PRACTICAL CHANCERY CURSIVE (ITALIC) WRITING

INTRODUCTION

Last updated: 14 June 2016

The objective is to develop beautiful and elegant writing of small size -- <3mm (<1/8") minuscule letter body height that can be rendered with comfort and ease in everyday use.

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

There are two different Chancery writing hands: Cancellaresca corsiva (Chancery cursive which is featured on these pages) wherein the minuscule ascenders and descenders are quite generous and kerned with the Majuscule letterforms usually being flourished or swashed, and Cancellaresca formata which features minuscule letterforms with slightly shorter ascenders & descenders that are serifed rather than kerned and with somewhat more austere Roman Majuscules.

As a young Calligraphy student (1939 in Burnley, Lancashire, northern England) I was initially tutored in rendering all writing using square cut chisel edged steel nib pens that came with small metal reservoirs installed (occasionally hand cut goose quills with home made metal reservoirs). Later, when I became interested in Chancery cursive writing, I began using edged nib fountain pens with modified iridium tipped nibs or square cut chisel edged nibs and bottled ink via converters.

My early references were:

"A book of scripts" 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 Italic 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 Italic writing 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 Chancery cursive hand and subsequently based most my of minuscule letterforms on his. I do, however, still admire and use my adaptations of the minuscules and Majuscules of Arrighi.

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 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 Renaissance Masters -- especially those of Arrighi -- 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.

I have employed this style of minuscule writing for the past few years to write most of my correspondence and notes. These days I use a Manuscript brand fountain pen with an extra fine nib (which produces approx. <3mm {<1/8"} high minuscule letter forms) and Waterman bottled fountain pen ink (via converters) on plain Rhodia paper (or Strathmore series 400 2ply Bristol board) which l lay out using .5mm lead pencil base lines (only) at 3/8" (10 mm) line spacing.

Developing Italic 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 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.



Exemplar showing my current everyday writing including swash Majuscules


Primary References:

The First Writing Book, Arrighi's Operina
by John Howard Benson, Yale University Press, New Haven

A book of scripts
by Alfred Fairbank, Faber and Faber, London

An Italic Copybook
The Cataneo Manuscript

by Stephen Harvard, Taplinger Publishing Co. Inc., New York, N.Y.

Masters of the Italic Letter
Twenty-Two Exemplars from the Sixteenth Century

by Kathryn A. Atkins, David R. Godine, Publisher Inc., Boston, Massachusetts


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