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

16.2 The different types of gothic

The Gothic script took on different connotations depending on the various countries in which it spread and also according to the various settings in which it was used, particularly in the university locations. Some styles are very common and have their own characteristics.

In the Frankish-Anglo-Saxon-German region, which was the place of formation for this writing, Gothic is present in its original and substantially rigorous form, usually called textualis. Helpful examples include Reg. lat. 16, a bible from the first half of the 13th century produced in Paris, Urb. lat. 206, with texts of Aristotle copied in the mid-13th century in the English region (with comments and additions written at a posterior date) and Pal. lat. 871, with a Biblia pauperum made in the middle of the 15th century in Germany.

In the Italian (and Hispanic) region, the new style of writing spread more slowly and at different times throughout the various regions, but had common characteristics, with a marked preference for the rounded shapes influenced by those that the late Carolina had adopted in that region. During the 13th century, a wide gothic developed in the central part of Italy, with flat, round letters, few fragments and non-curved bases on the line. This was called rotunda: it was also used in liturgical manuscripts and continued for a long period of time. Later, it was also called choral because it appeared in the large volumes used in the choir. For examples of manuscripts made in Gothic rotunda in the period between 1290 and 1291, we have from Bologna the Italian manuscript Vat. lat. 2669, containing the text of the Statuti of the city; from the same period, in Rome, the Liber pastoralis of Gregory the Great was copied in Vat. lat. 588, and in Florence a few decades later, Chigi L. VIII. 296 was produced for Giovanni Villani’s Chronica. Other interesting manuscripts in Gothic include Pal. lat. 1071, with De arte venandi cum avibus of Federico II, which was produced immediately after the middle of the 13rh century in Sicily, and of more uncertain origin, Reg. lat. 534, made between the 13th and 14th centuries probably in southern France, in a Gothic-style script with round shapes; this manuscript contains hagiographic texts of various origins including a version of the Legenda aurea by Iacopo da Varazze; Vat. lat. 2193, with texts by Apuleius and others, produced in central-northern Italy in the middle of the 14th century, and also containing glosses by Petrarch in the so-called semi-Gothic script (see 18).

The littera textualis script was especially used for the production of books in the world of the university, and were often made with the pecia system (see below). In these contexts, writing also differed according to the regions that used the script; of particular note are the styles developed in the Universities of Bologna and Paris. A littera Bononiensis has been identified that preserves the characteristics of the Italian Gothic Rotunda. With respect to the latter, however, this script is more compressed, with shorter shafts, reduced interlinear space and very thin oblique features. See, for example, Urb. lat. 161, which preserves a Decretum by Gratian, with a substantial commentary, from the middle of the 14th century. The littera Parisiensis is smaller, less rounded, more irregular in the alignment and more disorderly in general appearance; in fact, the frequent divisions and irregularity of the flow cause the signs, parts of the speech, and the lines to be manifested more clearly and separately, resulting in a more easily legible script. Vat. lat. 907 comes from the second half of the 13th century and contains part of the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard by Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. Another university manuscript, also made with the pecia system, is the Borgh. 112 with texts by Thomas Aquinas copied between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th in the south of France or northern Italy.

The pecia

In the world of the university, in Paris and Bologna, in the 13th century a new method was born to produce the books necessary for study, the so-called “pecia system”. This allowed for a precise control of the educational institution, and therefore of the teaching body, of the dissemination of texts, of their accuracy and their cost. The system was based on official copies of a text (exemplaria), subjected to the periodic control of petiarii, an internal commission at the university, deposited in the office of a university employee, called stationarius, and chosen by the university itself. These exemplaria were divided into loose sections or pieces called peciae (= piece) normally formed by a sheet folded in four. These pieces were numbered, rented according to pre-established rates and distributed simultaneously to several scribes (mostly lay people, often students, sometimes even women), thus making it possible to produce a large amount of copies. The pioneer study by Jean Destrez (Destrez, La Pecia) showed that copyists normally copied peciae in succession by marking the number of the peciae used on the margin, but sometimes gaps or thicker lines may be observed when the copyist, who had not been able to obtain the necessary peciae, had nevertheless continued, leaving (inexact and not easily calculable) empty spaces to be filled later. Recent studies have shown that the texts approved and used for the making of copies sometimes reflected the thought of the college of teachers more than that of the author, whose complaints towards his colleagues are well known.

Borgh. 112, f. 203v, indication of "pecia".

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Since the scribes who worked at the universities, unlike the professors and students, could not assemble in corporations and did not work together in scriptoria, it is quite significant that in some centers, especially in Bologna and Paris, the practice of writing gave rise to particular subtypes of Book Gothic such as Bononiensis and Parisiensis.

Gothic in our days

Gothic writing was predominant in Germany with the spread of movable type printing of Gutenberg, which adopted it. The script continued to be used in Germany until the beginning of the 20th century. Today it is sometimes used as a display script even outside of Germany: the titles of newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Il Messaggero, as well as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and many others, are still written in characters of the Gothic styled, which are defined by the Old English Text font, present in many of our systems of writing.