One of the things that often gets sacrificed to the beautiful regularity of type is the quirky individuality of handwriting, with its swashes, ligatures, and shorthand. Early medieval books copied in Latin were full of abbreviations, rubrics, and illuminated capitals that printers like Caxton tried to emulate, while making their books and broadsides more legible. But it wasn't quite the same. Hand-copied work has the luxury of working in many colors quite easily, as opposed to the multiple passes required with a press. I can't think of anything that would bring this home more clearly than the exhibit I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week:"The Art of Illumination," which featured pages from the Hours of the Duc de Berry, one of the most famous illuminated books still in existence
It's an absolutely exquisite piece of work, done by a caliber of artist that comes along once in a lifetime. In this case, it was three brothers: Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg, who started on the book when they were in their mid-teens (they would have been apprenticed at a much earlier age). Each page is carefully composed to integrate both the words and the decorative elements as a whole, and to show off the illuminator's art. The page here (click to enlarge) is a calendar page listing the saints days and holidays for the month (yep, there were a lot more then than now) and the page measures about 6 x 4.5 inches, to give you some idea of the size of the work on it.
What I love about medieval calligraphy is how fancy it is, with its illuminated capitals, red letters (also known as rubrics), and pothooks on all the letters. Most of that was eliminated as typography developed to make print more legible, but we still see it in swashes and glyphs, including ampersands, on some typefaces. Usually they appear in display headlines precisely because they do make block text, to our eyes, hard to read. But that's not the only use for glyphs, at least in Cameron Moll's mind. Just recently, he released the third poster of a series of typographical edifices he constructs with typeface glyphs and characters, "Colosseo." Here's a little vid about its development:
Along with the print (which is currently being offered at a 30% discount), Moll offers a print of the glyphs he used in its creation, most of which are elaborate flourishes reminiscent of calligraphy.
And if you can't afford an illuminated manuscript to take home, or even Cameron Moll's print, you can own some really cool ampersands for use in your own digital work. Just yesterday, the newsletter of font distributor My Fonts spotlighted a font collection called "Coming Together," which is a compilation of ampersands designed by a huge number of typographers. I know a lot of people who are fascinated by ampersands and the varying designs they come in, so this is your chance to not only own some really cool ones but to benefit the work of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.The collection was put together by SOTA, the Society of Typographic Aficionados and it's only $20.