Bodoni Museum, Parma, Italy

Bodoni Matrices

Bodoni Museum, Parma, Italy
Date of Visit: Early October, 2010
Address:  Biblioteca Palatina – Strada alla Pilotta, 3 – 43100 Parma – Italia |

Bodoni printed cover, Bodoni bust at the entrance

Our trip to the Bodoni Museum was a wonderfully rich and relaxing experience, partially due to our being the only visitors present and the lovely staff. The museum is not freely open to the public but access can be obtained by advanced request—in our case it was organized through fax. (It required dredging up old Italian skills honed during an apprenticeship under Nino Caruso in Rome plus a good dash of Babelfish).

It is made clear that you will be on your own, that all materials are in Italian and that the lunch hour closing is a principal consideration in scheduling the visit. A list of  Italian-English interpreters was offered but we felt we could manage on our own.

The museum is located deep within a massive building housing the Biblioteca Palatina. You are met at the door and ushered up a tiny elevator to the Bodoni floor. Walking through the staff office you arrive in the exhibition hall, a high-ceilinged space ringed by showcases of Bodoni’s work arranged in chronological order. Actually the first few showcases cover printing history pre-Bodoni, full of original and facsimile examples, wonderfully instructive for school visits.

The center aisle holds vitrines full of the type making equipment, the tools for punchcutting, molds and Bodoni’s sketches. There is also a full-scale printing press of the ilk Bodoni would have used. On the wall above the cases were a series of handsome large instructive posters describing the various classifications of type.

Type mold with cast letter in place
Bodoni capital punches
Bodoni capital punches

While it was fantastic to see the original books, equally captivating were Bodoni’s original sketches demonstrating both his design explorations and his informal handwriting and numbering.sketches2

Borders, Printed and sketched


We were there not only to see Mr. Bodoni, but also to see what we could learn of Mrs. Bodoni, Signora Paola Margherita Dall ‘Aglio, who printed the Manuale Tipografico after Bodoni’s death and ran the printing office for an additional 20 years. Widows frequently inherited their husband’s presses and in some cases, as Mrs. Bodoni did, assured their spouse’s place in history by completing their work. As would be expected she was “highly cultivated, and a most amiable and excellent woman.”

Unfortunately for us, information about her had been removed in preparation for the October 15th Congress of Printing Museums. Regardless the final cases displayed books with her name on the title page as publisher. The words La Vedova (Italian) and La Veuve (French) meaning widow.We spent the entire morning uninterrupted as our non-designer companion dozed off some jet lag on a side bench. His reward was a deliciously slow lunch at a local bistro including Parma ham appetizer, pumpkin ravioli and a bottle of Barollo.

Printed by the Widow Bodoni
A French publication by Signora Bodoni

Written by N. Stock-Allen

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