Medieval Writing
Gothic Variations (2)
From the 13th century to the end of manuscript book production in the late 15th and 16th centuries, Gothic textura became, in a minor range of variants, a relatively standardised form of book hand. Initially used for all types of books, it gradually became more restricted and by the mid 15th century was mainly confined to larger and more formal volumes, such as Bibles, psalters or missals for public use in church. More rapidly written compact and cursive hands were used for less formal or smaller productions.

The Bodleian Library shows an elegant Cistercian missal with coloured initial and rubrics and Gothic textura script from the early 13th century in France (MS Bywater adds 2, f.4r), while the "Creating French Culture" exhibition displays a page with miniature, border and Gothic textura script from the 14th century Psalter of Jean de Berry in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Fr 13091)

This map shows developments in the 13th century.
Gothic textura Gothic textura in a late 12th century Bible (Paris. Bibliothèque St Geneviève, MS 8-10). (From New Palaeographical Scoiety 1907)
In the highly angular form of Gothic textura used in France, England and Germany, the script became very upright and compressed. In its fully developed form, certain letters are joined by sharing upright strokes, a process referred to as "biting of bows".
conjoined letters
Sample rom a late 13th century copy of the Historia Scholastica of Petrus Comestor (British Library, Royal 3D VI, f.234). (From New Palaeographical Society 1903)
In the above example, the letters d and o are conjoined in the word sacerdotum.
The appearance is very dense and neat but it can be difficult to read, particularly in the less formal and more compressed variations. Small letters are formed from a series of short hooked upright strokes called minims. This can lead to particular problems in sorting out the letters i, n, m and u when they appear grouped together.
Gothic capital The antique Roman majuscule scripts were abandoned for display headings as Gothic developed its own elaborate capitals. These could develop fine and spidery penwork decorations, or be enhanced with coloured painted designs or gold leaf for added significance.
Intricate capital letter on a leaf from a 15th century book of hours, by permission of the University of Tasmania Library.
Paleographers employ an impressive array of Latinate technical terms to designate variants of Gothic textura and also what they term grades, or degrees of formality of the hand. While these ought to be able to provide a comprehensive classification system, there is some variation in the terms and their use. It is also an attempt to place into categories something which actually exists as a continuum. The number of categories is at the discretion of the classifier; it does not represent an actuality in terms of discrete classes which any trained eye could distinguish. (See Brown 1990 for some examples of these terms. )
One of the most formally constructed types of Gothic book hand is known as textura quadrata, or textualis quadrata. In this form of script, the bases of the letters have neatly constructed angular feet with a narrow hairline shooting off diagonally from the base. This is also commonly known as Black Letter Gothic. It was the type adapted for print typefaces and may still be found in newspaper titles.
textura quadrata Textura quadrata in a 13th century psalter from a private collection. (From New Palaeographical Society 1905)
Textura quadrata or Black Letter Gothic also became the standard script for inscriptions, either in stone or brass funerary memorials or on stained glass.
funrary brass Rubbing of an inscription on a funerary brass of 1460 in Bishop Burton church, Yorkshire.
Panel of a stained glass window in All Saints, North Street parish church, York.
stained glass
The example at right illustrates a poem, The Prick of Conscience, and shows the last days of the world. Lines of the poem appear in Gothic script in the English language beneath each panel.
Textura prescissa, or textualis prescissa, is also a highly formal book hand in which the bases of letters are cut off straight, parallel to the marking lines. This style was reserved for very formal volumes as the penwork is laborious. It is also called textura prescissa sine pedibus, referring to the lack of feet.
textura prescissa Textura prescissa as displayed in the 14th century Luttrell Psalter, now in the British Library. (From New Palaeographical Society 1904)
Textura rotunda refers to a Gothic book hand of less formal grade in which the bases of the letters are finished not with formal feet, but with a simple upward flourish. This is not the same as the rotunda script of northern Italy. Ambiguities of nomenclature are rampant in paleography. An intermediate grade in which some letters are finished off with feet and others only with a flourish can be termed textura semi-quadrata. Within each of these grades, terms are used to designate the size and precision of execution of the script. For example, the term formata is used to designate a very well executed and formal script.
From the 12th century onward, smaller and slightly simplified variants of Gothic textura were introduced for the glosses, or commentaries which accompanied the text of many works, and for smaller books such as the miniature Bibles of the 13th century. These scripts were more rapidly written and very compact.

The Bodleian Library shows a heavily glossed page from the Decretals of Gregory IX (MS, f.2r). The gloss completely surrounds the text.

13th century Bible Sample of text from a Bible of the early 13th century (British Library, Arundel MS 303, f.56b). (From The New Palaeographical Society 1911)
This example shows the tiny letters, multiple abbreviations and somewhat simplified letter forms in a script which has no cursive qualities.
The universities of Paris and Oxford produced their own variant, very dense and highly abbreviated, for the production of heavily glossed textbooks. At the university of Bologna, the script for textbooks was a variant of rotunda, retaining the roundness of the Italian script but highly abbreviated and packed into tightly spaced lines. It has been dignified with its own title, littera Bononiensis, or littera Gothica textualis rotunda Bononiensis for those with a preference for more generous and flowing classificatory titles. (See Bischoff 1990)
legal text A more rapidly written and abbreviated style of Gothic textura from a collection of legal proceedings, from a private collection. (From New Palaeographical Society 1903)
A very plain and rapidly written Gothic script which has no cursive qualities has been designated scriptura notularis. It was used for such things as legal and medical texts. However, the increasing usage of the written word required the development of more rapidly written scripts.


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History of Scripts
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