Script, Humanistic


Script, Humanistic
   Letter-forms developed by humanists of the late 14th and early 15th centuries who disliked the elaborate and often nearly illegible handwriting that dominated not only informal writing but also official documents and the copying of books in the high and late medieval period. (These medieval letter-forms are now commonly called "gothic" or "blackletter.") The Florentine chancel-lor Coluccio Salutati experimented with simplified letter-forms that he found in some of his oldest manuscripts of ancient authors, but the person who transformed these beginnings into a dictinctively new type of writing was Salutati's young disciple Poggio Bracciolini. While still living in Florence before 1404, Poggio seems to have used a striking new script. This style was based on the handwriting found in the best and oldest manuscripts of classical authors avail-able in Florence. Poggio and Salutati assumed that this clear, legible handwriting was the script used by the ancient Romans, hence they labelled it antiqua littera ("ancient letter") or "Roman letters," being totally unaware that the manuscripts they admired were written in what palaeographers now call Carolingian minuscule, a script devel-oped by Frankish scribes of the ninth century. The new humanistic handwriting was probably also influenced by letter-forms found in ancient Roman inscriptions.
   For many Italian humanists, it came to be the preferred script for copying books, especially classical Latin books, though traditional medieval forms of handwriting continued to dominate the writing of legal documents, business records, and vernacular books. While the earliest printers after 1450, being Germans, used "gothic" letters, eventually the new "roman" letters were widely used in Italy for the printing of classical literary texts. Gothic or blackletter typefaces re-mained in use for many purposes, and north of the Alps they re-mained dominant even longer, though the spread of Italian humanism led to the use of the "roman" typefaces (still called by that name in modern typography) by some printers and for some purposes, such as the printing of Latin.
   Humanistic script also followed a second, closely related line of development. Since the "roman" letters were not cursive, they could not be written so rapidly as cursive scripts. A second Florentine as-sociate of Salutati, the humanist Niccolô Niccoli, developed an alter-native handwriting that was also modelled on the supposedly "an-cient" (but actually Carolingian) manuscripts but was cursive, suited to more rapid, informal copying, with ligatures joining letters and a slanted, sloping apearance. This was the script that later came to be known as "italic." Its use for the printing of books is associated es-pecially with the great Venetian printer Aldus Manutius at the end of the 15th century. Thus the Florentine humanists of the early 15th century originated the two major humanistic scripts on which most modern typefaces are based, roman and italic.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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