Western Calligraphy

Western calligraphy is the calligraphy of the Latin writing system, and to a lesser degree the Greek and Cyrillic writing systems. Early alphabets had evolved by about 3000 BC. From the Etruscan alphabet evolved the Latin alphabet. Capital letters (majuscules) emerged first, followed by the invention of lower case letters (minuscules) in the Carolingian period. The history of lettering records many excursions into historical obscurity and disuse as well as elaborating the story of what gave rise to contemporary print.

Long, heavy rolls of papyrus were replaced by the Romans with the first books, initially simply folded pages of parchment made from animal skins. Reed pens were replaced by quill pens.

Christian churches promoted the development of writing through the prolific copying of the Bible, particularly the New Testament and other sacred texts. Two distinct styles of writing known as uncial and half-uncial (from the Latin "uncia," or "inch") developed from a variety of Roman bookhands. The 7th-9th centuries in northern Europe were the heyday of Celtic illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Durrow, Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells.

Charlemagne's devotion to improved scholarship resulted in the recruiting of "a crowd of scribes", according to Alcuin, the Abbot of York. Alcuin developed the style known as the Caroline or Carolingian minuscule. The first manuscript in this hand was the Godescalc Evangelistary (finished 783) — a Gospel book written by the scribe Godescalc. Carolingian remains the one progenitor hand from which modern booktype descends.

Blackletter (also known as Gothic) and its variation Rotunda, gradually developed from the Carolingian hand during the 12th century. Over the next three centuries, the scribes in northern Europe used an ever more compressed and spiky form of Gothic. Those in Italy and Spain preferred the rounder but still heavy-looking Rotunda. During the 15th century, Italian scribes returned to the Roman and Carolingian models of writing and designed the Italic hand, also called Chancery cursive, and Roman bookhand. These three hands — Gothic, Italic, and Roman bookhand — became the models for printed letters. Johannes Gutenberg used Gothic to print his famous Bible, but the lighter-weight Italic and Roman bookhand have since become the standard.

During the Middle Ages, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were produced: some illuminated with gold and fine painting, some illustrated with line drawings, and some just textbooks.

Read more about Western CalligraphyModern Times, Contemporary Resurgence, Other Sub-styles, Bibliography

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