Calligraphy and Typography

Gunarta's picture

Simple question that i haven't the answer yet:

"Is Calligraphy branch of Typography?"

Please answer freely, it can be link or anything else and I ask you permission to quote your answer,

Best Regards

Andreas Stötzner's picture

the answer is: No.

Feel free to quote.

quadibloc's picture

But, in case a yes-or-no answer is not sufficiently useful, note that while it wouldn't really make sense to regard typography as a branch of calligraphy either, it isn't utterly unreasonable to entertain the idea that, to a limited extent, at least in some sense, that type design could be considered a branch of calligraphy.

Hopefully, this more fully clarifies the relationship between the two fields, and will help to direct your future researches on this topic.

oldnick's picture

As quadibloc suggests, the inverse is more likely the truer statement, horse-and-cart-wise...

cntrational's picture

I would consider calligraphy to be a type of typography.

Trevor Baum's picture

Not to potentially hijack the thread, but what about lettering? Is lettering calligraphy, or vice versa? Is lettering typography?

Urieal's picture

The answer is "No"...and here's why I say that.

Calligraphy comes from the greek word Kaligraphia, from the root words kallos and graphein. It can be literally translated as "beauty in writing".

Typography, also, comes from greek...from the root words typos and grapheia. It can be literally translated as "figure writing". However, this doesn't really give the whole effect, since the greek word typos also connotates a dent or impression made by striking one figure against another. It is appropriate for the concept of a printing press, where each glyph would strike the paper, not only leaving ink, but a minute indention into the paper.

Calligraphy does not follow any of the aforementioned traits of typography. Calligraphy, furthermore, is not required to concern itself with readability, consistency or reproduction. Typography, however, must take such things into consideration. Calligraphy is inconsistent in presentation and usage. Typography must be consistent.

Elements of calligraphy can certainly be incorporated into typography, especially when talking about the aesthetics of glyphs.

quadibloc's picture

Since the OP may be trying to get us to do his homework, I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with hijacking this thread. In my post, I treated lettering and calligraphy as if they were identical, which indeed is a mistake.

I'd treat lettering as a sub-discipline of calligraphy, and type design as a branch of both. I know that a book I have on lettering - a Dover edition, naturally - treats of both calligraphy and type design as well.

William Berkson's picture

Well, definitions are somewhat arbitrary, but as far as skills, there is a definite divide between writing and built up letters, whether on paper or in a font development program. Writing means the hand in motion with a tool, leaving a mark in a stroke. When you build up letters, main skill is in the eye, rather than the hand.

In beautiful writing, it's both the eye and the hand. And as John Hudson has pointed out, it's really misleading to call what scribes did "calligraphy" as their top priority was not to be beautiful in an ornamental way, but to be readable. This is something like the distinction between text and display type. I read recently, for example, that even in the days of the scribes, a different person from the scribe who did the text would do decorative built-up initial letters and illumination for a book.

There are now folks who do both built up letters and written letters for emotionally evocative display, as well as occasional display fonts. But it's more unusual for that person who does hand done custom display to also do text type. And if they do undertake it, they are aware that it involves different challenges. So I would say that functionally the more important distinctions are between writing and built up letters, and between text and display.

And of course there is a lot of overlap because the practiced and artistic eye is involved in all of them. But to master all of them is very rare, with Hermann Zapf being a rare example who is a master of all aspects.

Nick Shinn's picture

Bill, I wonder how rare it really is.
I wouldn't put myself in the same class as Zapf, but I've done a bit of calligraphy.
Other type designers with calligraphy skills: Vasilyeva, Veljovich, Lester, Slimbach, Shaw.
Note that these are not "lettering artists who make script fonts", which would be more the Michael Clark métier.
I don't believe these categories (designer/calligrapher) are particularly precise or indicative of type, typography or layout quality, it's more a question of which direction you're coming from, and where your interests and aptitudes lie.

Surprisingly, Ale Paul is not AFAIK a calligrapher (although collaborator Angel Koziupa is)—which goes to show that as with most aspects of design, it's results that count, not how you get there.

William Berkson's picture

Nick, that's a good question, and I don't know how much overlap there is, but my impression is that it's a minority of designers of text type who are good calligraphers, and visa versa. I do think you'd concede that you can have the eye skills and not the hand skills. If I remember rightly Matthew Carter, for example, is not a calligrapher.

I think calligraphy skills such as you and the others you list have are an asset, because the tool does things for you that you might not otherwise do, which you can then take up and modify in vector form.

