Last updated: 28 April 2016

Dedicated to producing semi-formal Chancery cursive handwriting based on the exquisite Cancellaresca corsiva hand of Bernardino Cataneo, an Italian renaissance writing master of consummate skill.

The objective is to develop beautiful and elegant writing of small size (approx. 2mm - 2.5mm letter body height) that can be rendered with comfort and ease.

I mostly used edged nib fountain pens with bottled fountain pen inks in rendering the Chancery cursive writing: depicted on this page.

[Introductory exemplar of my everyday italic handwriting]
Freely rendered Chancery cursive writing

As a young Calligraphy student I initially concentrated on rendering formal round hand writing, but eventually became interested in Chancery cursive writing and set about adapting my versions of it.

My initial references were:

"A Handwriting Manual" by Alfred Fairbank
"The first Writing Book -- Arrighi's Operina" by John Howard Benson.
"Three Classics of Italian Calligraphy (Arrighi, Tagliente, Palatino)", Oscar Ogg

I based my everyday Chancery cursive writing at that time on the writing hands of those Italian Renaissance masters.

One day -- sometime in the 1980s -- I was perusing the shelves of a local used book store when I came across the following title:

Example of my own Chancery cursive
handwriting based on that of Cataneo

I had not seen this book mentioned in any of my references, but when I leafed through it I was immediately struck by the beauty and elegance of Cataneo's exquisite writing hand and there and then resolved to make it my model.

Bernardino Cataneo was Writing Master (maestro di scrivere) at the University of Siena, Italy, c. 1544-1560. The only known surviving exemplars of his writing are the pages in this copybook, dated 4 February 1545, which has been published in facsimile with explanatory notes by Stephen Harvard, the eminent calligrapher and designer.

I do not use the Majuscule letter forms of Cataneo, preferring instead my own adaptations of the Majuscules of other practitioners of Italic writing -- and some of my own developments. Similarly, I use classic Roman capitals (Monumentalis capitalis) and humanistic small Roman writing (lettera antica) for my supplemental writing hands (headers, emphasized text, gloss, etc.) instead of the sometimes stylized letter forms of Cataneo.

Freely rendered Chancery cursive writing

Developing Chancery cursive writing skills

In developing or adapting any writing hand it is important to first concentrate on producing well formed letters, both majuscules (Capitals or upper case) and minuscules (small or lower case), with precision and consistency -- the essential forms of the letters as Edward Johnston expressed it. You cannot deviate too much from the basic letterforms that the general population is familiar with without degrading legibility. Individual style is incorporated after the basic letterforms have been well learned. Again, the goal is to produce finely crafted letterforms that can be consistently rendered at an acceptable writing speed. The letterforms may not be as pretty as when written slowly and deliberately, but they will still possess a basic loveliness and be eminently readable.

Beginners should not be put off by comparisons of their own freely rendered letter forms to exemplars depicted in books by experienced calligraphers -- those are usually rendered with great deliberation and care under the most favorable conditions (and often after several less perfect renditions have been consigned to the wastebasket) using reservoired steel nibbed pens or even hand cut quills on best quality paper or sometimes calfskin vellum or split sheepskin parchment. The exemplars of Chancery cursive writing by Renaissance Masters were usually rendered on vellum or parchment using painstakingly cut quills. The letter forms in these exemplars are naturally much crisper -- and the flourishes more sweeping -- than can be achieved using fountain pens on everyday writing paper.

I think it is a delightful and satisfying experience to write on paper using pen and ink. The delight is increased a thousand fold if your writing possesses the qualities of beauty, elegance and clarity.

Handwriting Glossary

Dictionaries and Calligraphic reference books sometimes differ on definitions and descriptions. Here is my own compilation:

Letter: A symbol, usually written or printed, representing a speech sound and constituting a unit of an alphabet.
Alphabet: the ordered set of letters that define a language.
Letterform: the shape of a letter of an alphabet.
Writing: The act or art of forming visible letters.
Handwriting: writing done by hand -- the form of writing peculiar to a particular person.
Writing hand: A particular style of handwriting.
Cursive writing: flowing handwriting with the strokes of succeeding letters often (but not always) joined.
Running hand: handwriting in which the letters are usually slanted and all the words formed without lifting the handwriting instrument.
Handwriting Instruments: Usually edged or pointed nib pens (hand cut quills, canes, reeds, metal "dip" pens, fountain pens, etc.); lead pencils; charcoal sticks; ballpoint & rollerball pens; fiber tip pens .......... etc.
Edged pen nibs: wherein the tip of the nib is usually cut square (sometimes oblique) and beveled in the form of a chisel -- not noticeably flexible.
Pointed pen nibs: wherein the tip of the nib terminates in a point and is sometimes noticeably flexible.
Chancery cursive (Italic) writing: A style of freely rendered handwriting using square cut nibs and with letter forms that are narrow and slant upward to the right.
Copperplate writing: A style of running handwriting, rendered using very flexible pointed pen nibs (often offset), that features highly stylized and flourished letterforms meant to emulate copperplate impression printing.
Spencerian writing: (including Palmerian writing, etc.) ubiquitous running handwriting, rendered using pointed pen nibs and various other writing instruments, often employed in schools and for general use.

Example of my Chancery cursive
handwriting freely rendered

Note: If you are satisfied with the appearance of your present handwriting and are comfortable with its rendition please don't change anything!

You can conduct your own critiques/evaluations of your renditions by posing the following questions:

1. Do others report that your writing is clear and easy to read?

2. Are you satisfied with the appearance of your writing?

3. Can you produce this style of writing in a relaxed, easy way without undue fatigue?

If the answers are positive, I would congratulate myself on producing good handwriting and not change one thing!

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