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Humanist Manuscripts: Paleography

Section 2: Humanist Minuscule

Poggio’s reformed script brought back the small minim-height and careful spacing of his Caroline models. The change in aspect and aesthetics from Gothic script is striking. This manuscript, written in Florence around the year 1410, was copied from one written by Poggio and closely imitates his handwriting:

St. Gallen, Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung, VadSlg Ms. 298, f.2r. (



Poggio’s new script was systematically purged of Gothic scribal habits, both in spelling and in the choice of letterforms. The letterforms of Humanist minuscule are essentially those of Caroline minuscule. If you recall the changes in letterforms that mark the transition from Caroline to Gothic, you will have a sense of the changes that Poggio rolled back. The most important are:

  • upright d replaced Uncial d
  • tall s was reintroduced at word-end in place of round s
  • the u form of u/v replaced v, which had become normal in Gothic cursives at the beginning of words.

All these changes are seen in these details from the manuscript above:

partial line of Humanist text from manuscript genus si ad uerbum


In addition, the ampersand (e-t ligature) replaced the Tironian et, which had taken over in all Gothic scripts by the 13th century.

However, purging a script of the training of a lifetime and of scribal habits that are all around in the culture is as difficult as eliminating anachronisms from the language of a historical novel. Even in very careful imitations of Poggio’s new script, Gothic habits slip in. These details from the same manuscript show an Uncial d and a Tironian et, plus an Italian Gothic form of the con- abbreviation, slipped in among careful uses of final tall s and other reformed features:

three partial lines of text showing detail from St. Gallen manuscript      
several partial lines of Humanist text from manuscript

Details above from St. Gallen, Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung, VadSlg Ms. 298, f.2r. (


Another early-15th-century Humanist manuscript by a scribe from the north of Italy shows round ss and hints of biting where the round parts of h and e meet — both Gothic features, which, strictly speaking, should not be there:

first four lines of main text of Bodmer 137 manuscript
Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 137, f. 1r. (www.e‑


If you are ever in doubt about whether you are looking at a Carolingian manuscript or a Humanist imitation of Caroline, look for this telltale Gothic slip-up.