A look at the writing of the MAGNA GLOSSATURA IN PSALMOST

As I mentioned in my post of June 23, 2013 in the Lilly Library this manuscript is shelfmarked as Ricketts 20.  Written in the very early part of the 13th century in Germany most likely in Weissenau.

Large text block in two columns    27 cm tall

Large text block in two columns 27 cm tall

Large Text Block in two columns.  About 17 cm wide

Large Text Block in two columns. About 17 cm wide


The interlinear spacing is approximately 6 mm.  27 cm = 270 mm. 270/6 = 45 lines.  45 lines in two columns per page.  Each line has approximately 30 characters. That is a lot of writing.  My observations throughout the manuscript show that there are two letter x heights used.  One is approximately 2.5 mm and is the most common. The other is rarer at approximately 4 mm in height.

As much writing as there is, apparently there could have been much more.  Each page shows that the use of abbreviations is extremely common.

We see more than 50 abbreviations in this picture of just part of one page

We see more than 50 abbreviations in this picture of just part of one page

We also see how the columns were split.using two roughly equal blocks of space. The purpose of using columns instead of just writing all the way across the page is to give the eye a break.  Today we use much of the same rules when we write books and should use these rules elsewhere.  When I first started doing calligraphy I was told that we should rarely go over 25 characters a line and never more then 30 characters a lines simply because the human eye doesn’t like to deal with that much text without a quick break. If you go past that the human eye begins to reject what it is seeing and the reader begins to feel some uneasiness in reading the text.

Two Rubricated (red) capital "A"s.  And even more abbreviations.

Two Rubricated (red) capital “A”s. And even more abbreviations.

We see here that the rubricated (red) capitals are allowed to take up some of the center column.  Why would the scribe make that choice when they otherwise are rigidly following the restrictions of the center column?  Rubrication in calligraphy is when you draw a letter or word using red ink.  The word comes from the Latin word “rubricare,” meaning “to color red.”  In some manuscripts entire lines are written using red  inks.  This is used to draw the eye and it also causes the brain to set up the page into sections that are otherwise not really there.  Offsetting the capital letters to take up space in the center column adds another eye catching technique enhancing the effect.  I would be remiss to note that some words have been underlined using the same red ink as a different way to draw the attention of the eye and thus the reader.

What about the script?

Split serifs of late Carolingian Minuscule.  Rigidity of Gothic starting to shape the letters

Split serifs of late Carolingian Minuscule. Rigidity of Gothic starting to shape the letters

The experts call this script Gothic Textura.  I call this a transitional script between Carolingian Minuscule and Gothic.  We see the split serifs of late Carolingian Minuscule in use here on the:  b, d, h, i, l, and u.  It is sometimes present on the letter p.  The letters m and n lack the split serif preferring instead to have the more easily formed “hook” serif.  Carolingian in the later forms seems to have preferred to put beak serifs on the letters i, m, n, p r, u, and y.

Carolingian is a round script putting the pen angle to the base line between 35 and 45 degrees which roughly correlates to Gothic which seems to prefer the steeper angle.  The c, e and o in Carolingian are rounded letters.  Here in this script we see the straight lines of Gothic flattening out some of the roundedness of these letters.  The flattening most often occurs on the bottom left quadrant of the letter as the scribe is most likely drawing their pen down and to the right.   Also the right side of the o is often flat being almost at ninety degrees to the baseline. Yet in both forms of the letter d we see that the bottom left quadrant of the letter stays rounded despite being essentially the same stroke for the scribe as c, e and o.  It is interesting to note that when we find the letter e at the end of a word or free floating it retains its Carolingian tail that pulls the eye up and to the right of the page.

Letters m and n retain their curved feet from Carolingian Minuscule drawing the eye toward the end of the line. The a and the g retain their rounded bellies though both have altered the stem on the right of the letter to a rigid ninety degrees which is distinctly more Gothic than Carolingian.  The stem of the t has also straightened which is a distinctly Gothic quality.  The belly of the p also has flattened out toward Gothic and away from Carolingian’s roundedness.

I think we can see how this script has qualities of both Carolingian and Gothic scripts.  Transitional scripts like these defy easy categorization because they simply do not fully have all the traits of one script or the other.  It is always important to look at a script and determine what you are seeing.  It could easily be argued that this is simply a more rounded script of Gothic and is not a transitional script at all, were it not for the time it was written in 1200 – 1215 AD.  This time period is known for the end of Carolingian Minuscule and the rise of the more compressed Gothic scripts.

Well my word count is over 900 now so I’ll leave you with some pictures for your viewing pleasure.  Take a look and review the pictures for what qualities of the script you see.

























Sainted bishop writing at a desk, at the upper left a seated angel reaching through the initial to command the writer, and, at the lower left, a demon falling backwards, being snarled at by one of the lion-headed finials of the writer’s chair.

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