Year: 1991

Author: François Da Ros 1941

Artist: Martine Rassineux 1955

Publisher: Anakatabase

Anakatabase, title page

Anakatabase is the inaugural edition of the Éditions Anakatabase. The text, a personal reflection on the occupation of typographer, was written and printed by master typographer François Da Ros and was translated into no fewer than twenty languages, including Dutch, Greek, Japanese, and 'Anakatabasien'.

Da Ros conceived the latter language himself and considers it his 'holy' alphabet, the 'language of the Spirit', as indicated in the colophon. This translation is printed on the back of a folded etchingover three meters long. The front is an engraving, made by Martine Rassineaux, Da Ros's wife.

Steel stairway

The publisher's name, which is also the book's title, was derived from a steel stairway in the Little Seminary. Then twelve-year-old Da Ros and his classmates had to use it to get from the courtyard to the garden and the Chapel. During the mandatory fifteen minutes of meditation the symbolism behind the idea of rising up (in Greek: ana), sinking down (kata) and the step (base) were imprinted on his mind. Rising up symbolises a spiritual road to heaven, while the descent symbolises the road to hell.

From craft to Maître d'Art

François Da Ros has dedicated himself to the conservation of typographic craftsmanship in France. The craft of the traditional printer working with lead type has all but disappeared since the rise of offset techniques and digital technology. In 1998 Da Ros was made Maître d'Art by Catherine Trautmann, minister of Culture. This exclusive title is granted to people who practice an exceptional craft and pass on their knowledge to younger generations. The successful typographer Michael Caine, whose work includes Zaoumni (2000) by Velimir Khlebnikov, is the best known of his former students.

Merits of typography

Da Ros was born in Solfrancui (in the north-east of Italy) and moved to France at the age of eight. Aged seventeen he became an apprentice printer-typographer. Before he was able to open his own printing studio with some difficulty, he worked for the prestigious, but in his eyes conservative, printer Fequet-Baudier. Da Ros' calling towards typography and his predilection for bibliophile editions started there. Since then, he has been convinced of the fact that lead type is particularly important for the quality and versatility of well-designed editions. According to him, the surplus value of lead type lies not only in the detailed printing (ink on paper), but also in the three-dimensional character of printing: the impression in the paper from the relief blockwhich makes the text legible even if the ink were to fade. More important perhaps is the fact that man is never more intimately involved with words than through the process of handtypesetting and printing.

Martine Rassineux

Also intimate is the collaboration between Da Ros and artist Martine Rassineux. Faced with a choice between art and philosophy, she ultimately chose art. As an engraver sheprints her own work on paper, just like a letterpress printer. Signs and symbols are of central importance to Rassineux. Her engraving was printed on Japanese paper on an Artley engraving press from Ghent (Gent in Belgium).

  • Original etching by Martine Rassineux

Virtuoso precision

The French text was set in the large typeface Nicolas Cochin (on alarge 36-point body) and printed in carmine. In between the lines of this text, the twenty translated texts have been printed consecutively in Baskerville (on a 9-point body) with virtuoso precision. Like all editions by Da Ros, this one has also been individually numbered with the printing press rather than by hand. He used the German Phoenix V press with double engines (nr. 8815). The typeface on the title page is Inkunabula. The title Anakatabase has been set in the shape of a stairway.

Bibliographical description

Description: Anakatabase : en hommage au Sacré d'avant le Temps / texte inédit de François Da Ros ; gravure orig. de Martine Rassineux ; [préf. de Patrice Cauderlier]. – Paris : Anakatabase, 1991. – ([36] p., [1] bl. pl.(leporello) : ill. ; 34 cm

Printer: François Da Ros (Paris) (text); Martine Rassineux (etching)

Edition: 80 copies

This copy: Number 1 of 80 on Chinese paper, with etching on Japanese paper

Typeface: Baskerville, Nicolas Cochin en Inkunabula

Bookbinder: Slipcase by Bernard Duval

Note: Signed by the artist and the author

Bibliography: Bénézit 11-449

Shelfmark: KW Koopm K 357


  • Paul van Capelleveen, 'Anakatabase, François Da Ros & Martine Rassineux', in: Artists & others. The imaginative French book in the 21st century. Koopman Collection, National Library of the Netherlands. Nijmegen, Vantilt Publishers, 2016, p. 30-37