October 29, 2005

Steingruber’s Alphabet

The book about Johann Theodor de Bry’s Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago was one of a set of four alphabet-themed volumes by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel that I’d purchased via abebooks from Bücher Thöne of Greven, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. These were originally published by Ravensburger in 1997-98, and seem to have since been re-issued by Urania-Verlag, of Stuttgart. The other three volumes were concerned with the calligraphic alphabet of Paulus Franck, the Alfabeto Pittorico of Antonio Basoli, and the Architectonisches Alphabeth of Johann David Steingruber. It is from this last book that the present images are scanned:

Second version of the letter 'A' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

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Letter 'E' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

In Steingruber’s alphabet, published in 1773, each letter of the alphabet is made into a plan of a palatial building. In some cases, as with A, there are two alternative plans. Accompanying texts explain the designs: in the case of A, there is a grand hall at the apex of the building, while its crossbar comprises a central passageway flanked by a pair of arcaded hallways, and, at the letter’s feet there are ‘cabinets’ and ‘garderobes.’ E is intended to house two sets of apartments, with main entrances top & bottom, and a chapel in the central prong of the building, which, Steingruber concedes, could equally well be made into a grand staircase, or a special reception room.

Letter 'H' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

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Letter 'S' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

Some letters make for more conventional buildings than others: H ‘lends itself admirably to a design for a palace in the country for a personage of consequence,' whereas S must yield a ‘curiosity, rather than a workable building.’ Even so, Steingruber has thought hard at making his S a suitably royal residence, with a pair of circular reception rooms, a quartet of spiral staircases, and a dozen servants’ rooms at the extremeties of the building, some of whose occupants would be granted the peculiar pleasure of inhabiting a serif. the Z building is another which provided the architect with a challenge, but by blunting its outward angles, and softenting its inward ones with rounded cabinets; and by carefully shaping and arranging rooms and stairwells; he is able to complete the alphabet to his satisfaction.

Letter 'X' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

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Letter 'Z' from Steingruber's 1773 'Architectonisches Alphabeth.'

Steingruber (1702-87) was the son of a master mason from a place called Wassertrüdingen an der Wörnitz, near the town of Dinkelsbühl. After an apprenticeship in which he worked on constructing palaces at Mannheim and Rastatt, he came to work at the Brandenburg court at Ansbach in the service of the margrave Friedrich Carl Alexander. He was soon appointed court & public surveyor, and was later made principal architect of the board of works. Besides completing many building projects, Steingruber expounded on architectural theory in his books Architeccture Civile (ca. 1748) and Practica Bürgerlicher Baukunst (Practical Course in Civil Architecture, 1763).

In their book, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel mention other architects who had proposed constructions from alphabetical foundations: one Anton Glonner, a contemporary of Steingruber’s, designed a Jesuit church and college around that order’s ‘IHS’ monogram, while others sought to build up from their own initials. More interestingly, almost a century before the publication of Steingruber’s alphabet, a French architect named Thomas Gobert (1625-90) had compiled a manuscript Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louis XIV which included a series of building-plans which spelled, in stylised letters, the words ‘LOVIS LE GRAND’ (Louis the Great). Click on the images above to see them enlarged.

Posted by misteraitch at October 29, 2005 10:08 AM
Comments

some of whose occupants would be granted the peculiar pleasure of inhabiting a serif

:-)

Posted by: Loxias on October 30, 2005 11:10 AM

misteraitch, your RSS feed gives a "not found on this server" error message. I run linux. The feed always worked before until today.

Posted by: matthew on November 4, 2005 07:44 PM

Wait, it is even worse. The entire site isn't loading correctly. Sorry, if that is too obvious to deserve comment.

Posted by: matthew on November 4, 2005 07:49 PM

Matthew—The site has just moved to a new web-host, so you can expect things to be a little flaky here for a while: apologies for the inconvenience.

Posted by: misteraitch on November 4, 2005 08:50 PM

Would it be possible to get the rest of the letters? I'm really interested on this architectural alphabet and it seems almost impossible to get hold of it. Thanks

Posted by: cova on November 4, 2005 09:33 PM

Cova—not any time soon, unfortunately; I’ve got a bunch of other stuff I want to get scanned before I could spare the time to do the remaining twenty-odd engravings from this book.

Posted by: misteraitch on November 4, 2005 10:12 PM

Thanks misteraitch. Your top entry about the change of hosts wasn't loading when I posted.

Posted by: matthew on November 5, 2005 12:53 AM

Thanks anyway, whenever you have the time I'll be waiting for it. I'll keep an eye on the page :)

Posted by: Cova on November 15, 2005 11:21 PM

Me llamo Bettina Steingruber.Un placer conocer obras de un pariente.Gracias a quien se tomó el trabajo de ponerlo en la red. Mis saludos.

Posted by: on April 28, 2006 03:07 PM

Bei Steingrubers Alphabet fällt mir ein anderer Versuch ein, eine Stadt mit Buchstaben zu verschönern: Gustav Meyrinks "G.M."

Posted by: Schwärzer on July 26, 2006 11:30 PM

Would it be possible to get the rest of the letters? I'm also really interested on this architectural alphabet and it seems almost impossible to get hold of it. I worked on the Asfeldchurch in France and found other works of the dominican brother and builder of the Pont Royal in Paris, ir.-architect, Fr. Romanus of Maastricht. Where can i find an original of Steingrübers book? Thanks

Posted by: Bral Guido Jan on November 22, 2006 02:13 PM

Wonder if he is a distant relative?Any other Steingruber's out there?

Posted by: Gerald Steingruber on December 2, 2006 06:54 PM

Hi
I just saw an HGTV presentation mentioning this very author and would love to buy the book where in the US would I be able to obtain one or can I get the ISBN# of the current rewrite.
Colleen

Posted by: Colleen on April 26, 2007 08:51 PM

Hi, I just saw a complete alphabet letters of steingruber`s work in a big portrait and it`s very cool I`m just wondering where can I buy this complete set here in Canada?

Thanks

Posted by: lanevobri on September 22, 2007 04:13 PM

lanevobri—I’m not aware that Steingruber’s alphabet has ever been published in North America. Editions of the (German) book I used as my source for these images can, however, be found by way of sites like abebooks.com: try searching for the ISBN No. 347348394X.

Posted by: misteraitch on September 23, 2007 01:17 PM
Comments are now closed