The Bodoni has become somewhat of an underdog. Its abrupt hairline serifs, distinct contrast of thick and thin strokes and mathematical, yes, even rational form construction have cursed it with an illegible status. Especially when tightly set without an abundent usage of white space, it has the tendency to sparkle and dazzle on a page.
As the most obvious of the modern face, vertical-stress or so called didone types, the Bodoni is, however, a tour de force of punch cutting and a tribute to its name giver Giambattista Bodoni of Parma. He designed hundreds of faces between about 1765 and 1813, all variations of what we now recognize as the Bodoni. All of them are recorded in his Manuale Tipographico, a magnificent type specimen book. It illustrates his total dedication to perfection, presumably stimulated in part by his ongoing competition with the quite similar Didot typeface.
Being one of the most prolific of all type designers, Giambattista Bodoni is joshingly called "typography's arch-romantic." And: "the nearest typographic counterpart to Byron and Liszt." Though a child of his time, influenced by the roman typefaces of Baskerville and Fournier, he was compelled to make a face that would impress the eye. Rather than continuing the reigning humanistic approach to type, maintaining the warmth and vitality of the calligrapher's brush, his faces would grow to reflect an intellectual, highly constructed origin. Giambattista Bodoni aimed for cleanliness and smoothness in the forms of his letters, to bring his type back to it's basic, angular form. Most of all, he wanted his type to be strong in its simplicity. His letters demand attention.
Currently, designers Riccardo Olocco and Jonathan Pierini are paying a tribute to Giambattista Bodoni and his extensive family of faces. This year they are publishing their Parmigiano Typographic System with the ambition of being the most extended family of fonts ever to have been inspired by the great Italian punchcutter. Under the nameCompulsive Bodonithey have organised an exhibition and presented short theatrical pieces that dramatize certain aspects of Bodoni's personality. The project was last on stage at the Special Collections Library in Amsterdam, during the AtypI conference.
On April Fools Day 1977, the Bodoni was already honored as the namegiver for the capital of the fictional isle of San Serriffe.