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Bodoni 1


a closer look

Giambattista Bodoni

A twenty–eight–year–old Bodoni was asked to take charge of the Stamperia Reale, the official press of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma. Bodoni accepted and became the private printer to the court. He printed official documents and publications desired by the Duke, in addition to projects conceived and initiated by Bodoni. His initial design influence was Fournier le Jeune, whose foundry supplied type and ornaments to the Stamperia Reale after Bodoni took charge. The quality of Bodoni’s design and printing, even though scholarship and proofreading were sometimes lacking, created a growing international reputation. In 1790, the Vatican invited Bodoni
to Rome to establish a press for printing the classics there, but the Duke countered with an offer of expanded facility and a privilege of printing for other clients. Bodoni elected to remain in Parma.

Above A portrait of Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), the original creator of the Bodoni Typeface.



Origins Bodoni Bodoni 30 pt.

Baskerville Baskerville 30 pt.

Didot Didot 30 pt.

Above Samples of the Bodoni, Baskerville, and Didot typefaces, each set at 30 pt. Although the typefaces appear similar, there are obvious differences, namely the rate at which the stroke weight changes.


Bodoni was no revolutionary. The modern roman style, which is attributed to him, did not, as many would believe, spring forth as if by magic. While the letters he cut and the books he printed were more refined and of exceptionally higher quality than most of the work originating before or during his lifetime, it would be difficult to classify any of Bodoni’s efforts as fundamentally new. When he was young, the work of John Baskerville served as his ideal; when he opened his first printing office for the Duke of Parma, Bodoni did so with type from Fournier. In later years, the work of his great Parisian competitor, Francois Didot, influenced him dramatically. Bodoni was always, in some manner, dependent on the work of other, bolder contemporaries. Yet despite these influences, he was not a copyist. A comparison of Bodoni’s type to Didot’s two designs that
on the surface may appear virtually identical is a perfect example.

There are distinct similarities in their work, and Bodoni surely studied Didot’s designs very carefully, but a close examination reveals that Bodoni’s weight transitions are more gradual and his serifs still maintain a slight degree of bracketing. There is even a hint of “old style” in Bodoni’s work. He followed Didot’s lead, carefully evaluating the designs of his great competitor, consciously remaining, however, always just slightly behind the radical modernism of his contemporary. Perhaps this explains to some degree the longevity of Bodoni’s type designs. They were radical enough to be considered new and different (to establish for Bodoni an important and influential place in current typographic circles), but not so different that they became the 18th-century versions of fad designs.

Above Bodoni’s original sketches for the Bodoni Typeface design. Almost all of the capital alphabet is pictured in both the Roman and Italic fonts. These sketches also include the meticulous development of the letter R.


Above Right The cover page for Giambattista Bodoni’s “Manuale Tipográfico” or “Typography Manual.” The text on the page is set in the Bodoni Typeface. Originally published in 1818, this book contains hundreds of pages of example type at different point sizes, as well as borders and ornaments for the typeface.


Left Bodoni MT Regular “R” set at point size 150. The development of this letterform is shown in the sketches above.


Characteristics strong thick-and-thin stroke contrast

hairline serifs

abrupt weight changes

Aa Bb

Above The Bodoni regular lowercase and uppercase “a” and “b” show the extreme and abrupt weight changes and stroke contrasts that are characteristic of the Bodoni typeface.


Bodoni created typefaces and typography to impress the eye. His designs were studied efforts meant to be seen as well as read. Few would deny that Bodoni’s typefaces are beautiful; unfortunately, few would say they are also easy to read. By current standards, his designs are, in fact, the antithesis of what an easily readable typeface should be. Had he known this fact, however, Bodoni would probably not have been very upset. His goal was not to create typography to be appreciated by the masses. His books and other printing exercises were large regal efforts meant to be looked upon and appreciated as works of art, rather than as mere pieces of communication.

Opposite Samples of the different fonts in the Bodoni Typeface family set at point size 16. The different fonts mostly vary by way of the thick-and-thin stroke contrasts

Beatrice Warde, an eminent typographic historian, in a famous essay, likened the perfect type to a crystal goblet. Her perfect type is transparent, or invisible, to the reader and allows the content to be enjoyed without coloration or distraction. Bodoni’s type is anything but a “crystal goblet.” Its hairline serifs, strong thick and thin stroke contrast, and abrupt weight changes cloud the reading process. Bodoni is no quiet servant to the communication process; it is a design that demands attention.

Bodoni – a closer look


Bodoni MT Regular 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Book Italic 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Italic 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Bold 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Bold Italic 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Ultra Bold 16 pt.



Bodoni MT Ultra Bold Italic 16 pt.


