The origins of modern Hebrew calligraphy can be found in two ways. One can seek its sources in Hebrew scribal traditions, or one can see it as part of the international revival of calligraphy as an art form, a movement that has grown steadily since the 1960s.
Hebrew is native to Israel and is the only example of the Cananite language left. It is also a successful example of a revived dead language as its everyday useage stopped between 200 – 400 AD and it was not till the 19th century that it was revived and became the official language of Israel.
Since ancient times, the Torah scribe was a man of piety, who donned tefillin which prepared him spiritually for the sacred task before him. In the Middle Ages, the scribes wrote both Bible codices and scrolls, for both study and private use.
Many scribes signed their names in the books they wrote, but never on ritual writings, with the script standard being set high. But once the Hebrew books started to be printed in the late 15th century, the demand for hand-written codices decreased, and though there was always a need for ritual writings, the number of scribes required dropped.
Even before the days of printing, there were Hebrew scribes who specialized in calligraphy. The art was more important than the purpose, and certain kinds of books and shorter texts became popular subjects for calligraphic expression before and after the Renaissance.
The calligraphers of the Middle Ages and even later ones were trained soferim; their script style was that of the sofer, but they were commissioned for their skills in decorating Bible codices, prayer books, *haggahot (books read at the home Seder on the eve of Passover), and *ketubbot (marriage documents), with illuminations, enlarged and decorated letters, and micrography, minute Hebrew script written in geometrical, vegetal and figurative shapes.
Hebrew square script
Hebrew cursive script