Books On Books Collection – Olafur Eliasson

Your House (2006)

Your House (2006)
Olafur Eliasson
Hardback handbound with 454 laser cut leaves. H273 × W432 × D114 mm. Edition of 225, of which this is #210. Acquired from Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art, August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Your House is a laser-cut model of Olafur Eliasson’s residence in Copenhagen at a scale of 1:85, which means that each page equates to a 220 mm section of the actual house. How do you read a work like this — physically? At the 22″ mark in the video below, the pages fall in a cascade like a flipbook, but for the most part, their size, accumulated bulk and weight — and delicacy — defy that handling. They must be turned slowly and carefully. Your House heeds the task of the arts as posed by the architect Juhani Pallasmaa, “in our age of speed, …to defend the comprehensibility of time, its experiential plasticity, tactility and slowness” (The Embodied Image, p. 78).

Your House (2014)
Studio Olafur Eliasson

As you move from Your House‘s entrance to its exit, the outlines of walls, floors, stairs, doors, domes, windows, fireplaces and bookcases tremble in the air. Is this what Gaston Bachelard calls “the material imagination”? What Juhani Pallasmaa calls “the embodied image”?

Video: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

There is something meditative about reading Your House properly. The cautious repetitive turning of pages can induce a daydream of inhabiting the space revealed. At some point in turning the pages, the empty shapes begin to become “your house”. Perhaps you see yourself moving through its spaces, and imagined furnishings occupying its rooms.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Or perhaps as in the sequence above — the end of one room (or chapter or part) and the start of another — you become a ghost — with all the work’s past and future readers — passing through the walls.

Video: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard writes of poetic time and prosodic time. The one is vertical, a spot in time, a frozen moment; the other is horizontal, a narrative, a continuity. But they are not mutually exclusive. Your House is a site where poetic and prosodic time occupy the same space. More than that, it is a site where temporality, as Eliasson puts it, “becomes something you perform by involving yourself physically over time” and thereby you become, “in the end, the createur” (“Not how, but why!”, p. 108).

Contact is Content (2014)

Contact is Content (2014)
Olafur Eliasson
Casebound, cloth mesh-covered board. H345 x W310 x D50 mm, 416 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Like Your House, this work requires a slow, careful interaction in which viewing becomes learning the language of Eliasson’s images, discovering its syntax and exploring its rhymes and rhythms — reading the content presented with it. Unlike Your House, which focuses on contact with one source of content, Contact is Content draws on multiple sources: photographs Eliasson took in Iceland between 1986 and 2013 as well as images from his other projects and artworks. Over 80 different series make up the content of this work. The overwhelming number of round images — artificial and natural — in Contact is Content might suggest that Eliasson is completely sold on Bachelard’s pronouncement in The Poetics of Space that all being is round. But Eliasson’s world is spikier.

Within Contact is Content, images converse with one another — over near and far subjects, over aerial and ground level perspectives, over contrasting textures, over colors and their absence or presence, over artifice and nature

Often the conversations are reverse echoes: the reflective surface of blocks of ice echoes that of basalt.

The echo of near and far becomes a theme in itself: black-and-white aerial views of landscapes elide into black-and-white close-ups.

The absence and presence of color also emerges as a theme in its own right that interweaves with that of “near and far”: waterfalls without color vs waterfalls with the barest hint of color; close-ups of rocky terrain without color vs those dotted with intensely green or blue flora.

Some reverse echoes are the artificial conversing with nature: a gallery room containing a construction pumping water upwards over four levels echoes an Icelandic waterfall; or shorescapes under fog echo human outlines swallowed up in gallery rooms flooded with color-lit mists. Down to up; outside to inside; black-and-white to color; nature to artifice. And back.

Some of these artifice/nature echoes are compressed into one image: a brightly half-painted stick of driftwood echoes the multiple color wheels used to punctuate the stretches of landscape images.

Other echoes occur within the span of artifice (whole color wheels echoed by sliced black ones) before colliding with nature (a piece of driftwood impaled by a glass triangle) and then jumping back to artifice (round mirrors bisected at floor and wall and cascading upwards to be bisected by wall and ceiling).

Some echoes occur across dozens and dozens of pages. Still others occur in the single turn of a page.

These are but a few of the themes that Eliasson weaves into a narrative with his images, artworks and projects. Every encounter with this book as container seems to reveal a new theme.

Contact (2014)

Contact (2014)
Olafur Eliasson
Front and back covers and center spread of exhibition catalogue in paperback. Designed by Irma Boom. Acquired from Artbooksonline.eu, 27 September 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Contact interprets the eponymous site-specific exhibition, commissioned by the Fondation Louis Vuitton and held in its Frank Gehry-designed building, 17 December 2014 through 23 February 2015. Here is the artist’s statement on Contact:

being in contact is the opposite of being disconnected. to be in contact is to be aware of the consequences that your actions have in and on the world. contact is about experience rather than consumption. to be in contact is to be in touch with the good things in life as well as with the difficult things in life. contact can be a greeting, a smile, the feeling of another person’s hand in your hand. contact is not a picture, it is not a representation; it is about your ability to reach out, connect, and perhaps even put yourself in another person’s place. for me, contact is where inclusion begins. contact is the highest luxury of all. olafur eliasson

Contact is also between page and page. Eliasson and Irma Boom, “the queen of books”, have worked together on several works. Boom’s mastery of the full bleed, double-page spread and gutter is the perfect match for this volume that brings the virtual into contact with the material.

