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Italic Vertical Or Slanted?

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I started learning italic written vertical, as in 90 degrees from base line.

But in looking for new books on italics, I am running into many books that teach italic with a slant, a few degrees from vertical.

And both presented as 'formal italic.' I expected the slanted italic to be 'handwriting' italic.

So which is which, and what is the common form?


I find the vertical to be easier to learn, as I don't have to try to maintain a consistent slant angle.

San Francisco Pen Show - August 28-30, 2020 - Redwood City, California


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The historical exemplars of Italic demonstrate a slant of 5-10 degrees. This is true for both formal and informal italic. The difference between formal and informal doesn't relate to slant, but to the speed of writing, whether letters are written with one stroke or more, and whether the pen is lifted between letters. However, Italic grew out of the Humanist hand which is similar to Italic but upright. It is the speed of writing that generated the slant in Italic.

One letter that makes Italic distinct from Humanist is the miniscule 'a' which in Humanist is a two-storey letter and in italic one-storey.

My advice: write however you want. If a non-slanting 'italic' works for you, stick with that, but you may find as you speed up that the slant starts to come naturally.

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The origins of italic are in vertical handwriting, the slant just occurs "naturally". And whichever you use, consistency is important. But one is not really any more correct than the other. So do as you will.


The major difference between formal and informal italic is the use of joins. Not really allowed in formal italic, used frequently and at the writer's discretion in informal italics. Joins require practice and an understanding of the formation of letters to work out well. So you may find your hand changing as you gain experience. That's OK, just write and keep on writing.




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?

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There seems to be an historical "right slant tolerance" to scripts. I note that there are even some very nice examples of formal Carolingian script that are noticeably inclined. Inclination seems to be fairly adjustable by the penman, though. I made my own italic vertical for years, and now am inclining it a bit just for esthetics sake.


Sometimes thought of as the "founder" of italic (Italian Humanistic cursive), Niccolo Niccoli's hand started out vertical and inlined over the years as he sped up the process of copying manuscripts. Even this fairly "formal" script features heavy ligaturing (and again, even Carolingian book hands are ligatured and otherwise connected to a certain degree).




Later italics from the 16th and even 17th century were very inclined and joined. I think of it as a personal choice thing...



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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks guys.

I think I will stick with vertical, for now. Then tilt it as I get more comfortable with writing italic.

San Francisco Pen Show - August 28-30, 2020 - Redwood City, California


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  • 2 years later...

My take on this (but remember I am a Spaniard) is that according to my understanding, the chancery hand taught by the Big Three was slightly slanted to the right (10 degrees). And it seems to have been also the understanding of the peoples of the time as reflected by other masters.


If you look at the examples by Juan de Yciar (which are very close in time and, if you remember that Italy was largely spanish at the time) on Cancelleresca (see this page and the following for his samples) you will see that this is the case.


I bring Juan de Yciar (and not PalatIno or Vincentino) on purpose.


The point is that prior to cancelleresca there were other scripts, many of which were vertical. So, in Juan de Yciar, you can find what he calls "antique" (antigua) hand which is the vertical equivalent. See this page and following.


By the way, you'll also find examples of "Cancelleresca bast arda" (hopefully this will bypass the forum censor) which is the "mixed" of "halfblood" (if you wish) hand that developed in Spain as a combination of italic and spanish scripts, and probably also interesting of "grifa" which is the script developed by ALdo Manuccio for Griffo's (hence the name) press books. And many other contemporary scripts.


What he called 'antique' was the result of a misunderstanding, much as cancelleresca was though to reflect the original roman-latin script by humanists.


Anyway, I don't want to let this pass without pointing another example that may appeal to forum members of the non-western persuasion: in these pages Juan de Yciar provides contemporary scripts for greek and hebrew. For a long time, and as a legacy of the multicultural medioeval Spain, spanish masters did include lessons on Hebrew and Greek calligraphy in their writing books.



By the way, if you look at the samples by Francisco de Lucas, Morantes or Palomares. you'll see the same.


As a summary: both have been correct from day one.


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Now, there are a couple of additional points I'd like to make.


At the time I do not think they used much the compass to measure slant. I think it was more of a matter of choosing what looked 'right' and providing samples to imitate. Then if your work looked also right to others, then others would follow. If something looked more elegant (to their taste and standards) then they would move on.


That is what happened with Francisco de Lucas: Yciar produced an italic that followed closely the italian lead with a 5 degree slant. De Lucas introduced a 10-15 degree slant that looked more appealing and became soon the reference for most people of his time. And, indeed. I do also find his script much more appealing and elegant than those of Yciar.


You can see his samples starting from this page (btw this would no longer be "formal italic" but the Spanish "mixed" sccript bleep-a according to our censor software :D


He calls the un-slanted, vertical script (which Yciar called antique) "redondilla" (or round hand). Samples start at this page. I think you'll agree that his letterforms look better than those of his predecressors, though I don't know if it is a matter of press technology or a matter of taste (or both).