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxy z 5

Anatomy curved serif Bodoni was one of the most prolific type designers and considered an arch-romantic. His hundreds of faces embrace considerable variety, and more than 25,000 of his punches are in the Bodoni Museum in Parma. The revivals issued in his name reflect only a tiny part of this legacy, and many are simply parodies of his ideas. 
The typical features of Bodoni revivals are abrupt hairline serifs, ball terminal, vertical axis, small aperture, high contrast and exaggerated modulation. The ITC Bodoni, digitized in 1994-95 under the direction of Sumner Stone, are the closest of all the revivals to Bodoni’s mature style. (There are three versions, based on 6, 12 and 72 pt. originals.) Other favorites are the Bodoni cut by Louis Hoell for the Bauer Foundry, Frankfurt, in 1924, and the Berthold Foundry version, produced in 1930. Both have been issued in digital form. Small caps and text figures are essential to all of these designs.





hairline serif

Bodoni–a closer look

horizontal and heavy verticals

ovular counters ear




Above Bodoni MT Regular lowercase “typography” showing the features typical of the Bodoni typeface.



Comparison Didot




Above Diagram illustrating the subtle differences between the serifs in the two type families: Didot, and Baskerville.


Right Diagram illustrating the slight curve present in the Bodoni MT Regular lowercase “r.�


As seen in the diagram to the left, the Bodoni typeface is very distinct in its serif construction in comparison to Baskerville and Didot. In contemporary typefaces, Didot fonts generally have flat serifs, while the Bodoni serif is sightly tapered and the Baskerville serif is more slanted. The stem for the Bodoni letter “r,” is also more robust than that of the other two fonts, weighing the letterform down to the page. The Didot “r” stem is extremely long, accentuating the verticality of the font. Another difference between the three typefaces is the terminal shape on the letter “q.” The Bodoni terminal is abrupt and extremely round. On the other hand, the


Didot and Baskerville terminals are more graceful in there transition and slightly more square in shape. Specifically, the Baskerville terminal provides a very delicate finish to the letter form juxtaposed against the extreme thick-thin stroke contrast of Bodoni.

Above The capital letter “Q” set in 90 pt. Bodoni, Baskerville and Didot. The tail of the “Q” in each typeface is unique. A feature of Bodoni is that the tail of the “Q” is centered under the letter’s counter.






Comparison Bodoni vs. Didot vs. Baskerville

A A A d d d Xx Xx Xx

thicker serif

slight curve

shorter x-height

Right Diagram illustrating the subtle differences between the letterforms in the three type families: Bodoni, Didot, and Baskerville. These similarities demonstrate where Bodoni found inspiration for his design.


m mm Didot



Left Diagram illustrating the subtle differences between the letterforms in the three type families, Bodoni, Didot, and Baskerville, via the letter “m.� While the typefaces are similar the differences become more noticeable here. The verticalitiy in Didot, for example, is accentuated against Bodoni and Baskerville.



Media Bodoni is not only used for high end fashion labels, but also used in fashion magazine spreads, magazine covers and posters. When set at a large point size, the Bodoni typeface is very aesthetically pleasing making it a perfect header font. While Bodoni today is mostly found in advertising, and multimedia ventures, occasionally it is also used for fine book printing. However, this typeface is generally not suited for large body copy. The verticality of the letterforms interrupts natural horizontal reading patterns from left to right. The graceful nature of Bodoni’s serifs, the manner in which they are graceful but not bracketed, creates a sense of essential elegance that creates an ideal link between the Victorian Era


and the modern design period. This elegance is then translated frequently into the fashion industry due to the fact that Bodoni works well when applying a more contemporary feeling to a finished and printed product.

Right Samples of Bodoni being used in Modern pop culture and media design. It is frequently used as a display type to quickly grab the reader’s attention. Top: Calvin Klein Brand Logo Bottom Left: the cover of Vogue Magazine Bottom Right: the Mamma Mia musical poster

Bibliography References



Benton, Morris Fuller. “Bodoni.” Fonts. com. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Philip B. Meggs, A History of Graphic Design (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), 124. 2. Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 46, 48. 3. Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 46, 49, 50. 4. Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style (Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, 1992), 217, 218.

Bodoni, Giambattista. Preface to the Manuale Tipografico of 1818, translated by H. V. Marrot, London: Lion & Unicorn Press, 1953.
(SC: Z232 B66 1953)
Note: See the list at special collections for this designer. Bodoni, Giambattista. Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura de Giovanni Mardersteig, Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1968.
(SC: Z232 B66 1788a 4o) Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks, 1997. (A&A: Z246 B745 1996 and Vault)


Cleland, T. M. Giambattista Bodoni of Parma. Boston: Society of Printers, 1916. (SC: Z232 B66 C5)

Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990. (SC: Z250 L34 1990)

“Font Designer – Giambattista Bodoni.” Linotype. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Linotype. “Bodoni.” - Webfont & Desktop Font « MyFonts. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Ifoundmedinosaurs. “Bodoni: The History of Being Awesome.” Ifoundmedinosaurs. N.p., 24 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. Haley, Allan. Typographic Milestones. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. (SC: Z250 A2 H18 1992 4o)

Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, essays by Carolyn Annand ... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKelvey, New York: RC Publications, 2000.
(A&A: Z250.R45 2000)

Jaspert, W. Pincus. The Encyclopedia of Typefaces. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; New York: Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling, 1983. 
(SC: Z250 J36 1983)


GB This book was created by Rachel Healey in April 2015 in Typography I at the Sam Fox School of Art & Design. This book is set in Futura, Baskerville, and Bodoni.

Bodoni Typeface Book  
Bodoni Typeface Book