Stan Knight has done a great service to those of us who love letters. His revised and expanded second edition of Historical Scripts is a significant work of scholarship and a rich visual record of a thousand years of change in the forms of the written word in Europe, ending with the Renaissance and the introduction of movable type.
Knight begins with classical Greek and Roman stone inscriptions, then moves through scripts of early capital letters: rustic, square and uncial. He traces the development of the minuscule letter (what we now call “lower case”), from Roman half-uncial to Carolingian to Italian. The shift into Gothic script is detailed, along with further development of capital letters in the Middle Ages. Finally, Knight shows the development of humanist scripts, the predominantly Italian book-hands in use at the time of printing’s development, which were carried into the forms of movable type. He delineates regional stylistic variations of many of these scripts.
Mr. Knight is an accomplished calligrapher and teacher, and his artist’s eye has conceived a uniquely effective presentation of this material. Each calligraphic style is displayed on a two-page black and white spread. On the left is a reproduction of a single manuscript page, with its provenance. The facing right-hand page offers Knight’s commentary, as well as an enlarged detail from the manuscript (with the percentage of enlargement duly noted). Part of a single line is reproduced at one hundred percent size at the bottom right of the page, which, among other uses, creates a kind of “flip book” of calligraphic evolution.
Knight’s presentation conveys a remarkable amount of information in a succinct but uncramped style. The illustrations keep us fully grounded in the scale of each example shown. His text provides details about each manuscript and lettering style, offers a comparative art history lesson, alerts the reader to notable features of the letterforms, and provides insights on the making of the letters.
The production values of the book are extremely high, further enhancing its usefulness to calligraphy professionals and students, typographers, type designers, graphic artists and art historians. The reproductions are uniformly sharp, with excellent contrast. The close-ups are so detailed that they reveal the ebb and flow of ink density in the manuscript letterforms. Individual pen strokes and the making of a letter can be easily studied.
In his brief, thoughtful forward to the book, Ewan Clayton writes, “If we grasp the context within which the earlier work was conceived, we gain freedom in relation to it: freedom to consciously develop it or to frame an informed reaction to it.” By reminding us that we are part of a shared continuum of culture, Historical Scripts does more than document the richness and variety of the letterforms that came before movable type – it is also a celebration of the varieties of human expression.
Published by Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware, 1998