Chris Dean's picture

Totally impossible to answer until you define “Calligraphy” and “Typography.” Good luck with that.

Nick Shinn's picture

Nonetheless, it takes considerable hand skill to construct a good calligraphic font, even if you are not calligrapher per se.

After all, we're all just faking punch-cutting, which even fewer of us have tried than calligraphy.

JamesT's picture


You can quote me on that.

As far as all arts (I use that loosely) are concerned, the definitions and exclusions of any field or branch are not mutually exclusive and are somewhat context-dependent.

John Hudson's picture

I consider calligraphy a particular application of a manual skill in writing targeted at formal and expressive beauty (as such, it is a sub-category of chirography or, simply, 'writing'). I am not a calligrapher, although I understand a lot about writing and occasionally make use of the same tools as part of a design process, because I do not possess the manual skills required. I'm a type designer, which means that I sometimes apply the same conceptual and aesthetic considerations in my work as a calligrapher does -- and sometimes different conceptual and aesthetic considerations --, but what I am making is a different kind of product, and I make it with a different set of skills.

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

I defined calligraphy, lettering and typography here some time ago.

William Berkson's picture

Indra, you're right to identify another divide between custom lettering, where you know which letters are going to sit next to which, and type, where each letter may go next to any other letter. That's another divide.

For example, I saw a Facebook exchange where a famous custom letterer was asked by his friend why they didn't ask him to be a speaker at a type design series. He said, "Possibly because I hate type." I think he experiences type as a straightjacket that would prevent him from realizing his work. He's never done a font.

dezcom's picture

I am glad that I have had experience in all of those letter generating paths. I do not think it is unusual for designers of my generation to have studied or worked in all these areas. The younger practitioners are less likely to, yes, but they make their own way to some result anyway. It is not so important that everyone study in the same way with the same tools; as long as the mind is processing whatever interaction, skill and knowledge will come.

Gunarta's picture

based on Typography article in Wikipedia. It's written that one of Typography scope is calligraphy and handwriting. Well, ?

John Hudson's picture

That section of the Wikipedia article is poorly conceived: it suggests that virtually anything involving letters constitutes typography, even graffiti. That's just sloppy thinking and a poor understanding of the terminological specificity clearly evident elsewhere in the article, e.g. 'the art and technique of arranging type'. I don't know any calligraphers who would be pleased to hear their work described as typography, especially not Islamic calligraphers, and I can't imagine graffiti artists would either.

Gunarta's picture

Yeah, it's pity to say that graffiti is part of typography. Blackletter is part of callygraphy also. But, blackletter included in typography.

dezcom's picture

>>That section of the Wikipedia article is poorly conceived<<

John is being too kind.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I'm with Indra and John.

Also, “Yeah, it's pity to say that graffiti is part of typography. Blackletter is part of callygraphy also. But, blackletter included in typography.”

Blackletter is a style of lettering, which can be executed with either type or calligraphy. Calligraphic blackletter and blackletter type are still two different things.

typerror's picture

I guess I should wait for Hrant to weigh in so I can go ballistic :-) Chirography and all!

The real practitioners are making some marvelous points, read between the words to see what I think of some of the other posts.

@ Jeff... you need a lot more years to assume so much and make such cut and dry statements. So short on so many fronts. Notice I said that politely, people!

Actually this is a vast subject with many answers, conflicts, perspectives etc. I cannot wait until Wikipedia comes out with a design degree program.

typerror's picture

Rethink the parameters Thomas.

Would you disallow Caolingian, Chancery, Uncial etc forms also?

typerror's picture

@ William B... Hermann Zapf, Veljovic, Stone, Slimbach, Werner Schneider, Fritz Poppl, Gudrun Zapf, Lipton, Mendoza.

William, do your research, they all had backgrounds with inky fingers... want me to go on with names because I could fill this whole comment block???????? I just put down some ones you might want to look up for next time. Do you need Hebraic calligraphers also :-)

As to the Facebook exchange... I am constantly chided by other calligraphers for designing "type" because the genre I chose "takes work away from them." Now that's a hoot. That is why they do not like it. That, and their inability to use it (type) appropriately.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, as I said to Nick, I know that many have had some calligraphic skills. And I said that I felt it is an advantage. But my impression is that most designers of text type today, Matthew Carter being a prime example, aren't masters of calligraphy. I didn't say I had done a survey, but that it was my personal impression. You are the first one to come on this thread who is a master calligrapher—and you do display type, I believe. That's the kind of thing which gives me the impression of the situation.

