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

10.2 Insular minuscule

Another type of insular writing that is more rapid and handy, and in cursive form, was used for manuscripts that were less demanding than the ones made with round script. This script developed at the end of the 7th century and is called INSULAR MINUSCULE. Its origin is debatable, but along with the process of round insular becoming cursive and a significant increase in the strokes, paleographers also hypothesize a possible connection to Roman models, made in primitive minuscule and not in semi-Uncial. Insular Minuscule is characterized by a somewhat artificial hatching of letters, with sharp arches in the curves (loops and small arches), very prolonged descenders, enlargement of the wedges at the beginning of the ascenders, and some particular ligatures. It is the most widely used insular script. In Ireland a particular variant of minuscule also developed, with a more squared aspect, called pointed hand.

Alfabeto insulare2.jpg
Alphabet of Insular Minuscule (Pal. lat. 202)

Characteristic letters:

  • a: can be closed or open; at the beginning of a word sometimes it adopts a shape that is similar to Uncial;
  • p and q: with a loop that makes an acute angular form at the top;
  • r: rather acute, it has the form of a tiny n with the first shaft elongated at the bottom, as is sometimes seen in Roman papyri in cursive;
  • s: with the upper stroke reduced;
  • t: the upper part is horizontal, without a loop, and the lower one is round (in the shape of a sickle).

In the years 680-691, Insular Minuscule had already developed into its almost definitive form, a date proven by the Bangor antiphonary (Milan, Ambrosiana, C.5 inf.). Its period of splendor was in the 9th century. In the 10th century, in competition with Caroline, on the one hand, it grew rounder, but on the other, it grew stiffer. After the Norman invasion and the battle of Hastings (1066), use of the script became severely limited in England, whereas it continued its course in Ireland, and, under extreme conditions and several modifications, passed into the printing of Gaelic characters.

Examples of Insular Minuscule also include Pal. lat. 235, of the 7th century, with poetic texts by Paolinus of Nola, Pal. lat. 202, of the 8th/9th century, with De trinitate of Augustine, and Vat. lat. 12910, of the 11th century, with part of the Gallican Psalter in pointed hand minuscule.