Contact is also between paper and ink, between black and white as well as between dark and light when the book’s fluorescent title glows in a darkened room. The cover’s fluorescent ink, however, is not integral enough with the rest of the book to rise above an amusing touch; whereas contact between black and white extends to the division of the book into black and white halves.

In the first half of the book, photographs on entirely black paper present a codex-experience of the exhibition. In the second half of the book, drawings take the viewer behind the scenes of the exhibition’s design and, retrospectively, train the eye to read the book as exhibition.

This incorporation of design drawings draws attention to time, and Contact is very much about our perception of time. In her book Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice, Marian Macken refers to “the tenses of the book”. Especially when presented in a book, architectural plan drawings “are not fixed in their sequence, but instead may be read and interpreted as existing within a range of times, such as the time of their making, of the present of the reader, the future they may refer to, and the contextual moment of apprehension” (p. 157). In the case of this “book of the exhibition”, published to coincide with the exhibition, the plan drawings and photographs exist in the exhibition’s past and present. For an exhibition attendee, they exist as a reminder of a personal past performance of contact with the exhibition. For attendees and non-attendees, they bring the exhibition’s past and future together in the present in a performance of contact guided by the architecture of the book.

How appropriate it is that, in her essay in the book’s white section, Caroline A. Jones writes, “Personally, I will not have seen the installations that the present text accompanies” — as is/will be the case for many of us experiencing Contact only in its book form. Jones’ essay is entitled “Event Horizon: Olafur Eliasson’s Raumexperimente”, which confirms that contact is not only about perception of time, but of space as well. While Jones teases out how the exhibition will play/plays/played with the astrophysical conundrum, she cites a comment from Eliasson in conversation that captures a simpler view: “There is a tradition of the horizon as a boundary between the known and unknown. But as you approach, it fades in, or comes into your experience. You can think of it as a space” (p. 133).

Space — which brings up the awkward point of the setting in which the exhibition occurred. Since the Renaissance, imagination in art and science has sat sometimes uneasily, sometimes too easily with wealth and privilege. There may be nothing democratic in Eliasson’s expensive, spectacular art, but Contact’s fusion of science, art, nature (Earth-bound and cosmic) and social connectedness contrasts pointedly and paradoxically with its setting in the opulent property of a global luxury brand — “the blandishments of follies and bling” as Jones puts it. As Eliasson’s artist statement asserts: “contact is about experience rather than consumption….is where inclusion begins….is the highest luxury of all”. But without the Fondation’s patronage, the experience of Contact in situ or even in these artfully designed pages would be denied.

Somewhat less reconcilable is the statement “contact is not a picture,… is not a representation”. Placing contact with art (a picture, a representation) in opposition to contact through human touch and empathy is not quite right. Just as Your House resonates with the perspective of the physicist/philosopher/humanist Bachelard, for whom the image is language, so too does the language of Contact as exhibition, images, objects, book — and experience. We cannot have contact without it.

Studio Olafur Eliasson. 2015. Olafur Eliasson, Contact, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris 2014 – 2015.

Further Reading, Looking & Listening

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2019.

Bachelard, Gaston, M. Jolas, and Etienne Gilson. 1964. The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Chavasse, Paule. Interviewer. 1959. “Gaston Bachelard – Entretien : La poétique de l’espace.” Radiodiffusion Française (RDF). 1959. Accessed 8 February 2021.

Denis, Claire. 2016. Contact by Olafur Eliasson. Video. 8 March 2016. Accessed 7 February 2021.

Eliasson, Olafur. 2009. “Not how, but why!” in Concrete Design Book on Implicit Performance. Eds. Siebe Bake and Billy Nolan. Brussels: FEBELCEM.

Fondation Louis Vuitton. 2015. Contact – Olafur Eliasson. Video. 13 January 2015. Accessed 7 February 2021.

Jones, Caroline A. 2014. “Event Horizon: Olafur Eliasson’s Raumexperimente”, pp. 132-37, in Contact. Paris: Flammarion.

Marian Macken. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2016. “Matter, Hapticity and Time Material Imagination and the Voice of Matter.” Building Material, no. 20: 171-89. Accessed February 8, 2021.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2011. The embodied image: imagination and imagery in architecture. Chichester: J. Wiley & Sons.

Razzall, Katie. 2013. “Celebrating books… with pages made of glass“, Channel 4 News, 20 September 2013. Accessed 3 November 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Yasushi Cho

LDK 2,020 (2020)

LDK 2,020 (2020)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

LDK 2,020, LDK FL00R and LDK 2,009 make up part of a series. Their letters L, D and K stand for Living, Dining and Kitchen and are the usual abbreviations in Japanese apartment/flat sales leaflets. Every day they arrive or can be picked up on the street, and Cho creates collages from them, digitally printing them on stiff translucent paper to be cut and creased, then folded into an accordion-style booklet. For the reader, the folds and cuts of the stiff translucent paper make a tricky “assembly and disassembly” — or reading — of the work to make it into a cube or other three-dimensional shape.

In the process of flattening the booklets into a single sheet, then folding and creasing and re-creasing, the reader wonders how the aspects of LDK may have fit together before their abstraction into the collage. Eventually though, the assembly creates objects whose interiors are their exteriors — and vice versa — and inevitably recall the shoji screens still used in traditional houses and even apartments.

LDK FL00R (2010)

LDK FL00R (2010)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 85 x 85 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #3. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like the commas in LDK 2,020 (above) and LDK 2,009 (below), the zeroes in LDK FL00R play on the apartment prices listed in the sales leaflets, but also allude to the apartments’ floor numbers. The wordplay of the titles echoes the playful multiple shapes that the sheets can take and the resulting multiple views of the collages. The collaged images in LDK FL00R, however, are of the floor surfaces only.

