Medieval Writing
Italian Legal Cursive  

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Date : early 16th century

Location : Italy

Function : notarial document hand

This is a random segment of a large Italian notarial document of 1500, concerned with a court case over the payment of a very substantial debt. From a private collection.  
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.  

Distinctive letters: This is an example of quite formal, if cursive, notarial script from Italy of 1500 in Latin. It concerns a court case involving the repayment of a debt of 900 florins, which I imagine would have been rather a lot of money. I have a mental image of a rather fussy, elderly, conservative notary penning this out slowly in a slightly retro hand, but I might just be letting my imagination get carried away here. I don't know what you call it in the classificatory scheme of things, which tends to go a bit wobbly anyway when you get to these late cursives, but let us just call it an Italian notarial cursive and note that it is the type of script which influenced the humanistic italic book hand.

The ascenders of b and d are slanted but not looped, while those of h and l are looped. The letter h extends below the line and has that falling over look which appears to be characteristic of 16th century scripts from all over the place. The letter g has an open loopy descender while q is straight. The letter a is simple, with a single closed loop, and e is the simple form familiar to us from typefaces. The letter t is tall, extending above the crossbar and tilting slightly at the top. The letter x has the cursive form of a single loop with a curly descender.

The letter f and the long s are tall and made with a single stroke rather than the double tapering form of many earlier scripts. The short s is made from a single stroke, very simple, and resembles a 6. Only the simplified form of r appears, wherever the letter appears in a word.

The letters made from minims are angular and spiky, giving rise to the usual problems in untangling i, n, m, u and v. However, the script, although cursive, is carefully written and the letters are often sufficiently separated to be able to distinguish them.

The letters u and v are not distinguished, and both have the more flourished form when they appear at the beginning of a word. As to be expected, there is no differentiation between i and j, but both letters are capitalised when they occur at the beginning of a word.

There are no examples of k, w or z.

Being a legal document, the text is quite heavily abbreviated. The text as shown makes no sense, as it is not continuous but just a little slice from the left hand side of the document. Pass the cursor slowly over the picture to pick out an assortment of legible words. I may put together a paleography exercise when I work out how to deal on the screen with a document the size of a small coffee table, and can untangle the legalistic jargon.


Paleography exercises using Flash

Requires at least the Flash 5 plugin

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 17/5/2007.