Black letter vs. Futurists

Typography: black letter vs. Futurists

The historical development of the printed type and moveable type fonts. The black letter moveable font by Johann Gutenberg, and comparing this to the influence that the Futurists had on the mass production of book making. The periods that I well therefore be focusing on 1440 to 1450 and 1909 to 1927 respectively. These two periods of history are key in the creation and development of printed works both significant in there own right in the fine art of rubications to the mass industrial production of books. The available tools that were used in research were; magazines, books and the internet.

Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden, better known as Johann Gutenberg, is credited with the development of the first movable metal type face although there are some people who have associated this invention to Laurent's Costaer of Harlem, both were believed to have invented this creation between 1440 and 1450. Gutenberg brought together several of his pre-existing techniques such as: screw press, oil-based pigments, metal-working skills of punch-cutting and casting, thus giving him more creditability for the development, which in turn then led to the first moveable black letter font.

Johann Gutenberg's development of the black letter font was first used within a commissioned works, the 42 lined bible(e.g., image 1) . The manuscripts for the Bible were selected in consultation with his colleagues for their accuracy of text. The beautiful local contemporary handwritten scribes formed the basis of the new type face design, Rather than modifying letterforms for print, he did his best to imitate the lettering and style of books produced by writers of the day across lower Europe, this could be contemporary termed as gothic script style. He clamed no credit himself as a typographical innovator for designing the new style of character. This transposition of the contemporary scribes to moveable metal typeface was not as simple as it may have originally appeared. Gutenberg and his fellow craftsmen produced 290 assorted types for the bible, 47 capital letters and 243 lower-case letters, including narrower and wider alternatives with use for the punctuation marks.

The 42 line bible debated to have been completed in 1455 in Strasbourg, Germany was produced in two volumes of 324 and 318 pages, the "42-line bible" gets is name due to the number of lines on the page. Gutenberg set out to insert red-printed headings, illustrations and rubications (e.g., image 2) at the start of each page, with the aid of a separate second-colour print press, the complex process of configuration of registers proved to be a labour intensive process. The restriction on colour range lead to the process being abandoned, leaving corresponding space for rubications, illustrations and headings to be added by hand.

The large space left for illustrations, rubications and headings imposed a constriction for the text in order to indulge these, therefore failing to focus on a more open body of text, thus leading to poor-legibility of the type font due to its neglected form of composition and justification.

In february 1909 F.T. Marinetti's published his magazine Poesia (Poetry) titled; 'Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature', which was a manifesto for the beginning of the Futurist movement, with the aim to work closely with the world of advertising and print production In this first manifesto 'Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature' Marinetti states: "Up to now, literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer's stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap. We affirm that the world's magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. . . We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind; will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice". This manifesto, although not widely recognised led a small following to define and structure the Futurists's ideologoy, although not perfected until several manifesto's later. The Futurists used the introduction of their manifestos as a means to advertise its artistic philosophy to the academic and conservative world.

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In the 1910's the Futurists used book-making which was devoted mainly to typographical experimentation as demonstrated with the "words-in-freedom" book, this was finally summarised in the book "Les mots en libert futurists" translated as "The Futurist Words-In-Freedom" (ref pic --) designed by Marinetti in late 1919. Marinetti promoted the ideas of "verso libero" traslated as "free verse" from the pages of his magazine, which he used to break the uniformity of syntax of the literature of the past. were central for the renewal of typography in this century, and his book "Zang Tumb Tumb" (1914), with its explosive layout, is undoubtedly a masterpiece in this field. Marinetti's theory of were used as a starting point for everyone involved within the modest book making movement, 'El Lissitzky quoted Marinetti as the pivotal leader within the movment. For the Futurists, book-making was in fact the result of a precise theory to adhere to when conceiving their books. Futurist books led to the future, functioning as emblems of technical and cultural progress, and using all possible media of serial production in the mechanic age. Thus, the mass production and distribution was vital to the spread of their works, as well as to the Futurist philosophy itself. "We stand," proclaimed Marinetti, "on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back to the past?" (ref --)

Marinetti's follow up manifesto dated 1913 "Destruction of Syntax/Imagination without Strings/Words-in-Freedom" he states; "Futurism is grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility that has generated our pictorial dynamism, our antigraceful music in its free, irregular rhythms, our noise-art and our words-in-freedom. By the imagination without strings I mean the absolute freedom of images or analogies, expressed with unhampered words and with no connecting strings of syntax and with no punctuation." The last lines of the quotation were had already been included in the previous manifesto, "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature", where he urged writers to 'banish punctuation, as well as adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions'.