LDK 2,009 (2009)

LDK 2,009 (2009)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #36. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection

With smaller works of book art, size can disguise their depth and impact. In “reading” LDK 2,009 and its companions, an extraordinary depth and impact emerge. As the opened books assume their shapes and take their place in display, another element of the artful choice of material and printing technique emerges: the resulting play of light. This is a theme that Cho explores in two very different ways in the next works.

.interior (2010)

.interior (2010)
Yasushi Cho
Slipcase. Booklet, sewn. H150 x W98 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The photos in Cho’s book display views of the outside world, some of which appear to have been taken from inside an apartment whose interior is reflected in its window. Other photos display interiors — a café, an empty store — taken from an exterior vantage, resulting in reflections from the establishments’ window fronts. Some — a carpark, a walkway — seem unmediated. The playful title .interior, taken from the transposition of ・インテリア printed in the window below, and displayed on the spine of the mirrored slipcase above, confirms the artist’s theme of exploring the paradox of interior vs exterior, reflection and the mediation of vantage points.

The work’s theme of reflection is also compounded by the flimsy mirrored paper interpersed between some (not all) of the recto and verso pages. Depending on the image reflected and how the mirrored paper is turned, the reader may find a simple duplicate or an extension of a pattern. Above, the shop’s interior duplicates itself upside down; below, the high rise against a blue sky duplicates itself.

Above, the staircase seems to curve behind itself, the reflected car extends the row of parked cars, and below, the ceiling and light fixtures extend their pattern into the mirror.

Where the recto and verso are not divided by the mirrored paper, other permutations on the theme of reflection occur. Below, in the center of the book, the window in the recto page seems to reflect the vantage point from which the verso page’s photo was taken. The virtuosity in manipulating vantage points here recalls that of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Marlene MacCallum’s Theme and Permutations (2012) or Shadow Cantos (2018-19).

In its composition, the photography fascinates the eye, and Cho’s use of the book and mirrored paper to present and transform the photos fascinates the mind, provoking contemplation of the paradoxes of interior, exterior and their reflections. No doubt, a gallery show could deliver similar fascination, but as a book, .interior is more than a gallery of artwork: it is a work of art.

Ld (2003)

Ld (2003)
Yasushi Cho
Acetate sleeve. Booklet, handsewn. A5 nonstandard trim, 32 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

If the stylized letters “L” and “d” do not suffice to distinguish this work from the LDK series, its shape, content and source certainly do. The way the images, surfaces and shapes play off one another suggests that “L” stands for light, and “d” for dark. The very different source from which the work arises — a night-time walk and shoot in Tokyo — confirms it.

On the black pages, the artist has overprinted in black to give a shadowy depth to the images and surface. The images in the dark sometimes reflect the images in the light — sometimes from the facing page, other times from previous pages. Below, for instance, the film-sprocket shapes just visible on a previous verso page’s lower edge reappear faintly, enlarged and in black over the red lights. The red lights, in turn, reappear faintly, also enlarged and in black on the lower half of the narrowing recto page.

These reflections begin to suggest those retinal images that appear after a flash of light or when eyes are held too tightly closed — both of which conjure up a night-time photo shoot in an environment of contrasts between neon lights or spotlights and the shadows they cast. By staring at the bright images on one page (below), the reader may also experience additional retinal images on the facing page.

The irregularly shaped pages recall Philip Zimmermann’s High Tension (1993) or Helmut Lohr’s Visual Poetry (1995). Cho’s pages alternate at angles, narrow or widen. With the flashes between light and dark, they evoke the photographer’s searching eye, focusing lens and movement through night-time Tokyo.

Both .interior and Ld are sophisticated — materially, conceptually and in execution. With the LDK series, they make a strong addition to the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Marlene MacCallum and the Shadow Cantos, Books On Books Collection, 9 February 2021.

An Online Annotation of The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books“, Bookmarking Book Art, 7 September 2017.

Michael Snow“, Books On Books Collection, 3 March 2021.

Philip Zimmermann“, Books On Books Collection, 14 January 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

Typographic Universe (2014)

Typographic Universe (2014)
Steven Heller and Gail Anderson
Hardback, paper on board. H250 x W177 mm, 352 pages. Acquired from Music Magpie, 15 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Heller and Anderson’s exploration of “the alphabet of everyday things” goes beyond finding the alphabet in everyday things (a form of pareidolia or “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern” — Merriam-Webster). Many (most?) of their examples involve making the alphabet from everyday things. Some, not so everyday like this one by Ceol Ryder.

Photo of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Ceol Ryder.

Not all are as intricate or as long in the making as the alphabetic architectural efforts of Johann David Steingruber or Takenobu Igarashi, who are not mentioned. Still, the book serves as a useful mixed spice of images with which to season any appreciation of the interaction of the imagination with the alphabet.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress), Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Johann David Steingruber”, Books On Books Collection, 23 April 2021.

Bromwich, Kathryn. “Steven Heller and Gail Anderson’s Typographic Universe – in pictures“, Guardian, 9 August 2014. Accessed 28 April 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Louise Levergneux

Finding Home (2019)

Finding Home (2019)
Louise Levergneux
Explosion box with cloth over board binding with inkjet printed images (H114 x W115 x D115 mm, closed); 4 Turkish map fold booklets (H95 x W95 mm, closed) inkjet-printed on Lasal paper, each attached to the interior of a box flap; 3D printed house. Third edition of 3 copies, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

An explosion box, Turkish map fold, and small 3D-printed plastic house — the inventive combination reflects the many-featured domain of book art. That alone would warrant adding this work to the collection, but its union of material with content clinched the decision.

