When books began to be printed in the fifteenth century, scribes were not immediately redundant. The rich still commissioned them to produce deluxe manuscripts, governments and local authorities still required secretaries and copyists for administrative documents, and even printed books left spaces for decorated initials and other elements to be added in by hand. What’s more, the printed book presented another opportunity for teachers of calligraphy or writing masters: Their student copybooks and writing manuals, previously handwritten, could now be printed in hundreds or even thousands of copies, bringing them to larger national and international audiences.
One of the very first printed calligraphy books was produced by the Nuremberg writing master and father of German calligraphy, Johann Neudörffer (1497–1563). His Fundament copybook, a six-page pamphlet published in 1519, was devoted to Fraktur, a hugely popular contemporary Gothic script.
In the subsequent decades, all across Europe, many more writing manuals were published. Among the most well-known are Arrighi’s, La Operina (1522), Palatino’s Libro nuovo d’imprare a scrivere (1540), and Cresci’s (Essemplare di piu sorti lettere (1560).
The not-so-romantic origin story of the laurel wreath: An ancient tale of sexual harassment where, in order to escape Apollo, Daphne calls on her father, the river god Peneus, to turn her into a laurel tree. (Painting: Piero del Pollaiolo)
Calligraphy for kids
Born in Antwerp in about 1537, Peter Heyns was just 18 years old when, in 1555, he opened his first school for girls. He named it Lauwerboom, or Laurel Tree after the myth of Daphne and Apollo. For three decades, he and his wife, Anna Smits, ran the school, teaching Dutch, French, and calligraphy. Heyns’ reputation as a teacher extended well beyond the city walls of Antwerp, even while exiled abroad as a political and religious refugee.
Heyns published quite a number of textbooks, including an exercise book for early readers and writers published in 1567 in French, with a Dutch version appearing the following year. When it came to printing ABC, ou Exemples propres pour apprendre les enfans à escrire…, (‘ABC, or Examples For Teaching Children To Write…’), Heyns turned to his friend Christophe Plantin, most famous of all Antwerp printers, whose printshop was just a few streets over from the Laurel Tree.
And now to my ulterior motive for selecting this particular book: The type on the title-page. The sixteenth century marks one of the golden ages of type design, with names like Claude Garamont (sometimes spelled Garamond), Robert Granjon, and Pierre Haultin as standard-bearers for French Renaissance type and typography. Of particular interest on the title-page is the font that resembles an upright cursive, a kind of thorny ‘Gothic italic’. Generally, this style is known as ‘bastard’, although the term (in paleography and typography) admits a rather broad range of styles. A century before Gutenberg, lettre bâtarde was a hybrid script that evolved in Northern France (see Stan Knight, pp. 70–71). The ‘bastard’ references its illegitimate or hybrid parentage. Bastard or bastarda describes a range of scripts somewhere on the spectrum between the hyper formal (and constructed) scripts like textura and the most informal cursive scripts, used to jot stuff down in a hurry.
The bastard on the Peter Heyns title-page above was designed by the printer and type designer Robert Granjon (1513–89), and sold to Plantin, along with a civilité typeface in 1567. Interestingly, the bastard font did not come with capitals. Those were to be borrowed from Granjon’s civilité type. This also makes it trickier to classify — a kind of double bastard, if you like, with a pretty regular bastard lowercase combined with civilité capitals.
Although quite a few of the lowercase letters in the bastard and civilité are pretty similar, the bastard does not come with the very distinctive ‘flourished’ d, so typical of civilité, with its exaggeratedly long ascender stroke at 10 o’clock. (Civilité fonts are the subject of an upcoming article.)
Remarkably, the matrices, used to cast Granjon’s bastard type have survived and are now safely preserved at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, on the actual site of Plantin’s sixteenth-century printshop. Already by the mid-fifteenth century bastard types had gone out of fashion and were reserved mostly for titles and headings — as in the title-page above. Perhaps its time for a bastard revival? ◉
Reference & further reading
J. Boardley, Typographic Firsts, (ch. 12, ‘Goody Two-Shoes & the Fabulist’), 2019
H. Carter & H.D.L Vervliet, Civilité Types, 1966 (for Granjon’s civilité-bastard, see pp. 54–56 [type: A6])
Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, 2003
Alisa van de Haar, ‘Beyond Nostalgia. The exile publications of the Antwerp schoolmaster Peeter Heyns (1537–1598)’, De Zeventiende Eeuw, 31, 2015, pp. 327–43
—————, The Golden Mean of Languages: Forging Dutch & French in the Early Modern Low Countries (1540-1620), 2002
Stan Knight, Historical Scripts, 2009
Hubert Meeus, ‘Abraham Ortelius et Peeter Heyns,’ in Abraham Ortelius Cartographe et Humaniste, 1998, pp. 153–60
—————, ‘Peeter Heyns, a “French Schoolmaster”’, in Grammaire et enseignement du français 1500–1700, 2000, pp. 301–16
Ad Meskens, ‘Peter Heyns and the Nymphs of the Laurel Tree’, in Practical Mathematics in a Commercial Metropolis: Mathematical life in late 16th century Antwerp, 2013
H.D.L. Vervliet, The Palaeotypography of the French Renaissance, 2008
Masterpieces of Johann Neudörffer the Elder (a talk by Oliver Linke, who knows a thing or two about Neudörffer!)
The Newberry Library has a collection of several hundred copybooks