Marinetti ideology was to use italics and boldface fonts to represent, a more pronounced affect ie; swift sensations / violent onomatopoeias.

The typographical revolution which widely influenced by Marinetti exploded producing hundreds of books. These books were often characterised by nearly anonymous covers that had explosive inner pages, instead of traditonal typefaces newly designed ones were used, the innovated nature of the movement disregarded the rules of page layout, in conjunction with style. These new "designs" were created in order to express different states of mind, and often were put together to form various and odd shapes and suddenly, word became image. A perfect example of this movement is Francesco Cangiullo's book "Caff-Concerto - Alfabeto a sorpresa" traslated as "Caf-Chantant - Surprising Alphabet", completed in 1916, but printed after the war in 1919. Cangiullo uses words in different typefaces to form images of scenery, landscapes, and even human bodies (image 3).

The masterpiece of this decade is surely the famous bolted book, developed by Fortunato Depero in 1927. But if the book binding itself was a real mechanic manifesto and the layout was a revolution in book-making. The multicolored fonts were printed on many different kinds of paper, in varying sizes and shapes that give life to vibrant geometric shapes (image 4). The book has neither front or back, neither top or bottom; not one but many virtual layouts, so that in order to read the text, the book has to be rotated continually, braking the syntax of the readers rational perspective.

Whilst Italian Futurism flourished, the Russian Futurists became devoted to a vast experimental movement in book-making, the inspired was from very different ideology. The Russian philosophy considered books to be an artist creation, and often featured original illustrations or unique, hand-made covers, and were printed in very limited editions.

This approach was not the result of a specific philosophy of typography (as was Marinetti's) but rather the consequence of the philosophy from which the Russian avant-garde was born.

The Russian ideology was defined by the influence of cultural heritage (for example, the re-evaluation of the lubok (devotional folk painting) as a mystical image linking them to their roots), and a state of opposition toward the West, which was seen as potential threat to their old traditions. Futurist aesthetic into commercial and political advertising. They whole heartedly rejected classical fonts in favor of eccentric streamlined typography that encouraged the notion of speed.

During the 1920's the development of the wood typeface "Futurismo Artistico" (image 2) type face was produced by the Italian type foundry S. A. Xilografia Internazionale. This type face became the trademark of the Fascist movement with its hand-set and hand-drawn iterations, in various weights and sizes. This modern "sans serif" face was the model and semi-official typeface for party posters, signs, and periodicals. Slogans by Il Duce were also stenciled on walls using different variants, the original designer of the font is unknown, yet famous iterations have been created by Fortunato Depero that have had a strong influence on a number of Italian graphic artists. Fortunato Depero was a member of the 'second wave' of Futurism, Depero typographically picked up where past Futurists left off with their invention of revolutionised typographic expression, even though they relied on old fashioned type styles. Depero injected an exuberance bathed into his palate that had never been introduced or seen before.

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The early 20th century brought about a flurry of "futurisms" and "futurists'. This was a time when mechanisation, electricity, automation, and car's were changing lives dramatically. This was a period where drastic change had never happened so quickly. The art world replied with various attempts in trying to either follow or lead in the transformation of a constantly evolving society that had done everything by hand into the changing world of mass production. This was an exciting time for the art and design world but also a confusing and conflicting moment which people interpreted as being part of the futurism movement due to the advance nature of their techniques and technological know how.


We should never lose sight of the fact that for Gutenberg the most important thing was to prove the new technique capable of creating something of supreme artistic quality, and these strivings after synthesis at an uncompromising level consumed his constant attention. It's this attention to detail that makes this work so collectable, as if we were to compare this to the work of the Futurists with their strong worded manifesto ("Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature" and "Destruction of Syntax/Imagination without Strings/Words-in-Freedom") "banish punctuation, as well as adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions." Published in both there manifesto's seems to go against everything that history has developed saying that there is no need for any artistic rubications or decorations, more the need for type legibility, the design to brake any rules that had been set regarding book layout or context.


(e.g., image 1)

Notes go to wiki for extra links

Ref quotes...

Image 1 -Title: Pantographia

Author: Fry, Edmund

Date: 1799

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