Arabic calligraphy on ceramic tiles of the mosque facade. 17th century

Calligraphy is the ancient art of exquisite writing: essence, types, history

Chinese calligraphy. XI century
Chinese calligraphy. XI century

Calligraphy (from the Greek words kalós and grafí – “beautifully” and “I write”) is a type of fine art, the essence of which is a special emotional embellishment of written signs (letters or hieroglyphs). Calligraphy combines the functions of drawing and writing, it simultaneously serves as a means of artistic expression of the author and a way of accessible display of text information.

It emerged simultaneously with the invention of writing more than 5 thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, on the territory of modern Iraq. From there, the art of beautiful writing spread first throughout the Middle East, and then penetrated into other regions: Egypt, India, China, and the Balkan Peninsula.

Types of calligraphy Calligraphy is an art with ancient traditions that have formed over thousands of years in different parts of the world.

Modern historians distinguish 3 main types of calligraphy:

  • East Asian;
  • western (European);
  • Arabic.

In addition to them, there are many other subspecies:

  • Jewish;
  • Persian;
  • Indian;
  • Korean
  • Japanese;
  • Chinese;
  • abyssinian;
  • Armenian;
  • Tibetan;
  • Mongolian;
  • Slavic.

Each of them has unique characteristics and a peculiar history of development. At present, the few works of ancient calligraphers that have come down to us are the object of close study of archaeologists.

Chinese calligraphy. XI century
Chinese calligraphy. XI century

East asian calligraphy

In East Asia, calligraphy first appeared in China around 2000 BC. Unlike other regions, here it was originally seen as an important form of pictorial art, and not just as a means of writing beautiful written signs.

The earliest calligraphic texts were created by ancient masters on animal bones and bronze tablets. This continued until the beginning of the 2nd century AD. With the invention of paper in China, there is a rapid growth in the popularity of calligraphy, the first works devoted to the theory of this art appear, the main styles are formed:

  • Zhuanshu;
  • I am depriving;
  • Sinshu;
  • Caoshu;
  • Kayshu.

From China, the art of beautiful writing during the 1st millennium AD spreads to neighboring countries: Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Mongolia. East Asian calligraphy based on hieroglyphs has a deep philosophical meaning and serves as an important means of expressing emotions along with poetry and painting.

Arabic calligraphy on ceramic tiles of the mosque facade. 17th century
Arabic calligraphy on ceramic tiles of the mosque facade. 17th century

Arabic calligraphy

The peculiar art of Arabic calligraphy (“Khatt” or “Hutut”) arose simultaneously with the birth of Islam in the Middle East as a means of copying the holy book of Muslims. The Qur’an forbids its believers to portray animal people or God, but does not contain restrictions on the writing of texts.

Arab calligraphers were very sensitive to their work, for them rewriting the sacred text had a sacred meaning. In the Islamic world, the beauty of the lines and the clarity of the inscriptions, the precise observance of the proportions of the letters were highly valued. Gradually, the Arabs developed a number of styles of calligraphy – canonical handwriting, each of which was used in a specific field of activity:

  • divani – for diplomatic documents;
  • nastalik – for commentaries on the Qur’an;
  • rikaa – in everyday life;
  • Kufi script – in decorative arts and architecture.

Arab calligraphers gradually learned to create bizarre ornaments from written signs to decorate buildings, carpets, and everyday objects. They also copied in huge numbers manually translations of the works of famous scientists of antiquity in medicine, history, philosophy, and exact sciences.

Georgian calligraphy. 17th century
Georgian calligraphy. 17th century
European calligraphy

The history of European calligraphy dates back to the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. It is on the basis of these two cultures that most of the alphabets of Europe were formed. In ancient states, the art of beautiful writing was not widespread. The Romans and Greeks preferred to use standard fonts. The situation began to change rapidly with the introduction of Christianity in the Byzantine Empire. This prompted the monks to write a large number of Bibles – the illuminated Gospels. The manuscripts of that era were true works of art with colorful pictures and exquisite writing.

Until the beginning of the Renaissance, the art of calligraphy in Europe was used exclusively for writing church books, and there were very few scientific and literary manuscripts. This state of affairs did not change even after the appearance of paper in the XII century. The invention of typography by Johannes Gutenberg in the middle of the 15th century was the starting point for a catastrophic decline in interest in calligraphy in all European countries.

At the end of the 19th century, Englishman William Morris and his followers fiercely criticized the culture of the coming industrial age.

Modern abstract calligraphy. XXI century
Modern abstract calligraphy. XXI century
They encouraged people to return to traditional crafts and arts, including calligraphy.

Influenced by Morris’s ideas, Briton Edward Johnston began developing handwritten fonts and popularizing calligraphic texts. At the same time in Germany, Rudolf Koch began teaching students the ancient art of beautiful writing for the first time in several centuries. It is no coincidence that Johnson and Koch are today considered the fathers of modern calligraphy.

In the 1950s. a new fashionable trend has emerged in the visual arts – abstract calligraphy. Avant-garde artists began to create original works from letters and hieroglyphs, without investing semantic meaning in them. They simply tried to convey their feelings and emotions to the viewer by displaying unusual signs.

Jewish calligraphy 18th century
Jewish calligraphy 18th century
The scope of calligraphy today

The ancient art of calligraphy is not completely lost today. In the modern world, it has found application in various fields of human activity:

  • printing for the design of original invitations, postcards, menus of restaurants and cafes;
  • in the production of clothing, tableware, accessories in the manufacture of stylish inscriptions in exquisite handwriting;
  • interior design for artistic decoration of premises;
  • tattoo industry when applying pinned pictures, ornaments or patterns to the human body.

The art of calligraphy has changed dramatically in the 21st century. Modern masters of beautiful writing stopped using the pen and pen, they turned into graphic designers and architects, mastered the techniques of digital printing. But the exquisite ornaments, made up of letters and hieroglyphs, still evoke a sense of genuine admiration among millions of people.