The work’s nomadic theme may have its roots in Levergneux’s various places of residence over time, but it also echoes her blog, entitled 1/2 Measure Studio, which began at the end of 2015 with her moving from a 20×12-foot studio into one measuring 10×10. The blog records indefatigable travels and visits with fellow book artists at all points of the compass to which Finding Home‘s four flaps might also allude — just as the small model might also allude to the half-measure studio.

Among the Turkish fold maps, the small house also conveys centrality and both a point of departure and one of arrival. The spirals and concentric circles within the open maps emphasize further the theme of seeking a center. But the work is not only about place. With all the maps open, we have a house surrounded by four blooms of color, which implies a still point in time among the shifting seasonal imagery.

There’s much about this work that recalls Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1969). There is, of course, the miniature house itself, for which Bachelard has entire chapters, but also in the maps, there is the butterfly recalling the chrysalis (pp. 85-86); the sun-kissed foothills, the recurrent theme of the horizon, distance and immensity (passim); the red maple leaf, the autumnal recollections (p. 179); and the prairie snowscape, the paean to snow (p.61); and the longitudinal and latitudinal references, recalling this passage:

Each one of us, then, should speak of his roads, his crossroads, his roadside benches; each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows. Thoreau said that he had the map of his fields engraved in his soul. And Jean Wahl once wrote:

Le moutonnement des haies 
C’est en moi que je l’ai. Poème, p. 46 

(The frothing of the hedges 
I keep deep inside me.) 

Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived (p. 33).

City Shields, Vol 1: No 7 Ontario (2017)

City Shields, Vol 1: No 7 Ontario (2017)
Louise Levergneux
Jewel case cover (H103 x W105 mm) with insert printed on Inkpress Matte paper holding 21 die-cut photos of manhole covers printed on Generations G-Chrome Lustre paper. Edition of 25 copies. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Like Finding Home, this work is autobiographical, documenting Levergneux’s travels from 1999 to 2020, from Scotland, Canada and the US. As summarized on the insert for this one issue, the shapes and design of the actual manhole covers vary — as do their die-cut photos — some round, some square, rectangular, flanged. Small as they are, their colors and shadows nevertheless entice thoughts of miniature tunnels and drains lying beneath them and winding their way under whatever surface on which the manhole covers rest. City Shields‘ evocation of hidden space and their reminder to look down as well as up at city architecture create a strange and welcome fit with the architectural theme in the Books On Books Collection.

Levergneux celebrated the close of the City Shields project with a 20th Anniversary Edition, described here.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Books On Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Bachelard, Gaston, Maria Jolas, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Richard Kearney. 2014 (1964). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Books.

Levergneux, Louise. 1/2 Measure Studio.

Books On Books Collection – Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans

Alphabet (1970)

Alphabet (1970)
Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans
Booklet. 250 x 250 mm, 16 pages. Acquired from Antiquariaat Frans Melk, 23 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This is the alphabet that inspired Raffaella della Olga’s LINE UP (2020), also in this collection. At the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, Epps and Evans created their alphabet in 1969 in response to the challenge to overcome machine-readable typefaces’ human-unreadability. Perhaps because it was the second of three responses to Wim Crouwel‘s New Alphabet (1967), published in the Kwadraatblad/Quadrat-prints series, the Dutch graphic designer and series editor, Pieter Brattinga, snatched it up for publication in his series of experiments in printing ranging over the fields of graphic design, the plastic arts, literature, architecture and music. This particular issue was designed by John Stegmeijer at Total Design. 

While the bright blue (above left) stands out strikingly against the black background, the booklet appropriately makes the human eye strain to see the letters darkly printed against the black. Would a scanner pick them up? Does the similar elusive effect created by debossed printing in della Olga’s collaboration with Three Star Press allude to this as well? What would that ingenuity create if applied to Crouwel’s New Alphabet or to Gerard Unger‘s A Counter-Proposal (the first response to Crouwel’s booklet) or Anthon Beeke‘s Alphabet (the third and strangest response — letters composed of naked women)?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Raffaella della Olga“, Books On Books Collection, 8 December 2020.

Beeke, Anthon, Geert Kooiman, Anna Beeke, and Ed van der Elsken. 1970. Alphabet. Hilversum: Steendrukkerij de Jong & Co.

Crouwel, W.H. 1967. New alphabet: a possibility for the new development = een mogelijkheid voor de nieuwe ontwikkeling = une possibilité pour le développement nouveau = eine Möglichkeit für die neue Entwicklung : [proposal for a new type that, more than the traditional types, is suited for the composing system with the cathode-ray tube (CRT). Hilversum: Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co.

Owens, Sarah. 2006. “Electrifying the Alphabet“, Eye, No. 62, Vol. 16. Accessed 25 April.

Unger, Gerard. 1967. Een tegenvoorstel. A counter-proposal, etc. Hilversum: Steendrukkerij de Jong & Co.

