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Rudolf von Larisch: investigating and analysing the ideas and theories of a lettering reformer

posted on 2017-02-21, 02:34 authored by Thomas, Karen Lee
Rudolf von Larisch was first a civil servant and then an artist, reformer and teacher in ever changing and dynamic Vienna. Born into the Austrian Empire and dying in the Republic of Austria, von Larisch lived through a period of great cultural change. He was an enthusiastic contributor to the Antiqua-Fraktur debate and a key figure in the letter reform of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His thinking on the creation of letters was central to the formation of the distinctive lettering produced by the Vienna Secession and the Wiener Werkstatte. Von Larisch published prolifically on what he considered to be the problem with lettering or 'ornamental lettering' as he preferred to call it. His theories centred on the faulty outline of the writing and the poor distribution of the letters. His books provided solutions that addressed these problems based on his own methodological experiments. As a result of his publications he was appointed to teach heraldry and lettering at a range of art colleges across Vienna. Unlike his contemporaries Edward Johnston and Rudolf Koch, whose lettering, type design and theories has generated a large body of scholarship, only a short precis is available on von Larisch and much of what is known of his theories has been obtained through second hand sources. Analysis of von Larisch's theories does exist in German, but these are mainly anecdotal and most have been written by the same author: Otto Hurm, von Larisch's former student, assistant and eventual successor. This thesis seeks to expand on the precis available and provide a thorough analysis of von Larisch, his life and his theories. The key to understanding von Larisch's innovative and at times idiosyncratic ideas is to actually read the books he wrote: Ober Zierschriften im Dienste der Kunst (1899}, Ober Leserlichkeit von Ornamentalen Schrift (1904} and Unterricht in Ornamentaler Schrift (1905-1934). Central to this thesis is the understanding of how such a significant figure in lettering reform and teaching could remain undiscovered. This thesis will seek to redress this imbalance by providing a thorough examination and analysis of his ideas and theories together with a discussion on the influence and application of these ideas within his immediate circle of Vienna and beyond.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Luke Morgan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Art History and Theory


Master of Fine Art

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

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