Dante: the Typeface NOT the Poet

Dante: the Typeface NOT the Poet

  |   Tips, Tricks and Insights

Written for Art, Antiques and Design (By Gail Green)

While the words may not sound as lyrical, the look of them is chic and sophisticated!

Thanks to John Bidwell, Head of Printed Books at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, the institution now has a new typographical look!

But, this is no ordinary change. Behind every type, every face, there is a story. So, here goes. As the venerable Mr. Bidwell recounts, “The Morgan commissioned Michael Beirut at Pentagram to design signage and graphics for the building.” As a point to note, the Morgan was getting a facelift by the famed architect Renzo Piano and thus was seeking reinvention along all aesthetic lines. He continues, “As printed books curator, I was able to make proposals for the house typeface at a meeting with Beirut.

We immediately agreed that Dante was right for the job. As it was a modern adaption of the roman letter employed at the Aldine Press, one of Morgan’s earliest collecting interests. JP emblazoned his typographical taste upon the facade of the historic McKim building, where one can see the Aldine dolphin-and-anchor printer’s device.” Bidwell goes on to note that “Pentagram now used the italic ampersand to symbolize the symbolic relationship between library & (sic.) museum, in addition to the grace and flair inherent in the museum’s holdings.”

Even Beirut admits to a “level of obsession about typography – even by our standards.”

Here’s the history behind the font: It was designed in 1954 by Giovanni Mardersteig and based on a design by Aldus Manutius for the 1495 publications of Piero Bembo’s De aetna,, a copy of which resides at the Morgan.

I leave you with this apt saying by Paul Standard, 1947, “Geometry can produce legible letters but art alone makes them beautiful. Art begins where geometry ends, and imparts to letters a character transcending mere measurement.


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