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Alessandro Colizzi—In the Footsteps of Nebiolo’s Art Studio: Reading the Evidence

A composite from the Nebiolo General Catalogue of 1939.

Sun, Nov. 8 |  Alessandro Colizzi, design faculty at Politechnic University in Milan, Italy, presented his research into the history of the Nebiolo Foundry, particularly the origins and development of their art studio. Founded in Turin, Italy, in 1852, Nebiolo was a small business launched in a newly united Italy. 

For the greater part of the twentieth century, until they ceased operations in 1978, Nebiolo was Italy’s largest type manufacturer. In addition to type, Nebiolo produced stereotypes and electroplates of type and ornaments, sold British and French model printing presses, and then proprietary models of platen and cylinder presses starting in the late 1880s. Colizzi pointed out that previous company histories include contrary references and that extant archival materials are widely scattered and contain significant gaps.

Nebiolo’s first official art studio was established in 1933. Colizzi began with these “later chapters,” introducing the three artistic directors who worked from 1933 to 1972. The founding director, Giulio da Milano, who served from 1933 to 1936, was responsible for the typefaces Semplicitá, Neon, Veltro, and Razionale. Under Alessandro Butti, director from 1936 to 1952, Nebiolo released Fluidum, Quirinus, Augustea, and Microgramma. Aldo Novarese, the designer of Recta, Garaldus, Slogan, Estro, and Stop, held the position from 1952 to 1972. Almost all of the types the company designed during this time were modernist display faces, a response to a growing advertising industry served by the print shops buying from Nebiolo. 

Using pre-1930s records, Colizzi made the case that Nebiolo art studio and art director precursors were in place by the late 1880s. Dalmazzo Gianolio, printing department foreman, launched an industry journal, Archivo Tipografico, in 1889. Produced regularly until 1933, it included type specimens, advertising, and industry news along with articles on printing arts and technologies. Immediately successful in Italy, Nebiolo added French and Spanish language editions. Around 1898, a photomechanical engraving studio for zinc, copper, and wood engravings was established under the supervision of Edoardo Cotti, an Art Nouveau painter and lettering artist, who also contributed to Archivo Tipografico. Colizzi believes that a technical department was established in 1915 and included a pantograph, significantly changing production methods and design possibilities. With Gianolio’s death in 1926, Nebiolo added printing scholar and practitioner Raffaello Bertieri as an art consultant. He launched a revival of Renaissance text faces, broadening Nebiolo’s output. A transition in the company’s design philosophy is seen clearly from the covers Colizzi showed from this era’s Archivo Tipographico, with Giulio da Milano’s appointment as artistic director and a move to modernist typography.

Colizzi made a quick reference to Nebiolo’s art studio’s decline, mentioning a lack of interest in type production in the mid-1960s and a corresponding loss of interaction with artists and graphic designers.