Writing models from manuscript to print: France, England and Europe, c. 1400-1800
Professor Marc Smith
September-October 2020 and March 2021
First four lectures online now: podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/lyell-lectures
From the later Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century, western handwriting was subjected to an unprecedented diversity of scripts and styles, characteristic of nations, languages, institutions, functional uses and the professional or social status of men and women.
The calligraphic models for teaching such scripts were developed by professional scribes such as copyists, chancery clerks, secretaries and writing masters. A minority among them had their manuscripts translated into print and widely circulated, thus contributing to a European market of letter forms, shaped and reshaped by the changing balance of power and taste.
After the prevalence of Italian models in the Renaissance, French writing books were an essential component of that market, until the English round hand (later known as ‘copperplate’) gradually became the common medium of business in the West.
At the crossroads of bibliography and palaeography, the lectures will address a number of technical, commercial and cultural issues raised by the cataloguing and scrutiny of French writing books, hitherto the least charted territory in early modern calligraphy.
The first four lectures of this series have been recorded and are accessible to all via the University of Oxford podcast site, at http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/lyell-lectures