Skip to main content

Gothic Textualis: Paleography

Section 4: Fully-formed Textualis

By the 13th century, a script emerged that incorporated all of the above features with a much more marked emphasis on angularity, with upright strokes and diagonal linking lines as the building-blocks of letters. This is Textualis, the book script par excellence of the later Middle Ages and the model for the earliest European printing types.

Textualis proper has the lateral compression of Protogothic, but even more marked, because nearly all the strokes that make up the letters are thick vertical strokes. Even notionally “curved” letters, like c and o, come to be composed of straight and diagonal strokes, with marked contrast between thick and thin. Ends of letters are finished with angular hairlines, sharp forks, or lozenge-shaped finials. The proportionately large minim height and small ascender/descender length become even more marked. Space between lines gets smaller. The result is a highly-compressed, angular script that appears dense on the page.

This 14th-century manuscript in a highly calligraphic form of Textualis (by a woman scribe!) shows clearly the salient characteristics of the script: verticality and angularity, with the vertical strokes that make up the letters forming a regular rhythm along the line of writing:

Germany (Cologne, Convent of the Poor Clares), before 1357 CE

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

In it, you can see the fully-developed results of the changes in letterforms we saw in Protogothic:

snippet of manuscript showing Gothic OR

This is or. The 2-shaped form of r after o has become standard. (Look at the second line from the top and the second and third lines from the bottom in the left-hand column.)

snippet of manuscript showing Gothic characters: i-h-u

This is ihu, an abbreviation for iesu. The right-hand stroke of h curves around and descends below the baseline.


snippet of manuscript showing Gothic characters: a-p-l-i-s

These letters are aplis, an abbrevation for apostolis. The a shows another development of later-medieval Textualis: the upper stroke has become closed, so that the letter has, in effect, two “stories.” The p in the word here and the q in the following detail show how short descenders have become.


snippet of manuscript showing Gothic dei et domi

This quo shows how notionally “round” letters come to be made up of straight strokes...


snippet of Gothic manuscript showing Latin dei et domi

... as does this detail, which reads dei et domi-


In the dei et domi- detail above, you can see another defining feature of Textualis, the so-called “biting” (or “fusion”) of opposing bows. Whenever the bows of two “rounded” letters face each other, those letters are written so that the bows overlap. In effect, since bows in Textualis are constructed of straight lines, this means that the two letters share one vertical stroke where they overlap. You can see the “biting” of de and of do in the words above. (Note that this is only possible once d has assumed its “Uncial” form, with the stem leaning over to the left and with a curve — or, in Textualis, a notional curve — on the right where it faces the next letter.)

The dei et domi- detail above is also a good place to see how the consistent treatment of the feet of minims contributes to the rhythm of the script.

In more rapidly-written forms of Textualis, fewer strokes are used, and strokes that are genuinely curved may appear, but the same sense persists that the script has a rhythm of evenly-spaced, heavy, parallel upright strokes. This late-13th-century breviary gives a good sense of the typical page of Gothic Textualis. Can you spot any of the individual letterforms mentioned above in this manuscript? Can you find an instance of biting of opposing bows?

Northeast France, ca. 1290-1310

HMML, Bethune Breviary, MS 2, f. 7r. Used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.


Compare this manuscript to the Protogothic examples from the previous century earlier in this lesson, and to the Carolingian manuscripts in the last unit. See if you can identify the relationship between the forms of individual letters and the look of the script as a whole.