Pablo Neruda once described Alberto Tallone as a ‘maestro de la claridad, profesor de pureza, héroe del book’ (‘master of clarity, teacher of purity, hero of the book’): qualities that can be found today in his son Enrico, who since 1973 has been running the publishing house founded by his father in Paris in 1938. After moving to Alpignano, in Piedmont, this genuine atelier of art publication has collected a whole string of marks of recognition and commendations at an international level over the years.
Tell us your story.
I was born in Tuscany in 1953, to a family of artisans from Vinci on my mother’s side and a family of artists on the paternal side (my grandfather Cesare was a leading figure on the painting scene in the late 19th and early 20th century, the teacher of Pellizza da Volpedo and Carlo Carrà). I spent my childhood in Paris, where my father Alberto had founded his publishing house in 1938.
In 1949 my father Alberto designed his own typeface – exclusive to our press – an encounter between Italy and France: inspired by the architecture of Palladio’s villa at Maser and engraved in Paris by Charles Malin
With a catalogue projected as much into the past as into the future, the publishing house brings out fundamental works of prose and poetry and a choice selection of contemporary authors.
In 1959 I came back to Italy, to an old family property in the vicinity of Turin, where I and my brother Aldo had the privilege of passing our adolescence, in an atmosphere steeped in art and literature. In those years, in fact, some important names in Italian and international poetry and literature joined the publishing house’s stable, including Riccardo Bacchelli, Luigi Einaudi, Leonardo Sinisgalli, Georges de Santillana, the Hellenist Jean Zafiropulo, Gianfranco Contini, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda and Mario Luzi. A tradition that continued over time with Elémire Zolla, Yves Bonnefoy, Guido Ceronetti, Carlo Ossola, Eugenio De Signoribus, Marcia Theophilo, Jean-Luc Nancy, Angelo Tonelli and Davide Rondoni. Since the 1970s I have carried on with the work of my father Alberto, continuing his aesthetic research, aimed at making the most of the literary works of the authors present in our catalogue (from the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers to contemporary poets) through the diversification of our production, with each edition set by hand in type cut with original punches, created by great artists.
What is the Tallone type?
In 1949 my father Alberto designed his own typeface – exclusive to our press – an encounter between Italy and France: inspired by the architecture of Palladio’s villa at Maser and engraved in Paris by Charles Malin, considered the Griffo of the 20th century. This lettering, seen as a symbol of the Italian style in France, was used to inscribe poems by the great literary figures of our country, first of all Leopardi, on the wall of the entrance to the Institute of Italian Culture in Paris. The work, entitled ‘Viale dei Canti’, was unveiled in May 2016, following the attacks in Paris, at the behest of the director, Marina Valensise: ‘To avoid the definitive closure of the door that gives onto Rue de Grenelle, I decided it was necessary to restore the wall. But also to associate a work of art with it.’
How do you set about the creation of a book?
The relationship with the editors and philologists to whom we entrust our texts is fundamental: it is this synergy that shapes the creation of each title. With a catalogue projected as much into the past as into the future, the publishing house brings out fundamental works of prose and poetry and a choice selection of contemporary authors, uniting fine typography with philological rigour. In our editions we aspire to bring about a fruitful meeting between ethics and aesthetics: philological accuracy and book design have to coalesce in order to convey the spirit of the text to the reader in the best possible way. Next come numerous passages of design that, commencing with the choice of format, determine the layout and the consequent selection of the size and body of the typeface. The choice of the quality, shade and thickness of the paper in relation to the formats is fundamental to the ergonomics of the book.
Your craft has ancient roots. How do you manage to combine tradition and innovation in your work?
The decision to make use of classical typefaces, the ones with which Western civilisation identifies its literary tradition (deriving the upper case from Roman capitals and the lower case from the roman type cut by Francesco Griffo in Venice in 1496 for Aldus Manutius), frees us from fleeting fashions, whether of the past, present or future. In addition, the artistic research and manual technique imply continual innovation, for, while the machine replicates and clones, every gesture of the artisan is by its nature new and creative. Innovation is a publisher’s daily bread, since each new translation, every new line of poetry he publishes, represents the latest frontier of contemporary thought.
Is it possible to be creative in your work?
It is necessary. The proof can be found in our catalogue, in which every title has an original and never repeated format and page make-up, designed to suit the needs of each occasion without resorting to the concept of standard series. Continual research in the field of editorial design is in fact the distinctive mark of the publishing house. Our objective is to get away from the repetitive and utilitarian prêt-à-porter of the book series, characteristic of the publishing industry, through the haute couture of works that are designed one by one, united by a style so recognisable that it can take the place of any crest, trademark or logo.
Who buys your books?
The range of our customers is a rich and varied one, as the passion for literature and aesthetics is luckily still widespread in society. And alongside them we have our institutional clientele, made up of the European and North American library system. A lot of interest has been stirred by the series of Manuali Tipografici, in which the most recent volume (2019), devoted to the art of engravers, type-founders and printers, as well as to the various kinds of paper, watermark and ink, describes and offers examples of centuries of typographical and papermaking culture, including original samples of watermarks dating from between the 15th and 20th century and the use of original type founded between the 17th and 20th century.
Have you ever received eccentric requests? And if so, what were they?
Yes, among many strange commissions, we have printed an collection of letters between two Milanese lovers. The print run? Just two copies, ça va sans dire!