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What is calligraphy?

What is medieval calligraphy?

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Did you say "calligraphy"?

Calligraphy is a graphic art that was born with the invention of writing. The word "calligraphy" comes from the Greek "kalos" = beautiful, and "graphein" = to write. Which doesn't mean that all old calligraphy is beautiful !

For my part, I am trained in medieval Latin calligraphy . In the period that interests us, many different writings followed one another. The best known are: the unciale, the caroline, the Gothic style writings (textura quadrata, Flemish bastard, fraktur ...).

But there are many others, about as many as there were calligraphers!

I occasionally practice square-style Hebrew calligraphy.


A short history lesson

The invention of Western illumination and calligraphy is undoubtedly linked to the rise of Christianity. Indeed, Christianity being one of the three "Religions of the Book", it had to highlight its reference book: the Bible , which contains the Word of God.

It is in the 5th century that the illumination appears, following the almost total replacement of papyrus by parchment as a writing medium.

Most of the works are religious books : Bibles, Psalters, Evangelicals, Patristic writings, etc. We also find, in smaller numbers: works by authors of Antiquity, books on medicine, geography, astronomy, novels of chivalry, etc. Until the 13th century, the places of production (scriptoria) were located in the monasteries. Copyists and illuminators are first and foremost monks, and therefore work for the glory of God. The sponsors are kings, princes or clergymen.

From the 13th century , the book spread in more popular circles. Bourgeois and wealthy merchants can now build up a small personal library . There are more and more non-religious books: novels (de la Rose, de Renart), books of poems (Codex Manesse), hunting, science, etc. "Pecia", excerpts from texts intended for study, are sold or rented to students. Illuminations are now produced in lay illuminator workshops. It was also at this time that the use of paper became common.

In the 16th century, the printing press definitively supplants the production of "handmade" books.

However, handwriting still exists!

By leafing through the archives, old notarial deeds, letters from famous people, one can see the evolution of the form of letters.

In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Some people remember with happiness (or pain) the writing exercises they did in school.

The oldest among us remember the steel quill and the inkwell , so difficult for little schoolchildren to use.

The materials

During Antiquity, and at the very beginning of the Middle Ages, the calligrapher worked on papyrus . Few copies have come down to us because it is a fragile material.

He was able to develop his work with the invention of the parchment codex , which is the form of "book" we still use today.

In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

As for inks , the choice was not very wide. The main text was written in black or dark brown, with gallo-ferric ink (gallnut and iron sulphate) or carbon ink most of the time. The first words "titles" were often written in red (cinnabar, kermes, vermilion). We find more rarely blue or green letters.

In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Rare but still impressive, the crysography ("golden writing" in Greek) was also carried out by a calligrapher. It is about writing with golden ink, made with finely ground gold leaf added to a binder.

It was also up to the calligrapher to create the flourishes around certain capital letters. They are called watermarks . We find many of them in the manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries.

Today, the calligrapher can use these medieval techniques, or modernize them.

In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

He works on parchment or on paper. The inks available on the market are much more diverse and numerous than in the past . The range of colors is also very extensive.

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Practice medieval calligraphy

In the Middle Ages , different people were involved in the creation of a book: one was responsible for the layout, another for the rulings ("worn" to position the calligraphy), then came the calligrapher, the designer, the illuminator, the bookbinder.

In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

The calligrapher was also called a copyist, because he was not the author of the text he was writing. We also find the term "scribe" ("the one who writes" in Latin).

His work included writing the actual text, but also adding any watermarked letters.

Today, the calligrapher decides on the layout, calligraphy the text, adding arabesques with the pen. It can also be an illuminator.

Calligraphers create their own creations and present their work through exhibitions. Individuals order for the creation of calligraphy works to offer , calligraphy poems or prayers , greeting cards ...

As in the past, calligraphy is an art which requires perseverance and which is exercised over time.

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