If you have better information, do let us know. Have you done the research? What are the results? If not, what is your point?

typerror's picture

Each of those names listed did not dabble, but were full on inkslingers! Tell me that display is less significant than text and I will puke. And you do not want me to disclose my thoughts on the "the most significant type designer of the 20th century." I choked on that one. As an aside, he alluded to the fact that he could not do it, guess that is why he went to calligraphers to resurrect their work, i.e. Snell!

And the names that I gave you are well equipped to design text faces (they do and did), in fact better than the new crop of revisionists, as their work is distinct! Just because they are not designing variation-on-the-same old-theme sans does not lessen their work. I appreciate a thoughtful re-interpretation but how many do we need.

typerror's picture

@ William Did you not read the names????????

There are 21 aisles (that is 42 sides) in out local grocery store chain. My "lowly, (titling) bottom of the rung" font, Pooper Black is on every one of those aisles. From ice cream to feminine products. Maybe I should stop doing what I do and assume my place on the welfare line because I am not making a worthy typographic contribution.

One "revisionist family" and you are "from whom all blessings flow?" Huh?

typerror's picture

So you see Adien, it is a complex question littered with land mines loaded with ignorance, arrogance, misunderstanding and a lack of respect among the participants.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, I don't know who you are arguing with, but it's not me. I never said that Carter was "the most significant...". The purpose of quotes is usually to quote somebody, and I didn't write that.

And then there's your idea that I think that I'm "from whom all blessings flow." Um, that would be God. I may be confused, but one point I'm very clear on, and that's about about my not being God. I keep noticing every day that the world, including my world, has an alarming habit of doing stuff I don't want to happen. Hell, I'm grateful when people give me the time of day. And I didn't disparage any of the people you listed—of those whose work I know, I think they're great. I grant you that it's a longer list than just Zapf, whom I mentioned, but it's also not the majority of those designing text types today.

And I didn't disparage display type in the least. And I didn't disrespect anybody, including you, whose work I respect.

So if you do a survey showing that I'm wrong about the majority of type designers working today, fine, I'll be glad to say my impression was mistaken. In the meanwhile, if you want to argue with some arrogant, know-it-all projection of everything you don't like, fine. Just do me a favor, and don't call it William, or Bill.

Nick Shinn's picture

Something in common: both calligraphy and typography could be considered agents of "page layout".
But typography tends to the grid, whereas calligraphy favors a more plastic matrix.
This piece involved a lot of trial and error.

typerror's picture

All of those individuals are still practicing except Poppl. They just don't run in this circle. Quote was (loose) from US News and World Report. I am less concerned about the "majority" than I am originality.

And sorry, it was the way the statement was framed that got to me, almost like titling fonts are the bastard children of type. And Jeff's assumption that calligraphy does not have to be read is still p'ing me off this morning.

Well put Nick (change plastic to fluid and I think you have a quote for the ages :-))... and I once read that Calligraphy is about fancy, type is about continuity. Reining in the fancy is the same for both tho, just less "fancy" to pull back in a more staid text face. But there is still massive concessions that have to be made about the smallest things.

No harm, no foul!

Thomas Phinney's picture

"Rethink the parameters Thomas. Would you disallow Carolingian, Chancery, Uncial etc forms also?"

Disallow? I'm just saying that letterforms can be executed with type or with calligraphy. I think it's true of at least most letterforms, just that some or more suited to one or the other mode of expression.

Even calligraphic typefaces, and even ones done with awesome cool OpenType contextual whoziss, have to tame and regularize some aspects of the underlying calligraphy in the process of becoming a typeface.

I think that what this comes down to is that the definition of typography in my head has as part of it that it is done with type. If you prefer a more expansive and all-encompassing definition that includes calligraphy, that's fine. I think that regardless of what labels we apply, it is handy to both be able to refer to using each form separately, and to have a broader concept that includes both. (Letter arts?)



typerror's picture

I still do not get it Thomas. There are hundreds of Blackletter "typefaces" that suit "setting" just fine as opposed to having them done by hand. Many of those faces, handled by the informed, can lend great wealth to a typographic page. Just because the "type du jour" is Sans does not mean that these older "styles" have to be relegated to some other class system.

Hebrew and Arabic are very much calligraphic... would you treat them the same way?

