Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uncial Talk (1) Greek and Latin - M. Drogin

In TC, there is often a lot of vague talk and inaccurate use of various terms regarding scripts and styles.   We seek to expand our knowledge of the background with a series here on the various scripts, starting with Uncials.   Sometimes we see "Uncial" and "majuscule" used interchangeably, but I think we can gain precision by consulting those historical investigators of calligraphy.   For openers, I will quote a nice introduction by Marc Drogin, from his book, Medieval Calligraphy (1980):

 Uncial Script - 3rd to 6th Century

Brief History

"In the 1st and 2nd centuries the scribes of Europe wrote most formally in Roman Square Capital and less formally and more conveniently in Roman Rustic.

ROMAN RUSTIC CAPITALS   ca. 4th century

From the square Roman capitals (preserved on the plinth of Trajan’s Column (114 AD),
developed the freer-form and slightly more condensed Rustic capitals. 

Their subject matter was almost wholly non-Christian.  In Rome, Greek manuscripts predominated, since Latin had yet to become the official Church language.  With the demand for church-related manuscripts, it was probable that the primary source was the intellectual community of North Africa, where Latin was the literary language of the Church and the population knew both Latin and Greek.  The scribes there sought an appropriately dramatic Latin script suitable to the importance of their new religion, but some changes had to be made so such a script could be produced more rapidly to fill the demand for manuscripts.  Since the pen more easily and rapidly produces curves than straight lines and angles, scribes began adopting some of the round strokes which were a hallmark of the formal Greek script since the 3rd century B.C.

This adaptation resulted late in the 2nd or early in the 3rd century in a script as majuscule and important as Roman Rustic, but now with its letters wide and curved, reminiscent of the finest Greek formation.  When the Church in Rome adopted Latin as its official language and sought to represent itself in a script both different from the pagan literature's Roman Rustic but familiar to people accustomed to that script or accustomed to Greek-Uncial, a formal but quick script was the obvious  choice.  By the 4th century it had become an established script for manuscripts of importance, and by the end of the 5th century it had eclipsed the pagan scripts and reigned supreme."  (Drogin, p. 93)

Latin Cod. Bobbiensis (k) (c. 400 A.D.)

Latin Uncial  -  circa 5th century

Click to Enlarge

MS GA-087 - Θc (6th cent) - Click to Enlarge


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