The art of calligraphy
By Handwritten Letters, Nov 14 2014 01:35PM
Calligraphy, literally translated means “beautiful writing”.*
In a world dominated by computer-generated fonts, people are re-discovering the hand-drawn organic nature of the pen nib and ink.
Western calligraphy dates back over 2,000 years. The early calligraphers used reed and quill pens, as well as brushes, to write on clay tablets, papyrus, stone and animal skins.
In medieval times, trained calligraphers or “scribes”, began copying manuscripts in professional workshops, work that had only previously been undertaken by monks.
While the trained scribes used their calligraphy skills to handwrite the manuscripts, illumination artists added the decorative touches, illustrations and gold leaf. The word “illumination” derives from the Latin illuminaire, which means to enlighten or light up. Bright colours and intricate borders and patterns were used to decorate the manuscripts. Irish scribes produced some of the earliest illumination when producing the Books of Kelts and the Lindisfarne Gospels.
With the arrival of the printing press in the 15th century, there was no longer a need to copy books by hand. Calligraphy moved on to become an art form and the scribes developed their skills to match the detail produced by the copperplate engravers.
In the 20th century, the Arts and Crafts movement sparked a modern revival of calligraphy that continues to this day.
The elements of calligraphic lettering have specific names. For example, ductus refers to the direction and sequence of strokes. The terms “majuscule” or Romans are used for uppercase letters and “minuscule” for lowercase letters. Rather than using the term font, which is used for computer-generated letters, handwritten alphabets are referred to as “style” or “hand”.
Roman stone cutters and scribes developed the classic form of Roman letters that are the foundation for many alphabets in use today.
Calligraphy can be used to great effect to produce individual forms of communication such as poems, invitations or letters.
There are some lovely examples in the National Art Library modern calligraphy collection.