Roberta Ricci Travels to Italy to Study the Work of Poggio Bracciolini

July 30, 2013

This summer, Roberta Ricci, chair of Bryn Mawr’s Italian Department, is traveling to Pisa, Florence, and Rome to examine the work of Poggio Bracciolini, an early Italian Renaissance humanist credited with recovering and disseminating a number of classical Latin manuscripts as well as for providing the script that would eventually develop into Roman type. Ricci’s research is being funded through the Renaissance Society of America’s Paul Oskar Kristeller Memorial Grant.

Remember the Hand: On Penmanship and Poggio Bracciolini
Remember the Hand: On Penmanship and Poggio Bracciolini

Ricci describes her research in the below post:

When I was writing my monograph, “Scrittura, riscrittura, autoesegesi,” I had traveled to Italy many times to consult a number of medieval and early modern manuscripts that contain annotations, commentaries, and marginalia written by the author or by a third person. In many cases, reading these texts provided me with crucial information about how these writings were produced and how they could be seen within their historical setting. This summer I will be traveling to Florence, Pisa, and Rome, for a new project titled “More on Penmanship and Calligraphy: Poggio Bracciolini’s Book-Hand.” I will look at 14th and 15th century manuscripts from a different prospective, not as guides to interpretation but as expressions of calligraphy, and in so doing moving from philological towards paleographical issues.

In this model, any stemma has a single archetype; where multiple archetypes exist in a text tradition, we must either consider a common theoretical origin for these archetypes, or speak of multiple stemmata. Even if philologists try to reconstruct the oldest stage of the manuscript tradition, we must recognize that the original itself played a much less important role than its corrupted descendents.

Paleography is the discipline that has as its focus the history of the writing itself, in particular the manuscript tradition before the invention of the press in the 15th century, in all its different phases, techniques, and products. The art of writing beautifully, which constitutes the center of this project, is known as ‘calligraphy.’ Humanists’ pursuit of the study of classical antiquity and its language, brings them to articulate a belief not only in beautiful writing, but in the revival of the old script. The tension between past production and the awareness of promoting a remarkable change in professional writing by training future generations of humanists is accompanied by inquiries about any codex, its knowledge, its legibility, and its transmissibility.

Beyond the controversial details of this crucial shift in writing, the basic idea is clear: language can easily lead to the wrong interpretation precisely because of the corruption of the text, but with a correct understanding of the letters, scholars could recognize the root of many errors made in the previous decades by less skilled and less philologically trained scribes. Here we can see not only the Humanist belief on the power of language to shape human thoughts, but most to the point of this research, the power of calligraphy. In this project, I will look precisely at the passage from the barbaric script, the littera Gothica as a part of the Medieval graphic system, to the old script, littera antiqua, analyzing specifically the emergence of calligraphy with which 14th and 15th century manuscripts are now composed, while reflecting on the role that Poggio Bracciolini’s book-hand played in this historical transition.

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) explicitly distances himself from the writing tradition on which he draws. Although his position as a father of the new script has been acknowledged, his legacy remains to be studied and examined in light of his calligraphy. Poggio’s role within Florentine Humanism with specific attention to his handwriting based on the lower cases Carolingian letters, the so-called minuscola corsiva, deserves more attention and in this new study I argue that Poggio was the initiator of the Humanistic graphic reform both for the lower and the upper case scripts.