Reflections: Aleia McDaniel on an Illuminated Letter P

Getty Art + Ideas
Getty Art + Ideas
Reflections: Aleia McDaniel on an Illuminated Letter P

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Aleia McDaniel discusses her long-held love for cursive and how it relates to an illuminated manuscript from 1180. To learn more about this artwork, visit:

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.

ALEIA MCDANIEL: My name is Aleia McDaniel and I am a curatorial assistant in the department of manuscripts at the Getty Museum.

Growing up I was drawn to cursive. Both of my parents wrote in cursive regularly, my mother exclusively, and my father on important documents, though he preferred printing in all caps most of the time. My grandfather, a retired professor, also used cursive for his everyday writing. I like to think I take after him; he was also a practitioner of the arts.

When most students dropped cursive in junior high, I held on to it. During the stay-at-home order, I was able to clean out a few old and cluttered files, and I found coursework dating back to my early high school career. I was shocked to see the huge change in my handwriting from my high school days. I began to use computers for taking all of my notes during undergrad, and it’s sad to say that my handwriting has almost, degraded in a way. That’s not to say that it’s illegible, but rather it has developed kind of a personality; it’s no longer purely cursive, but it’s also not quite print.
Working from home now has granted me the time not only to focus on developing my own handwriting again, but also the ability to browse the many different calligraphic styles in the Getty’s manuscript collection. When I came across this page from a manuscript written in Germany in 1180, I saw my own hybrid cursive style reflected back at me.

The Initial P is ornate, the red, golds, and blue of the decorated letter reminded me of how I felt when I first learned cursive, overwhelmed. There were so many loops, turns, and decorations that my mind couldn’t comprehend how someone would be able to understand where the word began, or which was the final letter. But as a child, the more I looked at and learned the script, the more I could understand how the detail attached to the calligraphy was not daunting, but rather smooth, inviting.

The flourishes on the other letters on this page give a fluid-like character to the text. The script is a strong and seamless black, but the flow is interrupted by the brightness of the blue and red letters. These bright colors remind me to explore my surroundings.

I’ve been finding inspiration in nature too recently, and the blues on this page remind me of the freedom of the blue sky when I go for a hike. My imagination can go into overdrive while hiking, imaging the creatures that are hidden from our sight, quite like the dragon at the base of the decorated letter P.

I am taking this re-imagined freedom and using it to develop my script even further. Even though the emotional response I have to cursive is not universal, it’s comforting to know that there is a sense of normalcy in the old, and that we can take its style and apply it to our everyday lives. I will continue to use various illuminated manuscripts to help further my understanding of calligraphy, and who knows, maybe my own handwriting might one day gain its own dragon guardian.

CUNO: To view this illuminated initial P, made in Germany around 1180, click the link in this episode’s description, or look for it on

Author: Getty Media

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