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Re: VMs: MS408 Character Development

Hello Gabriel and all the others well!

I apology for the delay in answering: I was away for the week end. And I also apology for the length of the post: things are getting complex...

At 11:40 01-07-05, Gabriel Landini wrote:
Hi Maurizio,
I found this thread quite interesting. Once, informally talking with Judith
Field, she mentioned that the abandonment of Humanist hand did not take place
at the same time everywhere and therefore the dating based on "changes of
hand" should have a larger range than suggested before, depending where it
may have been written (here in the list and also in D'Imperio, if I recall

First of all, please don't take me too seriously! After so much time, I cannot be considered more than a hobbist palaeographer!! Anyway... A number of points need to be taken into account, I think.

1) I think it is important to understand how handwriting evolved. It may be unfamiliar for us, accustomed to a world of digital communication, coming after centuries of printed communication, but until XVI c., handwriting was the *only* medium for written communication and even for a rather long time after printing invention, it still was the *predominant* one.

In this context, much like a mother tongue, handwriting must be a *shared* knowledge or it would not serve its purpose: you learn it and it is 'given': you do not mess with it or it would become difficult or impossible for the others to read.

So, script evolution takes place very slowly, by small steps, each of them hardly noticeable and often of a rather 'statistical' kind: a corner get slightly rounded and sometime two strokes merge into one: later in your life, the merging will occur more often and, maybe, your son will inherit a letter form with one stroke less. 'Revolutions' in writing history are very rare; the humanistic reform was one of them, maybe the most striking.

Yet it took longer to achieve than the whole French Revolution cycle, from the seizing of the Bastille to the fall of Napoleon, also it did not *create* any new letter form, but 'recycled' (in a different stylistic and 'theoretical' context) pre-existing forms to which the learned milieu has been accustomed again after decades of ancient mss. collecting.

2) On another side, and again quite similarly to language, handwriting is -- must be -- a semi-automatic activity. This semi-automatism is gained through learning and practicing, of course, but once it is gained (and while it is not gained yet, you cannot be really considered literate), it works very similarly to speaking.

While you speak in your mother language, you may have to think about the concepts you want to express and the best words to express them, but not about concordances, verb tenses or persons, etc... it's "your language", you "know it".

Same -- or almost same -- for "your script": you may have to bother about non-graphic details (will the word fit in the line? where can I split it?) but if you stop pondering: "OK, this is a 't'; so start a little higher and go down...", you simply do not know the script enough to be "your script".

We could summarize these two elements by saying that, in order to 'work', a script has to be "your script" but "you do not own it".

3) A by-side note on the samples often quoted in this list: Evolution usually do not take place in mss. of high standing: the rich mss., gorgeously illuminated, with carefully planned pages, which we admire so much and which get reproduced in the histories (or on the Net) are normally the least interesting from an historic point of view. They must be immediately readable for the patron and must present him with something he is very familiar with, although on a very high technical level. So they usually 'freeze' the current evolution point of a script into a highly uniformed style: they are dead ends.

Evolution more often takes place in the less beautiful mss., maybe of more private usage, for which the shared "langue" is less constraining; there we usually find the innovative letter form or the careless 'pen turn' which will become later a element of a 'new script'.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

So, speaking of the timing of the "abandonment of Humanist hand" is a rather simplistic way of putting it: by chance the humanist writing has been 'adopted' -- and this is a very unusual fact in writing history which anyway took decades -- but it has never been 'abandoned': it evolved, gradually, by small changes and, at a certain point, writing historians may say: "Look, here we a have a new script, which we will call XYZ".

Another important point: As we are talking of a time roughly between end of '400 - beginning of '500 (maybe even later), we have to factor in *printing*. Printing, with respect to handwriting is a very troublesome element.

Printing and handwriting, or better print typeface design and handwriting evolution, work on totally different planes:

Printing typeface design is not a semi-automatic activity as handwriting is: it is very pondered, carefully planned beforehand and has to with drawing much more than with writing. Also, typeface design has a much greater flexibility as it is not constrained by the technical features of the writing instrument (it is possible, and it has been done, to create typeface which cannot be written, or only with great difficulty; of course, typeface creation had its own technical constrains...).

Only afterward, once a typeface gained some popularity, typeface design may influence handwriting by visual suggestion, as it is the case with the so-called "italic hand" which, with a little simplification, can be seen is a mixture of 'cursivization' (?) of the _littera antiqua_ and of the print cursive (Manuzio-like).

Of course, it may happen also the opposite: typeface designers who enjoy reproducing letter forms typical of handwriting (this is what Gutenber himself did, after all, but maybe only because ha had no other models...). So, there is a dialogue between typeface design and handwriting, but is a dialogue between two different planes, with different 'substances', different technical requirements and different evolution paths; to a large extent, a topic which still lacks, AFAIK, a systematic and sounded investigation.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It is obvious, but I want to stress it anyway: all the above does NOT apply directly to the VMS script; this is an invented script, not an evolution step of a script.

It might apply to the _exempla_, yet to determine, that the VM script author was familiar with and had in mind while devising his script, particularly if we assume that, as it is the case in most script creations, the script is a re-cast, with different glyphs and a few oddities, of the writing system (and maybe of the linguistic system too!) to which the author has been mainly exposed.

In other words, I think those observations may be useful to better understand the VM script background, rather than the script itself.

I am sure you are familiar with Cappelli's dictionary of abbreviations and the
fact that some vms characters *seem* to be exactly that.
Despite that some of these abbreviations are more or less systematically in
the right place within a word (like eva-y , eva-c and so on) trying to create
substitutions to rebuild words has not yielded to any sensible breakthrough.

Do you have any comments about these Latin/Italian abbreviations and the
similarity to quite a few vms characters?

On one hand, we may safely assume that the VM script author was familiar with the Latin abbreviation system (as he was familiar with the _littera moderna_ stroke assimilation system). This is a point in favour of the theory that those sings in the VMS are indeed abbreviations.

On the other hand, many of those abbreviation-like signs, like for instance EVA 'g' or EVA 'm' (but also 'r', 's' or 'u'), are very obvious 'pen turns' which may come quite spontaneously to anybody with the penmanship of a late Middle Age scholar. This might mean that those signs do not have the same meaning (or at least a similar function) they had in the 'normal writing', but that they are simply common, or well-practiced, graphic material borrowed into the script, like many 'full characters' of the script.

Does this make any sense?


 Maurizio M. Gavioli -  VistaMare  Software
 via San Bernardo 5, I-16030 Pieve Ligure, ITALY

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