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Georg Bocskay: Master Calligraphist

Top: Gillyflower, Mayfly, Fly, and Snail; Mayfly, Red Campion, and Pear. Bottom: Spider, Love-in-a-Mist, Potter Wasp, and Red Currant; Wainscot, French Rose, Wasp-like Insect, English Daisy, and Caterpillar

Georg Bocskay: Master Calligraphist

Erin Corrigan

Georg Bocskay was born in Hungary, in a part located in modern-day Croatia, in the 16th century.  Although the exact date of his birth is unknown, historians gather he was born around 1510.  He is most prominently known for his skills as a distinguished calligraphist.  Bocskay’s legacy is defined by his service to the royal Hungarian Chamber as a scribe and secretary. 

From Bocskay’s own journals, historians were able to piece together his biography.  From these journals we know that Georg Bocskay was born in Razinia, a part of Croatia that belonged to Hungary during the 16th Century.  He discloses that he was the heir of a noble Hungarian family. Bocskay also shares a bit of old family history: at the end of the 15th Century, his wealthy family gained fiefdom under the noble surname de Razinia, embodying a castle and a small village.

From 1561 to 1562, Georg Bocskay demonstrated his abilities as master-scribe by collaborating on an exceptional book entitled Mira Calligraphiae Monumena, or, The Model Book of Calligraphy.  The patron of this book was Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and one of the most notable art patrons during the turn of the 15th century.  Bocskay’s scriptures are written in Latin.

The artist Bocskay boasts his marvelous range of calligraphic styles in this book.  Its original purpose was to exemplify his scientific mastery of the wide range of writing styles he had acquired and conjured from his own mind.

What makes Mira Calligraphiae Monumena so unique for this era is that it was started by Bocskay in 1561 and then contributed to by a Flemish/Hungarian illuminator until its completion in 1596, over 20 years after Bocskay’s death in 1575.  Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600) was the illuminator who later added to Bocskay’s calligraphic pages.  The two artists never knew each other personally.  Hoefnagel enhanced the existing beauty of Bocskay’s scripture by adding a delicate balance of natural elements including fruits, flowers, insects, and amphibians.

If you take a look at the pages of this book, you can see how Bocskay laid out his writing as if beckoning future artists to decorate it in illustrative fashion.  Bocskay’s calligraphy is so precise, clearly using typography as a method to keep his writing in a concise form on each page.  His methodical style allowed Hoefnagel later to intensify his lettering, creating a wonderful balance of words and illustration.

Bocskay is the artist here who deserves the most praise.  Yes, the illustrations from Hoefnagel add a whimsical quality to the pages, but the styles of writing Bocskay performs on each page are sweepingly brave and outstandingly inventive for 16th century ideals.  The wide variety of calligraphy that Bocskay demonstrates, from curling cursive styles to bold geometric gothic lettering, is daring and evident of his clear talent, and he knew it.  Bocskay sometimes invents his own writing order, each method appearing to contain its own personality.

When viewing these pages, one first notices the magical style of his words, not the words themselves.  The script is compositionally organized on the page, highlighting the fact that Bocskay’s work is not predominantly intended to be read, rather to be treasured artistically.

Mira Calligraphiae Monumena was created during a time when the printing press had eclipsed writing as the primary means of circulation.  This only enhanced the value of hand-written scribes, making artists’ work more valuable.  As one could imagine, Bocskay came to be valued as an essential accomplished master of calligraphic style during the Central European Renaissance, exemplifying his intellectual background and social rank.

Mira Calligraphiae Monumena currently resides at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, available for the public to admire Bocskay’s masterful artistry.

Erin Corrigan, granddaughter of our Editorial Board member Eva Wajda, currently resides in Southern California.  She graduated with a BFA from Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, PA, in 2013. Outside of working her job in Women’s Addiction Recovery, Erin dedicates time to her artistic practice, painting and drawing commissioned animal portraits.

Her personal website is https://ekcorrigan.wixsite.com/mysite

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