Monday, December 27, 2010


Gluckstadt is a little town in Germany, north of Hamburg. It lies on the Elba river close to its mouth. It is the region of Schleswig-Holstein; today it is Germany, but at the time this inscription was written it was a part of the Danish kingdom. The inscription is not dated, but the ornament around it suggests it is from late eighteenth century. It is also the time when this style of calligraphy appeared on monuments. This style is usually known in English as copperplate; normally it is characterized by a very narrow line, which clearly is not the case here. One can guess that the calligrapher used a thicker line here so the inscription could be legible from a distance. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

St. Bees

St. Bees is now a small village on the coast of Cumbria in England. Its name comes from an Irish princess named Bega, who founded a convent here. In the church there are Gothic tombstones with an image in the middle and inscription in Lombardic capitals around. This is the early Gothic style, later Gothic tombstones have inscription in the lower case, i.e. textura. 


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guildhall in Thaxted

If you have ever landed at Stansted Airport, you might have seen Thaxted from a plane's window, as it lies just a few miles away and the planes flying overhead are a constant cause of noise in this otherwise quiet Essex town. It is an old market town with a few historic buildings, one of which is the Guildhall, a timber framed structure dating from the 15th century. Now it houses a small museum exhibiting mostly old documents, which are quite interesting for a calligraphy student. The documents range from the 17th century up to the mid 19th, so one can observe the development in calligraphic styles.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Carlisle's chief tourist attraction is Hadrian's Wall, the best preserved fragment of which is in the vicinity. The town has also a fine cathedral with two points of interest for a calligraphy enthusiast. One is the Gothic polychromy at the back of wooden stalls, lives of saints in a form of a comic strip, each picture with a caption in mediaeval English. Here I reproduce two captions from a life of St. Augustine (the first one says: "They buried his body with deference here in his own church of Hippona") and two more from the life of St. Cuthbert. They were clearly written by a different hand, although at approximately the same time. The other point of interest is a treasury in the crypt, where old chalices and patens are shown. Some of them have inscriptions stating the name of the donor as well as the date. They are, of course, written in the most elegant style of the time. 


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nikolaikirche in Berlin

Nikolaikirche in Berlin looks like a Gothic church. It stands in the tourist area of Nikolaiviertel and the usually open doors invite you to enter. When you do enter, however, a man approaches you and says (in German) that this is a museum and you must purchase a ticket to look around. It is an extremely uninteresting museum; its exhibition consisting mostly of old rusty artillery shells and a number of weathered epitaphs. Uninteresting that is, unless your hobby happens to be calligraphy. The epitaphs are in bad condition, but the calligraphy in some of them is excellent. In fact - although its creators didn't intend it to be such - it could be called a museum of calligraphy. The best inscriptions are in the Baroque German fractur. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Torun is a towm in Poland where Copernicus was born. It was a very rich town in the middle ages and many monuments of gothic architecture survive there to this day. One of those gothic buildings in Marychurch, where medieval wall paintings are preserved. Some of those paintings are accompanied by inscriptions in monumental textura script. Two samples of those inscriptions I reproduce here. It has an eerie quality reminding me of Chinese calligraphy, where you can see the movement of the hand.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Biecz (pron. Byetch) is a pretty little town in southeastern Poland, at the foot of Carpathian Mountains. It has old wooden town houses and an interesting Renaissance town hall of extraordinary proportions, but here is a place for a Renaissance poem in its parish church. The script used is based on capitalis elegans, but at first sight looks poor quality. The interesting bit is the composition, the unusual "w" and "z" create a rhythm that probably was intentional.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sint Salvator in Bruges

Bruges (Brugge in Flemish) is a well preseved medieval town in Belgium. It is so full of gothic monuments that the Cathedral is actually not considered the most important. Inside the Cathedral one finds many masterpieces of art, paintings and tapestries, while calligraphy is hidden somewhere in the corners. The calligraphy is, however, remarcable. Many inscriptions are written in Dutch, which I don't understand, but most include dates. The oldest gothic inscription reproduced here includes the date 1435. I could not see, however, any dates in the decorative fractur gothic inscriptions. Of the italic inscriptions (which are actually captions under bigger pictures) the older one is dated 1551, the later 1643. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Wheathampstead is a small village in Hertfordshire, north of London. Its Gothic church is rather unremarkable, but it seems to have more interesting calligraphy than the great abbey of St. Albans, which is only five miles away. The calligraphy seen in this church is a cross-section through the ages. Not all of it is well exhibited: I had to roll up a carpet to see the inscription dated from the eleventh year of the reign of king Henry VIII.
I like especially the epitaph of Alice Bailey. To our modern eyes it may look like ordinary printed typeface, but actually it is a fine piece of calligraphy. Although written in the classical capitalis elegans, the repetition of the definitely unclassical "y" gives the whole inscription a specific rhythm.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Arques la Bataille

Arques la Bataille is a snall village in Normandy just outside the port of Dieppe. It is known in the history of France mostly because of the battle in which king Henry VI defeated his opponents and definitely ended the religious wars. It is now a small village but it must have been quite affluent at one time, judging on the scale its parish church was being rebuilt. The original church was Romanesque and the main part still is. During the Gothic era it was apparently decided that the church would be in the new style on a much larger scale. The choir and one tower were built anew. Later the funds apparently dried out and the church now stands half done - very much like the Cologne Cathedral stood for many centuries. It has also some epitaphs with fine Gothic and Renaissance calligraphy. I find especially interesting the proportions of the Renaissance antiqua script informing about some foundation of M. Antoinebedieu. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lichen calligraphy in Ayot St. Lawrence

Ayot St. Lawrence is a village in Hertfordshire in England that attracts certain number of visitors because this is where Bernard Shaw lived and his house is now a museum. I, however, was more interested in some tombstones in a parish graveyard, especially those where lichens had a special effect on calligraphy. The tombstones aren't very old, both reproduced here are from the mid nineteenth century. I suppose this is the best age for the lichen effect, older stones are more weathered and usually hardly legible (unless renovated), newer ones are perhaps still looked after and too clean. Both tombstones are of the members of Pinnock family.


Monday, September 6, 2010


Far out in the unfashionable backwaters of Great Britain, right in the middle of the wastelands of the Pennines, about half way between the town of Lancaster on the West coast and the town of Middlesborough on the East coast, lies a tiny and utterly insignificant little village of Bainbridge. Therein, just by the road that winding between hills joins the two aforementioned towns, stands an old and not very frequented inn named Rose and Crown. Well, really it is a perfectly ordinary English pub, its only extraordinary feature consists of two pieces of calligraphy hanging on its walls. To be more precise, they hang on the walls of a corridor leading to the "gents" and "ladies"; I suppose the owner considers them to be utterly insignificant pieces of decoration. For a calligraphy enthusiast, however, they are not insignificant at all. They are two documents of legal nature written in 1840, as the first line clearly states. It must have been unfashionable backwaters even then, the style of writing makes an impression of being much older than mid nineteenth century.

The documents are huge pieces of paper covered in tiny writing. Here I reproduce a few close ups to appreciate the lettering.