Book of Hours- Tours – The Script

As promised in my June 11, 2013 entry I will be covering the script from this book of hours.

The manuscript was written in the second half of the 15th century in the city of Tours.  This time period has been described by some as the pinnacle of the handwritten illuminated manuscript.  It was in the middle of the 15th century that the European printing press with movable type had been invented and after that the handwritten manuscript began to become something for enthusiasts and less for everyday use.  Here in this golden span before the printing press took over the handwritten illuminated manuscript was truly magnificent to behold.  Not just for the illumination but also because of the sure hands that wrote the scripts and the diverse kinds of scripts writing was done in. The reasons for this are many, varied and would fill several book shelves worth of books and in fact do.  Today however, we shall focus on one script in one manuscript.

A typical page without decoration or illumination

A typical page without decoration or illumination

A simple and beautiful script.  It has the interlinear,  intra-word and inter-letter spacing of a gothic script and the roundedness of a cursive or book script.  This script is a Gothic Litrera Bastarda.  I would be remiss to claim that identifying scripts falls into simple easy categories when they do not.  Dennis Hillers (a previous guest blogger) identifies the script this way:  “The Bastarda is a Formata… the odd combination of a cursive [script] and a formal ductus at the same time.   Note the lifts and upstrokes, all similar…talented scribe here”

However we define or categorize this script it is definitely a rounded gothic and in my opinion beautiful.

I want to take a moment to discuss vocabulary here.  As I noted in the “Scribal Glossary” page:

Script – What kind of calligraphy or writing it is.  Example: Uncial Script, Gothic Script, Insular Miniscule Script

Hand – The individual handwriting of the person writing the script.  For example in the Book of Kells we see the scripts of Insular Majuscule and Insular Minuscule. There have been identified three different hands of Insular Majuscule each peculiar to the scribe who was writing.

There are many characteristics about this script that I find very pretty.  The minuscule “a” is simple, efficient, drawn in two strokes and has a very good balance of white space around it.

Click to enlarge details.  The "a" and "b" are beautiful as are other letters.

Click to enlarge details. The “a” and “b” are beautiful as are other letters.

I also like the minuscule “b” and “h”.  Both have a “hook” over the top from the spine of the letter to the right of the page.  The “b” balances this out by having an elongated point a where the spine and base strokes a the bottom left of the letter conjoin.

I do not like how the scribe forms the tall “s” I find the body of the “s” to be fat and the bottom terminal line too thin.  It is an unbalanced letter form that pulls my eye to several places at once.


Of course through usage and time the manuscript does get ab it worn.  This book of hours is wonderful and such issues were rare.

We are also seeing some late medieval abbreviations being used.  The abbreviations can be anything from lines over letters to the descender of a minuscule “p” being crossed.  A short discussion of medieval latin abbreviations can be found here.


At the top of the above picture we see the “snakes” used to hold the manuscript pages in place.  They are fabric tubes filled with lead beads.

Another thing of interest on the above page is the distinct color change in the parchment it is written upon. The whiter part is another piece of parchment laid over the margin of the page.  You can actually see the ridge between the two sheets.  Normally this indicates that a patch of some kind was created.  I didn’t take any pictures of the verso of this page but there were no flaws, breaks, holes or anything on the verso that indicated to me that there was a structural need to patch this margin.  So why is the patch there?  Is there something in the margin that someone wanted hidden?  Likely we shall never know as removing it is potentially destructive to the manuscript and non-destructive means are expensive to use.


You see my thumb nail at the top of this page.  It shows scale pretty well.  The height of two lines of writing could fit into the width of my thumbnail.  Feel free to ignore my thumb and just enjoy the calligraphy.


Some up close shots of the script.  You really get a feel for how the script was formed when you see it up close and magnified.  Notice, there is punctuation.  Also notice that there are abbreviations.  For example the first two “d”s do not have a line coming off of them.  The third “d” in the word “apund” does have a line over it.


No manuscript that I have handled is perfect.  There is an error in this picture that was not corrected by the scribe.  It looks like the ink had a mind of its own. Score one for Titivillus.


I truly find this script to be beautiful despite my dislike of the tall “s.”  I really like how the “p” “o” the half “r” are formed.  The “n” is nicely balanced and the ligatures are simple and makes sense without a lot of unneeded flourishes.

I hope you enjoyed looking through these pictures as much as I enjoyed showing them to you.

Now just for fun, go back and analyze the script for pen angle, x height and how to form the strokes and all the fun things that would let you write this script.


One response to “Book of Hours- Tours – The Script

  1. Pingback: 12 years in the making – Nihthauk’s Bronze Ring Scroll | scribescribbling·

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