Books On Books Collection – Golnar Adili

Baabaa Aab Daad (Father Gave Water) (2020)

Baabaa Aab Daad (Father Gave Water) (2020)
Golnar Adili
Wood, felt, board and cloth, 5 x 7 x 1.5 inches (closed), Edition of 25. Acquired from the artist, 1 July 2022
Photos: Books On Books Collection unless indicated otherwise. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Helpfully for a Western audience, the box cover of this homage to the traditional Persian sentence for first-year readers links the right-to-left-reading words with their roman alphabet transcription and English translation. Beyond that, understanding just these few characters and appreciating the artistry involved require some research.

Close-up of box cover.

The character called ‘alef and making an aa sound is آ. From the transcription, we know that the sound should appear four times — twice in “Baabaa” and once in each of “Aab” and “Daad”. The character called be and eliciting a b sound is ب . The transcription indicates it should appear three times — twice in “Baabaa” and once at the end of “Aab”. The character named daal and making a d sound is د . The transcription calls for it to appear twice — at the beginning and end of “Daad”.

As in Arabic, from which Persian adopts most of its characters, some characters’ appearance changes depending on their position in a word or syllable. If a word begins with ‘alef (آ) and is the aa vowel (as opposed to the “o” or “é” vowel), the character for it has a “roof” — as in the word “Aab” — but if the sound falls in the middle of a word — as in “Daad” — the “roof” comes off: (ا). Also as in Arabic script, Persian letters can be linked with one another, altering their appearance. In “Baabaa”, ‘alef (ا) links up with be (ب); so not only does its “roof” disappear, but it squeezes the width of ب  and shifts its diacritic (the dot underneath): با. To Western eyes, the linked characters look like one character. In some typefaces, we have the similar phenomenon of ligatures, in which, for example, the letter f and the letter i will join into the single character fi.

Spine of the box.

Even if Gutenberg’s type mimicked scribal lettering, roman type was not cursive script, which explains in part the hard work by Francesco Griffo da Bologna and Aldus Manutius to come up with italic. With characters changing shape with position and linkage, with diacritics and a slantable baseline to allow stacking of letter combinations, the innovation of setting movable type for Arabic and Persian or any calligraphically represented language would be and has been even harder — if not impossible as designers Rana Abou Rjeily and Bahman Eslami explain (see references below).

All of this preamble helps in appreciating the linguistic and cultural bridging that Adili’s artwork performs. The miniaturized shape of traditional alphabet blocks meets pixellated and sculpted Persian in Adili’s modular wooden cubes and recessed felt base. Her invented typography mostly skirts the calligraphic concerns by leaping into the third dimension. Language becomes tactile and three-dimensional not only in this work but in almost all of the work emanating from her studio.

Colophon.

Larger set of letter modules. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

The Jasmine Scented Ones is a particularly good example. This series of works uses the pixellated shapes from Father Gave Water to screenprint Persian characters and words this time taken from a Hafez poem and exploits the play of light through superimposed sheets of Japanese Rayon Lens paper and across 3D resin prints to embody the tension in the poem’s wordplay with the verbs to sit and to settle. For touch that would see and sight that would touch, Adili offers highly expressive works.

Many thanks to Golnar Adili for assistance with the crash course in Persian characters. Any remaining errors rest with Books On Books.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Burney, Sarah. n.d. “One Piece by Golnar Adili, Baabaa Aab Daad (Father Gave Water)“. Kajal. Accessed 6 June 2022.

Center for Book Arts. 14 January – 26 March 2022. “Father Gave Water/Baabaa Aab Daad: An Homage to Childhood, Persian, and Process“. Exhibition. New York: Center for Books Arts Gallery. Accessed 1 March 2022.

Eslami, Bahman. 25 September 2013. “Harir—Reducing Noise in Arabic Script“. I Love Typography. Accessed 21 November 2022.

Rjeily, Rana Abou. 2011. Cultural Connectives = تواصل الثقافات / Cultural connectives = Tawaṣṣul al-thaqāfāt. New York London: Mark Batty Publisher.

Books On Books Collection – Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)
Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
Hardback. H222 x W340 x D1.0 mm, 32 pages.

Each animal is drawn using the Roman letters of the Bembo font family, based on a letter cut by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for the Venetian printer for Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and named after the prolific Renaissance scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Stanley Morison (1889-1967) revived the font while at the Monotype Corporation.

For the Books On Books Collection, Bembo’s Zoo is a light-hearted reminder of the abecedaries and typographic themes of more serious works.

Further Reading

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

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Heavenly Monkey“, Books On Books Collection, 23 November 2020. For a bio-bibliography of Francesco Griffo.

More Manutius in Manchester and More to Come“, Bookmarking Book Art, 1 June 2015.

Books On Books Collection – Heavenly Monkey

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)
Rollin Milroy
H234 x W159 mm, 114 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #32. Acquired from Heavenly Monkey, 4 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several collections of Aldine volumes made themselves known around 2015, the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius. Several have digitized their collections to make them more accessible. By gathering these fragments and glimpses of the hand behind the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic typefaces designed and cut in late 15th-century and early 16th century Venice for those volumes, Heavenly Monkey (founded and run by Rollin Milroy) has followed a different path. A collector himself and artist of the book, Milroy has created this work to bring himself and the reader closer to Francesco Griffo da Bologna and the historical and contemporary hunt to identify him and appreciate his typographic accomplishment.

He presents a letterpress work in the modern version of the Bembo typeface cut by Griffo for the Aldine printing of Pietro Bembo’s tract De Aetna (1495), whence the typeface gained its name. In another step closer to Griffo, not only does Heavenly Monkey use simplified versions of initial letters attributed to Griffo, he offers up a note and display page that include those letters not used in the text (see below).

