Thursday, April 7, 2011

Uncial Talk (3) - M. Brown

We continue our survey of Latin Capitals and Greek/Latin Uncials with some more observations of value from Michelle Brown's book, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (U of T press, 1993);

Rustic Capitals (cont. from our previous post)

Vat. Lat. 3867, Vergilius Romanus:  (c. 4th  century  A.D.)

"Script:  An elegant example of Rustic Capitals, written with great fluidity of the pen and with a tendency towards calligraphic flourishes (seen in the treatment of the heads of F and X and the descent of L below the line).  Bows are minimal.  Note the curved head of the secnond minim of H, another scribal feature.  Curvaceous feet are systematically applied to minims.
Punctuation is by the medial punctus (centre-dot) which imposes word division, rather than the more usual scriptura continua, in the manner of monumental epigraphic inscriptions.
The Column Picture is an increasingly popular element of de luxe manuscripts from the 4th century onwards.  The naturalistic impressionism of antique painting is beginning to give way to a more linear and stylized approach."
Two important points noted above are:

a)  Spaces between words were already commonplace in Latin and Greek writing by the 4th century.  Thus the presence of spaces cannot be used to indicate later dates for manuscripts.

b)  Even such fancy adornments as full column-width pictures embedded into the text were also popular features from the 4th century onwards.  

The significance of this is that manuscript decoration and production was already quite varied and sophisticated even in the 4th century, and so this feature cannot be used to assign later dates to manuscripts with such features, nor can their absence be used to date manuscripts to the 4th century or earlier.

Especially important is that any discussion of decoration and/or pictography or the lack of it must be done in the light of the controversies re: icons, which occurred after this period.  Many manuscripts containing "idolatrous" icons and pictoral decoration were destroyed during the "Iconoclasm" battles, which would have provided a more complete picture of scribal practices for earlier periods.


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