The Development of Informal Cursive Hands

Italian Palaeography: Writing in Italy from Antiquity to the Renaissance II: The Development of Informal Cursive Hands in Documents and Books in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (1200 A.D. to 1550 A.D.). 

Laura Nuvoloni (Holkham Hall Library). 
Maximum: 15 students

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 2 – The Development of Informal Cursive Hands in Documents and Books in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (1200 A.D to 1550 A.D.)

This full-day session aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the development and features of documentary scripts in Italy from the Middle Ages to the late Renaissance (1200-1600), that is from the rise of the vernacular as a written language to the diffusion of print and beyond. The session will illustrate Italian Gothic cursive script and its specialisations (cancelleresca and mercantesca) and the transferral of documentary scripts into books (bastarde). Guided reading exercises will focus on the transcription of archival documents and letters, including autographs of Italian scholars and artists.


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.