Books On Books Collection – Jeffrey Morin & Steven Ferlauto

Sacred Space (2003)

Sacred Space (2003)
Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto
Book: Reduction linoleum prints with typographic illustrations using overprinting of letterforms; open spine sewn with brown cord binding; brown cloth-covered boards; title and design on front board; endpapers of handmade paper from Nepal. Book: 6 x 14.25″; 17 leaves.
Chapel kit: Six walls, roof, base. Walls: copper rod skeleton with Okawara rice paper skin covered with a casting resin. Book and kit housed in wooden box. Roof copper-leafed Davey board. Roof forms the tray in which the book rests. Base: Box lid becomes the base for the chapel. Brass holes in the base allow the rods to fit exactly. Print pattern on the base becomes the floor pattern. Box painted with copper leaf. Sculpture base 15.75 x 11.5″, height 12″.
Edition of 35, of which this is #23. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp, 7 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Jeffrey Morin calls Sacred Space an extension of Steven Ferlauto’s research into the role of geometry in the development of the Roman alphabet. This would have likely included the works by Giovannino de’ Grassi (1390-1405), Felice Feliciano (1463), Fra Luca Pacioli (1509), Francesco Torniello (1517), Albrecht Dürer (1525) and Geoffroy Tory(1529). Morin and Ferlauto first displayed the artistic result of that research in The Sacred Abecedarium (2000).

To access sources for each, click on the images above.

The Sacred Abecedarium (1999)
Steven Ferlauto & Jeffrey Morin
Photo: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Special Collections. Displayed with permission of the artists.

To access the source, click here.

But Sacred Space is more than an extension. It is an intimate monument of book art. Made intimate by the content and texture of its book, made more intimate by the viewer’s having to construct the chapel. Made monumental by the echo of typographic history, made more monumental in Galileo Galilei’s echo from its floor: Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has created the universe.

The book “attaches” to the structure in several ways. For its epigraph, the book uses Galilei’s actual words that led to those attributed to him and appearing on the floor of the chapel, and when stored away, the underside of the chapel’s roof serves as storage for the book. Following the epigraph in the book, three passages appear, sharing impressions of three different sacred spaces: William Bunce’s description of a plexiglas hunting shack on an island in a Canadian lake, Thomas Merton’s prayer on the hermitage in Kentucky, and Mother Maria Marthe‘s plan for her “shapel” in Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett. Three very different sets of words create three very different settings on the common ground of oblong pages of papers made with Siberian iris leaf fiber at the Root River Mill in Wisconsin. Difference and commonality strike a recurring theme that links book and structure.

The book’s description of the shack’s sloping roof and its plexiglas walls echoes but contrasts with the chapel’s sloping roof and translucent panels. A shack (or “shapel”) may differ from a chapel and still have common physical features. The sans serif letters, linocut-printed and jumbled in the book’s gutter, echo but contrast with the serif letters, inkjet-printed and geometrically placed on the panels.

Okawara rice paper attached to the silver-soldered copper frame with epoxy resin created a shallow tray into which polymer coating was poured. In this process, the otherwise flimsy rice paper, which contrasts with the fibrous, opaque handmade paper of the book, assumes a stiff plasticity in common with the shack’s plexiglas and becomes the chapel walls set into brass-lined holes in the wooden base. The roofs may slope in common, but the chapel’s copper-leafed davey board roof contrasts with the shack’s clear one, down which birds skitter when trying to land. Despite its apparent metallic solidity, the chapel roof sits loosely on the front and rear panels, exerting a stabilizing pressure, whereas the shack’s plexiglas roof is fixed to a single roof beam.

The chapel’s structure, its stained-glass-like walls, patterned floor and copper-leafing echo Thomas Merton’s prayer, which is sandwiched between the humorous hunters and Mother Maria Marthe, just as the structure is sandwiched between its shack-like roof and wooden platform. In its text and construction, Sacred Space seems to say sacred spaces occur in the spaces in between — even where letter meets surface.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Barrett, William E. 1962/1985. Lilies of the field. New York: Warner Books.

Bunce, William. n.d. Description provided to Caren Heft (Root River Mill). “Sacred Space“, sailorBOYpress. Accessed 10 March 2021.

Dürer, Albrecht, and Walter L. Strauss. The Painter’s Manual : A Manual of Measurement of Lines, Areas, and Solids by Means of Compass and Ruler Assembled by Albrecht Dürer for the Use of All Lovers of Art with Appropriate Illustrations Arranged to Be Printed in the Year MDXXV. New York: Abaris, 1977. Print.

Feliciano, Felice, and Giovanni Mardersteig. Alphabetum Romanum. Engl. Ed.] ed. Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1960. Print.

Grassi, Giovannino de’. 1390-1405/1961. Taccuino di disegni. [Bergamo]: Edizioni “Monumenta bergomensia”.

Looze, Laurence de. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Merton, Thomas, and Jonathan Montaldo. 2001. Dialogues with silence: prayers & drawings. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Pacioli, Luca, Antonio Capella, Leonardo, and Piero. 1509. Divina proportione opera a tutti glingegni perspicaci e curiosi necessaria oue ciascun studioso di philosophia, prospectiua pictura sculpura, architectura, musica, e altre mathematice, suauissima, sottile, e admirabile doctrina consequira, e delectarassi, cõ varie questione de secretissima scientia. M. Antonio Capella eruditiss. recensente. [Venetiis]: A. Paganius Paganinus characteribus elegantissimis accuratissime imprimebat.

Torniello, Francisco. 1517. Opera del modo de fare le littere maiuscole antique, con mesura de circino: & resone de penna. Composita per Francisco Torniello da Nouaria scriptore professo. Milano: Gotardo qual de libri e stampatore: dicto da Ponte. Ambrosiana Library.

