Why Is The Ramsey Psalter Important To Modern Calligraphers?

Re-reading a modern calligraphy book, I noticed a comment about the Ramsey Psalter. I thought it was a strange place for the comment and possibly an error. So I went looking. 

The Ramsey Psalter is now in the British Library. It is an Anglo-Saxon illuminated book including the Book of Psalms and other devotional material. It‘s script is the elegant English Carolingian or Caroline minuscule used between 800 and 1200 A.D.

So what does this thousand-year-old illuminated manuscript have to do with modern calligraphy?

British Library’s Ramsey Psalter
showing it’s Caroline minuscule script.

According to the British Library:

“The script of the Ramsey Psalter formed the basis of Edward Johnston‘s ‘foundational hand’ which inspired a renewal in 20th-century calligraphy.”

I’ve  noted “Johnston” in other calligraphy books, but never paid attention to the reason. He is often called a “father of modern calligraphy” because he re-instituted the use of the broad-edged pen and developed a modern script useful for it. His teaching and practice revived the formal penmanship art dormant for centuries. His major work Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering, first published in 1906, created new interest and new excellent scribes. 

My ductus for early Gothic script.

While I’m an SCA trained calligrapher, I’ve read ‘Johnston’s Foundational Hand is often the first script a modern beginning calligrapher learns. I see why, with its upright, rounded letter-forms and comfortable 30 degree pen angle. Caroline minuscule or early Gothic, from which Johnston’s script came, is a beginner script for many SCA scribes too.

From a dusty old Anglo-Saxon manuscript’s writing to one person’s turn of the 20th century interest, life was breathed again into this ancient skill. It continues today in even our hi-tech world and our SCA scribes. 

External Resources:
Handout for the Foundational Hand by Allesandro Segalini, Typographer
Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering pdf

Categories: History

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