Baroque Ornamental Typeforms

January 19, 2013

'These gorgeously ornate letterforms were designed in the mid-1600s by the Polish goldsmith, Jan Christian Bierpfaff in the 1600's. He apprenticed with the Mackensen family of metalworkers in Cracow who introduced the Dutch auricular style of ornament into the Polish gold and silver workshops. Bierpfaff's organic alphabet (dedicated to the patriarch of the Mackensen clan) blends the newly discovered shell patterns with grotesque botanical styling to produce extraordinary, abstracted figures in which the ornament itself comes to life. These are wonderful and astonishing print designs to my way of thinking. In fact, I'd go even further and suggest that the first image right up the top - the 'A' - is just about the most ingenious piece of printed artwork that that has ever been featured on this site.

The design is whimsical, imaginative and exquisite, all while being restrained within the confines of a recognisable alphabetical form. We see and feel dynamic, emergent shapes of plant and monster life-forms. Glance away and the appearance might change. It is a remarkably 'fluid' perspective. And a bizarre, autonomous child-form stands alongside its presumptive mother; the artist is no longer required. We have achieved self-replicating ornament. Now that's what I call proto-surrealism.

Although the background information online seems a little ambiguous as to publication dates, I believe the series above (released as a suite of 20+ prints called: 'Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum..') was the first appearance of Bierpfaff's innovative designs. His fellow-countryman, Jeremias Falck (a renowned artist in his own right), engraved the suite, and it's worth clicking through to see them in a larger format.

The image series below appears to be absolutely identical to the Falck engravings, except for the addition of grotesque masks and similar, odd accoutrements (as well as the text in the title page cartouche). This second suite of prints was engraved by the Strasbourg artist, Peter Aubry.'