tipografico in 1788, it was a specimen book with his new original style of type and exquisite printing production. His types presented a considerable departure from the ones he had been using. By emphasising the thick lines and refining the thins, he produced an unprecedented sharpness of contrast, exaggerated by the brilliance of his ink, the sharpness of his impressions and the luxury of his paper. The total effect was such as to seduce every European typographer and all the fashionable amateurs.[9]

[8] Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface, David R. Godine Publisher, Boston, 1990, p.199[9] Morison, Stanley and Kenneth Day, The Typographic Book 1450—1935, Ernest Benn Ltd, London 1963, p.47
Pierre Simon Fournier, 1745
Giambattista Bodoni, 1771
John Baskerville, 1773
Giambattista Bodoni, 1771


Bodoni established his own Foundry in 1791 when he had complete stylistic freedom. The first book from the private press, Horace’s Flacci Opera, set the true Bodoni style modern type, often all uppercase, letter spaced, minimal of any decoration and a lot of white space. A style which he would explore and perpetuate until his death. Minutely varied his weight, his extruders and his serifs as well as condensing or expanding, to ensure that he could obtain precisely the wished desired effect in his printed different volumes. Yet all the designs were variants of a basic Modern letterform.

His monumental work, the stately office and his prolific output of exotics and scripts, in addition to romans and italics in a dozen varieties and in barely detectable gradations, ensured for him in his lifetime and after a European reputation, becoming the typographical idol of the man of taste.[10] Paris itself was at last surpassed in typographical prestige and the development of his typeface postdated the one by Firmin Didot, between who was a considerable professional jealousy, but in tandem they were both responsible for the growth in the modern style popularity and development.

Bodoni’s studies on shapes of alphabetical characters became the exclusive object of presentations in the “manuals”, that were samples of types Bodoni had been preparing and improving since 1771. In 1788 he published the first manual Manuale tipografico containing a hundred Roman type alphabets, fifty italics and twenty-eight Greek alphabets and the essay Serie di majuscole e caratteri cancellereschi.[11]

[10] Morison, Stanley. A tally of types: with additions by several hands, past and present, David R. Godine, Publisher Boston, London, 1999, p.31[11]

Following Bodoni’s death in 1813, his widow continued the printing office, producing the grate two-volume Manuale Tipografico in 1818. This work is rightly considered among the finest specimen books ever produced. In the preface, Bodoni’s ideas as a printer and punch-cutter are best expressed in his own words “It is proper here to offer the four different heads under which it seems to me are derived the beauties of type, and the first of these is regularity — conformity without ambiguity, variety without dissonance, and equality and symmetry without confusion. A second and not minor value is to be hailed from sharpness and definition, neatness and finish. From the perfection of the punches in the beginning come the polish of the well-cast letter which should shine like mirror on its face”.[12]

[12] Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface, David R. Godine Publisher, Boston, 1990, p.200

This article is part of my final project for the Advanced Typography Master 2016—2017 at EINA, Centre Universitari de Disseny i Art de Barcelona — The Revival of the Neoclassic Typefaces, tutor: Albert Corbeto