The French Revolution and the Didots

François-Ambroise Didot (1730–1801) founded a dynasty of printers, type founders and publishers that dominated French typography during the 19th century. He perfected a system for measuring fonts based on the typographic point, and also created new fonts that were neo-classical in appearance. His sons Pierre (1761–1853) and Firmin (1764–1836), introduced a new, more austere style characterized by sharp contrasts between thick and thin strokes, which was extremely successful during the French Revolution and under the Empire. Although Pierre paid glowing homage to Garamont in his Épître sur les progrès de l’imprimerie, published in 1786, the Didot typefaces would replace the Garaldes, which suffered during the Revolution and its rejection of anything that represented the Ancien Régime.

During the Révolution, the Didot typefaces replace the Garaldes.

Most of the old fonts were melted down due to wartime needs, and thereafter printers in need of type purchased the Didot fonts almost exclusively. Their stranglehold on the Imprimerie Royale – now the Imprimerie Nationale – and their remarkable publications, which included both the 1791 Constitution and the collected works of Racine, which the jury for the 1806 National Exposition deemed to be "the most perfect typographic creation of any country and in any age", made them models for every printer, both in France and throughout the European continent. Giambattista Bodoni, à Parme, se pose comme l’un de leurs concurrents émérites. Giambattista Bodoni, a Parma-based printer, emerged as one of their most brilliant competitors. Nevertheless, their typography often elicited strong reactions, stating that it lacked the readability of Garamond, which for many represented the peak of perfection. On a deeper level, the arrival of the “Didones" – as they were called in the 20th century – went hand-in-hand with on precedent it effort to streamline and mechanize the printing process. The bourgeoisie claimed that they were bringing about industrial and social progress, and the Didones became the representatives of this ambition.

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