Calligraphy is an art or a medium of expression, which finds its roots to the oldest forms of communication of humanity, when words had not found existence, and, the only form which writing found was via pictography. (Jackson, pp. 41-45) Man since his birth, when he lived the life of an animal, has had the aptitude and zest of spreading his word to others, of leaving his thoughts and the stories of his everyday life behind for his generations to follow. The earliest traces of this communication between the past and the future were through pictures drawn on the cave’s walls, of these inhabitants.
Traces of this form of writing are profound in the Egyptian Civilization (3500 BC), when they used a language drawn out of pictures known as hieroglyphics on tombstones and papyrus paper. However, the first forms of alphabets are believed to be created in 1000 BC by the Phoenicians, which through the volatility of their trade links spread rapidly around the world. In addition, in 600 BC, the first Roman alphabets evolved, giving birth to Latin language.
As during that period religion was giving the highest priority in everyday life, the monks of the church began using the firs style of calligraphy, in a bold and pronounced style to show reverence to their gods, known as the Uncial style.
The Dark Ages, when the world was immersed in ghastly wars, helped the spread of this writing from Rome, to Britain and then far beyond, with each region forming its own writing style. The most famous styles brought forth by this period were the Gothic Script, introduced in the Eleventh Century, by the Carolingian Empire. The most striking feature of this style, was that due to the inability and high cost of paper, a lot of words were squeezed into each line, so as to save paper; nevertheless making it hardly readable. This was also made popularized by each regions monastery. Some of the prominent features of this writing style include the illumination of the first letter of a book or chapter, setting the page in a carpet form, using geometrics precise rules while framing each word and each character had a specific stroke or order.
It was in the late 15th Century, when the first printing press was established in Johannesburg, Germany, whereby allowing faster printing of Bibles and other formal pieces of writings. Some of the famous scripts developed in the sixteenth century, whose generation is still seen around the world include the Antiqua Script, the Batarde Script of France, and the English Script, which overtook the Europe later in the eighteenth century. However with the coming Renaissance this art further flourished, until the emergence of Italic Script, which had alphabets written in a much sleeker manner upon copper plates, allowing faster printing, leading to a steep decline of the works of these calligraphers.
While on the other hand, calligraphy was not an art restricted only to the Western side of the world, but has great links with the Chinese and the Arabs. The Chinese script known as Hanzi, consisting of 1500 alphabets was introduced back in 1500 BC, and is believed to be their richest form of art. (Morris, pp. 71-74) They used high-speed styles, which made the tool visible in the script, creating a vague visual effect. The Lìshū style and Kǎishū style are the most famous styles adapted in these regions, which still stand out in religious sectors.
While Arabic calligraphy, which originated in ninth century, and is one of the most distinct form of writing seen by the Western parts, as it consists of twenty eight letters, written from right to left, while some of the major scripts of this form of art include, Farsi, Naskh, Kufi, Deewani, Req’aa, and Thuluth. The most outstanding fact being that Chinese and Arabic calligraphy is still secured by their cultural bonds, when it is seen in the Chinese paintings and Islamic scripts and mosques.
However, the coming of the 19th century, worsened the spread of this art, the blunt, flat edged pens used to produce the strokes of calligraphy were replaced by the steel pens, with sharper and finer nibs. A revolutionist whose name is widely mentioned in the history and revival of calligraphy is that of William Morris, who started the Arts and Crafts Movement in 1893, which now holds the beginning of the Modern Calligraphy art. (Morris, pp. 69-73) Libraries were setup to preserve the history of this depleting craft, collecting works from around the world and books written by various calligraphers.
Later, Edward Johnston (1914), who not only set himself in the preservation of this art in the form of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but also tarnished himself in the teaching of these old styles of writing. While his struggle continues to be taken forward by societies such as the Scribers and Illuminators; however, it was encapsulated by the capturing of this fine art into an electronic pulse, generated by the computers, which stores numerous styles, reproducing them with just a click.
Calligraphy is the oldest forms of craft mastered by humanity, an art which is still free from “cooperate logo” (Gaur, pp. 23-25), with its history rich in spirituality and tradition, its heritage is so deep rooted in are culture that it has been a part of grace and a symbol of enlightenment for every civilization around the world. Thus, the study of calligraphy is not only gaining its aesthetic sense of this art, but it also provides a look into its possessor’s time, their heritage and spirit, giving us a link of their unique lifestyles and traditions.
Jackson, Donald. The Story of Writing. Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc., 1981.
Gaur, Albertine. A History of Calligraphy. Cross-River Press, 1994.
Modern Calligraphy Collection. Retrieved on April 29, 2009 from http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/prints_books/prints_books/modern_calligraphy/index.html
Morris, William. Some Notes on Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages. Retrieved on April 29, 2009 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1894/middle.htm