ITALIC HANDWRITING

INTRODUCTION

These pages are dedicated to producing Italic handwriting suitable for everyday use. The model I use for my exemplars is the exquisite Chancery cursive hand of Bennardino Cataneo, an Italian renaissance writing master of consummate skill.

The objective is to develop beautiful and elegant writing of small size (2mm - 2.5mm letter body height) that can be rendered with comfort and ease at an acceptable writing speed for correspondence, journal and diary entries, greeting ~ condolence ~ congratulatory ~ cards and envelopes, etc.

Commonplace writing instruments and materials are used for this Italic Handwriting: mostly edged nib and regular nib fountain pens but also lead pencils sharpened to a chisel edge (even ubiquitous "ball-pointed" pens on occasion); bottled and cartridge encapsulated fountain pen inks; inexpensive commercial lined pad paper.

[Introductory exemplar of my everyday italic handwriting]
Freely rendered italic handwriting

As a young Calligraphy student I initially concentrated on rendering formal round hand writing, but I soon became interested in Italic handwriting and set about adapting my versions of it to everyday use.

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 Italic handwriting at that time on the Chancery cursive (Cancellaresca corsiva) hands of those Italian Renaissance writing 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.

Bennardino 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 twenty vellum leaves bound in a manuscript copybook, dated 4 February 1545, dedicated to Edward Raleigh, an Englishman (Signor Odoardo Ralyg Gentilhuomo) and which has been published in facsimile with explanatory notes by Stephen Harvard -- the book I reference above.

All but three of the exemplars (12, 17 & 20, which feature Cancellaresca formata, a more austere Chancery hand) are devoted to Cancery cursive -- the archetypal italic writing hand -- characterized by sloping, compressed letterforms with generous, kerned, ascenders and descenders. Harvard points out that Cataneo's Chancery cursive features pen lifts within and between letters and words which thereby stand alone without the diagonal joins that typify the running hands of earlier Italian Renaissance writing masters (Arrighi, Tagliente, Palatino, et al.). Although Cataneo's minuscule letterforms possess the same basic structural elements of the earlier ones, the overall aspect of his writing is of formal elegance.

I do not use the majuscule letterforms 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 (Italic) writing

Developing Italic handwriting 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 letterforms 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 letterforms 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 slightly 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.
Italic writing: A style of frequently cursive or running handwriting (but not always), mostly rendered using edged pen nibs and other edged tip writing instruments, 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
(Italic) 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?

4. Can you write it rapidly enough to use it in general, everyday situations?

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


Author/Webmaster: jp29@cox.net

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