September 19

The Council of Venice, on this day in 1492, appointed Giovanantonio Tagliente as writing-master in the Chancery of the Council. The appointment was over a year late, as Tagliente had addressed to the Council a Supplication for employment in May, 1491:

“Most Illustrious and Excellent Prince, pious and glorious council! Humbly and devotedly sheweth for his part your faithful servant and subject Giovanantonio Tagliente, citizen by birth. Whereas, persuaded by many virtuous gentlemen and citizens that he should settle again in this renowned city, in order to make known and teach the true art and mystery of writing every variety of letter that a man can write, as manifestly throughout all Italy and likewise in this dominion he hath by experience demonstrated [can be done] briefly and at little cost. And resolving to live and die in his native place, and under the shadow of your Sublimity, and to demonstrate such a secret to the servants and signatories of your Signory, and to every person who would delight in such a faculty or science. Reverently maketh supplication that it may please your illustrious Signory to provide him with some convenient stipend, so that by means of it the said (Giovanantonio Tagliente) may live with his family under the shadow of your Sublimity. Offering himself to teach and instruct chancery writing with its rules to all the young men dedicated to your Exellency’s Chancery without other expense. Further, to any other person who would wish to learn to write, for two ducats only, for every sort of letter he would like, whether antiqua, cancelleresca, mercadantesca, moderna or bastarda. To your eminence and grace he humbly commendeth himself.”

Tagliente’s position as one of the triumvirate of great calligraphers of the early 16th century, which included Vicentino Arrighi and Giovanbattista Palatino, ranks him in third place. But as a noted teacher his influence was undoubtedly of greater importance within the ranks of calligraphers than that of his fellow writing-masters. It was in 1522 that Arrighi, who was employed in the Papal Chancery, published his book on writing, the Operina. No doubt Tagliente was spurred into action by the immediate popularity of the Arrighi work, as just two years later he produced his own writing manual, Opera di G.A. Tagliente. Unlike the Operina, which was directed toward a study of the chancery hand, Tagliente’s book covered the variety of scripts used in legal and documentary work. Its success was immediate. During the 16th century it was reprinted at least thirty times under various titles.

The Italian writing-masters of that period called the cursive writing which they produced, cancellaresca corsiva, a term which, in the present-day revival of calligraphy is sometimes confusing. Actually a chancery was any office from which correspondence of various kinds was issued, and they were located all over Italy. The issuance of Arrighi’s Operina has frequently misled a number of writers to refer to the Arrighi hand as the only example of what we call chancery writing. During our own period, most of the writing styles of the Renaissance are simply recorded under the rather general heading of calligraphy.

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