The Lyell Lectures 2020



The Lyell Lectures 2020

A gold horizontal flourish

Writing models from manuscript to print: France, England and Europe, c. 1400–1800

Part of the Lyell Lectures

  29 September, 1, 6 and 8 October 2020


A series of four lectures 

From the later Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century, western handwriting was subjected to an unprecedented diversity of scripts and styles, characteristic of nations, languages, institutions, functional uses and the professional or social status of men and women.

The calligraphic models for teaching such scripts were developed by professional scribes such as copyists, chancery clerks, secretaries and writing masters. A minority among them had their manuscripts translated into print and widely circulated, thus contributing to a European market of letter forms, shaped and reshaped by the changing balance of power and taste.

After the prevalence of Italian models in the Renaissance, French writing books were an essential component of that market, until the English round hand (later known as ‘copperplate’) gradually became the common medium of business in the West.

At the crossroads of bibliography and palaeography, the lectures will address a number of technical, commercial and cultural issues raised by the cataloguing and scrutiny of French writing books, hitherto the least charted territory in early modern calligraphy.


Professor Marc Smith, Professeur de Paléographie, The Ecole Nationale des Chartes, Lyell Reader in Bibliography 2020

The Lyell Lectures 2020 series

Lecture 1: Writing Models and the Formation of National Scripts

  29 September 2020, 5pm

Watch Lecture 1 online

Lecture 2: Bibliography and the Life Cycles of Writing Books

  1 October 2020, 5pm

Watch Lecture 2 online

Lecture 3: Renaissance Calligraphy from Pen to Press and Back

  6 October 2020, 5pm

Watch Lecture 3 online

Lecture 4: The Golden Age of French Writing Masters?

  8 October 2020, 5pm

Watch Lecture 4 online