In an earlier post I wrote about the use and long survival of âgothicâ typefaces and handwriting in the German-Speaking countries. It was surely no coincidence that, at the time when the printing press and the influence of humanist thought and teaching were beginning to popularise âRomanâ printing and writing styles, the first printed writing manuals for German scripts also began to appear.
One of the first and most influential creators of such manuals was the Nuremberg writing and mathematics teacher Johann NeudĂ¶rffer (1497-1563), who published his first collection of alphabets, designed for his own students and usually referred to as the Fundament, in 1519 (1267.g.24.(3)). His major work, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht der furnemsten Grunde aus denen die Jungen zierlichs schreybens begirlich, mit besonderer Kunst und Behendigkeyt unterricht und geubt moÌgen werden, appeared 19 years later.
The Gute Ordnung contains not just alphabets and examples of how to form and join letters, but also models for the kinds of documents his students would need to prepare in their later careers as court or civic scribes.
There are also models of scripts using prayers, Biblical quotations and educational maxims. Most are in German hands, although there are some samples of Roman and italic lettering. There are large and elaborate capitals, and texts in script almost too tiny to read, practical scripts for everyday work and decorative ones for special occasions.
Perhaps the most complex model is a prayer presented as a labyrinth pattern.
Because of the method of reproduction used, many of the plates also appear in reverse, which were often bound in with the others. This, together with the fact that NeudĂ¶rffer produced more plates in later years which were bound into some copies, makes the work a bit of a bibliographical challenge.
The British Library holds two copies, one (C.69.aa.18.) with 103 leaves of which 46 are accompanied by the reverse, and one (1256.kk.31.) with 101 leaves of which 45 are accompanied by the reverse and one appears in reverse only. Both copies show evidence of being owned by contemporary scribes. The first copy has an ownership inscription by a Hanns Lebzelter dated 1549, and the second has 18 manuscript leaves bound in, one of them signed by Veit Stoss (1533-1576) a grandson and namesake of the sculptor.
The 1519 Fundament and Ein gute Ordnung are copy-books with little or no explanatory text, but in 1549 NeudĂ¶rffer published what was more of a descriptive textbook. Ein GesprechbuÌchlein zweyer schuÌler, wie einer den andern im zierlichen schreyben untherweyst takes the familiar pedagogical form of a dialogue between instructor and learner, although rather than the more familiar model of a teacher or parent in the role of instructor, NeudĂ¶rfferâs dialogue is between fellow students of a similar age. Stephan is keen to improve his calligraphy skills with the help of the more experienced Johann (based on NeudĂ¶rfferâs own son). âIâm ashamed to let you see my handwriting,â Stephan explains at the start of the first lesson, but Johann reassures him, âIt isnât so very bad, at least one can read it,â and goes on to explain how to cut and hold a quill, how to make basic lines, points and letter-shapes, how to form and join up letters and so on.
Above: A perfectly cut quill pen, from Ein GesprechbuÌchlein zweyer schuÌler (Nuremberg, 1549) 1267.g.24.(1). Below: Guidance on how to hold a pen, from a 1601 reissue of the work under the title Schreibkunst (Nuremberg, 1601) 1477.dd.52.(1)
Under the title Schreibkunst, NeudĂ¶rfferâs grandson Anton reissued the GesprechbĂŒchlein in 1601 with an additional collection of letters and alphabets, some of them so elaborate that it becomes almost impossible to decipher the basic letter-forms beneath the flourishes.
NeudĂ¶rffer helped to shape the style of both German handwriting and German printing types in the 16th century, and thus to influence German writing and printing styles for four centuries. Today he is recognised as the father of German calligraphy, and has inspired modern designers of gothic typefaces who have given his name to their fonts.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Oliver Linke, Christine Sauer, Zierlich schreiben: der Schreibmeister Johann NeudĂ¶rffer d. Ă. und seine Nachfolger in NĂŒrnberg (Nuremberg, 2007) YF.2011.a.17762
Werner Doede, Bibliographie deutscher SchreibmeisterbĂŒcher von NeudoĂ¶rffer bis 1800 (Hamburg, 1958) 2739.c.6.