17. “CANCELLERESCA” MINUSCULE AND MERCHANT SCRIPT
The Diplomatic minuscule script (see 15.2.1), used by the chanceries (of the emperor, pope, kings, great feudal lords and bishops) to draft documents, had steadily spread to an international level. Between the 11th and 12th centuries, this writing was also dispersed due to the growing need to write outside the setting of chanceries or studies. It became an instrument used for the activities of work, for example that of notaries, who had become quite prevalent, and of the artisan and merchant class. At the beginning of the 13th century a New Cursive also developed from Diplomatic minuscule, especially in Italy, also called littera minuta corsiva (Cassamassima, Tradizione ) In turn, two new forms of writing will be formed from the latter and used as documentary and everyday writing, but also as bookhand, which also spread thanks to a private school system, managed directly by the professional classes: CANCELLERESCA MINUSCULE, used by notaries and the educated class (outside the university setting), and MERCHANT SCRIPT, a professional script of merchants, also used for literary texts (but only in the vernacular).
This script soon became the writing taught in notary schools, and it was executed using a pen with the nib cut in the middle, thereby allowing for softer trace marks, which were produced almost without chiaroscuro and roundish. The writing has an ever increasing number of ligatures, sometimes made with a hand movement leaning leftward (counterclockwise) and not toward the right, with extensions, flourishes added to high ascenders that tend to lean toward the baseline in a pronounced way and appendages on some of the descenders, and with an ornamental aspect even in the abbreviations.
It was also used for books, but for texts that did not belong to the ecclesiastical or university culture, which continued to use Gothic. It was used for texts in the vernacular, such as minor ascetic and devotional works, collections of sermons, recipe books, city chronicles and poetic compositions, and it is the writing in which the most ancient literary texts from Italy were spread and copied between the end of the 13th century and the 14th century. Chig L. VIII. 305 (Collection of italian poems) is a beautiful example from the second half of the 13th century, and in the following century there are at least forty manuscripts with texts by Dante Alighieri produced in cancelleresca Minuscule.
Chig L. VIII. 305, f. 1r, Collection of italian poems
Outside Italy, especially in France but also in other central and northern European countries, cancelleresca Minuscule crossed with the contemporary Gothic textualis, through a process of reciprocal influence which gave rise to a writing called Bastard at the beginning of the 14th century. This is an angular script, with strong contrasts between thick and thin strokes, very short ascenders but with the s and f extending below the baseline, just as in the cancelleresca Minuscule. As a writing used mainly in the context of the chancery, it also had a certain diffusion in the book trade; an example is Pal. lat. 1523 with texts by Cicero, made in the early 15th century in northern France.
The development of commercial, banking and artisan activities encouraged those who practiced them increasingly to equip themselves with written documentation: account books, ledgers, inventories, and exchange letters. It was therefore also necessary for them to know how to write, and above all to know how to do accounting. To this purpose, various corporations organized schools to teach technical and professional training, for example those which in Florence were called “abacus schools”, where the students were taught how to use Arabic digits for numbers. Particularly thanks to Leonardo Fibonacci, this novelty was disseminated at the beginning of the 13th century in Tuscany. In those schools there developed a type of writing called Merchant script.
Merchant script is a cursive script, but it is rigidly vertical, with a uniform tracing of letters, without chiaroscuro, and carried out using a broad-edged nib cut square across at the end. The body of the letters is compressed with a slight inclination of the shafts, and it is rather roundish and often with closed bows. The ligatures are few, mostly leftward (as in the Cancelleresca script), often with a continuous stroke that curves back from the flourishes descending below the line. In the fifteenth century (when it extended from Tuscany to Bologna, Venice and Genoa), Merchant script became smaller and more disorderly
It was also used in books for vernacular texts, almost always in paper and non-parchment manuscripts, especially for technical texts (abacus and trade treaties, but also cookbooks, agricultural manuals) devotional works and vernacular Patristic texts, other vernacular texts, diaries and chronicles, memoirs.
The fact that Merchant script does not have its own capital alphabet (for which reason the capital letters of the Cancelleresca script are used) nor its own punctuation system, indicates that it is a script that is sort of “lower rank”. Used above all for a strictly corporate professional public, which was fond of having books in the writing that they knew, it lasted until the first half of the 16th century, when the abacus schools, where the writing was taught, gradually disappeared. A good example of Merchant script as a bookhand can be found in Pal. lat. 940, Chronicle of Giovanni and Matteo Villani, 14th century (Merchant script).
Pal. lat. 940, f. 1r, Chronicle of Giovanni and Matteo Villani