The Lyell Lectures 2020: Professor Marc Smith, ‘Writing models from manuscript to print: France, England and Europe, c. 1400–1800’

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 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 Lyell Lectures 2020 series

Lecture 1: Writing Models and the Formation of National Scripts

  29 September 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 2: Bibliography and the Life Cycles of Writing Books

  1 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 3: Renaissance Calligraphy from Pen to Press and Back

  6 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 4: The Golden Age of French Writing Masters?

  8 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 5: ‘L’Ecriture Anglaise dans sa Perfection’

 To be delivered in March 2021. Full details and registration information will follow closer to the time.

To join the series, https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/lyell-lectures-2020

These lectures are now available as video podcasts at podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/lyell-lectures

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