Western Calligraphy


I have tried to show some examples of the various styles of Calligraphic penmanship that have evolved over the centuries in Western and Southern Europe during and after the Roman Empire combined with a brief history of each. The more I researched this post the more I have found that there are many variations of each script as can be seen from the chart at the right showing the development of the various alphabets from the Roman (trajan) to the modern times alphabets. For further information on them please use the links provided under each script.




Roman square capitals

This is the basis for the modern capital letters. Square capitals were used to write inscriptions, and less often to supplement everyday handwriting. When written in documents this style is known as Latin book hand. an example of their use in inscriptions is found on Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Square capitals are characterized by sharp, straight lines, supple curves, thick and thin strokes, angled stressing and incised serifs. These Roman capitals are also called majuscules, as a counterpart to minuscule letters such as Merovingian and Carolingian.

After the 5th century the square capitals fell out of use, except as a display lettering for titles and chapter headings in conjunction with various script hands for body text.

Rustic capitals

This is an another ancient Roman script that was used between the 1st and 9th centuries but most common between the 4th and 6th centuries when it started to fall out of use around the 5th century.

They are similar to the Roman square capitals but are influenced more by writing on papyrus and parchment using pen and ink. The letterforms are thinner, and more compressed and ,they are more cursive than the square form and use descenders that drop below the base line of the letterforms body.


This script was used by scribes to write Greek, Latin and Gothic letterforms from the 4th to 8th centuries AD. It was written as capitals and as the script became more complex over the ages we find that flourishes and exagerations to the basic strokes started to appear in manuscripts with ascenders and descenders being the first major change and by 800 AD some of the changes formed the basis of the compact minuscule scripts.



The term half-uncial or semi-uncial was used to distinguish what seemed like a cut-down version of uncial. And like uncial, the half-uncial is derived from the  Roman cursive, It was first used around the 3rd century and remained in use until the end of the 8th century.



New Calligraphers think that the Gothic style script is the Old English alphabet. But there are many variations of the Gothic script style with the particular scribes showing their own character within the particular style. It is characterized by dense vertical strokes with built up serifs.

Through the application of the basic concepts of consistency, straight vertical strokes and awareness of negative space the writing of the gothic alphabet can be relatively easy for the novice.

A well written Gothic script is both elegent and beautiful while a badly lettered Gothic script is obvious and distracting to the reader, this is due to the alphabet being less forgiving than other styles





The Bastarda script is a black letter script used in France,Germany and the Burgundian Netherlands between the 14th and 15th centuries. The French script had fallen out of use by the mid 16th century with the German script developing into the Fraktur script which remained in use till the mid 20th century




Walbaum-Fraktur (1800)

The Fraktur script is another style of black letter calligraphy which has pointed arches with sides that are curved which makes this alphabet less  extreme than the Texture style. The insert is the Walbaum style font from the 1800’s

The translation says Victor chases twelve boxers across the Sylt dike and contains all 26 letters of this alphabet


Old English


The Old English script was first written in runes, but around the 9th century this style was replaced by a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet which was introduced by Irish Christian missionaries. which was then replaced by insular script, which is a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. and was used until the end of the 12th century when it was again replaced by the  Carolingian minuscule





The Rotunda script is a specific medieval blackletter script which originates in Carolingian minuscule. Sometimes it is not considered a black letter script, but a script on its own. With it’s usage mainly in southern Europe.


Carolingian minusules

The Carolingian script was developed by benedictine monks at Corbie Abbey (north of Paris) around 780 AD. with the help of the Emperor Charlemange as a standard in Europe between regions. It is based on the Roman Half Unical and Insular scripts that were in use by the irish and English monasteries of the time.

It was used in the Holy Roman Empire between 800 and 1200 AD, with codices, pagan, Christian texts and educational materials being written in Carolingian minuscule script of the Carolingian renaissance.

This script is uniform with rounded shapes that are clearly identifiable letterforms, they are orderly and above legible.  With capitals and spaces between the words becoming the standard within the script.





The Copperplate style of calligraphy uses a pointed steel nib or quill to produce lettering that has both thick and thin strokes. And is often used as the term for all forms of pointed pen calligraphy,

The term Copperplate refers to the many styles produced after studying the copper plate engravings that were used to print and redistribute the works of English round hand writing masters as far back as the 16th century.






The Spencerian script was used in the USA between 1850 – 1925 approximately and was the standard writin style for business correspondance until the widespread use ot the typewriter. The script was developed in 1840 by Platt Rogers Spencer who used various scripts as the inspiration in deveoping a writing style that could be written quickly and legibly. The script was taught in schools that Spencer established with the graduates starting their own replicas of it abroad which caused the script to reach the common schools.








Italic is a cursive style that was designed by Aldus Manutius and Ludovica Arnghi between the 15th and 16th centuries, this style has a slight slant to the right and is used to emphisis key points in a text or whenstressing certain words being quoted by a speaker



Cursive is a style of longhand writing where the letters of a word are joined together in a flowing style which speeds up the writing process. It is different from the block script where the letters are unconnected, and it has to be noted that in the formal cursive style all letters are connected while in the casual cursive style they use a combination of joins and pen lifts.



The Chancery style of writing was used for business transactions of the vatican during the 13th century, where it then travelled to France and then on to England in the 1350’s where it was used for official documentation such as the enrollment of acts of Parliment until 1836


Thank you for taking the time to read my post, and I hope you found it helpful and informative. Please feel free to add your comments, suggestions and experiences below. Thanks