Tory, Geoffroy. 1529. Champ fleury: au quel est contenu lart & science de la deue & vraye proportio[n] des lettres attiques, quo[n] dit autreme[n]t lettres antiques, & vulgairement lettres romaines proportionnees selon le corps & visage humain. [Paris]: A vendre a Paris sus Petit Pont a Lenseigne du Pot Casse par Maistre Geofroy Tory de Bourges … et par Giles Gourmont … en la Rue sainct Iaques a Lenseigne des Trois Coronnes.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.


Books On Books Collection – Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)
Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

Slipcase, casebound in a variation of the Chinese fashion. H210 x W178 x D25 mm, 96 pages. Edition of 400, of which this is #21. Acquired from Architectural Watercolors, 8 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artists.

Since 1995, Zega & Dams have published several volumes of their architectural watercolors, almost all focused on the Ancien Régime but with some diversions to New York’s Central Park and Russia’s Tatarstan. An Architectural Alphabet is, however, not quite a diversion and certainly more than a divertissement. Two elegant essays — “Letter Pictures” and “Artists’ Alphabets” — bracket the elevational drawings of A to Z with their accompanying illustrations. The essays weave together reference points from the history of the Latin alphabet, architectural history, histories of architectural and natural science illustration and those of typography and graphic design. They do this lightly and knowingly just as the letters and images do, which play simultaneously with typographic and calligraphic traditions and the vocabulary of the architecture and decorative arts of the Ancien Régime and the Grand Tour.

The acanthus leaf commonly used to decorate a column’s capital, hence the gentleman’s upward gaze.

Balustrade: a rail supported by balusters (vase-shaped columns), used for balconies from which a lady might like to peer.

The authors/artists’ choice and use of fonts offer other examples of their subtle erudition. The body text is set in Capsa italic, a rather allusive and self-allusive choice. Dino dos Santos, its designer, was inspired by fonts created by the 18th-century type-founder Claude Lamesle. One of those Ancien Régime fonts is Gros Romain Ordinaire, whose name draws further attention to Zega & Dams’ decision to use italic in place of the usual Roman for the body text. With its “Romain” roots, Capsa italic performs as the perfect foil to the choice of display font, which also serves as the template for the “letter pictures”: Carol Twombly’s Trajan. The name and design are based on the Roman capitals entwining Trajan’s Column in Rome. The fact that the ancient Roman capitals had no letter U, only the letter V to stand in for both, provides the artists with the opening for the following visual joke.

Urn versus Vase

The authors take the stylistic development of chinoiserie during the Ancien Régime for two rides in the work: one for vocabulary with the letter C and another for structural allusion with the binding.

The binding is a variation on Chinese casebinding. Here the sewn book block has been placed on the middle board of three hinged boards and is attached to the left-hand and middle boards by the endpapers (CD and YZ, respectively). The right-hand board is hinged to fold on top of the left-hand board. The Curtis by Curtis 1.5 paper (a 200 gms vellum stock) is stiff, and the sewing is so tight that the book does not easily open or lie flat. The casing, however, allows extensive pressure without the hazard of breaking the spine’s covering. In two finishing Oriental touches, the artists called for grey silk for the board coverings and green for the inside of the right-hand board and hinge.

With its architectural and alphabetic themes, An Architectural Alphabet makes a fitting addition to the Books On Books Collection, and its essays serve as welcome reminders of the more discursive volumes by Laurence de Looze, Marian Macken, Hugh McEwen and Chrysostomos Tsimourdagkas (see Further Reading).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

De Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Johann David Steingruber

Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972)

Architectural alphabet (1773/1972)
Johann David Steingruber
Casebound, sewn, headbands. H356 x W260 mm, 112 pages, including 33 facsimile prints. Published by Merrion Press, London. Edition of 425, of which this is #9. Acquired from Chevin Books, 24 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several professional and academic architects and designers as well as academics from other disciplines have delved into the intersection of the alphabet and architecture. A few of them have also noted the intersection’s expansion to include artist books and fine press works. Since Johann David Steingruber’s effort in the 18th century, it has become quite a busy intersection.

Originally published in installments at Steingruber’s own expense, the volume opens with its gloriously long title in an “arch of contents”, the columns inscribed with thumbnail images of the letter buildings to come. Although the title page lists 1773 as the publication date, the last installment came in March 1774. In his lifetime, Steingruber published three other works, illustrated and described toward the end of this facsimile, but Architectonisches Alphabeth became his most famous — “postcard” famous.

Architectonisches Alphabeth: bestehend aus dreyßig Rissen wovon Jeder Buchstab nach seiner kenntlichen Anlage auf eine ansehnliche und geräumige Fürstliche Wohnung, dann auf alle Religionen, Schloß-Capellen und ein Buchstab gänzlich zu einen Closter, übrigens aber der mehreste Theil nach teutscher Landes-Art mit Einheiz-Stätte auf Oefen und nur theils mit Camins eingerichtet, wobey auch Nach den mehrest irregulairen Grund-Anlagen vielerley Arten der Haupt- und Neben-Stiegen vorgefallen, dergleichen sonsten in Architectonischen Rissen nicht gefunden werden, zu welchen auch Die Façaden mit merklich abwechslender Architectur aufgezogen sind.

Steingruber dedicated his Architectural Alphabet to Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his first wife Frederica Carolina, not to be confused with the paying dedicatee of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. By a baroque coincidence, however, the first Brandenburg concertos, the ones composed by Giuseppe Torelli and influencing Bach, were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, then George Friedrich II, Alexander’s great-uncle who employed Torelli as court composer. Like Torelli, Steingruber too had to be satisfied with his payment as an appointee — court and public surveyor, and later principal architect of the board of works — even though he went to the trouble of making sure that his employers’ monograms and their associated buildings appeared in the span above the roman arch.

