Carolingian Renaissance Handwriting

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The Carolingian Renaissance is known for the cultural transitions and great achievements that were obtained in the 8th century under the direction of Charlemagne. Charlemagne, who was also known as Carolus Magnus and Charles the Great, was one of the greatest leaders during the Middle Ages. He was a military man, king of the Franks, and was appointed as Roman emperor in 800 AD. Throughout Europe, he was seen as a great example of an emperor and Christian king. Not only did he revive the political system but also the cultural life of Europe. His activities were seen as a strong foundation of the European civilization which developed during the Middle Ages around 400 A.D. This was his effort in improving the educational standards of the people of the church and his men who held roles in the government. His choice for doing such thing was to have control with his people and others. This educational reform had many great accomplished during that period. Along with this advancement, monastic scriptoria all over the kingdom used the same type of handwriting. Thus it made the hard work of copying the manuscripts easier and it was seen favorable by many. Also most manuscripts from the medieval times, whether with illuminations or not, were written on parchment. The usage of “vellum” signified that the manuscript was of great importance. This period allowed many more books to be made and with that more types of books were being used in society. In relation, illuminated manuscripts were items that were the most common during the Middle Ages. They were great examples of medieval painting and being well-preserved made them great surviving specimens of that time period. New innovations for manuscript layouts and embellishments were incorporated into the fabrication of manuscripts. In consequence, the many advances of the Carolingian Renaissance can be seen through the new layout and fabrication of a manuscript, the use of illuminations and different types of illuminations being produced and the introduction of the Carolingian minuscule or Caroline writing.

A typical illuminated manuscript has the components of having texts along with embellishments in the means of using decorations. These decorations range from decorated borders, initials and miniature drawings. If one were to elaborate on the exact definition of the term “illuminated manuscript”, it would be related to manuscripts highlighted with silver or gold. Earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts date back from around 400 AD to AD 600 and are thought to have been from Italy, Constantinople and Ireland. However, the majority of the surviving manuscripts come from the Middle Ages along with the many manuscripts from the 15th Century Renaissance period and the few from the Late Antiquity stage. Most of these manuscripts were made for religious purposes but evidence shows that there too was an abundance of secular texts that were illuminated. Also these illuminated manuscripts started off in the form of codices, and at times antique scrolls. There is also a continued existence of loose single sheets and some illuminated manuscript fragments which remain on papyrus form. During the Early Middle Ages, books were fabricated in monasteries for business, display or personal use. This led to the beginning of commercial scriptoria that were located in major European cities such as the ones belonging to Italy, Paris and also the Netherlands. Most medieval manuscripts illuminated or not, were scripted on parchment. Such parchment was composed of stretched and treated animal skins of sheep, calf or goat. The term vellum was used to describe manuscripts of great value and high quality. These manuscripts were important because they were used for illuminations. Vellum was made up of un-spilt calf-skin and the other high qualities of animal skins were simply considered as parchment. “A large manuscript required the use of a whole cow skin and also the whole skin of a sheep to fabricate a folded sheet of two to four pages.” Hides of a whole herd would be required for thick books which made the creation of a Medieval book extremely precious and expensive. About 258 leafs would need approximately 130 animals and it would make piles of four gatherings of leafs. At the start of the Middle Ages, paper use was used to formulate manuscripts and early books that were printed had space left over for miniatures and rubrics to be incorporated later on. Illuminated initials and decorations along the margins were also commonly used. However when printing started to become more popular, there was an increase of books produced and at the same time illuminations decreased. In the early 16th century, illuminated manuscripts were still being produced but not in great quantities. These manuscripts were mainly produced for the rich individuals in society. Books were not owned by many and are seen as a great possession and treasure to have along with the great sense of importance in society.

