The Humanist Script – Manuscript Analysis – Continuing

On April 29, 2013 I posted a basic analysis of calligraphy of a 15th century Italian manuscript.  There is more to analyzing calligraphy than what was shown in that post.  So today we continue with a more or less basic analysis of a script of calligraphy.  These letters have an x height of 2 mm.

Continuing to analyze the humanist script.

Continuing to analyze the humanist script.

Green Circles = Serifs; Red Circles = Ligatures: Purple Circle = Abbreviations: Blue Lines = Mistakes

Serifs are “the small decorative end of a letter, it makes a style beautiful and unique.”  Serifs can really help to define a script and knowing which serifs come when can be key to accurately identifying when a script was written as well as other information.

In this sample we see two kinds of serifs at the tops of some letters.  We see the beak serif and the split serif.  The beak serif looks like the triangle of a beak. The split serif is usually made up of two distinct strokes.  The first “p” is a beak serif.  It is not particularly well formed but we can see it for what it is.  The next letter with a green circle showing us a serif is the first “u.”  The first serif is also a beak serif though it looks like the scribe may have been hurrying when the scribe wrote it. This hypothesis is given some added weight when we look at the second serif in the letter.  In fact we can hardly call it a serif at all.  It is pretty obvious the scribe simply did not finish or do the stroke correctly to create a second beak serif.

Now take a look at the second line, the second letter “d.”  It starts the word “deli.”  That is a split serif.  As we look at the rest of the serifs we can see some serifs that are clearly beak or split serifs.  But for other serifs it can be difficult to tell just what kind of serif was supposed to be being used.  In calligraphy consistency of letter forms is key.  This includes drawing your serifs.  Keeping your intent clear by keeping your strokes clean and crisp really builds the value of your work and the pleasure of those who view your work.  Take your time to view each serif and see if you can determine which serif it is and which serif it was supposed to be.  What would you try to do to fix the issues you are seeing?


Ligatures are strokes that purposefully connect one letter to another letter.  Ligatures often save pen strokes and keep the pen on the writing surface thus lessening the possibility of ink blobs, uneven writing and losing one’s place when copying.  We see in this hand of humanist that there are many ligatures.  Some in places you might not expect.  For example every time the letter “c” is followed by the letter “h” the letter “c” extends and connects to the middle of the letter “h”.  Also we see that the letter “e” connects every time to the letter that comes after it in the same word.  Except for the word “deli.”  For some reason that ligature did not happen.  You may have noticed that I marked it as a mistake.  That is because it is not following the well establish pattern of the “e” connecting to the letter that comes after it in the same word.


One of the more cryptic parts of reading manuscripts is the abbreviations that are used.  Our modern abbreviations are not useful in trying to decipher what these abbreviations being used mean. Fortunately there are several books that cover some of the many abbreviations.  I have a book on abbreviations that is unfortunately out on loan right now.  So I’m using this instead.The no with a line over it could be “nota”.  The crossed “p”s could be “per” “par” or “por” or something else entirely.  Thus is the nature of guessing at period abbreviations, especially if you do not read the language the manuscript was written in.


Take a look at the blue lines I made.  See if you can figure out what the mistake is.  Some are mistakes because they serif is ill formed. Often caused by moving the pen back and forth to get the ink to flow, but not keeping the pen in the same line when doing so.  Sometimes it is because of a missed ligature or a ligature that may not belong there.

I hope you enjoyed this continuing analysis.

One response to “The Humanist Script – Manuscript Analysis – Continuing

  1. Pingback: 1450 – 1499 French Batarde | scribescribbling·

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