What does the phrase “a fine Italian hand” mean and Where does it come from?

The expression “a fine Italian hand” is used to mean characteristic or individual style, and it may be in a favorable sense or an unfavorable one.

Thus we may say that we see a certain artist’s “fine Italian hand” in a piece of work, intending thereby to say that we are able to detect his handiwork by some characteristic feature.

Or we may also detect the “fine Italian hand” of a politician who, secretly, is up to some sculduggery. But this is merely an example of how meanings are altered when the source of a phrase has been forgotten.

The “Italian hand” referred to is the handwriting that was introduced into England from Italy some three hundred years ago which was “fine” in comparison with the heavy Gothic or Old English (or “black letter”) handwriting of the preceding centuries.

Germany was among the last of the nations to adopt the “Roman” type in printing and “Italian” handwriting, but we in America have never known any other style, except as we see it in old manuscripts or books.