Early Italian Writing-Books: Renaissance to Baroque

Early Italian Writing-Books: Renaissance to Baroque

Early Italian Writing-Books: Renaissance to Baroque

Early Italian Writing-Books: Renaissance to Baroque


Before his death in 1967, English Typographic Historian Stanley Morison had drafted a major work explaining the history and development of early Italian writing books. The text, which was the result of years of involvement in a subject always close to Morison's heart, was close to completion and was sent to James Wells, the curator of the Wing Collection at Chicago's famous Newberry Library for initial editing and revisions. Wells returned the manuscript with massive notes-so many that Morison was obliged to rewrite his text entirely. He dedicated it to Carla Marzoli, who had commissioned the work, and entrusted it to Nicholas Barker for final editing. At last, this manuscript has been completed and it appears in a format and at a price at which even Morison would have rejoiced. Printed in letterpress, with 24 duotone offset illustrations, this book examines the calligraphy of the sixteenth century from Arrighi to Ugo da Carpi, from Tagliente to Celebrino da Udine. As always with Morison, it is full of surprises, for this was Morison's particular passion, and in the area of stylistic comparisons and close observation, Morison was an undisputed master. This is, then, not only the last major Morison text to be published, but also one of fundamental importance, covering the most important period (and the most beautiful examples) in the history of calligraphy. Published by Martino Mardersteig's Edizioni Valdonega, it is being released in America exclusively by David R. Godine for the members of HOC VOLO. Beautifully printed letterpress and bound in full cloth, it is an indispensable addition to any library involved in the history of printing and the development of letters.


The appearance of a book some seventy years after its first conception requires an explanation. It was in 1899 that Edward Johnston began to teach at the London County Council School of Arts and Crafts, a date which can be taken as the beginning of the revival of interest in early handwriting for practical purposes in England. By 1913, the date of Morison's earliest surviving letter, addressed to Edward Johnston, his handwriting already had some 'italic traits, perhaps acquired from M. M. Bridges ' A new handwriting for teachers (1898) rather than John ston 's Writing, illuminating and lettering (1906). After the war he decided to reform his own hand, and his first letter to D. B. Updike, written on Christmas Eve 1919, shows how thoroughly he had done so: his fine hand was to captivate its first readers from now on.

What first put the notion of writing an account of Italian writing-books into Morison's mind was his visit to Berlin in the autumn of 1922. Peter Jessen, the director of the Kunst- gewerbe Museum, proved an absorbing guide to the history of printing and modern fine printing, but also a mentor on the history of writing. He introduced Morison to the little writing there was on the subject, Manzoni's Studi di bibliografia analitica, of which he was quick to acquire a copy (later rescued from the blitzed ruins of his flat and now at the University Library, Cambridge), and the great 1789 folio of Servidori's Reflexiones sobre la verdadera arte de escribir. Although he wrote in Spanish, Servidori was Italian, and last heir to a direct line that went back to the sixteenth century. Morison's head was still full of his German discoveries when he wrote to Updike that Christmas.

It was Updike, too, that he first broached his plans for the present work, writing on 14 January 1923:

I have engaged myself to do a monograph upon 16th century Italian handwriting. For this Edward Johnston has agreed to write some twelve . . .

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