17.09.12, Dora, ed., Im Paradies des Alphabets

Main Article Content

David Ganz

The Medieval Review Dora, Cornel, ed. Im Paradies des Alphabets: Die Entwicklung der lateinischen Schrift. St. Gallen: Verlag am Klosterhof, 2016. pp. 124.
Reviewed by:
David Ganz

The abbey library at St Gall owns a magnificent collection of manuscripts, and has a fine tradition of organizing exhibitions with well-illustrated and inexpensive catalogues. This catalogue, of an exhibition linked to a paleography summer school held at the abbey in 2016, provides a survey of Latin script from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries, including four eighth and ninth century charters from the abbey archives, with four pages showing illuminated manuscripts, and a double page showing the plan of St Gall. All of the excellent illustrations are in colour, and all give the dimensions of the manuscript illustrated, though a scale might have been more helpful. There are two pages with pictures of the ogham notes in old Irish in the upper margin of the Priscian manuscript St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek 904. At the end of the book are seven pages with model alphabets in the scripts discussed written by the calligrapher Klaus-Peter Schäffel, and an illustration showing the German terminology for the parts of a letter (though not for the serif or the thickening of ascenders.) Schäffel lists the manuscripts which were his sources (several of which are not St Gall manuscripts) and explains that the fonts may be freely downloaded (124). His alphabets do not reveal the number and direction of the pen strokes which form the letters, which would have been particularly helpful for students. The accounts of the scripts are the work of the St Gall manuscript cataloguers Franziska Schnoor and Philipp Lenz, and the charters are described by the archivist Peter Erhart, Cornel Dora writes about the scriptorium and the library and he and Schnoor write about the art of initials, though the plates in their section illustrate the layout of lavishly decorated pages. Michele Ferrari gives a four-page introduction. The notes at the end of the volume furnish an excellent brief paleographical bibliography.

Although the small format means that most of the plates of manuscripts are reduced in size, this is a helpful book which should be owned by graduate students (Copies may be purchased from Schwabe Verlag and from the Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen.) Each description includes drawings of the significant letter forms and ligatures beside the plate of the manuscript. (There are no transcriptions.) The accompanying text gives a clear analysis of the script, drawing attention to its characteristic features. But there is very little about how scripts originated and developed, and no exploration of the differences between a script and an individual hand. The choice of manuscripts is excellent (including specimens of Alamannic and Rhaetian minuscule and of the German >schrägovale Stil used in Bavaria and Austria in the eleventh and twelfth centuries which are not usually illustrated in paleography textbooks) though it is a pity that neither Dora nor Ferrari wanted a plate of one of the ninth century library catalogues.

Four of the items chosen are rather less representative of the scripts they illustrate: the manuscript of medical texts from Fulda for Insular minuscule (the suggestion that the volume might perhaps have been written in England is not convincing), a late fifteenth century St Gall missal to illustrate Gothic >textualis formata, a late fifteenth century Italian manuscript copied by a St Gall lawyer in Pavia to illustrate Gothic cursive and a manuscript copied by the minor Swiss humanist Franciscus Cervinus after 1530 to illustrate Humanistic cursive. But readers will find the fifth century St Gall Virgil fragments (this plate is sadly far too small), the fifth century uncial and half uncial Gospel books, (the latter the earliest manuscript of the Vulgate Gospels, closely connected to Jerome) the Sacramentary of bishop Remedius of Chur, an eighth century Irish liturgical fragment, an Irish Gospel book, the late ninth century Folchard Psalter, a fine twelfth century Parisian copy of Peter Lombard on the Pauline Epistles and a mid fifteenth century Florentine copy of Cicero’s philosophical works made for Pope Nicholas V. (The bibliography does not include the helpful discussions and plates of St Gall 1395 and 1399 (the Irish fragment of the Etymologiae) in M. B. Parkes,. >Pause and Effect An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the Latin West (Aldershot 1992, or the edition of St Gall 1395 by C.H. Turner) All of the manuscripts in this volume can be viewed in their entirety on the e-codices Virtuelle Handbibliothek der Schweiz website, all will repay further study. Anyone looking for a clear introduction to the scripts used to write Latin from the fifth to the sixteenth centuries should get hold of this book.

Article Details