Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lettering down the centuries

From Pompeii to the Vatican, from the promenade in Aix-en-Provence to the prices on street menus, I'm convinced that Europe is covered with lettering, and has been for centuries and centuries.

For a calligraphy and typography nut like me, it was hog heaven.

I almost drove my patient husband past the point of no return, snapping hundreds of photos and lettering in my sketchbook until my pencil lead was down to the nub while he waited with infinite kindness, smiling at my delight.

I first noticed it in Pompeii, where the original lettering in the marketplace was the perfect example of Roman clarity.

I am dying to know what it says. I've sent photos to my own personal Latin scholar, lucky me!

If she translates for us I'll let you know.

"Apples on sale, half off this week?"

"Please don't drive your chariots on the lawn?"

What did the merchants of Pompeii put on their equivalent of the billboard?

The numbers chiseled 2,000 years ago survive in Pompeii's streets today, and I was fascinated. This one, outside a tavern, stood just above the raised stone sidewalks.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Pompeii, you must go. It's captivatingly, shockingly, astonishingly modern and sophisticated.

Days later I found myself in Aix-en-Provence, where artist Paul Cezanne's family were hatmakers. You can still see the ad for their shop written high above the Cours Mirabeau, the main street in town.

I found the lettering so charmingly French I snapped almost a dozen pictures. Ha!

And the colors, the way the paint weathered, that amazingly cool orangey-yellow ochre shades...

If the lettering in Aix seemed old to me, the Colisseum was absolutely ancient.

There is lettering on almost every kind of stone you can find in Rome. But as gemologists, my husband and I found ourselves whispering to one another.

"Sandstone," we'd scoff. "No wonder!" when the lettering was worn to soft curves.

"Gorgeous!" we cried over and over at the wondrous carvings we saw everywhere. "Brilliant!"

But this tablet in the Colisseum almost knocked the wind out of me.

And you can see the tiny chisel marks all over it.

The hand of the maker was beautifully present.

Who made this tablet? What was their story? What kind of gravers did they use, and what did they use for a straight edge and measuring tools?

Even if I force myself to share only a few delectable bits, there was far, far too much to fit into one post. So I'll share this much today and ask you to bear with me.

More delicious lettering tomorrow!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sharyn, I'll bet you wish you could have blocked out the present, the white noise, the people, whatever....and could have just closed your eyes and FELT the past with no distractions!
That's how I felt when we visited the Tower of London. There were too many people, too much noise, too many "this world" interruptions! I'd have loved to really FEEL the atmosphere untarnished by "today".
I wish I could have touched the carvings made by the prisoners in that frightening place...but...they're all covered by protective acrylic....If could truly go back to those times!! So much we'll never know or understand!