For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), he is one of the fathers of the modern typographic world. On par with the Didot family (France) and John Baskerville (Britain), Bodoni's body of work very much shaped 19th and early 20th century type.
Along with Didot, Bodoni developed a type called "New Face" which set the aesthetic precedent for a type with strong, bold strokes coupled with fine, elegant ones—an aesthetic we are all familiar with, no matter how much we know about typography. Bodoni furthered this style throughout his life, and through his ridiculous level of skill at punchcutting and composition achieved types so visually striking that editions printed in them were more valued for their aesthetic power than their literary merit.
In 1818, after Bodoni's death in 1813, his widow published the Manuale Tipografico, a mega type-text exhibiting hundreds of subtly different faces, all designed by Giambattista, who was himself a 'compulsive experimenter'. And while his name has been used for many 20th century revival typefaces, a fascinating and ambitious new project is turning out an amazing new family that you guys should know about.
Compulsive Bodoni Project
Graphic designers Riccardo Olocco and Jonathan Pierini have started the Parmigiano Typographic System with the ambition of making the largest ever family of typefaces, all inspired by Bodoni's Manuale but in a modern aesthetic. Originally a project to catalogue all the faces in the Manuale, the project became the Compulsive Bodoni Project (its exhibition name), comprised of hundreds of typographic experiments in Roman and foreign alphabets, all inspired by Bodoni's work. The Parmigiano Typographic System, or "Parmigiano", is the new, distilled family of typefaces born from the project (seen @ left).
These guys have approached the project with the same compulsion and attentional to detail that Bodoni displays in the Manuale. Most fascinating is their insistence on morphological evolution over optical evolution when developing a face through different sizes. This, they claim, is a technique strait out of the master's playbook, but one that I didn't understand at first.
Instead of simply reducing the width of each stroke when rescaling a typeface from Bold to Light, let's say, they instead have changed the proportion of the letters, the curve of the bowl and tail, and the fineness of the classic Bodoni-inspired light strokes—the technical name for which is completely unknown to me, sorry. You can see this approach in the lower case 'a', whose bowl and overall height is adjusted for each weight, reducing the character from a heavy figure to a refined display icon. Love. Other specific manifestation of this compulsion are the height (as seen) and width of the characters from one subfamily to another, as well as the terminals, the serifs, and the ligatures.
Both on the project website and on an recent interview with I Love Typography (where I first learned about Parmigiano), Olocco calls their new typefaces "irreverent descendants" of Bodoni's original collection, which also puts a smile on my face. A couple weeks ago I mentioned being irreverential of our antecedents' work as a way of furthering ideas and design systems—though at the time I was making fun of a train wreck student project found on the blogs for a new series. But these guys have done it right, through their meticulous and, I'm sure, arduous work. They've also produced slab and typewriter faces, still loosely inspired by Bodoni's methods, which they openly acknowledge to have been invented decades after Bodoni died. This, my friends, is excellent design craft at work. I personally can't wait until the family, which is currently and, it seems, perpetually evolving, is ready for personal use.
For way more information about Bodoni, his collection of typefaces, the project and its history, check out their website and interview. Also Taschen reprinted a two volume edition of the Manuale Tipografico, which you can buy here for your personal aesthetic edification.