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Early Graphic Arts in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection: Home

This guide explores the graphic arts of the Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods housed in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection.

About the Collection

Can you tell a book by its cover?

This guide will explore the rich array of early graphic arts found in books and manuscripts that are housed in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection at San Francisco State University.

Special Thanks for Images Used

Thanks to colleagues in the Digital Scholarship Center of the J. Paul Leonard Library; more images of books and manuscripts now appear in this Guide with some available in the Digital Special Collections, and more will be added in the future. Special thanks to Luca Facchin for coordinating imaging work and for translating texts and to Matthew Martin for his care and help in making these objects more visually accessible electronically, thereby saving the objects from overuse in the future.

Introduction: Graphic Design

Graphic design demonstrates artistry to blending words and pictures to create published books, magazines, advertisements, and electronic texts. Graphic design is a form of visual communication that conveys concise strategic messages to a specific audience. Graphic designers utilize various methods to create and combine color, words, and images to represent ideas visually. The graphic arts combine typography, symbols, and carefully composed page layouts that focus the viewer to a balanced and focused message.


Illuminated manuscripts on vellum, the early development of paper mills in Italy, along with watermark technology that identified quality products of papermakers in Medieval Europe that advanced papermaking technology that originated in the Far East and Muslim world made Italy a natual hub for designers. During the mid-fifteenth century the development of woodcut images, movable type, and the printing press fueled the Renaissance when the earliest printed documents closely emulated the symbiotic form of contemporary manuscripts. Florentine book publisher Aldus Manutius innovated the Humanist or Old Style book design during the Renaissance and introduced a portable vessel for ideas in the form of a pocket-sized book featuring italicized type.

Heraldry: Graphic Design and Identity

Heraldry is the graphic depiction of history as it unfolded. Designing national, institutional, and tribal/family shields represents the first kind of branding to be linked to economy (maintaining credit lines) for empire building; it dates back to the mid-1100s. Symbolism was very important: the Romans historically used the eagle for their emblems as a visual statement. The graphic design related to heraldry requiring efficient use design space on a shield or uniform had very detailed specifications related to alliances, inheritance, and class. Vibrant color (red, blue, black, green, and purple), metal (yellow=gold and white=silver), and rhythmic use of sybolic shapes and animals had powerful semantic significance. Each symbol has different meanings and rank.

A herald was responsible for keeping heraldic code in good order; he was originally an announcer at tournaments; later heralds recorded battlefield heroics, which determined who became knights; they also regulated the use of symbols employed in coats of arms.

Subject Guide

Meredith Eliassen
Office: (415) 405-4073

Books About Italian Graphic Design in the J. Paul Leonard Library

Graphic Design & Stage Design

This is an example of graphic design that documents contemporary technological advances, in this case, the work of Giacomo Torelli ( 1608-1678), who was also known as the "grand stregone" or "great magician." Torelli is remembered for innovating opera with the use of sub-stage trolleys connected to ropes to operate scenery and novelty special effects such as machinery to create the illusion of flying characters and weather changes.