The Carolingians got a sense of Mediterranean art and culture when Charlemagne went to Rome, where he held the title as Holy Roman Emperor in AD 800. He was the symbolic representative of Rome and he since he wanted to revive the Roman culture and learning of the West, it made him the promoter of the arts. He had the goal of joining the artistic accomplishments of the Early Christian and Byzantine culture with that of his own. While Charlemagne was in power, the Byzantine Empire was divided because of Iconoclasm, which was the destruction of religious monuments and sacred images. He made the smart choice of not favouring either side. There were consequences that arose when he decided not to adopt the iconoclastic traditions and at the same time he incorporated a few human figures in society. The Carolingian art promoted the development of Western Romanesque and Gothic art. If Charlemagne partnered with the Iconoclast, Western art that one views it today would be non-existent. Evidence of such art can be seen from the surviving manuscripts, sculptures, works of metal and other artifacts from that age. During the Carolingian Renaissance, the illuminated manuscripts were the most number of works that survived from that era. Charlemagne had great ideas while he was in power. While in command new Gospels and liturgical works were prepared, as were educational materials used to depict historical, scientific and literary works originating from ancient authors. The Carolingian art had different monastic centers throughout the Carolingian Empire which were known as ateliers. These ateliers were special because each one had its own unique style and it was influenced by the artists and current styles of that place and time. These images were drawn after the texts were complete. Illustrators designed and planned the abstract and complex images on wax tablets which were the common drawing apparatus of that period. These wooden tablets were hollow for the incorporation of wax and the writing apparatus used for it would be a bone or a stylus. On the other tip of the writing utensil would be a spatula to scrape away errors or to erase the whole image and is re-used again. After that process of “preliminary drawing” is finished, the drawing is then traced or illustrated meticulously on the vellum. Pinpricks and other markings are used to accomplish a great manuscript. Such work ethics can be seen with the fabrication of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Another new incorporation that can be seen in the sacred gospels is the introduction of “red dots”, as part of the page decoration which, was tedious work and needed to be done with patience and care. The sacred scriptures would also be composed of the Evangelist's portrait, an image of a carpet made out of spirals and enamel work and finished off with a grand display. Other work methods can be seen through incomplete manuscripts that survived from that time. Most manuscripts usually were not composed of illustrations because they were mainly used for educational purposes and its only illuminations would be decorations on the initials. If there were manuscripts with full illuminations, it would be used for display purposes and be seen as an illustration book. That was the state of manuscripts during the Middle Ages, but great changes occurred towards the fabrication of manuscripts during Romanesque period. These changes included the incorporation of more illumination and decorations in the books and the study books contained some images, but they were not illustrated with colour. This tendency grew into the Gothic period where there were bigger image sizes but at least one if not many decorations around the page. Foliate patterns on elaborate boarders were the common fixings integrated in the manuscript. “A Gothic page might contain several areas and types of decoration; a miniature in a frame, a historiated initial beginning of a passage of text, and a border with drolleries.” A different artist was utilized to work on different part of the decoration. An artist had their own unique skill that they used when working on a certain piece of an image.

A standardized form of Latin, which originated from Classical Latin, was used in the texts along with new formed words. Medieval Latin was most used in that time and was a common language used by the people of Europe. In fact, this language was commonly used by businessmen and scholars for communication, learning and administration purposes. The texts were usually incorporated first when it came to constructing an illuminated manuscript. Script depended on the style that were currently being used in society and the one that were most popular. Scripts such as Uncial and half-Uncial were introduced because of the ongoing development and usage of unique texts such as insular miniscule and insular majuscule. Before these texts were established, the Roman letters were used during the Middle Ages. Around the 13th century, black thick and solid letters were shown and it was made more in style around the Middle Ages.

