Didot: fashionable for over 200 years

Modern typefaces, characterized by consistently horizontal stress, flat and unbracketed serifs, and a high contrast between thin and thick strokes, were the final step in typography’s two-hundred-year journey away from calligraphy. In the late eighteenth century the style was perfected, and became forever associated with two typographic giants: in Parma, Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), and in Paris, Firmin Didot (1764-1836). Didot was a member of the Parisian dynasty that dominated French typefounding for two centuries, and he’s remembered today as the namesake of a series of Neoclassical typefaces that exquisitely captured the Modern style.

In addition to the horizontal stress and almost interchangeable serifs of the prevalent style, this type hinted at some unusual variations on the familiar theme: heavier contrast, exaggerated modeling, and unbracketed serifs. Under the guidance of Firmin Didot, these qualities would be concentrated, becoming trademarks of the Didot style, ultimately culminating in the types of 1800. These were types which exalted the mathematical and extolled the classical, types acclaimed by the London Universal Exposition of 1851 as “the most perfect typographical production of all countries and all times.” They effected a unique resonance in the court of Louis XVI, where an appreciation for the antique was in full flower, epitomized by the style Louis Seize and its celebration of the noble simplicity and calm grandeur of the Doric order. Didot’s contemporaries saw in these types both a splendid reflection of antiquity, and a symbolic reproduction of their own age. Rational, progressive, evocative, these types were the ultimate expression of Enlightenment thinking.

Excerpt from HTF Didot’s overview and history, a Didot revival by Hoefler & Co.

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