Arts Abroad: MFA Design in Venice and Rome, Part 2

June 8, 2009

One in a series of occasional dispatches from SVA’s Summer Arts Abroad programs. This dispatch was sent by designer and Summer Arts Abroad student Pat Vining.

As the four-hour train ride from Venice to Rome turned into seven (though we didn’t mind as we were all peacefully sleeping off our amazing Venetian adventure), we finally pulled into the Rome station. “Rock & Rome!” [Department Co-chair] Steve Heller chanted as we disembarked. Classic Steve!

Day One in Rome began with a welcome from [Department Co-chair] Lita Talarico and a lecture about the origins of Roman type by calligrapher and type designer Mauro Zennaro. He recommended that we visit the Biblioteca Angelica, the first public library in the world, which housed an incredible collection of antiquarian books and manuscripts. This was followed on Day Two by a walking tour with Mauro that took us to many of Rome’s landmarks, churches, and important stone inscriptions. Though it was raining, we wandered all over Rome—racing each other up the Spanish Steps (well, we thought about it), shooting photos, making rubbings of all the inscriptions we could find (see Danielle in action above) and eating gelato. We stumbled upon a treasure trove—an antique store that was piled high with old books, magazines, and Italian ephemera of all sorts. I purchased the coolest old almanac from 1934 that is filled with Deco type and Mussolini propaganda.

Day three began with a delightful lecture on the evolution of Roman type by calligrapher James Clough. After a lettering demonstration, we were put to the test: armed only with pencils and tissue paper (not computers), we were asked to analyze and rework Aldus Manutius and Griffo’s Bembo from the book, De Aetna (the Renaissance typeface on which the entire history of typography is based). I combined an unusual lowercase “g” that I had found on a manhole cover with Bembo, resulting in the image above. James said it was “rather naughty” and Louise thought it looked Futurist (probably because of another great book I picked up called F. T. Marinetti = Futurism, edited by Federico Motta). This was followed by a trip to the Museo Nazionale Romano and more gelato.

Well, the hour is late and we are getting giddy while brainstorming our guidebook titles with one another. I’ve decided to go with Rock & Rome . . . A Type Geek’s Guide to the Eternal City. Rachel (our Parisian girl-wonder) is on a roll with Rome Around and Rome, if you want to. Steve is definitely rubbing off on us. Time for bed.

Pat Vining

Images: Type sketches and photography by Pat Vining, June 2009.

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