The Model Book of Calligraphy (1561–1596): A Stunningly Detailed Illuminated Manuscript Created over Three Decades

When­ev­er a tech­nol­o­gy devel­ops just enough to become inter­est­ing, some­one inevitably push­es it to extremes. In the case of that reli­able and long-lived tech­nol­o­gy known as the book, writ­ers and artists were look­ing for ways to max­i­mize its poten­tial as a device for con­vey­ing the writ­ten word and the drawn image as far back as the 16th cen­tu­ry. One par­tic­u­lar­ly glo­ri­ous exam­ple, The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy, has come avail­able online, to view or down­load, thanks to the Get­ty. This decades-span­ning col­lab­o­ra­tion shows off not just the artis­tic writ­ing implied by the title but illus­tra­tions whose vivid­ness and detail remain strik­ing even today.

“In the 1500s, as print­ing became the most com­mon method of pro­duc­ing books, intel­lec­tu­als increas­ing­ly val­ued the inven­tive­ness of scribes and the aes­thet­ic qual­i­ties of writ­ing,” says the Get­ty’s site.

“From 1561 to 1562, Georg Boc­skay, the Croa­t­ian-born court sec­re­tary to the Holy Roman Emper­or Fer­di­nand I, cre­at­ed this Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy in Vien­na to demon­strate his tech­ni­cal mas­tery of the immense range of writ­ing styles known to him.”

Three decades lat­er, “Emper­or Rudolph II, Fer­di­nand’s grand­son, com­mis­sioned Joris Hoef­nagel” — a Flem­ish artist well known at the time for his spe­cial­iza­tion in sub­jects to do with nat­ur­al his­to­ry — “to illu­mi­nate Boc­skay’s mod­el book. Hoef­nagel added fruit, flow­ers, and insects to near­ly every page, com­pos­ing them so as to enhance the uni­ty and bal­ance of the page’s design. It was one of the most unusu­al col­lab­o­ra­tions between scribe and painter in the his­to­ry of man­u­script illu­mi­na­tion.”

What we see when we flip through (or zoom in to great lev­els of dig­i­tal detail on) The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy’s 184 pages may look like a uni­fied work exe­cut­ed all at once (see them all at the bot­tom of this page), but it actu­al­ly com­bines the sen­si­bil­i­ties of not just two cre­ators sep­a­rat­ed by not just the art forms in which they spe­cial­ized but more than thir­ty years of time. Hoef­nagel, how­ev­er, did­n’t stay entire­ly out of the realm of the tex­tu­al: though most of what he brought to the man­u­script takes the form of illu­mi­na­tions, he also added an entire­ly new sec­tion on writ­ing the alpha­bet. He under­stood the impor­tance of not just well-craft­ed pic­tures and text but their appeal­ing inte­gra­tion, a con­cept famil­iar to any design­er work­ing in today’s forms of cut­ting-edge media — as books were four cen­turies ago. You can pur­chase print edi­tions that repro­duce por­tions or the entire­ty of The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy.

via The Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The World’s Old­est Mul­ti­col­or Book, a 1633 Chi­nese Cal­lig­ra­phy & Paint­ing Man­u­al, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Learn Cal­lig­ra­phy from Lloyd Reynolds, the Teacher of Steve Jobs’ Own Famous­ly Inspir­ing Cal­lig­ra­phy Teacher

The Art of Hand­writ­ing as Prac­ticed by Famous Artists: Geor­gia O’Keeffe, Jack­son Pol­lock, Mar­cel Duchamp, Willem de Koon­ing & More

Behold the Beau­ti­ful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketch­book: A Win­dow Into How Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made (1494)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.