Around the 9th century, rooms made solely for writing became extremely popular and were apart of most monasteries. This room was called a scriptoria and it was there were most books were copied. This was a brutal job and it was shown through the hard work done by the monks. The process included the need to check for mistakes and to correct errors that have been made through the years. The copiers would need to study the text and script very carefully because one mistake would be a sin and they would be severely penalized. Other discrepancies such as poorly lit rooms, bad weather conditions and physical fatigue made this job even more difficult for the monks. There was also “no standard scholarly language”. Charlemagne decided to change the then current writing style and tried to make a standard method for writing. The writing style that society was used to at that time consisted to all uppercase letters and texts without interruptions and punctuations. There was no evident division between the words. This old writing style was the old un-spaced Roman capital script called “uncial”. Charlemagne's brilliant idea worked as it made copying and reading easier for everyone. This style of writing is called the “Carolingian Miniscule” and is still currently being used today. Unlike the older style, this new one had a separation between words and there was evident use of punctuations in the text. Charlemagne also made standards for Medieval Latin because there were evident changes in the Latin language during the last couple of decades. Different expressions, new phrases and words were developed and integrated into the language. Composing a manuscript included the copying of an old piece of literature, having a decorated picture and possessing fancy capital letters. This act was seen as a great accomplishment at that period. The sacred scripture and writings of the bible were transformed and transfigured into many different forms. Most ministers were illiterate and people who were not from the ordained clergy did not have access to these sacred texts. Charlemagne disliked oblivious priests who could not read nor comprehend their own scriptures. Charlemagne created laws and decrees that stated that clerics would loose their position and job in the office if they were illiterate. Bishops had to respect such demand and needed to be literate but there are some cases where bishops were not able to read and write. Charlemagne enforced a “standardized Vulgate Bible”, which was a common Benedictine Rule and a basic liturgy. However, in order to obtain such concept, he needed to have a “standardized written language”. Charlemagne found an orthodox churchman from England named Alcuin to help him gain a step closer to his schemes. Alcuin and his fellow monks examined many ancient classical scripts in order to find incentives for the new script. In consequence, the Carolingian miniscule was established which was the unification of the small and capitalized letter. The Carolingian miniscule comprised of letters that possessed “the most decorative flourishes and the system of ligatures was eliminated.” As this style of writing dispersed into England during the 10th century and in Spain in the following century, Carolingian miniscule reformed to being the “written language of oppression and religious orthodoxy”. It established itself as the official script and literary hand and style of the Frankish region. Later on, scripts such as the ones of “Gothic”, “Roman” and “Humanists” preceded in time and thus making this script most commonly used today. Thus, Charlemagne took all these differences and transformations and added them to the new scholarly language which is known as Medieval Latin.

Thus, the many advances of the Carolingian Renaissance is depicted through the new layout and fabrication of a manuscript, the use of illuminations and different types of illuminations being produced and the introduction of the Carolingian minuscule or Caroline writing. Charlemagne is seen as a great leader who has done many successful things for his people and kingdom. Though was not literate he tried and had a lot of perseverance. Depictions of Charlemagne wanting to be able to read and write are recorded throughout history. He would try and attempt to write everyday with wax tablets and even asked the help of men who were able to write. The Holy Roman Emperor would also leave notebooks and writing tablets underneath his people hoping that one day he will be able to become literate. However, it was simply too late for him to become literate because he needed to have practiced such skill since his youth. Though he was not literate he still had the ability to be a great leader. Charlemagne ruled individuals from different ancestry lines who were descendants of many races and who spoke languages that were unique from one another. Some of these individuals included the Romans, Goths, Lombards, Burgundians, Saxons, Franks and many others groups. Western Europe was filled with monasteries where several “national styles” of the cursive formations of Latin surfaced such as Merovingian, Visigothic, Germanic, and Anglo- Irish. Each party had a “monastery dialect” which was used by individuals to facilitate copying in an exclusive way and abides with each cloister's preference. His way of reconciling the many people and facilitating the hard work of the laborers made his excellent influence of the many changes he incorporated seen today. The ancient and valuable artifacts that are seen today are because of his ability to unite society and individual characteristics as one.