Note that distortion of the letters is due to photography of the curved page.

Physically true to its title, the book consists — except for the frontmatter, backmatter and brief explanatory text — of fragments: extracts from secondary sources and an actual leaf from the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Heroidum Epistolae set in Griffo’s first italic type. The leaf comes from the second of the three-volume Aldine Ovid, which over time was subject to prudish excision of racier parts, which Heavenly Monkey speculates may have led to the break-up of the copy used here to supply the leaf included. Some historians and collectors may question the inclusion of the leaf. Others as well as artists of the book will thrill to it as an act of preservation, appropriation, dissemination and homage.

The book’s prologue is an English summary of a passage from Giuseppe Fumagalli’s 1905 lexicon of Italian typography that sets out and settles the 19th century debate about the identity of Griffo, a confusion that would resurface for the legendary typographer Stanley Morison in 1923. With a narrative technique similar to an epistolary novel, Milroy lays out extracts from histories of printing, prefaces to reprints of Aldine works, biographies of the historians in the debate, the Fine Arts Quarterly Review and bibliographical journal articles to tell the story of “which Francesco was he?” The same technique lays out the development and differing opinions in reception of Griffo’s cutting of the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic types. While following the stories of those faces, the reader walks through a hall of illustrious historians and typographers — Nicolas Barker, Joseph Blumenthal, Philip Meggs, Giovanni Mardersteig, Stanley Morison again, Alfred Pollard, David Pottinger, Daniel B. Updike and many others. The next set of extracts explores the feud that led Griffo to leave Aldus Manutius and Venice to set up on his own in Fossombrone.

The next set of extracts attests to Griffo’s typographic legacy, and then comes the tipped-in foldout that protects the leaf taken from the Aldine Ovid, followed by the listing of Griffo’s six works published on his own, documented in F.J. Norton’s Italian Printers 1501-1520.

An important contribution comes in Appendices I-IV with Emma Mandley’s translations of key passages from books, letters and documents of the main protagonists in the debate over Francesco da Bologna’s identity: Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Emilio Orioli. Lovers of type specimens and the style of Stanley Morison will welcome the samples of the modern versions of the roman fonts for Poliphilus and Bembo and the italic fonts for Blado and Bembo. In a grace note, Heavenly Monkey includes samples for the italic and roman fonts of Mardersteig’s Dante, which Robert Bringhurst opined “has more of Griffo’s spirit than any other face now commercially available” (The Elements of Typographic Style, 1996, p. 213)”.

Dante is the typeface Heavenly Monkey wanted initially to use but, on deciding that the main text would be set in italic, declined it. The Dante samples offer the reader the chance to compare and contrast it with the other faces and weigh Bringhurst’s opinion and Heavenly Monkey’s choice.

Like many fine press editions, Francesco Griffo da Bologna treads the boundary of the artist’s book or the work of book art. It certainly resonates with different works in the Books On Books Collection:

The leaf from the Aldine Ovid chimes with Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s sculptural interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Ian Hamilton Findlay’s The Errata of Ovid.

Milroy’s “scrapbook” protrayal of Griffo and contemporaries will remind some of Russell Maret‘s typographic adventure in Hungry Dutch.

Anything to do with Venice brings to mind Peter Koch‘s edition of Joseph Brodsky’s love letter to Venice Watermark and Bodil Rosenberg‘s sculptural evocation of that city in Canal Grande.

But overall, Griffo‘s bibliographic historical nature resonates far more with that of another of Milroy’s works in the collection: About Agrippa.

About Agrippa (2015)

About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book (2015)
Rollin Milroy
Perfect bound softcover. H290 x W210 mm. 48 pages. Edition of 50. Acquired from Rollin Milroy, 5 December 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Rollin Milroy.

In the Bodleian Libraries Rare Books Collection is a yellowed, oatmeal-colored remnant of a linen casebound thing holding leaves of paper, some sharply trimmed, some with deckled edges, various colored single-sided prints tipped in between and amongst the folded and gathered leaves, a square hollowed out of a final gathering of inseparable leaves and sealed with a lining of gritty silver-gray paste. And burned onto its cover is this:

William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) (1992) is as wrapped in mystery and mystique as Griffo’s identity. For the collection, Milroy’s two books play the roles of historical bookends: each addresses works from the second phases of a technological shift in the history of the book. Griffo and Manutius mark the beginning of the post-Gutenberg and post-incunabula phase of book publishing. Gibson, Ashbaugh and their publisher Kevin Begos mark the beginning of the post-Apple I phase of digital publishing. Aldine books are rare; Agrippa is even rarer, designedly so. Gibson’s titular poem is on a floppy-disk embedded in a book (H16 x W11 inches). The disk was programmed to self-erase as it was played.

Milroy provides a valuable and attractive resource covering the inception, the production, pricing, dissemination/performance and reception of Agrippa. Like Griffo, About Agrippa brings the reader closer to the principals, the mystique and importance of the work. Both books deserve an audience of students of book art and book arts as well as collectors. Here’s hoping that any library with a strong collection of fine press books and artist books will acquire them.

Further Reading

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Hall, Gary. 2013. “On the unbound book: academic publishing in the age of the infinite archive“. Journal of Visual Culture, 12:3, 490-507.

Milroy, Rollin. 2015. About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book. Vancouver, BC: Still Creek Press.

Milroy, Rollin. 1999. Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments & Glimpses: A Compendium of Information & Opinions about his Life and Work. Vancouver, BC: A Lone Press. The first version of the work.