History of typography and calligraphy

As calligraphy is a gestural art, it incorporates more variation in form than typographic writing which is made mechanically and often within narrow technical constraints. But all letters and characters – handwritten or typographic in form – have been ‘designed’ by someone and are a means of artistic expression.

Although Europe had entered the age of printing in the 16th and 17th centuries, calligraphy and handwriting continued to flourish. Engraved handwriting manuals in all the major European languages show elaborate visual displays of penmanship and flourished decoration. They also show that roman letters and italic continued to develop in the hands of these writing masters.

Meanwhile, during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Iran and Central and Southern Asia new calligraphic styles continued to be elaborated. The nasta’ liq style (a variation on Arabic calligraphy developed in Persia) became more streamlined, swiftly written and linked, giving us the shikasta, or broken nasta’liq style. The sense of distinct lines of writing is weakened in favour of an overall pattern, with short verticals and flattened curves and units of text that seem to drop diagonally across the page.

Calligraphy, handmade lettering and signwriting flourishes, both at the local level and sometimes with a conceptual twist that places it in the context of an art gallery. The creation of an art market for calligraphy and fine typography is now affecting all the world’s major writing systems.