Eef Overgaauw (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz)

Traces of Humanistic scripts in Gothic scripts in Germany in the 15th century

Some men of letters and scribes in German-speaking areas gradually became acquainted with Humanistic scripts in the course of the 15th century. Several scribes working north of the Alps adopted single characteristics of Humanistic scripts in their Gothic scripts, but Humanistic scripts were rarely used for entire codices. Why were German scribes so reluctant to use Humanistic scripts?

Three behaviour patterns of scribes and patrons will be proposed to explain this palaeographical evidence:

  1. As long as there was no positive reception of Humanism in German-speaking areas, the use of Humanistic scripts was considered inappropriate, even for the works of classical Latin authors. Until the early 16th century, there were no intellectual stimuli to promote the use of Humanistic scripts.
  2. Humanistic scripts found no acceptance because they were supposed to be “Italian” and thus “foreign” by scribes as well as by patrons. Local palaeographical traditions were stronger than foreign innovations.
  3. German scribes had no possibilities for learning Humanistic scripts: There were no authoritative persons (authors, patrons, librai) or institutions (universities, chanceries) providing Humanistic scripts as models for scribes.

None of these three behaviour patterns alone is sufficient to explain the lack of acceptance of Humanistic scripts north of the Alps. Early encounters between Humanistic scripts and Gothic scripts were a matter of influence as well as of transfer and reception.

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