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Renaissance age, Donald Jackson, Rudolf Koch, Lascaux, beautiful writing

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Calligraphy, the art of fine writing or script. The term calligraphy is derived from the Greek kalligraphia, meaning “beautiful writing,” and is applied to individual letters as well as to entire documents; it also refers to an aesthetic branch of paleography. In Islamic countries and in India, China, and Japan, calligraphy is done with a brush and has been a highly respected art form for many centuries. In the West, calligraphy eventually evolved from the earliest cave paintings, such as those (35,000-20,000 bc) at Lascaux, France, into the abstractions that became the familiar letterforms of the alphabet.

Renaissance Calligraphy

About 1400 classical scholarship was revived, and the Renaissance age began, first manifesting itself in Italy. With Carolingian and later book hands as a model, Italian scribes developed an elegant, slightly sloped cursive style now called italic.

In 1522 Ludovici degli Arrighi, secretary at the papal offices in Rome, published the first writing manual, a teaching guide entitled La operina. Other 16th-century writing masters followed with their copybooks, among them Giovanni Antonio Tagliente, Giovanni Battista Palatino, and Gianfrancesco Cresci, in Italy; Juan de Yciar in Spain; and Geofroy Tory in France. The italic style soon spread throughout Europe.

19th-Century Inventions and Calligraphy

Two inventions of the 19th century—the steel pen (imitating the shape of the quill) and the fountain pen—became part of daily life, but handwriting, overembellished, often vulgar, could hardly be considered calligraphy any longer.

In mid-19th-century England, the poet and artist William Morris, engaged in a revival of arts and crafts, rediscovered the use of the flat-edged pen. In London, the educator Edward Johnston carried this revival of interest in calligraphy further through research at the British Museum, through his calligraphy classes, and with his book Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering (1906), reprinted to this day. In 1922 his students in London founded the Society of Scribes and Illuminators.

In the United States, the writing systems of various specialists such as Platt Rogers Spencer and proponents of the “push-pull” Palmer Method of penmanship carried on the copperplate tradition.

20th-Century Revival of Caligraphy

In the 20th century the typewriter did not replace handwriting altogether. In England Alfred Fairbank revived italic with his teaching sets of the 1920s. Tom Gourdie brought italic to schools in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany. Rudolf von Larisch in Austria and Rudolf Koch in Germany taught calligraphy and design. Those who promoted calligraphy and handwriting in the United States include William Dwiggins, Oscar Ogg, Ray DaBoll, Paul Standard, Arnold Bank, and George Salter.

When Donald Jackson, a prominent English calligrapher, first visited the United States in 1974, he inspired a fresh interest in calligraphy and illumination, through television interviews, lectures, and workshops, suggesting that Americans might form their own societies for teaching and exhibitions. More than 30 calligraphic societies currently flourish in the United States and Europe.


Wronker, Lili C.

Calligrapher, Promotion Art Department, Time, and World Publishing Company. Instructor in calligraphy, Brooklyn Museum, Queens College, and New School for Social Research. Founding member, New York Society of Scribes.

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