View Full Version : History and Introduction to Calligraphy 101

Merry Scribe
02-13-2007, 02:15 PM
The unprecedented growth of information technology in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are the culmination of a process that began over a century earlier with the invention of the typewriter. There is ever less need to write in a clear and legible hand, and keyboard skills have become more inportant than handwriting.

It is perhaps because of this reliance on technology and the mechanistic perfections it creates that, paradoxically, many people now appreciate and practice the tactile art(s) of calligraphy.

Modern-day calligraphers have a rich inheritance of Latin scripts developed over 2,000 years. Most of these are readily intelligible, and even scripts that have fallen out of use have many characteristrics that can be incorporated and adapted for modern calligraphy.

The alphabet we use today was aquired by the Romans from the Etruscans. The Romans added the Greek letters Y and Z, bringing the total count to 23. "J", "U", and "W" were medieval addtions to accommodate further phonetic values.

The greatest calligraphic debt that we owe to the Romans is unquestionably that their capital letters, above all the inscribed capitals that appear in the late first century B.C. Inscriptions had been used in many civilizations before, but the extreme subtlety, beauty, and elegance of the character of these Roman letterforms, the capitalis monumentalis, was different. Directly or indirectly, these letters provided the model for almost all of our text typeface capitals, as well as many of our display and calligraphic capitals.

In calligraphic terms there is one other script of use to us: The Rustic capital. This gives us a different ductus but, unlike the capitalis monumentalis, also served as a manuscript hand.

As the Western Roman Empire fell into decline and became fragmented, most of the writing hands became increasingly regionalized. The Uncial, however, retained much of its integrity during this Late Roman period. This script can be viewed as a Latin interpretation of the Greek Uncial. Most of the Christian texts were written in Greek and as such were regarded almost reverentially. All of the known early Christian Latin texts were written in this hand.

By the sixth century A.D., the Uncial was developing different characteristics, particularly in relation to the features we now define as ascenders and descenders. We now define this letter as a Half-Uncial. Two significant developments had an impact on this script. The first took place in northern Britain and Ireland, where the Half-Uncial attained a magnificence, as seen in the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, which arguably has never been surpassed. These books were written to the glory of God and as such were the very best that could be made in respect of writing, decoration, and binding.

The Half-Uncial was also an important script in continental Europe, where it was used for both secular and nonsecular work, although it was written more speedily and consequently had a more cursive character. By the late eighth century Charlemagne had established the first post-Roman empire, stretching from the Baltic to northern Italy. Charlemagne saw himself as the inheritor of Imperial Rome, with literacy and the spread of knowledge key elements in his civilizing mission.

Inherent in this process were the establishment of scriptoria and the training of scribes. Also needed was an easily penned, legible, and univerally acceptable script. By cutting his pen at right angles to the shaft instead of the oblique angle required for the Half-Uncial, the scribe produced a true minuscule. This gave less contrast between strokes, was more cursive in character, and quicker in execution. Thus the reformed Half-Uncial became the Caroline minuscule.

The Roman capital and the Caroline minuscule are the two defining scripts for modern letters. The Caroline hand eventually became the model for the Renaissance Humanist hand. with the invention of printing with moveable type, it also became the model for many typefaces, and we can trace back much of our modern text type design to this period.

By the twelfth century the Caroline minuscule had grown increasingly cursive for secular work, and more compressed and upright for religious works. At the beginning of the thirteenth century this division was complete: The stately Gothic scripts date from this point.

The Humanist minuscule, a child of the Renaissance, spawned other scripts: The earliest was the Italic, a cursive form of the Humanist minuscule, This letter, with a forward slope, could be written at speed, By the mid- sixteenth century this script again became more formal and known as the Chancery Script through its use in the Papal Chancery in the Vatican.

The next innovation again related to the cutting of the nib. By the mid-seventeenth century, scribes discovered that by cutting their nibs to fine points, dramatically increasing the angle of slope, and by joining their letters they could often write a part, or even a whole word, without lifting their pens and at a considerable speed. This Roundhand or Copperplate letter found particular favor in England, and with rise of a trading empire it was quickly disseminated throughout the world, including the United States.

Knowledge of how the earlier scripts had been written was all but lost. The resurgence of modern calligraphy is due to the skill and painstaking research of a few individuals, including Edward Johnston in Britain. Taking the Ramsey Psalter, an English Caroline minuscule, as his model, he developed a simple and unambiguous writing hand that he taught to students. The Foundational hand remains the favorite teaching hand for almost everyone who has learned calligraphy.

*This history is quoted from "the Calligrapher's Bible: 100 Complete Alphabets and How To Draw Them". David Harris. Quarto Publishing: London, 2003.

02-13-2007, 11:54 PM
Brian!!! Don't stop now!! Have so enjoyed your history of calligraphy! Look forward to more of the tutorial. Many thanks! Helen in NC

Merry Scribe
02-14-2007, 09:37 AM
Helen I see by the poll that there are eight people who are interested in learning calligraphy. So we will get started in the first lessen. The first tutorial will be call Calligraphy Basics 101.

Blessed Be


02-14-2007, 11:11 AM
Brian - GREAT!! I'm READY! Thank you! Helen in NC

Merry Scribe
02-14-2007, 12:54 PM
Brian - GREAT!! I'm READY! Thank you! Helen in NC
You are welcome Helen and to everyone else I hope that you have fun in learning calligraphy. I am going to try and make it fun and interesting. But the first few lessens are going to seem to easy to some but they are necessary so just be patient. Patience is a key factor in learning calligraphy after all I am going to teach you how to write correctly and all over again. If you remember first grade when you first learned how to write well just think of being back in first grade again. Because as protental calligraphers that is just were you are at first grade.

Blessed Be