Proto-Gothic An Overview


What:         Proto-gothic is an 11th and 12th century transitional minuscule script between Carolingian Minuscule (Caroline) and Gothic Textura and Gothic Precisus.  Both Gothic Textura and Gothic Precisus come from the Proto-Gothic.  It has characteristics of both donor scripts but is not fully one or the other.  There is a lot of reasonable disagreement about what proto-gothic is because of this.

Other Names: – Late Carolingian

                             – Ecriture Gothique Primitiv
                             – Littera Minuscula Protogothica Documentaria Semicursiva
                             – Early Gothic

Characteristics:    Script has caroline forms but is “stiffer” or “sharper” in appearance.  Serifs lose their caroline club shape and become split or curved beak serifs.  At the beginning of the 12th century the letter forms have vertical shafts including the letter “a”.  Most letter forms, including the “f” and tall “s” now sit on the baseline instead of piercing below it.  Notable exceptions are “g” “j” “p” “q” “y” and the bow of the “h”.  Connecting strokes in the letters become hairlines.  By the end of the 12th century the connector strokes have “scrunched” toward the beginning of the letter and are the lozenges we expect when looking at gothic.[1]

Below is a wonderful matrix created by THL Geffrei Maudeleyne.  It is such a wonderful resource to have.  He has a blank version that you can then cut and paste letters to for your own reference or for sharing with others.

The manuscripts used to populate this matrix are:

Poole 136

Poole 18

Script Analysis chart - Proto-gothic

History:      In the 11th century the regions where modern day England, France and Belgium are closest are ruled by the Normans, Flanders (northwest part of modern day Belgium) and a group known as the Angevins.[2]  We see the first proto-gothics coming from St Peter’s in Ghent (which is located in modern day Belgium).  This occurred under the provost (and later abbot) Wichard (1034-1058 AD).[3]  Trade across the English Channel was strong in the 11th and 12th century and the change in the script came about because of the intermingling between the groups. 

The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 certainly helped the scripts blend and superseded the English Anglo-Saxon writing that was dominant at that time in England.[4]  The ongoing open intercourse of these regions of culture and trade included literary works and to some extent scribes as well.  This exchange was so pervasive that there is difficulty in determining the origin and often date of literary works from this region at the time.  By the start of the 12th century the script was making its way into what is modern day Scandinavia, Spain, Germany and down into the Italian Peninsula.[5]  In Germany it took on stark pointed hard forms and contrarily in Italy it took on pointed but still round forms.  The rise of the Universities throughout England and Western Europe at this time also helped spread this script and modify it.[6]

Summary:  Proto-gothic as a transitional script never seems to stay still either in form or geography.  The letter forms are regularly in flux starting with the caroline forms and over the next 200 years transforming into the Gothic Scripts.  The areas of Northern France and Belgium and Southern England are where the script had its beginnings.  This area had a strong commercial and cultural exchange that included to literary and scribe exchanges as well.  The Norman Conquest brought the script in as the preferred script for England and quickly replaced Anglo-Saxon scripts even as it was influenced by them.  The script (and eventually Gothic) became almost universal in Western Europe as it travelled into Spain, Germany and down into Italy in the 12th century A.D.  Most historians seem to agree that this script died off in the late 12th century and early 13th century as its descendant script Gothic came into its own fully formed way of writing.

[1] Ganz, Bernhard Bischoff. 1990. Latin Palaeography Antiquity & the Middle Ages. Translated by Daibhi Croinin & David Ganz. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pg 128

[2] Brown, Michelle P. 2007. A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (Thompson 2008) Pg 72

[3]Ganz, Bernhard Bischoff. 1990. Latin Palaeography Antiquity & the Middle Ages. Translated by Daibhi Croinin & David Ganz. New York: Cambridge University Press.Pg 127

[4]Thompson, Sir Edward Maunde. 2008. The History of English Writing AD 700 – 1400. Richmond: Tiger and Strip. Pg 42

[5] Brown, Michelle P. 2007. A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (Thompson 2008) Pg 73

[6] Drogin, Marc. 1980. Medieval Calligraphy Its History and Technique. New York: Dover Publications Inc.Pg 131

 

2 responses to “Proto-Gothic An Overview

  1. Hope you don’t think I am being fussy as I do enjoy reading your blogs. I noticed a few mistakes in the one above: the Norman Conquest was in 1066, it’s Flanders not Flounders (I guess that is the fault of the auto-correct) and Angevin.

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