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The Evolution of Italic Script
(By Iarlaith ni Fionnallain as appeared in the April 1990 Bolt)

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The Evolution of Italic Script

Italic writing is not a new form of script. It was practiced by the Vatican scribes in the 15th century on authority of Pope Eugenius IV (1431-47) for the writing of Briefs. During this century a great revival in learning took place. Known as the Renaissance, the movement induced Italian scholars to seek out the best literary works of the classical authors. The monasteries were one of the main sources where the ancient writings were preserved and it was on their scriptoria that the medieval scribes relied for their transcription.

Many of the ancient writings remained in private hands and it was Niccoli de Niccoli (1363-1437) who organized an extensive search of the libraries of France and England, and authorized his scribes to transcribe the discovered manuscripts.

These were written in the Carolingan hand, which took its name from the Emperor Charlemagne, who with Alcuin of the Benedictine monastery at York, established and developed the style. For centuries this remained the script of the French and Italian schools.

The revival of interest in the classical authors of Greece and Rome and the demand for written books towards the end of the 15th century was such that a quicker and more informal version of the script developed. This hand is called cancellaresca corsiva, Chancery cursive (from it's adoption by the Papal chancery), or as we know it, Italic - the letters being more compressed and ideally suited for speed in writing.

This graceful hand is exemplified in the first writing book, La Operina, produced in Venice in 1522 by Ludovico degli Arrighi, a writing master at the Roman curia. Other writing manuals followed by the Vatican scribes G. Antonia Tagliente in 1524, and Giamattista Palatino in 1544.

There is some doubt when and by whom the italic hand was first introduced into England, but it is thought that Pietro Carmeliano did so during his office as Latin Secretary to Henry VII. Roger Ascham, a Yorkshireman, was a very fine exponent of the italic hand and taught the style to Edward VI, Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey. The italic script became the Court hand and also the hand of the educated classes.

(Examples excerpted from Italic Writing: A Concise Guide, by W.M. Aaron)

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 Page last updated 12/15/99