John Hudson's picture

Michael, Thomas didn't say anything about relegating blackletter or any other style of letter to 'some other class system'. All he did was to point out to Gunarta that the classification 'blackletter' is applied to both calligraphic and typographic forms, but does not imply that calligraphy and typography are the same thing. That seems to me an uncontroversial observation, and I don't understand how or why you are trying to make something else out of it.

dezcom's picture

"Would not a Rose by any other name..."

quadibloc's picture

Words, when they have commonly understood meanings, facilitate effective communication.

Thomas Phinney's picture

What John said.

Just because I think red and orange are usually distinct colors does not mean that I believe one of them is inferior. It even allows for the possibility that there are some colors which are right on the border....



jshemtov's picture

I am a new rarebook librarian and I'm new to typography. I have 3 students coming in tomorrow and they're looking for examples of bembo, Caslon and Bodoni. I will show them the hypnerotomachia polyhpili for bembo (which I believe to be correct) and think I have a bodoni example, but I'm having a troubles finding a Caslon typeface book. We have lots of mid 18th century americana and english bibles. Any recommendations on finding a book or how to find a book that defintely uses caslon type?

typerror's picture

I am not looking for demons in this one. It just seems that there seems something amiss in a statement like:

"I think it's true of at least most letterforms, just that some or more suited to one or the other mode of expression."

Are not most faces/fonts/types based in some shape or form based on hand rendered forms. So when translated into digital form are they not type?

William Berkson's picture

The revival of the original foundry Caslon in 1844 was in The Diary of Lady Willoughby. If you have access to the Gentleman's Magazine in the 18th Century that was also in Caslon. The Declaration of Independence was originally printed in Caslon, but some characters have been replaced. Most anything published in England in the middle 18th century will be in Caslon. The easiest thing to get hold of might be the specimen book of 1766 reprinted in Facsimile in the 1980 journal Printing History, with notes by James Mosley.

Of course anything early in the original letter pressed foundry type will give you the real thing, and nothing else is quite the same. That being said, the Mosley book is really good.

quadibloc's picture

I will show them the hypnerotomachia polyhpili for bembo (which I believe to be correct)

Not quite.

Bembo is based on a later typeface by Aldus, the one used in Pietro Bembo's De Aetna, for example. The Hypnerotomachia was an earlier Aldine typeface which has been used less frequently as the basis for modern typefaces - Monotype's Poliphilus is one of the few revivals of it.

jshemtov's picture

Thank you for comments. Now I need to find a Bembo example. I have the 1791 Horace, which I believe to be a classic example of Bodoni type. We do have a wonderful collection on Horace. Any ideas as finding a Horace with Bembo type? I will show either an english bible from the mid-18th century or a gentleman's magazine from the 18th century.

jshemtov's picture

My research is showing that Bembo typeface was first introduced by Griffo in in 1495, in an essay by the Italian scholar Pietro Bembo. It was then refined in 1499 in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (page 14, 500 years of printing) If that is the case, I am lead to believe that Bembo as a typeface precedes Hypnerotomachia. Quadibloc please clarify.

quadibloc's picture

And here I thought this was one question so simple that although I'm not one of the real experts around here, I could still answer it correctly!

Quick checking shows that my memory indeed appears to be wrong; De Aetna is from 1495, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1499.

An Atlas of Typeforms describes the development of the Aldine types this way: First, there was a typeface in which the lowercase resembled Jenson, but the uppercase was made less clashing. Then Griffo recut the lowercase - the result being the De Aetna type. And then the uppercase was changed again, leading to the type of the Hypnerotomachia.

And, in between, a smaller type size was cut, in a slightly different style, for De Epidemia.

eliason's picture

Bembo as a typeface precedes Hypnerotomachia

I think your dates are right, but the pedant in me cringes a bit at the language of this assertion, since "Bembo" the name for a typeface is really a 1929 invention of the Monotype Corporation. It's more precise (if a little unwieldy) to say this as "the typeface on which Bembo was based precedes Hypnerotomachia."

jshemtov's picture

Yes, that's true. Monotype Bembo (1929) is derived from Aldus's De Aetna, while Monotype Poliphilus is derived from the Hypnerotomachia.

kentlew's picture

Correct. So, if the students are truly looking for examples of Bembo, then you really want to find books from the early 20th century (of which there are plenty of examples).

If, instead, they are looking for examples of the types used by Aldus, cut by Francesco Griffo, and which served as models for the 20th-century Bembo — then yes, you want to pull copies of De Aetna and Hypnerotomachia.

This seems like an opportunity for them to clarify and possibly be educated.

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