To many people, the word “calligraphy” evokes images of illuminated medieval manuscripts, laboriously hand lettered with a quill feather. In fact, pictograms
date back many thousands of years and a just as the cultures developed over time and geography, so did the need for written representation of records and accounts.
Characters incised in clay or wax tablets eventually were written on papyrus with brushes and reeds. There were at least as many forms of writing as there were languages.
Fast forward several millennia to around the 3rd century and you see the development of the alphabet upon which we base our own –— the Roman characters primarily seen as inscriptions on stone columns, some of which remain to be seen to this day. Romans evolved into Roman uncials and half-uncials.
Very few individuals were masters of the art of lettering. Even Charlmagne, who was responsible for the development of a universal (for the time) hand, was illiterate. Copyists developed and adopted a new hand, known as “Carolingian” which was used through medieval Europe for many centuries. Preservation of religious teachings were of utmost importance.
The mechanization of printing in the 15th century had a profound impact on the hand lettered word. And although it might have succeeded in rendering hand lettering to be a thing of the past, the quill still remained a tool for recording, and in the 16th century books — most particularly Arrighi’s “Operina” — were written to re-familiarize individuals with the skill of hand lettering.
To this day, Arrighi’s “Operina” is cited and recommended in many calligraphy classes as a model for the historic Italian chancery hand.
Today’s world finds a two-fold dilemma. Handwriting as a skill is on its way to becoming obsolete. Why is this unfortunate? Because there is nothing more personal than one’s handwriting and to lose that is to lose a part of one’s self.
Then there is the renewed interest in calligraphy, primarily encouraged by the proliferation of the “how-to” kits and “calligraphy made easy “ books. On one hand, it brings attention to a lost art. On the other hand (no pun intended!) it encourages an attitude that all that is required is the right pen and voila, there you have it!
Such is not the case. in order to do “calligraphy” - see the definition of beautiful writing - one must, at the very least, study the masters and historic references in order to see from where calligraphy has developed. Much like jazz music — one must study the classics first in order to know how to play the notes. Calligraphy as an art form struggles in today’s world for recognition and acceptance. Perhaps the backlash of computers will only serve to make this beautiful art form more valuable.