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Blackletter Calligraphy: Origin, History, Terminology, and Traits

September 22, 2023

Blackletter calligraphy is known for its artistic writing style. This typeface is distinguishable for its stylistic thick and thin strokes, and dramatic swirls on the serif. It was used for written manuscripts and documents throughout Western Europe from the 12th century.

Nowadays, the blackletter typeface is still popular, especially for artistic purposes. There are so many things we could learn from this typeface. Let’s uncover it together!

What’s Blackletter Calligraphy?

Blackletter typeface is a writing style of the alphabet. It was used for documents and manuscripts in the medieval era. Blackletter is recognizable for its dark and saturated letters. The letterforms have dense and dramatic shapes, but the font is still readable.

Blackletter is an alternative form of Carolingian Minuscule in the 12th century. At that time, the demand for producing books was high. The usage of blackletter became more frequent since the font is more time-saving.

Also Read: What is Blackletter Font? History, Characteristics, Recommendation

Terminology of the Blackletter Typeface

Blackletter calligraphy has many names, such as Old English, Gothic Minuscule, and Gothic Script. The term ‘blackletter’ refers to the darkness of the letters that overpower the whiteness of the page. The typeface had nothing to do with the Old English language of the Anglo-Saxons, although it’s called ‘Old English’.

Meanwhile, the term ‘Gothic’ refers to the Germanic tribe–Goth. It could be an interpretation of Gothic architecture in the Middle Ages. Many churches and cathedrals used the Gothic style in the Medieval era.

In the 15th century, Gothic became a popular term for blackletter font among modernists in Italy. The modernist–Lorenzo Valla and others rejected the scripts since it’s associated with the Medieval era.

They considered that era as the deviation of human intelligence and wanted to separate themselves from the standard of that era.

A Brief History of Blackletter Calligraphy

Blackletter is an alternative form of Carolingian Minuscule. The influence of Carolingian Minuscule development is from semi-roman and Insular script. From the 8th to 12th centuries, documents and manuscripts used Carolingian Minuscule.

Starting from the 11th and 12th centuries, literacy throughout Europe increased. Many universities are established with varieties of books, such as law, grammar, history, and so on. It was no longer limited to Bibles and religious books. As a result, the demand for producing books increased.

A Brief History of Blackletter Calligraphy

Textura or Textualis came as the alternative to Carolingian Minuscule. It became a foundational form of blackletter font and evolved into other styles of blackletter typeface, for example, Rotunda, Bastarda, Schwabacher, and Faktur.

Blackletter was a popular written style until the 15th century. However, after the new typeface—Antiqua emerged, the Blackletter typeface lost its popularity except in Germany and German-speaking countries. Nevertheless, Antiqua and Blackletter coexisted till the twentieth century.

In the WW2 era, the popularity of the blackletter font did not fall. Nazis used the blackletter font to spread their propaganda. As a result, the font became synonymous with the Nazi regime.

Nowadays, we recognize the typeface as a form of art and hopefully no longer associated with its dark past. We also could find the typeface as a display font in many media, such as newspapers, magazines, advertisements, cover albums, and more.

Also Read: 20 Coolest Blackletter Fonts to Make Your Design Stand Out

Characteristics of Blackletter Font

Here are the characteristics of blackletter calligraphy:

  1. Contrast Strokes: The blackletter font has stylized strokes. We could recognize the contrast between thin and thick strokes.
  2. Styles: The typeface is highly influenced by classical calligraphy. It has a dense black texture and decorated uppercase. The shape of the lowercase is angular and narrow with dramatic strokes.
  3. Serif: Most of the blackletter font has serif. The serif has extra strokes at the end of letterforms to make it flourish.

Font Families of Blackletter Calligraphy

There are some styles of blackletter typeface. Here are font families of blackletter font you might need to know:

Font Families of Blackletter Calligraphy

1. Textura

Textura was commonly used in Germany, France, Italy, and other Western Europe. It is known as ‘Textualis’, and the ‘Gothic Bookhand’. As the foundational form of the blackletter, Textura evolved into many styles of the blackletter font.

This font has tall, narrow characters with sharp, straight, angular lines. The letters do not connect.

2. Rotunda

Rotunda is an Italian version of textura, although the influence was more direct to Carolingian Minuscule than Textura. The font has a rounded shape, especially the lowercase ‘o’ is more circular. This font is more legible due to its less angular shape. Rotunda is commonly used in Southern Europe.

3. Schwabacher

Schwabacher is similar to Rotunda. It has a more rounded and cursive shape. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the font was primarily used in Germany, but it also could be found in Switzerland. In the next century, Schwabacher was eventually replaced by Faktur. 

4. Faktur

Faktur became the most common blackletter font in Germany by the mid-1500s. The font existed until the early twentieth century. It has a rounded characteristic and curved shape and stylized appearance. Though the font is elaborate, it’s still legible.

Faktur had rivalries with Antiqua font. Both of them were prominent. There was a great debate about which font was the ‘correct’ one.

Faktur was the font family of the blackletter that was associated with the Nazi regime during World War 2.

Also Read: 15+ Entrancing and Best Font for Visual Display Styling

Are You Looking for a Blackletter Calligraphy Font? Uncover Here!

The blackletter calligraphy has a rich history of its origin. The font has been well-known since the medieval era and developed until this day. Today, blackletter font is a form of expression. You are free to use the typeface for any artistic purposes.

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If you are interested in the blackletter font and other fonts, we suggest you check StringLabs products. They offer a bundle of 550 fonts with a corporate license. You’ll get a variety of awesome fonts. Are you curious? Go check on their website here.

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