Antonio Basoli, "Alfabeto Pittorico" (all images via Sploid)

The “S” of Antonio Basoli’s “Alfabeto Pittorico,” built as a crypt (1839 engraving) (all images via Sploid)

In the 19th century, an Italian artist created an architectural alphabet in which letters are depicted as monumental structures. The 1839 “Alfabeto Pittorico” (pictorial alphabet) by Antonio Basoli reimagines classical architecture as a towering typeface, from “S” as a cemetery to “N” as part of a colosseum.

The Bologna-based Basoli often worked in the theater designing sets, but it’s not clear what purpose he envisioned for the letters other than a whimsical mash-up of architecture and language. [EDIT: As a commenter pointed out, the letters all seem to indicate the structure they’re a part of, such as “H” for “Harem,” “B” for “Babel,” and “C” for crypt.] (No “W” or “J” included, as it’s an Italian alphabet.) But he’s not the only artist to have built an architectural typeface, or the first. In 1773, Johan Steingruber created an alphabet of actual building plans for palaces, and in the 1840s Jean Baptiste de Pian designed a series of lithographs with letters as domestic and more fantastical spaces.

Sadly, none were ever been built. But inspired by The Paris Review‘s spelling of its initials, “TPR,” from Basoli’s alphabet, here’s our blogazine moniker built with an “H” fortress, an “L” topped by burning flames, a sailing “G” sporting a giant rabbit, and more of the whimsical letters:

Find Antonio Basoli’s complete “Alfabeto Pittorico” at Sploid.

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, the Webb space telescope wows, übernovels, crappy pigeon nests, the problem with “experts,” and much more.

Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

4 replies on “Writing with a 19th-Century Architectural Alphabet”

  1. It looks like one of those alphabets for children in which the letter represents part of the picture so ‘S’ is for ‘sepulture’, ‘c’ is for ‘crypt’ ‘i’ is for ‘ippodrome’ (hippodrome’), ‘g’ is for ‘galley’, etc. I can’t figure some of them out, but then I don’t speak Italian.

    1. Yes, I think you may be right! Perhaps the “R” is for ruin, and now that I look at it the “B” may be for Babel.

      1. F for fountain, H for Harem (my husband got that one), M for Mecca, N for ‘naufragium’ (that’s a stretch but in the colosseum they are having a naval battle which the Romans sometimes did by flooding the arena

Comments are closed.