Sunday, August 25, 2013

Working Scripts for (Somewhat) Ordinary Books

  Standard paleography textbooks tend to categorise scripts neatly, then present the finest or most representative of each type, giving the whole process of medieval handwriting an aura of greater order and system than it really has. I quite regularly get emails from users of the site who claim that the piece of medieval writing that they are trying to untangle doesn't look like any of the examples in books, or on the website for that matter. I have started a process of putting up samples of scripts on Medieval Writing which are just a little bit ordinary, not quite as standard as the archetypes and generally a bit more real world. Many of them are from the bits of medieval detritus that are floating around the world at the moment.
  The current project is to indicate that the French term bâtarde covers a great range of styles and types, some of them exquisitely beautiful and legible and others a bit scratchy and hard to untangle. The latest example comes from a leaf from a little 15th century Flemish book of hours, with delicious little jewelled gilded initials and a bit of medievally leaf spray in the margins, but somewhat hasty and spiky calligraphy. It was probably somebody's wondrous treasure, but most likely not the Duchess of Whatsit.
  No matter how many classificatory schemes we cook up, and how many generic schools of writing have existed, handwriting is always an individual and unique expression. That's why we love even the scruffiest little scraps of parchment we can find. They represent the last traces of somebody's individuality.

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