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Calligraphy and Illumination

Resources for those wishing to pursue the art of beautiful writing

What is Calligraphy?

The term "calligraphy" comes from the Greek, with "calli" meaning beautiful and graphy from "grafia" meaining writing.  Hence calligraphy, may be termed the "art of beautiful writing.  Calligraphy comes in many forms, and has developed separately among different cultures.

  • In Europe, calligraphy grew out of the creation of a variety of different styles or "hands" originally created to standardize and maximize efficiency for the creation of hand lettered manuscripts, but gradually developed into extremely ornate and decorative hands used for official or ceremonial purposes.
  • In the Islamic World, the traditional ways of writing Arabic text, such as the Quranic text seen on the flag of Saudi Arabia, is written in a form of calligraphy.
  • In East Asia, the artistic brush painting of ideographs in Hanzi or Kanji (depending on whether the language is Chinese or Japanese) is also considered a form of calligraphy.

This particular guide is focused on the european-style calligraphy, and is intended to provide further resources for those who have taken one of Shonn Haren's calligraphy workshops, or those simply interested in starting out and learning more about this particular art form.

Some Selected Calligraphy Hands (styles)

Uncial Script (developed around 400 CE)

Uncial was used in the early Middle Ages to write in Latin and Greek, and was probably derived from Latin rustic capitals.  This may be why Uncial does not have a lower case. While largely superseded by Carolingian Minuscule (which was easier to read) after the 8th Century, Uncial continued to be used in creating copies of the Bible (the best known of which is probably the Book of Kells.)

(Image credit: By Book of Kells, Public Domain,

Carolingian Minuscule (developed around 800)

Carolingian Minuscule is a a script that was developed to standardize the Latin alphabet so that it could be easily understood by scribes across the Carolingian Empire.  As it was adopted during the reign of Charlemagne, as part of the so-called "Carolingian Renaissance" it bears his name, which is somewhat ironic, as Charlemagne himself could not read.  This script, which superseded Uncial, would itself be superseded by Blackletter, but would later inspire the humanist minuscule used during the Renaissance.

(Image Credit: By, Public Domain,

Blackletter, better known as "Gothic" script (developed around 1150)

Blackletter script (also known as "fraktur" or "textura") developed in late Medieval Europe, as literacy rates rose and demand for books on topics outside of religion began to rise.  In order to keep up with demand, books needed to be produced quickly while not using up too much valuable material, such as paper.  While Carolingian Minuscule was easier to read than Blackletter, it also took up a lot more space.  Blackletter persisted as a typeface after the advent of the printing press, remaining the script commonly used for publications in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish until the 1860's, and German publications until the 1940's.

(image credit: By, Public Domain,

Italic Script (developed around 1550)

Italic script was developed from the humanist minuscule writing adopted by writers during the Renaissance in Italy (hence the name).  Italic has had a strong influence on later writing styles such as Roundhand and Cursive.

Roundhand (developed around 1660)

Roundhand was developed in England, inspired by the Italic Script developed during the Renaissance.  This style, which is characterized by broad flourishes, strongly influenced copperplate printing and cursive writing.

(image credit: By George Bickham - The Universal Penman, published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York., Public Domain,