Steingruber seemed unaware of other building designs from alphabetical foundations. This facsimile’s editor gently and genially fills in the missing context. John Thorpe (1565–1655?), an English architect, drew up a property based on his initials. Thomas Gobert (1625-90), a French architect, produced Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louis XIV, a manuscript whose building plans spelled out “LOVIS LE GRAND”. Anton Glonner (1723–1801) designed a Jesuit church and college around the monogram “IHS”.

There was not much chance of these letter-shaped edifices’ being built. Nevertheless, Steingruber adds matter-of-fact descriptions to his elevations and plans, calling out heating, kitchen, toilet and servants’ arrangements as if conferring with a prospective client ready to commission one of these typographic palaces. Who would not want a serif with a view? Or conduct guests on a tour of the bowl, capline, crossbar, stem, stroke and tail of the property?

The main text appears to be set in Van Dijck (before Robin Nicholas’ revision between 1982 and 1989) and printed on a cream laid paper. The special earmarks of Van Dijck — the sloped apex of the A, the stepped center strokes of the W, the non-lining numerals and especially the downward stroke at the top of the 5 , the tilted lower bowl of the g, etc., identifiable in Morison’s A Tally of Types and Rookledge’s Classic International Type Finder — all seem to be present.

The laid paper is not only tactilely pleasant, it visually supports the clarity of the facsimile prints. Their sharpness outdoes what is achieved even with the zoom function applied to the freely available digital version, which can be seen in the interactive comparison below.

Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel edition (1995)

Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1995)
Johann David Steingruber
Facsimile edition prepared by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel. H356 x W260 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.

In smaller dimensions, this edition does not present the prints in their full size. Partially making up for the deficit is the Munken Pure paper’s brightness, against which the Garamond Berthold typeface and photolithography work well. Also, the book includes French, German and English text as well as illustrations that broaden the context to the present. Alongside Steingruber’s elevations and plans, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel have included several birds-eye views of inventive roofing of 20th-century architectural models inspired by Steingruber’s plans.

Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander’s monogram buildings reduced alongside reductions of Steingruber’s original foreword and explanations of Federica Carolina’s and Alexander’s buildings.

Not satisfied with some of his efforts, Steingruber offered second options; here, for the letter A, and later, for the letters M, Q, R and X.

Verso: Paula Barreiro’s roofing design for Steingruber’s letter B.

Verso: Helge Huber’s and Alexandra Krull’s roofing designs for Steingruber’s letter C.

In another instance of positioning Steingruber’s book in the history of alphabetic architecture (or architectural alphabets), the editors include a complete set of small reproductions of Thomas Gobert’s designs and elevations spelling out “LOVIS LE GRAND” from his manuscript mentioned above. Although created a century before, his drawings do not seem as stylistically distant from Steingruber’s as those of the 20th-century rooftop drafts do. Driving home their point that “the design of alphabetical buildings must not be based slavishly on a Baroque roman type or a classicist roman version”, the editors conclude by drawing attention to Takenobu Igarashi‘s 20th-century sculptural celebrations of the alphabet in aluminum, concrete, wood, chrome and gold.

Photo: Mike Sullivan, “Igarashi Alphabets“, Typetoken, 25 November 2013. Accessed 26 March 2021. Displayed with permission of the reviewer.

In print and online as well, new original and secondary works have continued to busy the intersection of the alphabet, architecture and artist books. Richard Niessen’s The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018) and Sergio Polano’s “Architectural Abecedari” (2019) are two recent examples. And, as if to confirm the busying of the intersection, we have Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z (2020) in print and making up for the scarcity of Igarashi Alphabets (1987).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Igarashi, Takenobu. 1987. Igarashi alphabets. Zurich: ABC.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Morison, Stanley, and Brooke Crutchley. 1999. A tally of types: with additions by several hands. Boston: D. R. Godine.

Nomiyama, Sakura, and Takenobu Igarashi. 2019. Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z. London: Thames and Hudson.

Perfect, Christopher, and Gordon Rookledge. 2004. Rookledge’s classic international typefinder: the essential handbook of typeface recognition and selection. London: L. King Publishing.

Polano, Sergio. January 2019. “Architectural Abecedari“, Casabella, 893, pp. 62-75 + 100-101 (eng.). Milan.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Ji Lee

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)
Ji Lee
Sewn paper on board hardback. H338 x W238 mm, 64 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Unoriginal Sins, 12 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In his extended essay on Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, Eric Zboya celebrates Ji Lee’s 3D typeface by rendering the entire poem in that face. The discovery of that essay led to the acquisition of Zboya’s artist book, which led to the acquisition of Ji Lee’s scarce volume Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004). Lee’s book resonates with several other works in the Books On Books Collection. Compare it, for example, with Johann David Steingruber’s alphabet book Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1973), Paul Noble’s alphabet book Nobson Newtown (1998) and Sammy Engramer’s three-dimensional rendition of Mallarmé’s poem.

This double-page spread displays the manipulation of the alphabet’s first four letters around their axes at two different angles to render their 3D shapes.

These two double-page spreads show the complete alphabet and punctuation marks at two different angles, which provide a key with which to begin reading text spelled out in the book.

