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t first glance when walking through an Italian city such as Venice, the combination of archi-

tecture, textures and type give the impression of taking a step back in time. The carved lettering shows the craftsmanship of a previous time. Then as one continues winding through the city, vernacular typography becomes more prevalent on restaurants and homes suggesting a true sense of community and closeness. The next

The vernacular manner of naming allyways on Burano island outside Venice.

turn reveals the spray painted graffiti of modern times on a building constructed hundreds of years ago. The stark contrast creates tension and feels out of place. Meanwhile, modern signage weaves into the cultured scenery more seamlessly. The bright colors and modern typefaces compliment the scenery rather than deface it. These four main types of lettering collaborate to create the modern day Italian faรงade.



A classical style building on the outside of a Piazza in Bologna, Italy.


treets of Rome and Venice are lined with carved typography. These older buildings are labeled

in a customary manner one would expect to see in Italy. In these cases the type is not meant to overshadow the architecture, but rather accentuate it. There is nothing loud about this type, but the craftsmanship is evident when examining the often serif typefaces. When considering these typefaces were carved by hand their impact is even

The carved manner of the lettering on this building in Bologna echoes the history of Italy and where these cities resonate from. Their combination with sculptural elements also gives them a classical feeling.

[Lettering] convey an impression,


as well as to spell out words; also it is part of a whole, and must be related to the function and design of that whole.

G ra y

more prominent. As Baines mentions in his essay on naming places, “the essential dynamic between utility and expression allows for lettering to say something more about the spaces and places around us.” These letters tell a lot about the history of typography and the people of Italy. Carved type is indicative of Italian history and where these cities came from. The type is a visual reminder of where these cities began. In most carved type cases, the

Different classical manners of type around Italy—from carved type to mosaic and etched type. The carved type shows the Italian roots of typography in general.


While in Rome While infor Rome a few for a few days, days, I visited the Colosseum and the


Forum directly across from the massive structure. The photos on this page all come from within the Forum. The ruins within the Forum are surrounded by beautiful gardens and sculptural works. The combination of type with sculptural elements creates an interesting dynamic. The carved serif typefaces suit the classical sculptures they are paired with. Surrounding the type with the beauty of the sculptures and flower gardens, gives the type a sense of place and purpose.


Carved type and sculptural elements seem to go hand in hand when it comes to the classical elements of Italy. Both of these examples come from the Forum in Rome. The element upon which the letters are carved also affects their presence. On the marble, the lettering becomes secondary to the sculpture.

forms are classical serifs, as those were prevalent in earlier centuries when these buildings were constructed. They show off the true craftsmanship it took to individually carve out each letter. The typefaces reflect the refined manner people perceive of these cities. Classical elements such as roman numerals are also prevalent in Italian cities as shown in these images of clocks in public spaces. These elements work well with their surroundings.

A couple clock towers (left in Venice and right in Bologna) showing the use of classical roman numerals.

[informs] the way we identify, and to some degree, respond to the places and spaces we visit. Bai n es




A look down the canal towards Rivarosa Ristorante on Burano island.


hile carved type works to deliver the history of Italy, the vernacular type commonly

found on restaurants and homes reminds visitors of the sense of family and community in these cities. The nature of these types is inviting and warm. Often against a bright backdrop, these typefaces demand attention and serve purposes of not only naming, but also adorning these buildings. This type exploration suggests a family-owned

A close up of the Rivarosa type and ornamentation on Burano island. The painted shadow on the type helps the letters to pop off of the wall. The stark white helps create contrast with the pastel building.

[Vernacular type is] unfinished,


un-professionally created and hand-done signs and handbills that comprise a great part of our everyday visual experience.


business. It makes restaurants or businesses, and ultimately the town, seem more intimate and casual—a place for the locals that has been around for a while and is not going anywhere anytime soon. Often these faces begin to fade, only adding to their character. The message becomes secondary often to the mere presence and style of the hand-made type. Vernacular typography, as Tosh recites, means “unfinished, un-professionally (not done by a paid,

Hand painted naming of the walkways on the island of Burano. Due to their painted nature, the letters being to fade and can even become difficult to read.


The three photos above show handmade signs by way of mosaic and stone. To the right is some ghost type in Florence, Italy. The fading type shows these places have been around for a while.

27 essential dynamic between utility and expression allows for lettering to say something more about the spaces and places around us.


“trained� graphic designer) created and hand-done signs and handbills that comprise a great part of our everyday visual experience.� These instances are specific and labeling, however also playful and inviting. They serve many purposes. Perfection in typography (such as in carved type) can become boring and monotonous, while vernacular type engages an audience and is particular to a specific place and time.

I first noticed the abundance of vernacular type along Italian walkways and on the family style restaurants. The majority of Italy already


feels very warm and opening. The vernacular type only adds to those comforting feelings. These signs are inviting, putting visitors at ease to feel welcome and a part of the tightknit community. Especially on the island of Burano was this vernacular type evident. Against the bright backdrop of the buildings, the hand painted signs and mosaic house numbers feel very much in place and a part of the scenery. Vernacular type has a way of reassuring visitors and making them feel welcome in a foreign land.

A hand painted sign showing directions to a specific location in Venice. The white background helps the sign stand out from the brick wall.




Looking through a little window along the street to an underground canal in Bologna.


he presence of graffiti in Italy is numerous and difficult to qualitatively judge. While some use it

as an artistic expression that is often beautiful, others seem to use it as a means of destruction or devalue. It is strange to be walking by buildings constructed hundreds of years ago and suddenly see spray painted type staining the walls. When one considers the broad definition of graffiti as “any inscription on any surface, usually public

Various forms of graffiti around a famous little window on the via Piella in Bologna. People from all around the world leave little messages on and around the window itself, as well as traditional graffiti.

