Bissaboa Outline

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Bissaboa by Alessandro Bombieri

Bissaboa is a maverick unicase display face that frames your words in fluid typesetting. Always ready to wrap up your message in ribbon-like letterforms, it puts a spell on your communication and brings a touch of magic to the waves of your imagination

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Bissaboa, the stream of ‘ribboness’

Did you always think of yourself as a non-believer? Are folk tales for children? With the power of its flowing letterforms, Alessandro Bombieri’s Bissaboa will rid you of your scepticism! The energy of its twisting and turning design is reflected by its Venetian name. Evoking an animal that’s half snake (bissa), half ox (boa) and brings ‘whirlwind, storm, chaos, disorder’, Bissaboa originates in the Middle Ages. After the wild Bissaboa vanished in the 19th century, the word’s meaning shifted: ’zigzag, winding line, serpentine’.

With its snakelike look and naming, Bissaboa hints to its hidden nature, reveals an organic soul and recalls the idea of a living flow, a flow that follows the stream of reading.

The Möbius strip, a one-sided continuous surface.

Alphabet waves

Bissaboa unrolls ribbon-like letterforms and waves them across a line of text. Its letterforms follow a strict geometrical construction and its high thick and thin contrast is produced by the bending of its strokes. These features give Bissaboa a peculiar strip aspect reminiscent of coiling symbols: the double helix of DNA, the Möbius strip and the Ouroboros. 

Bissaboa shares this intriguing imagery and is itself ancient and contemporary, rigorous and fabulous, yin and yang. 

The ribbon concept as applied by Alessandro Bombieri to his Bissaboa typeface has multiple predecessors, such as this chair designed by Cesare Leonardi with Franca Stagi in 1961. The Ribbon Chair was a continuous strip in fibreglass and polyester resin produced in the 1960s by the Bernini firm of Figline Valdarno (Florence, Italy). Image from ‘Cesare Leonardi: The Architecture of Life’, edited by Andrea Cavani and Giulio Orsini, Lazy Dog Press, 2017. Courtesy Archivio Architetto Cesare Leonardi, Modena.

Circles, loops and spirals

The dwarf in optimistic German philosopher Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra suggests Bissaboa’s combination of insouciance and integrity when he declares, ‘Everything straight lies. All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.’ The dwarf also evokes ancient ideas about cycles, repetition and revolution long used by societies and their mystics to explain time. Some, taking the seasons as a lead, viewed it as an infinitely repeating loop. Everything would always, reassuringly, return to its beginnings before starting again. As ancient nomads and merchants set out on journeys, a different conception took hold: time as a linear thing. An endless scale used to mark progress towards a journey’s end. A compromise can be seen in how some priests visualise liturgical calendars: time as a spiral. Similar events with different iterations, repetition and change.

The Ouroboros reproduced in the Parisinus graecus 2327, a codex handwritten by the Greek Theodoros Pelekanos in 1478 and today preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It is a copy of a lost manuscript of an early medieval tract attributed to Synesius of Cyrene (c. 373 – c. 414).

With its decisive curves and straight lines, Bissaboa’s visualisation is inherently syncretic. Moving along the line, it repeats its forms in infinite combinations and starts every sentence afresh.

The resourceful titling face

Bissaboa is a display face with OpenType features for accessing alternative forms. Along with alternates for some letters, such as E, F, L, T, the whole character set is provided in two versions: the outlined glyphs as default, and the filled glyphs accessible as a stylistic set. The two sets can be used together for multicolour lettering. Filled and outlined, transparent and opaque, visible and invisible, this arcane typeface is ready to inspire.

With its outlined and filled glyphs, Bissaboa can play with every nuance and facet of reality.

The spiral embrace of two vipers intent on mating. Detail of an illustration taken from ‘Baldi Angeli Abbatii medici physici eugubini: de admirabili viperae natura, et de mirificis ejusdem facultatibus liber. Ad serenissimum Franciscum Mariam II Urbini Ducem VI’, Norimberga: 1603.

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