Humanist Script For Italian Personae

Humanist Minuscule

I believe that any living history enthusiast will eventually have to sign or write something in persona – so we should be prepared! That being said, perhaps we all should aspire to familiarity with a period writing hand appropriate to our personae. For me, the universally familiar humanistic script would be a good one. It was originally formulated in the early 15th Century and refined by scribes to flow nicely with Italic writing. I’ve included some references for reading more about this script, as well as excerpts from other sites on humanistic miniscule.


humanist vs italic

Giata’s References

Ullman. The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script. ACLS Humanities E-Book, American Council of Learned Societies, New York.

Aris. Explicatio Formarum Litterarum (The Unfolding of Letterforms). The Calligraphy Connection, St. Paul.

Humanistic Hand Video @

Hmanistic Script Reposts From Other Sites

The series of scripts referred to as “humanistic” are credited to a group of scribes and scholars of the late trecento (14th C) and early quattrocento (15th C). By this stage in history, we start to know the names of certain influential individuals in the development of the script; Collucio Salutati, Poggio Bracciolini, and Niccolo Niccoli. Because these individuals and their immediate predecessors were participants in an intellectual movement which we now call Humanism, the script that they wrote in was labeled as humanistic minuscule; but it did not stay in its particular philosophical box, it eventually took over the western European written, and later printed, world. There are a few funny anomalies in relation to the idea of the development of this script, or rather script family, as like most handwriting styles, there were many variants and hybrids for different purposes.

Circa 1470
Circa 1470

Scholars now place the origins of the concept of humanistic minuscule further back in the 14th century, with the scholar and scribe Petrarch (Bischoff 1990, Petrucci 1995). He did not invent, or re-invent, a new script as such. In his many known autograph manuscripts, he wrote in various styles, including chancery hand, business scripts and forms of Italian Gothic book hand. What he did contribute was a change in the idea of reading and writing that led to different methods of forming the writing. While Italian Gothic rotunda may not have looked exceptionally Gothic, it shared the characteristic with the northern style that texts were heavily abbreviated so that great chunks of text could be absorbed rather than allowing the reader to cruise in a leisurely manner along the lines of words in order to abstract and understand the meaning.

The following descriptions of scripts are from Michelle Brown A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. London. The British Library: 1990.

The Humanistic System of Scripts, which may be said to have begun, in Florence, just before 1400, was the result of a conscious reformation of script and book design. This was primarily an aesthetic attempt to restore clarity, legibility and elegance to book production, coupled with a scholarly preoccupation with texts. It has also sometimes been interpreted as a politically philosophical movement, which aimed at the rediscovery and assertion of an ‘Italian’ identity, through cultural revival. This is seen as an ideological escape from the medieval or ‘Gothic’, associated with German Imperial ascendancy, in favour of a reassertion of the antique. However, it was to late twelfth-century examples of Carolingian minuscule, an imperial protegé, that the Humanists looked for their models of the past. In so far as in both the Carolingian and Humanistic renaissances script was perceived as a primary adjunct of cultural identity and as a tangible link with the past, they were perhaps not so dissimilar.

The development of a system was intimately associated with certain scholar/author/scribes at the forefront of the Humanistic movement, notably Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), Niccolo Niccoli (c. 1364-1437) and Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406). A transitional phase of distillation of purer, ultimately Caroline forms from Italian Gothic scripts, termed the Semigothic System of Scripts (s. xivmed-s. xvi med), has been attributed to Petrarch (1304-74), although other tentative movements in this direction have been noted.

The spread of Humanistic production was far from uniform, depending to a considerable extent upon the interest of individual scholars, with Humanistic centres such as Rome and Florence rapidly adopting these features while more conservative Italian centres, such as Milan and Bologna, continued Gothic production for longer, alongside limited Humanistic activity. Nonetheless, Humanistic influence permeated Europe as a whole from the later fifteenth century, sometimes supplanting, but more often mixing with indigenous scripts. Dissemination was also hastened by the commercialization of Humanistic book production by the cartolai (stationers/booksellers) from c. 1440. The role of Humanistic scripts as models for early typefaces (with littera textualis inspiring the ‘Roman’ typeface, in its Veneto/Roman form, and cursive script the ‘Italic’) considerably facilitated this process and hastened the demise of Gothic scripts, although many lingered on for formal administrative use or as elements of everyday handwriting well into the modern period, with Gothic textual also inspiring some early typefaces which continued in use in particularly conservative areas, such as parts of Germany, until quite recently.

Characteristic Humanistic features of script (employed separately or together are: roundness of aspect; well-separated letters; avoidance of abbreviations; straight-backed d; tall final s; two compartment g; minuscule r; Uncial a; ampersand et; use of diphthongs (ct, st); use of Capitals in places, although Uncial and Gothic forms also occur.

Diffusion and duration: from c. 1400 (with a transitional Semigothic phase s. XIV – s. XVI); initially confined to Italian centres (initially Florence, Venice, to some extent, and Rome, soon followed by Ferrara and Naples), with a varied rate and depth of subsequent permeation throughout Europe.

Les petites prires de Rene de France, Biblioteca Estense (Modena, Italy), a.U.2.28 = Lat.614 , fols. 5v
Les petites prires de Rene de France, Biblioteca Estense (Modena, Italy), a.U.2.28 = Lat.614 , fols. 5v

“La salutation de l’ange a la
vierge Marie
Ave Maria gratia ple-
na dominus tecum”


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