Next he treats "Letra de Grifo" (Aldo Manucio's hand for Grifo). The samples start here. This would be closer to a proper italic hand as it is usually understood.


He finally treats Latin Capitals and book roundhand.


As you can see, all of these were valid.


Well, actually not. You would need to read Spanish (or Italian if you read the italian copy books of Palatino and others, or French for the French hands) to check the instructions regarding each hand. Each of them had a place: there was a hand for "bullas" (Pope Bulls), another for Royal decrees, another for business, certificates, notarial documents, etc... and people was used to them and expected them in their context (much as you'd expect specific lettering on formal certificates). You should consider that Italic developed in the court of the Borgia (a Spanish family from Valencia, Borja) popes to solve a specific practical problem. This was a common tendence in the Spain of the time (the Catholic Kings had to issues decrees to enforce proper writing hands to ensure legibility of legal documents) so it was natural that they looked at novel practical solutions (scripts) for specific problems.



But that was way back when. Nowadays you do not need to restrict any hand to a concrete environment and since the association has been lost in our practice, you can freely choose any one you like for your desired use.


Neat! Ain't it?


So, pick any one you like, and be confident that all of them are valid, and that during the last four or five centuries it has been more a matter of whether it looked elegant than of whether they stuck to a "proper", formal, well-defined set of rules. I've read many Spanish writing books from across these ages and in none did I see a criticism of "this guy does not stick to the rules" but instead "this guy introduced great new rules that gave more character, cursiveness or elgance" or "this guy introduced a script that looked awful, weak or does not appeal to common good taste". Actually some of the more celebrated masters were so because they taught to write with less strokes and more ligatures (for instance) and Spanish "mixed italic" (bas-tar-da) slant developped up to 45 degrees.


From a Spaniard's point of view: It's never been about the rules. It's about whether you (and your readers) enjoy it or not. Anything else is an academic formalism and arid constriction.

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Thank you for your recent contributions, txomsy.


I am more familiar with the Italian and English perspectives on italic letter forms, so I find your Spanish perspective interesting. I must say that your last paragraph, describing the "Spaniard's point of view" sounds very American. We call it "pragmatism." Insofar as the Italian scribes who really developed the Humanist Bookhand (Poggio Bracciolini) and Chancery Cursive/Italic (Niccolò Niccoli) were reacting against the decorative but difficult to read gothic scripts of their time and moving toward a more legible script, they would probably endorse your attitude.


I believe that the consensus among scholars is that Humanist Bookhand derived directly from 10th Century Carolingian script seen in old copies of Greek and Roman works found in monastery libraries. It was mistakenly believed to be of "classical" Roman origin, hence the name given to Humanist Bookhand by those who developed it: "Littera Antiqua." Niccoli's "Italic" hand is felt to be the natural result of his more rapid writing, with cursive joins and letter slant developing willy nilly. It is worth noting that, while Niccolò was a prolific copyist, he was not known for the beauty of his handwriting. Poggio, on the other hand, was regarded as having one of the most beautiful book hands of his generation.


Today, printed italic is slanted by definition, but in handwriting, the slant is not the most important characteristic. That is the letter forms, particularly the predominance of oval shapes, as opposed to round or square shapes. Many of the early writing masters were very prescriptive regarding the width to height ratio of italic letters.


My own view is that slant should generally be in the 5-10º range, but, more importantly, should be an organic reflection of the writers "natural" style, rather than a rigid, contrived, rule-bound thing. I find my own italic handwriting approaches 15º, when I am writing very quickly.


One last point: I am talking about "handwriting" not "lettering" and not necessarily "calligraphy."


Happy writing!



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Well said...as Palatino and Arrighi had said, judge to thy eyes and make right as thy own...or something like that...every rule is meant to be broken, but the main principal are always followed.

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Just to add to the wealth of resources from other members, if you want to practise a consistent slant, then http://calligraphypaper.appspot.com/ lets you choose your slant (and nib width and x-height etc.) and gives you a pdf grid to print.



Thanks for posting this link. I prefer this to one I've been using because I can set the RGB color myself as opposed to choosing only a light or regular line intensity.

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I think the terminology can be confusing, because it is used inconsistently. Slanted words are called italic on computers, but in many calligraphy books the term italic is used to mean humanistic. In these cases there is an upright formal Italic and Italic cursive. To make matters worse, there are formal and cursive versions of italic cursive.


In English, cursive usually means connected letters, but in German it means slanted (MS Word translates italic as kursive) Also, paleographs seem to use cursive for a variety of running scripts that are faster less formal versions of book hands.


There is some disagreement over what is fastest; vertical, slightly slanted or super slanted. I will say some letterforms look better slanted, like the f with a curved descender.

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