The Letter Temple

The Contemporary Museum of Calligraphy under Sokolniki Exhibition and Convention Centre has witnessed the opening of the fourth International Exhibition of Calligraphy. Participants from 43 countries will present the world’s top calligraphy masterpieces. Each one used her own language, brush, pen, and ink to express the beauty and mystery of the Handwritten Letter.

Most of the chefs d’oeuvre of the art of the beautiful handwriting belong to the field of so called sacred calligraphy. Excerpts from holy scriptures of different nations remain the main domain of modern calligraphers“ creativity, meditation, and research. Some of the museum’s exhibits are very well known across the word. The Decalogue (or the Ten Commandment), for example, the only printed exhibit, though printed by hand on an old nineteenth century press is a unique work of art. Another sacred calligraphy masterpiece is a World Famous Mezuzah, a sacred Hebrew vellum scroll, created by Israeli calligrapher Avraham Borshevsky enlisted into the Guinness World Records.

This exposition is now complemented by another colossal work: the I-Ching (sixty-four characters from the Classic Book of Changes) by Valeryan Bakharyov. According to the author, the Classic Book of Changes states that every fragment of our lives has a meaning of its own. Every trifle of a detail has a universal purport. His style is distinguished by subtle expressiveness; his works are saturated with meaningful colours, which is unusual for calligraphy. Mr. Bakharyov believes one must find his own “entry point” for each picture to follow the timeless line, which is the key to unlock a calligraphic image.

While Bakharyov sees calligraphy as a means of artistic message expression, Apollinaria Mishina regards copying sacred texts as “the only way to grasp the hidden meanings of the Holy Scripture”. She wrote the phrase “For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38, KJV) in a way that the letters form a three domed cathedral, thus the Word had literally become the Temple. “As an artist and a calligrapher I always write to read. It is important that my audience should become readers”, Apollinaria explained, “Doing calligraphy largely teaches the individual to be a good reader rather than a good writer.”

Today, in the era of computer technology, when the vigourous scratching of the pen gives way to the monotonous clicking of the keyboard, the art of beautiful handwriting, unjustly forgotten in twentieth-century Russia, is coming back: new calligraphy schools are opened; national handwriting traditions are being researched. Despite the fact that the profession of a calligrapher, dating as far back as fifteenth-century Russia, has become almost obsolete, the surviving masters from around the world gather together to join their effort and share their invaluable experience.

However, Russian calligraphers often find themselves in a deadlock, for they have no access to authentic ancient manuscripts kept in libraries and museums. This issue has been raised by Pyotr Chobitko, head of Russia’s first National School of Calligraphy. According to the “wordmaster”, currently we do not have a single comprehensive manual on calligraphy, which is a great shame. To compare with, the students of the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo used to pore over the art of beautiful handwriting for eighteen hours a week. In the Orient world, calligraphy practice was considered to be as important as mastering martial arts; both of them were regarded as a way of building-up willpower and self-improvement. “The ultimate antidote from all sickness is a pen and a brush gently put into your hand, for calligraphy is not only the art of perfect handwriting, but also the art of perfect spirit”, the artist declares.

A few masterpieces by Pyotr Chobitko and his apprentices will be showcased at the exhibition. The Booklet about the Book is one of them. Each page spread is written in a different style of Old Russian writing: the Greek Uncial, the Uncial and Half-uncial Cyrillic book hand, the Russian Cyrillic ornate lettering and the Russian Cyrillic cursive handwriting. Another prominent permanent exhibit is the unique handwritten copy of the Constitution of the Russian Federation by the same author.

Irina Anisimova

Source: The Novye Izvestia (newspaper)

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