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Gothic Textualis: Paleography

Section 7: Southern Textualis

The script whose evolution and characteristics we have been studying in this lesson is, strictly speaking, Northern Textualis. The Mediterranean countries — Italy, Spain, and southern France — had a variant form of Textualis that has traditionally been known as Rotunda. In Albert Derolez’s taxonomy of scripts, this script is called Southern Textualis.

© The British Library Board, Add. 34294, f. 14v.

Features of Southern Textualis

Southern Texualis is like Northern Textualis in its repertory of letterforms, including Uncial-style d and s, 2-shaped r following round letters, and the Tironian et; in observing the rule of biting or fusion of opposing bows; in having a large minim-height in proportion to ascenders and descenders; and in having a marked contrast between thin and thick penstrokes.

It is unlike Northern Textualis in that its round letters are truly round. In Southern Textualis, letters like b, c, d, e, o, and p have generous curved strokes where Northern Textualis has “curves” that are actually composed of several straight and angled strokes. Partly as a result of this use of generous curves, Southern Textualis is far less laterally compressed than Northern Textualis.

Compare a page of Southern Textualis from the late 15th century to one in Northern Textualis at a comparable level of execution:

Southern Textualis

© The British Library Board, Add. 34294, f. 14v.  

Northern Textualis

Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek, Cod. 149, f. 50r.

You can see the difference in lateral compression at a glance: the Southern Textualis manuscript on the left feels very spacious compared to the Northern Textualis manuscript on the right. Then compare how o is made in each script. The first letter of the Southern example sets the tone, and you will find other examples throughout the page: the normal Southern Textualis o is constructed of two curved strokes and it reads as quite round. Then look at the os in the Northern example. There is one at the beginning of the third line, and you can find other examples. The Northern Textualis o is constructed entirely of straight lines, and it is much narrower than the Southern Textualis version.

The following details show the similarities and differences between the two scripts.

Here is the same word, dei, in both scripts. They both show Textualis’s characteristic “biting” of opposing bows where the d and the e face each other. Note how in the Southern version at left, the bows are really bows — they curve, and the curving strokes overlap — whereas the ostensible curves at right are all made up of straight strokes, with one vertical stroke shared between the two letters.

Compare the ds, too. Both are the “Uncial” d, with a stem that leans over to the left (as opposed to the Half-Uncial/Caroline d, whose stem is upright). But in Southern Textualis, the stem of d leans so far over to the left that it is horizontal, and it appears to be part of a continuous curve with the rest of the letter. (In fact, the letter is made up of at least three strokes.) This d is one of the telltale signs of Southern Textualis.





In these words, where p meets o at left, and d meets o at right, we see the same difference in how biting works in the two scripts.




On the other hand, in the ea below, you can see how Southern Textualis shares angular elements with the Northern version, particularly in the use of diagonal hairlines to join parts of letters.



There are several features to note in the Southern Textualis et defunctis below. This detail begins with the Tironian et, the 7-shaped mark of abbreviation. In Southern Textualis, the Tironian et is confined to minim height and its horizontal stroke is proportionally broad, in keeping with the proportions of the script. Its upright is never crossed, as it generally is in later versions of Northern Textualis.

In this example, you see again the Southern Textualis version of d with the stem leaning way over to the left. At the same time, you can see that even though many letters are rounded, minims are still straight and parallel, as in the Northern version. You need to look closely, count minims, and have a good knowledge of Latin to tell u from n, especially when they are sitting next to each other.


 et defunctis


Here you see the Southern version of Tironian et again, at left, and you can compare the 2-shaped r in both scripts. The r itself is virtually identical. The “round” o that precedes it is genuinely round in the Southern version at left, but it is made up of straight lines in the Northern version at right.

 et in hora



Southern Textualis: Dates and distribution

Southern Textualis originates in Italy and was the normal version of Textualis in the Mediterranean region, but books in this script were also produced elsewhere in Europe. The diffusion of the script has a number of different causes. A smaller and less formal version of Southern Textualis, known as the littera bononiensis, was the normal script of canon law books emanating from the University of Bologna, which was the center of canon law studies from the late 11th century. Those manuscripts were widely distributed across Europe, so people in regions where Northern Texualis was normal would also have been familiar with Southern Textualis. And in the era of printing, typographic versions of Southern Textualis were widely used for the same purpose.

The later Middle Ages, especially the 14th to 16th centuries, were also the age of professional scribes and private patronage of book production. Such an economy of books meant that a particular script was far less bound to a particular location than had been the case in the age of monastic book production. Southern scribes wrote Southern Textualis for northern European patrons, and vice-versa.


Southern Textualis: Page design

Because of the wide range of its dates and geographic distribution, as well as the early development of Renaissance art in the script’s Italian homeland, we find Southern Textualis in manuscripts of every decorative style of the later Middle Ages. The manuscript we have been looking at above has an entirely Renaissance-style, classicizing frame, which we might expect to accompany the Humanist scripts we will study at the end of this course. But canon law books in Southern Textualis come with page layouts that resemble the complex, text-dense pages of the glossed biblical manuscripts we looked at earlier in this lesson. You could identify them as Gothic from across the room. Southern Textualis is also used, with musical notation, in many of the giant choirbooks that survive from late medieval and Renaissance Spain and Italy. These are the kinds of books in which you are most likely to see Southern Textualis in North American collections.

If you read Latin and would like to try deciphering some manuscripts in Textualis, go to the Gothic Textualis Transcription lesson. Otherwise, go ahead to the Visigothic and Beneventan Paleography lesson to learn about other scripts used in Spain and Italy.