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Carolingian Manuscripts: Paleography

Section 2: Caroline Minuscule: Aspect and Letterforms

Aspect: Caroline Minuscule is neither compressed nor spaced out laterally. Caroline Minuscule has a comparatively small minim height and is normally written with plenty of space between lines. That feature, combined with generally careful word-spacing and regular letter-spacing, lends the script a tidy, upright appearance. Plenty of space between lines also means that the page as a whole has an open, spacious feel.

Note the relationship between the small minim-height and large space between one line and the next.

 several lines of text from Carolingian minuscule manuscript   with a  horizontal line showing the average heights of the  characters on one line
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 116, p. 3. (www.e-codices.unifr.ch)

Large spaces between lines and plenty of space in the margin lend this Carolingian manuscript page a characteristically open, legible appearance.

full page  of manuscript showing the  margins
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 116, p. 3. (www.e-codices.unifr.ch)

 


Letterforms

Most of the letterforms of Caroline Minuscule will be familiar from Half-Uncial or from our modern alphabet:

 Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian  letter a

a is a development of uncial A, with a sloping stroke on the right poking just a little way above the lobe on the left.

 

Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian  letter d

The d has an upright ascender, as in Half-Uncial.

 

 Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian letter s

s is always tall, at beginning, middle, and end of words; the rounded Uncial s is not used.

 

Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian  letter r

Be careful not to confuse tall s with r. In this script, as in most medieval minuscules, s has a higher shoulder that reaches up above minim-height, whereas r's shoulder is a little flourish at  minim-height, or, in some varieties, a sharp point at the top followed by a downward flourish.

 

Snippet of  manuscript showing Latin word manifesta

Also note the difference between f and s. This word is manifesta.

 

 Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian  letters e and t

e typically has a tongue that reaches out to the right and may join up with following the following letter, as it does with t here. The upright stroke of t reaches barely or not at all above its cross-stroke.

 

Snippet of  manuscript showing Carolingian  letter g

A form that is new to medieval script with Caroline Minuscule is the g, with a bow on the baseline and another on the tail, both facing left. Individual scribes’ g’s may be very distinctive and are a good way to spot a change of hand in a manuscript, but they will usually follow this general form.

All images above are from St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 116, p. 3. (www.e-codices.unifr.ch)