Latin Paleography From Antiquity to the Renaissance [by A. M. Piazzoni]

10.1 Insular majuscule (or round insular)

The insular capital script was called by those (Lowe) who mainly highlighted the structure of the writing, substantially inserted into a bilinear system. The same script was also called insular semi-Uncial by those (Schiaparelli) who considered that the writing derived mainly from semi-Uncial. Actually, it is a script that comes from semi-Uncial, which essentially retains the same letter shape, but with a decisive reduction of ascenders and descenders (hence its other denomination as litterae tunsae, just like semi-Uncial), and with a general roundness that makes it today most preferably called, ROUND INSULAR. However, it still has retained some Capital letters and the d in Uncial form. It is characterized by heavy strokes and also by a decorative motif consisting of a sort of full triangle with a vertex at the bottom (“wedge”) applied to high shafts and other vertical strokes.

Alfabeto insulare rotonda2.jpg
Alphabet of Round Insular (Barb. lat. 570)

Characteristic letters:

  • d: preferably in Uncial form, but can also be found in minuscule form with a straight shaft;
  • f: capitalized;
  • g: in a semi-Uncial form;
  • n: sometimes capitalized, sometimes minuscule;
  • r: capitalized;
  • s: capitalized.

Round Insular is considered a script used for de luxe manuscripts and used mainly for biblical and liturgical texts. While it was in use from the 7th to the 10th century, its peak occurred in the 8th century, when some of the best known and most beautiful codices were made, including the Book of Kells, (Dublin, Trinity College 58). A good example is Barb. lat. 570 (Barberini Gospel), from the 8th century.