Lee teases his reader by composing sentences with different sized letters. “Reading is Fun!” is one of the easier to decipher.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Eric Zboya“, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Zboya, Eric. 2011. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Translations in Higher Dimensions. Visual Writing 003. Ubu Editions. Accessed 1 February 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian

Top row: A, C and E from Alphabetto Latino Schizzato a Bena da Antonio de Pian, reproduced in Antonio Basoli: Alfabeto Pittorico 1839, edited by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel, published as part of the boxed set Alphabets Buchstaben Calligraphy by Ravensburger Buchverlag (1998). Hardback, sewn. H275 x W255 mm, 144 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.
Bottom row: A, C and E from Alphabetto Pittoresque (1842) by Giovanni Battista de Pian, reproduced in Ein Schmuckalphabet aus Wien“Alphabet Jewelry from Vienna” by Anton Durstmüller, published by Fachhochschule f. Druck (1973). Perfect bound with pages in Chinese fold. H245 x W220 mm, 72 pages. Acquired from Versandantiquariat K. Stellrecht, 22 March 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Father and son, Antonio de Pian (1784-1851) and Giovanni Battista de Pian (1813-57)) worked in Vienna during the 18th and 19th centuries. Born in Venice, Antonio came with his father to Vienna, where he became a court-appointed set designer and scene painter and was inducted by the Academy of Fine Arts in 1843. Giovanni Battista (or Jean Baptiste) was not as professionally or academically successful as his father, but his Alphabetto Pittoresque portfolio outshines his father’s Alphabetto Latino Schizzato a Bena and rivals the earlier Alfabeto Pittorico by Antonio Basoli, the elder Pian’s Bolognese contemporary, who was also an accomplished scenographer as well as an internationally honored academic. All three artists’ portfolios are scarce, and as they represent the next link in the chain of complete architectural alphabets that began with Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth in 1773, it is fortunate that the facsimile works produced by Durstmüller and Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel are available and accessible.

Antonio de Pian’s architectural alphabet portfolio is the rarest of the four. With its frontispiece/title page and twenty-two letters (B, D, J and W are missing), the only copy resides somewhere in Vienna. Fortunately, all of the twenty-two appear in the Basoli facsimile produced by Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel in 1998. The brown-tinted lithographs of the elder Pian’s portfolio echo not only the Basoli portfolio’s monochromatic character but also its emphases on Near or Middle Eastern or Oriental settings and on antiquity. As Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel point out, the dual emphasis was ushered in by Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign (1798-1801) and also showed itself in opera’s subject matter during Basoli’s and the Pians’ lifetimes. Twelve of Antonio’s scenes have settings in antiquity or the distant past, and seven in the Near or Middle East. Fifteen are based in Europe.

Letters M, N, O and P by Antonio de Pian

The original of Giovanni Battista’s portfolio is less rare, coming up for auction at five figures occasionally in the last few decades. It, too, appears in the Kiermeier-Dobre/Vogel’s Basoli volume but more prominently than his father’s. Anton Durstmüller’s earlier Ein Schmuckalphabet aus Wien/“Alphabet Jewelry from Vienna”(1973) showcases Giovanni’s portfolio. With its Chinese-fold leaves and laid paper, Durstmüller’s book matches and enhances the warmth and color of Giovanni’s invention and the chromolithographs by the Viennese lithographers Leopold Müller, Johann Höfelich, and M.R. Toma. Giovanni’s use of the arch’s reflection in the water to form the letter O, Pian places himself firmly in his father’s and Basoli’s company regardless of any lack of appointment or honors.

The Chinese fold of pages in the Durstmüller volume; the letter O by Giovanni Battista de Pian.

Sixteen of Giovanni’s scenes have European settings; eleven are Middle Eastern (he has an extra S). Of these, at least nine represent antiquity. From Basoli to the elder Pian and to the younger, there is the subtle shift in their scenes from the Classical to NeoClassical to Romantic styles, reflected in the diminishing emphasis on antiquity and growing emphasis on rustic European scenes. Typographically (or really calligraphically), the shift is less subtle. With almost every letter, Basoli used or tended toward a slab serif letter shape with blunt tips and sloping brackets. The Pians, however, leaned toward block serifs and sharply curving brackets, as seen in the letters A, C and E, above, and the letter M, below.

Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel’s side-by-side presentation of the letter M by Giovanni Battista de Pian and Antonio Basoli, respectively. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Basoli’s serifs do not vary with the scene’s region, which might have created anomalies but somehow that does not happen. Only with certain letters do the Pians vary their letters with the region. At the top here, the serifs in the elder Pian’s letters C and E reflect their different regional settings. Below, his two S’s, however, fail on this score. The block serif S belongs more with the antique Roman scene; the nearly sans serif S belongs more with the antique Egyptian scene. The more exotic the setting from a Western perspective, the more the block serifs present difficulties — as in Giovanni’s letter G (the Turkish pirates below decks appear fed up with it) and letter T (the Africans depicted are certainly looking askance at the architecture) below.

Basoli’s and the Pians’ use of slab serif letter shapes reflects both their theatrical profession and the period’s infatuation with the shape in advertising in newspapers and on posters. Slab serifs were called Egyptian serifs, not that those letter shapes appear anywhere in Egyptian antiquity, but neither do the Keith Haring-like figures on the flanking columns in Giovanni’s L scene. See Further Reading for the story of slab serifs and their moniker.

For more on the operatic and theatrical context in which Basoli and the Pians worked, see the entry for Antonio Basoli in the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 2021.

Côme, Tony. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 5 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Loxley, Simon. 2011. Type: the secret history of letters. London: Tauris. Chapter 5.

Lupton, Ellen. 2014. Thinking with type: a critical guide for designers, writers, editors, & students. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. Pp. 22-23.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

McNeil, Paul. 2017. The visual history of type. London: Laurence King. Pp. 108-09, 114-15, 120-21

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London.