The Book in Italy (400 A.D. to 1400 A.D.)

Italian Palaeography: Writing in Italy from Antiquity to the Renaissance I: Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Italian Palaeography. 

Matilde Malaspina 
Maximum: 15 students
Venue: Senate House

The course is divided into three separate modules, corresponding to three separate full day sessions. The three sessions are intended as independent from each other and each will provide an in-depth analysis and reading exercises of book and documentary scripts employed in Italy in different periods of time. If taken in combination, the three sessions will offer a broad but detailed overview on the history and protagonists of writing in the Italian peninsula from antiquity to the late Renaissance period.

Each session will provide students with appropriate tools to approach the reading and transcription of manuscript sources in Latin and Italian, including technical information on the genesis and evolution of the scripts, and guidelines for deciphering the abbreviation systems. Part of each session will be dedicated to guided reading exercises. Specific attention will be dedicated to the links between the features and developments of the scripts and the circulation of culture.

The course is open to anyone interested in manuscript production and literacy in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. No previous palaeographical experience is required, but a basic knowledge of Latin and Italian would be useful to benefit from the course in full.

Session 1 – Matilde Malaspina – The Book in Italy (400 A.D. to 1400 A.D.)

This full-day session explores the earliest developments of writing in Italy and mainly analyses texts in Latin. The first part of the day will start from the earliest documents in Latin capital (capitalis quadrata, capitalis rustica, capitalis cursiva), to then move to the Italian specimens of writing in Uncial and Semi-Uncial script. It will then examine Italian examples of minuscule pre-Carolingian scripts, specifically focussing on the graphic features and centres of development of the scripts used in Capitular schools and in monasteries in Northern Italy, and of the Beneventan script in Southern Italy.

The second part of Session 1 will start from the characteristics of the ‘new’ minuscule script introduced in Italy under Charlemagne’s empire. It will then focus on the so-called ‘Gothic’ book script and the development of its features (littera bononiensis and textura rotunda) in the Italian book production up to the end of the 14th century.


Bernard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, transl. Dáihbí O’Cróinín and David Ganz, Cambridge, 1990;

Bernard Bischoff, Paleografia latina : antichità e medioevo, ed. italiana a cura di Gilda P. Mantovani e Stefano Zamponi, Padova, 1992, with enlarged chapter on abbreviations and punctuation on pp. 218-46;

M.P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600, London, 1990;

Albinia C. de la Mare, The Handwriting of Italian Humanists, I-1: Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Coluccio Salutati, Niccolò Niccoli, Poggio Bracciolini, Bartolomeo Aragazzi of Montepulciano, Sozomeno da Pistoia, Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, Oxford, 1973;

Albert Derolez, Codicologie des manuscrits en écriture humanistique sur parchemin, 2 vols., , Turnhout, 1984;

Albert Derolez, Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century. Cambridge, 2003;

R. Clemens-T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies, Ithaca, 2007;

M. B. Parkes, Their Hands before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes, Aldershot, 2008.