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Arrighi's "operina" Versus Benson's "arrighi's Operina"

vicentino arrighi operina john howard benson italic handwriting calligraphy

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#1 dms525



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Posted 11 March 2016 - 01:12

I have had a photocopy of Arrighi's Operina for several years. For this who do not know, the "Operina," or "little work," of Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi, first published in 1522, is commonly regarded as the first of the Italic handwriting instructional manuals. The author is usually referred to as "Arrighi" these days, although, in his own time, he was more commonly called "Vicentino." This little book was addressed to anyone wishing to learn "Cancellaresche Corsiva," or "Chancery Cursive." That style of writing had been adopted by the Vatican for all diplomatic correspondence some years before Arrighi's time. In 1522, presses with moveable type were in use in Italy, but Arrighi's book was written entirely in the hand it was teaching and then carved into wooden blocks from which the book was printed.


In his preface Al benigno lettore (To the Kind Reader), Arrighi admits that the wood blocks cannot reproduce hand written script with complete accuracy. He says he did the best he could and expresses the hope that his text provides clear enough instructions that the reader can forgive the limitations of the press to in tutti ripresentarte la viva mano (entirely represent the living hand). It has been my observation that many who have studied the Operina, rather than following the instructions, have adopted some of the errors introduced by the printing techniques and of which Arrighi warned the reader. They copied what they saw. These errors, in my opinion, largely consist of converting smooth parabolic curves into sharp angles. These occur when the movement of the pen changes direction, at entry and exit strokes and at the bottom of letters with bodies like the a, d, q, for example.


This week, I received a copy of John Howard Benson's "The First Writing Book: Arrighi's Operina,"first published in 1954. This was, I believe, the first complete English translation of Operina, and Benson wrote out his translation in Arrighi's chancery cursive hand and in Arrighi's format. So, in effect, he created a translated reproduction of Operina for the English-speaking world. The Forward and Introduction to Benson's book are also written in a beautiful Chancery Cursive hand. Benson included a photocopy of a first edition of Operina, so that both the translated text and the handwriting can be compared to the original by the reader. This little book is a wonderful resource and is highly recommended for anyone interested in either the history of letters and writing or in learning to write chancery cursive.


One other point: Benson's copy of Operina is a photocopy of Arrighi's first printed edition. Therefore, it has all the shortcomings of which Arrighi warned his readers. Benson's translation, on the other hand, is reproduced photographically from his hand-written original. It is free of the limitations imposed by reproducing hand written text by carving it into wood blocks. So, while Benson's writing cannot be absolutely identical to Arrighi's hand in every detail, it may be closer in certain important respects than the wood block copy represented in Operina


I wonder.



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#2 pepsiplease69


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Posted 11 March 2016 - 02:31

Interesting how 500 years later the same work has been re-interpreted with the changes in technology.

I wonder what it will be, after another 500 years.

#3 Randal6393


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Posted 11 March 2016 - 03:14

Hello again, David,


Always wonderful to hear from you. I have had and studied Benson's book for many years now. Feel you are right on all accounts. By its nature, it is almost impossible for woodcuts to avoid the distortions you see in Arrighi's book. Two thoughts on proof that the sharp edges are not natural to Italic.


The first is that any photo-reproduction of Chancery writing from the 16th century that I have seen -- and there are many on the 'net -- shows a rounded letter, not a sharply angular one.


The second is that any printed, metal-type book from that period also shows a rounded, rather than angular, version of the Chancery hand.




From a person's actions, we may infer attitudes, beliefs, --- and values. We do not know these characteristics outright. The human dichotomies of trust and distrust, honor and duplicity, love and hate --- all depend on internal states we cannot directly experience. Isn't this what adds zest to our life?

#4 candide



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Posted 11 March 2016 - 03:48

Thanks for bringing attention to this book, I would not have known about it otherwise. I always look forward to and enjoy your posts on italic writing.

I've just placed an inter-library loan request for the book, which hopefully gets approved. Though it'd probably be faster for me to order a copy for myself (even a request to the annexe or archive takes a few days to a week, let alone something from interstate). :P I'm guilty of rather angular letterforms, which I've tried to change but it's been a bit of a struggle as I usually write quite small.

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#5 Inky-Fingers



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Posted 11 March 2016 - 05:38


#6 Murky



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Posted 11 March 2016 - 08:32


"The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true..." (Carl Sagan)

#7 ksm


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Posted 11 March 2016 - 12:05


Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: vicentino, arrighi, operina, john howard benson, italic handwriting, calligraphy

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