Look at them for what they


are and see the beauty and ‘real’ expressiveness of the idea.


buildings or walls,� the practice can be traced back to the Roman Empire and ancient ruins in Pompeii. Knowing the history of graffiti provides more of a context to today’s graffiti, but is it the same? The practice of graffiti art reveals more about the Italian people mentality. Many natives consider graffiti as a form of urban art rather than vandalism, as it is seen in the United States. This practice gives these Italian cities yet another layer of character.

Visual respresentation of the spoken word.

Graffiti shows up on all different types of surfaces in Italy. These red benches in Venice pop from the brick and stone background, not only because of their bright hue but also the graffiti they are adorned with.



Italians appear more open and accepting of various art forms. Because their history involves so much culture in the arts, perhaps they are more willing to accept such a basic art form as graffiti. As demonstrated in these photos of graffiti found around various cities of Italy (such as Bologna, Venice and Parma), there is a wide degree of talent showcased—from clean and polished works to simply signatures on a wall.

39 Graffiti in Italy ranges from stenciled and planned out to messages scribbled on walls as individuals pass through an area.


As I was traveling As I was around travelingItaly aroundfor Italya for month, a month, I found the combination of graffiti on traditional, sometimes historical, structures most striking. As I was walking through the Forum, the ruins just outside the Colosseum, I saw beautiful fields of poppies as well as brick and stone structures elegantly crumbling. And then I would turn the corner and find a passageway completely covered with graffiti. For one, I was amazed security measures did not deter people from making their mark. I was also a little sad that someone felt the need to stain this picturesque scenery with miscellaneous type. Then, however, I could also qualify the graffiti art in some senses when I would consider these places as canvases themselves. It is difficult to draw the line between unnecessary distractions and artistic expression.

The graffiti across Italy ranges from spray painted to stenciled and glued, as well as signs hung up on sculptural elements of the cities.




The descriptive black type on yellow used with the vaporetto system in Venice.


nother common element becoming more prevalent is modern day signage. Everything

from wayfinding information to banners advertising art shows. These modern faces serve very particular and specific purposes of getting one’s attention and keeping it. Most of the time these are important messages that need to be communicated in a clear and concise manner. These signs function to communicate a

The vaporetto waterway system in Venice has clear, easy-to-read type. It is important to be able to read the stops quickly. The black against yellow creates a strong contrast.

[Modern signage is] simultaneously open


and closed, vague and specific, ostensibly neutral and yet loaded with connotations and stylistic mannerisms.

L u pton

The main purpose of modern signage is to stand out against the classical architecture. These signs use strong colors and clean sans serif typefaces to create that contrast and communicate a clear message.

Finally, in my exploration of type in Italy, I studied


the effects of modern typefaces and type treatments on the classical surroundings. This type

treatment is not as abundant as others, however it is one of the most effective in terms of standing out against this cultured background. I noticed

this type mostly as I visited various museums across Northern Italy. Museums, as well as others, would use modern signage to advertise various exhibits. I was probably more interested in the effect of the signs hanging from these classically constructed buildings rather than the messages

they shared, however in the mere fact they were meant to draw my attention, the signs were successful. This seemed to be the most effective way to grab my attention and force me to consider what the purpose of these signs was.


message quickly. They are especially successful against the traditional Italian backdrop because of the contrast created. Often their purpose is to communicate to both residents and outsiders; therefore they must break verbal barriers and become more visual. These signs use visual cues of color, pattern, and straightforward lettering to transcend these barriers. As Ellen Lupton suggests, these signs are “simultaneously open and closed, vague and

49 These storefronts in Venice and Florence aim to pull focus from their surroundings in order to grab the attention of walkerbys.

specific, ostensibly neutral and yet loaded with connotations and stylistic mannerisms.� The use of modern type also encourages interaction from the public. Hotel signs are trying to draw in people looking for a room, museum banners are trying to gain visitors and advertisements can almost be seen as blank canvases. The H&M ad featured in the vaporetto systems of Venice inspired someone to put their touch on the work.

51 Above, advertisements are meant to grab viewers attention and this sign does so in more than one way. The type is an accent to the image in this case. Also pictured on these pages, hotel signage is mainly three-deminsional and pops off of their antique architecture.

Combining these four main type practices of carved, vernacular, graffiti and modern signage, one begins to get a feel for not only today’s type story of Italy, but also the Italian people as a whole. They revel in tradition and culture, while also remaining open to the changing of times. They are community-minded and warm and inviting. As the culture grows, so does the expression of type within the cities.

This book was typeset in Din and Garamond. It was designed in Adobe InDesign and the photos were edited in Adobe Photoshop. These photos were shot with a Panasonic DMC-ZS3 camera. I would like to thank Kacie Eberhart and Alyssa Bastien for sharing some of their images with me. Baines (Naming Places and Defining Spaces), Tosh (Vernacular Type), and Meyers (The Value of the Narrative in the Education of a Typographer) for sharing some of their words with me. Professor Andrea Herstowski and Professor Linda Sampson-Talleur for sharing their knowledge on a study abroad trip to Northern Italy with me. My parents, Tim and Saundra Roche, for sharing their love and money for this trip with me. And finally, Professor Patrick Dooley for sharing his critiques and thoughts on this book with me.


Sources: Baines, Phil and Catherine Dixon. “Signs Lettering in the Environment. “London: Lawrence King Pub., 2008. Web. Meyers, Chris. “The Value of the Narrative in the Education of a Typographer.” Tbe Education of a Typographer. Ed. Steven Heller. 2004. Tosh, Paul. “The Uncultured Word: Vernacular Typography and Image.” 2007.


The Italian Facade  
The Italian Facade  

Book showcasing my words and images.