Microcalligraphy

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I found microcalligraphy used as another word for micrography. Micrography seems to specifically be a Hebrew text art form. I think microcalligraphy should be for the modern text art created from words, written or typed.

Micrography – The Hebrew Word as Art

Below is the text from the above screen capture. The original link was gone but found via the Wayback Machine.

Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art

Micrography, the scribal practice of employing minuscule script to create abstract shapes or figurative designs, is an art form that has been used by Jews for over a millennium. This intricate decorative technique was first practiced in Egypt and the Land of Israel in the tenth century. Micrography developed within the Islamic cultural milieu in which the written word was frequently transformed into elaborate decorative patterns. This abstract ornamentation, emphasized in Islamic art, strongly influenced the artistic creations of the Jews living in many Near Eastern countries.

Much of the earliest micrography we have is found in biblical codices. Unlike Torah scrolls, these Bibles in book form were not subject to the stringent rabbinical rules that stipulated the arrangement of the text and the design of the letters. Without the prohibition against ornamentation, which applied only to Torah scrolls, these books offered the scribe considerable latitude in arranging and decorating the text.

The most common text employed by scribes to create their micrographic artistry was the masorah. Originally, the masorah (a system of notations that ensure the correct transmission of the writing and reading of the Hebrew Bible) was copied into the margins of biblical codices. Later, scribes began to fashion these masoretic notations into floral motifs and intricate geometric designs. The production of a decorated codex could involve more than one artisan. A sofer (scribe) wrote out the biblical text, a nakdan (vocalizer) was responsible for inserting vowels, accents and cantillation, and a masran (masorator) specialized in copying the masorah into biblical codices. In some instances, however, these tasks were all performed by a single scribe.

By the early thirteenth century, micrography appeared in Europe in the Sephardic manuscripts of Spain and Portugal as well as in the Ashkenazic works produced in Northern Europe. Micrographic ornamentation in the Hebrew books written in the Iberian Peninsula usually consisted of elaborate carpet pages placed at the beginning and ending of the manuscript and at the main divisions of the biblical text. In addition, these texts also featured decorative designs in the margins. The micrographic creations that bordered the text evolved from primarily geometric forms into figural and illustrative representations. Common motifs included the tabernacle implements, human figures and animals.

Bibles produced in France and Germany featured elaborate ornamental panels that introduce the individual biblical books. In addition to geometric designs, these opening panels of Ashkenazic Bibles often displayed a menagerie of micrographic animals, grotesques, fantastic beasts and hunting scenes.

While micrographic art can be found in many manuscripts of the Middle Ages, there were nevertheless instances of rabbinic objections regarding the transformation of the masorah into decorative patterns. Criticism was voiced by the renowned rabbi Judah he-Hasid (ca.1150-1217), who complained that the designs render the masoretic text unusable. He stipulated that a patron commissioning a scribe to copy a Bible, must instruct the scribe not to shape the masorah into any ornamental patterns.

Even after the decline of manuscript production in the sixteenth century, micrography continued to be used to decorate ketubbot (marriage contracts) and wall hangings. From the seventeenth century onward, scribes who practiced the art of micrography favored the texts of the five Megillot, Psalms and Proverbs as the basis of their art.

In 1798, the invention of lithography extended the micrographic arts beyond the exclusive realm of one-of-a-kind manuscripts. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the mass production of micrographic prints allowed this ancient art form to reach a much broader Jewish audience. These prints encompassed a wide variety of themes; biblical portraits and vignettes as well as panoramas of the holy sites of Israel were especially popular. Famous rabbinic, political and literary personalities such as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, Theodor Herzl and Hayyim Nahman Bialik, were also favored subjects; their micrographic portraits were exactingly rendered from the minute words and letters of their own books and poems.

It is appropriate that a culture that has long emphasized the significance of the Hebrew word would foster a distinctive transformation of script into a unique decorative art. To this day, the art of Hebrew micrography is still practiced and the metamorphosis of text into image remains an unbroken Jewish artistic tradition across the centuries.

Image source from Boing Boing – Ancient Hebrew ASCII Art

Micrography – Louis Rotblat

Like many early studio photographers, Rotblat would have needed some of the skills of an artist; he would have been expected to hand-color portraits for his customers, and re-touch photographs to bring reality and fantasy a little closer together. But Rotblat also possessed a much rarer talent. He had a genius for creating micrographs – minutely detailed compositions made up of thousands of tiny letters that appear whole from a distance but fracture and dissolve when viewed close up.

This unique form of Jewish folk art has a long history. It started with the illumination of religious texts, moved on to the depiction of Biblical scenes and portraits (rabbis, monarchs and Yiddish writers) and is still being practised today. A micrographic artist needs the compositional skills of an architectural draughtsman, the fearlessness of a tattooist and the flowing hand of an artist. Plus the fluency and stamina of the sofer, the Torah scribe, the occupation which many micrographers followed.

The great micrographic artists were geniuses of geometry and pattern-making and nowhere is their skill more evident than in the portraits. From jubilee tributes of Queen Victoria and Emperor Franz Joseph, to memorials to Theodore Herzl and tributes to Yiddish writers (including Ansky, Reyzen, Opatoshu, Perets, and Shomer) the portraits are extraordinary in their breadth of subjects and techniques.

Source – Digital Yiddish Theatre Project – The Talented Mr. Rotblat and his Micrographic Tribute to Jacob Gordin