Rhythm is in harmony with nature and exists with manifold efficacy and form within all living creatures and within the phenomena of movement which surround us in the regularity of our heart and pulse beats, in our breathing, or in the repetition of forms with like effects in plants of the same kind-everywhere we feel the rhythmical law of renewal. As a temporary phenomenon of a rule, in continuous change, we recognise lettering also as rhythmical form.
To discuss the nature of rhythm in general is not our present task; rather shall I try to indicate briefly the renewal of those elements we experience in rhythmical writing.
The flowing movement in writing may be compared to the undulation of waves of water. When we observe waves with their stronger and weaker oscillations, we have a full rhythmical experience. The observation of this movement can give us the completed film, but the single photograph showing only the rigid fragment of one event can never do so. So it is with writing: the writer has the rhythmical experience whilst the beholder of the written matter can only guess at the vivacity of the letter strokes. An attempt to draw the movement of the wave results in the wavy line. By circumscribing the up and down movement of the mountains and valleys of the waves we get the rhythmical experience. But if we draw in such a way that the mountains and valleys in the waves harmonise exactly in their reversed form, then the vivid impulse of the movement is destroyed, and is replaced by a mechanical form.
Thus, when we speak, starting from the movement, of renewal and repetition of letter forms, we do not mean the machine-like copying of a basic form, but the renewal of previous individual parts which, having arisen out of the same movement, look alike, but are, however, never absolutely alike. The rhythmical intermittent movement or intermittent form carries within itself the temporal as well as the spatial successions which are contained in all natural symmetry. We do not mean by natural symmetry the mirror-like division of forms, but the manifold symmetries as found in nature and art.
Thus, the right half of a man’s face does not coincide mirror-like with the left half. The leaves of the very same tree are none of them exactly alike, but are similar, no half of one leaf being the exact mirror image of the other half. In the creation of lettering, an O-form written well with full freedom is considered right in its symmetrical representation, whilst a designed O-form in which the left half is reversed mirror-like from the right half, will look optically wrong as a consequence of the elimination of the rhythmical movement. These phenomena, which in many cases cause optical illusions in the creation of lettering, can only be remedied through striving after natural symmetry. The apparent similarity in the rhythmical course of things is thus of an optical and not of a mathematical kind, as also beauty in nature is of a dynamic and not of a static kind.
These explanations as to the nature of rhythm clearly illustrate the immense value of the hand-written letter as against the designed form for no designed form or type-set line can bear comparison in rhythmical strength with the aspect of the written line. Though, to be sure, we notice in type-set letters a certain harmonious effect, given by the proportional balance of spaces, yet the rigid repetitive effect of absolutely equal characters cannot give to the whole appearance the liveliness of rhythmical undulations. just as in the fine arts, spontaneity appeals to us more strongly than the composition which is deliberately constructed, so lettering written freely with feeling takes precedence over any designed form of lettering.
As the rhythmical principle of movement is to be seen exceptionally clearly in Italics, some historical examples of the work of Itallan and Spanish masters of writing of the 16th and 17th century will be shown at the end of this essay. These individual pages reproduced from copy books were intended in their time to carry the art of writing to a larger class of society by means of models. The ‘Cancellaresca’, a variation of the Italic hand which was diffused in the countries I have just mentioned, looks extremely clear with its simple structure and even today is unsurpassed as a model for a good current hand. In the example given of Ludovico degli Arrighi (1522) we can find vivid accents on a quiet-looking page as contrasts. However, these do not look like added adornments, but grow organically out of the basic form.
Today in England, the masterly form of Arrighi’s ‘Cancellaresca’ is used by intelligent
circles as an elementary writing in schools. The results of these efforts lead to very much better handwriting than do the models in general use in the rest of Europe and in the
This excerpt is from Walter Käch¹s ‘Rhythm And Proportion In Lettering [Rhythmus und
Proportion in Der Schrift]’, Olten Und Freiburg Im Breisgau : Walter-Verlag. Copyright Otto
Walter Ltd., Olten (Schweiz), 1956.