Jan van de Velde: Calligraphy

Anyone who had truly mastered the art of writing could at least be assured of earning a moderate living. Such was the opinion of Christiaan Huygens, and as might be expected, the art of penmanship was an important part of Constantijn Huygens's education. Constantijn learned calligraphy from his father; others could learn it at the Latin and, in particular, at the French schools. Here the pupils, supervised by a Walloon or French master, were taught the subjects required for trade: French, elocution and the three R's - reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic.

Exemplar: 'Sijt den weesen int oordeelen'. Jan van den Velde. [Rotterdam, c. 1598]. Paper, 195 x 310 mm. 132 E 3, fol. 11

Exemplar: 'Sijt den weesen int oordeelen'.Jan van den Velde. [Rotterdam, c. 1598]. Paper, 195 x 310 mm. 132 E 3, fol. 11

Writing was not only a matter of practice and skill, attention was also focused on the choice of an appropriate script and the required style. In many cases the writing-masters became veritable masters of penmanship. In the first half of the seventeenth century our country could boast no fewer than fifteen writing-masters of exceptional talent. Three of them, Felix van Sambix, Salomon Henrix and Jan van den Velde acquired national fame: on Christmas Eve 1589 they were awarded the first, second and third prize respectively in the handwriting competition among writing-masters for the Prix de la Plume Couronnée.

Jan van den Velde (1568-1623) has unquestionably been the most important writing-master in our history, because of his Spieghel der Schrijfkonste (Rotterdam, 1605), published in many languages. His calligraphic leaves have been copied innumerable times. He enjoyed great fame after publishing his theoretical treatise in the third part of his Spieghel, entitled Fondementboeck, waerinne de rechte maniere, om alderhand gheschriften grondich te leeren schryven, duydelyck verklaert, ende door verdeelinghe der figueren ende letteren konstelyck aenghewesen ende gheleert wordt.