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San Francisco State University
This guide explores the graphic arts of the Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods housed in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection.
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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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.


About the Collection

The Fine Printers represented in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection of the California State University - Raymond Van De Moortell
Call Number: Z155 .S26 1993
Publication Date: 1993
This book surveys the Italian fine presses housed in the Frank V. de Bellis Collection including Aldus and Giunta along with descriptions of incunabula.

The Frank V. de Bellis Collection in the Library of San Francisco State College - San Francisco State College. Library.
Call Number: DE 46.5 .S26 1964
Publication Date: 1964
This brochure was produced when the Frank V. de Bellis Collection opened in 1964. It describes some of the treasures in the Collection that include early examples of Italian typography and graphic arts.


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.


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.


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

Disegno: Italian Renaissance designs for the Decorative Arts.
Call Number: NK 1452 .A1 D59 1997
Publication Date: 1997
Catalog of the exhibition held at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, New York, February 11-May 18, 1997.

The Story of Graphic Design: From the Invention of Writing to the Birth of Digital Design. - Patrick Cramsie
Call Number: NC 998 .C72 2010
Publication Date: 2010
This comprehensive illustrated history begins with the origins of the alphabet itself and carries the reader through the first handwritten books, the invention of printing in the Renaissance, the explosion of graphic styles (and printed media) in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the impact of digital technology on design today. This work explores the evolution of styles under the pressure of social, cultural, and technological change, accompanied by a comprehensive selection of illustrations of key works in typography and design since the invention of writing. It covers a number of topics, from the art of the medieval manuscript to the birth of advertising to the workings of modern mass media. The author is able to bring a designer's eye to the analysis of visual communication. This is a book for designers, historians, and students, and those who are interested in the visual arts or concerned about the future of the printed word.

How Typography Happens - Rauri McLean
Call Number: Z 124 .M44 2000
Publication Date: 2000
For those who want to study typography beyond Italy (to see if it is an art or a science) This book examines the gradual tendency of the word "typograph" to mean "typographic design" with the emergence of the typographer as a professional in their own right. Looking at the work of well-known typographers in England, Germany, France and the USA, McLean examines the development of typography, starting with in the 17th century with the "Mechanick Exercises" of Joseph Moxon, and progresses to the influences and work of the German typographer Jan Tschichold and his contemporaries.

500 Stemmi di comuni Italiani - Edizione Achille Brioschi & C.
Call Number: CR574 .A1 1940
Publication Date: 1940
In Italian only. Opposite each emblem is a short history and description of each of the Italian towns and cities cited.


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.

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.


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