Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dr. José Rizal's Penmanship: The Lost Art of Handwriting

The Lost Art of Handwriting: Rizal's Noli me Tangere

I obtained the facsimile of Rizal's Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in handwritten form. It's very inspiring. To write a complete novel in hand written form was the rigeur of the day in 1885 when he first started to write his manuscript.

Let's see how Rizal did it. He purchased writing paper. Oh, maybe 15 to 20 percent fiber stock. It must withstand the india ink and the quill bush stroke. Now we have the 8 by 12 inch size, or the A-4 of the European size. In Rizal's time, what do you think the regular book size manuscript was? It must be bigger. It must contain at least 21 lines in handwritten form. That could mean about 36 inches wide and 48 inches in length.

Imagine the backbreaking belabored hand, writing all 15 chapters in script. I'd be living in eternal hand cramps. We used to have our type writers in the early decade of the 19th century, and now with the 21st century contemporary computers we could delete and paste with entire abandon.

Not so in Rizal's time. He had to think clearly and must possess the linguistic proficiency to know exactly what he was doing and how he was doing it. The eraser for the india ink pen had not yet been been invented. We could actually see Dr. José Rizal's thought processes as he crosses out a word to convey a better nuanced word choice.

It was this manuscript that my ancestor, Dr. Maximo Viola hand carried to Berlin in 1887 to find a suitable and inexpensive printer. In fact, my granduncle provided the 300 pesetas as a loan to have it printed (see my earlier blog).

Rizal's manuscript in written form was beautifully spaced, It was told that his mother first taught him reading and writing. His personal teacher in grade school and those Jesuits at Ateneo shaped his o's and his u's and made him cross his t's and loop his p's elegantly.

I had the rare chance of tracing Rizal's own signature as he signed his name at the Leitmertiz Registry Book when he arrived for a visit with Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt at Leitmeritz, Austria, now Litomérice, Czech Republic, May 1887 (see my July 19, 2010 blog).

Handwriting is so personal and is the only legitimate source of our legal identity. Our name signature or hand writing is our special personal possession and so important that it is protected by the state (albeit the credit card companies) that no other is allowed to use it or imitate it.

In fact of all the ways to understand the real authentic Rizal is to study his signature and penmanship. It is a statement non verbally of who he is. Take a look at his hand written facsimile of the Noli as a manuscript. Note the evenly slanted letters. The ascenders (t, d, b, l, h ) or tall letters, and descenders (g, p. y, q,, z) are drawn in pure contour. Rizal could write straight even without a lined paper!

His m's and n's have mounded shapes, while his u's and w's were negative mounded shapes. It is well to remember that Jose Rizal was a sculptor. In this art form, one is constantly thriving for the clearance of the positive spaces and the negative spaces. Rizal's penmanship is an artist's delight.

His hand writing had a slant. A slightly forward slant conveys energy, a subconscious message of forward action, with cautious conservative pace. In his signature, he used heavy dark lines, not thin and wispy, suggesting muscular power, and intellectual strength. But in the Noli manuscript, we note him using medium lines indicating a "fine line of sensibility and a particular elegance. It conveys an aesthetic almost poetic personality." I'm not using these descriptions to give Rizal's attributes as we know it. I'm actually quoting Betty Edwards's chapter on handwriting as an art form (The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 1999. pp 162-163).

We are not trying Graphology on Rizal's penmanship. Graphologists go into fanciful derivations of how, for example, one large loop of a letter can indicate some personal acquisitive nature. We are talking without question, about the idea of making a line or hand writing related to the principles of art--the basic precepts of composition, balance, movement, rhythm and placement.

Just as art expresses the artist, so does handwriting expresses Rizal's inner personality.

Rizal's signature page is shown below.



Dr. José Rizal's 4th floor apartments, Madrid, 1882.

31, July 2010, Saturday
Firenze, Italia

My instructor, Erin Murphy, an American, is a Florence resident for the past 20 years.

Beginning Monday, my classes will be held in her studio. It's on the 4th floor of an old Firenze building. Knowing that the first floor is ground zero and does not count, that means I will have to go to 5 flights of stairs to the fourth floor.

What has this got to do with my Blog on Rizal? Why? Because José Rizal's apartments in Madrid were always on the 4th piso, (that's our 5th floor) or 3rd piso (that's our equivalent 4th floor). (See my next series of blogs on Rizal's residence in Madrid).

To Erin's Art Studio: I go through the huge wooden creaking facade door. Then a short vestibule with granite and marble stone floor introduces me to the first flight of stairs. I counted 10 steps to the first landing as it turns to another 10 steps into the first floor. Whew! That was 20 hard narbled steps just to reach the first floor.

Finally, 20--80-- and leading to almost nowhere in sight, we finally reach Erin's studio. It is beautiful out there. From the windows I could see the variegated tile roofs of the neighboring buildings, and the shadow of Brunellschi's Duomo. It's so near it seems I could reach out to it, while from afar, and in the distance, cypress trees outline the sky.

From the attic, there's a dangling Manila hemp rope attached to hooks on the side wall. This very narrow wooden steps lead to the rooftop, and then an open portico with potted plans reveal a fantastic view of the whole city of Firenze and the distant hills .

There overlooking this wonderful scene, for the next week of my art lessons, I will learn how to draw and paint the landscape. Expect me to paint the mildewed clay tile roofs below if I run out of subjects.

Back to Rizal.
Rizal's apartment in Madrid had always been on the 4th or 3rd floors. You and I are thinking the Filipino/American idea of naming floors with ground floor as first. The reality is, in all of Europe, our first floor is called the Ground floor. Their First floor is our Second floor.

Rizal who lived on the 4th floor had to negotiate at least 80 or more steps daily to go up, another 80 to go down. He would go up another 80 + steps for the breakfast morning's end back to his quarters, go down to eat lunch, then go up 80 steps to study, and go down to eat dinner, and finally up 80 steps to retire for the day. But he is rewarded every day of access to the rooftop and an awesome view of the whole city of Madrid spread out before him, with several cathedral spires punctuating the sky.

That was his daily grind. There were no cooking facilities in his apartment. Now we know what Filipino students in Madrid had to go through on their daily existence living in a foreign country away from home where in the home country, the highest floor of apartments and residences are only the ground floor and the first floor.

Rizal moved every so often, and always his quarters were up on the 3rd floor (our 4th). I took pictures of the facade of where he lived, but we can just imagine the stairs he had to negotiate with no elevators. However, having climbed Erin's studio up on the 4th floor, I now know exactly how he felt and where he got his feeling of soreness of the joints.

Rizal was a student at the Faculty of Philophy and Letters at the University of Madrid and later at the San Carlos Medical School in Madrid.