A Demonstration by Scribe Paul Antonio

On the 16 of November 2016, the Genius Before Romanticism project, and our own Making Visible team joined forces in organising a day-long workshop around “Scribal Ingenuity“. Since the art of writing was such an important part of early modern culture, and it involves skill, and expertise, our workshop was divided between a theoretical and a practical part. The morning consisted of papers about early modern scribes and their ingenious and beautiful ways of writing, as well as the way in which writing was used to organise knowledge, and to engage with information. In the afternoon we visited the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, looking especially at Pepys’s collections of samples of hand-writings and pen-drawings. And in between papers and library visit we had the pleasure of welcoming professional scribe Paul Antonio, who gave a demonstration of the art of scribal practices. You can watch the full demonstration on our event page, and below I will highlight several moments from the study session.

Let’s start with learning how to cut a quill. Always thought that part of scribal practice was straightforward…? 

Paul showed us how logical early modern letter forms are. Once you understand the maths, you might be able to try it yourself. To make it easier for his audience to see what he is doing, Paul showed us the formation of letters on a big piece of paper attached to the wall. And to demonstrate the effect of a pointed flexible nib, the nib commonly found on quills and modern-day fountain pens, Paul used a device invented by Bill Hildebrandt, which imitates this pointed flexible nib. 

In preparation to of the study session, Paul was asked by the organisers how a book like Richard Gething’s Calligraphotechnica (London 1619)  was produced. Richard Gething (1585?–1652?) was a writing-master from Herefordshire, who lived in London most of his adult live. His Calligraphotechnia, a copybook with examples of handwritings and letter flourishes, was first published in 1616 as A Coppie Book of the Usuall Hands Written.  The first thing we have to realise with looking at the published versions of this writing manuals, is that they were printed from engravings, and therefore the handwriting had been cut into copperplates. In the case of Gething, we do not know who was the engraver, who had prepared the publication by transmitting a written manuscript onto copper plates. You can leave through the full book here. In the full version of the video you can hear how Paul explains the clear remnant of the use of a quill in the printed version (see the video at 1:06:48).

Subsequently Paul demonstrated how a letterform could have been made by Richard Gething taking the following image as his model.

A sample page from Richard Gething, Galligraphotechnia (London 1642).

Paul Antonio will be travelling to Texas, USA in May, to give several workshops and demonstrations. If you happen to be in that part of the world, don’t hesitate to sign up for some of his workshops here

And again, for the full recording of the 80 minute demonstration, see our event page, or click here