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Mary of Burgundy Gothic Alphabet

The Gothic Alphabet of Mary of Burgundy has been sort of an obsession for me in the last twenty years.

The letters below are a close revival of the original alphabet circa 1460. I have kept most of the structure of the original letters and I have replaced the pen drawings by new calligraphic ornaments.

The aim of this exercise is to share with more people the story behind this alphabet and its beautiful and intriguing shapes.


This is my story behind this alphabet

Back in Barcelona in 1997, I found a book at my university’s library featuring a gothic M. I didn’t know where this letter came from nor the author but I couldn’t stop thinking about its shape. I photocopied the letter and kept it in my bedroom for months.

My boyfriend at that time asked me to design a tattoo for him. I went back to that M and started to look at its shafts and loops (cadels). I isolated one of the loops and I redraw it many, many times till I built a balanced shape. We decided to keep my final drawing in a box and revisit it 1 year later. If after that time we still liked the shapes, then he would go ahead with it… But we forgot about the drawing and it never became a tattoo.

Three years ago, I attended a calligraphy retreat in France focused on Fraktur writing. Doing some research in preparation for my final project, I typed “gothic alphabet” in Google images and I bumped into that M again. I decided to do a bit of research and found out that the M was part of a calligraphic alphabet featuring 22 other letters. I picked letter D as the header of my Fraktur piece.

Back in Melbourne a few months later, I decided to re-interpret letter S from that same alphabet and I submitted it @TypographHer for her Typograph.Journal Volume 3.

I had not been able to forget this alphabet and my mind kept going back there, so I did some more research.


About The Gothic Alphabet of Mary of Burgundy

Mary’s father commissioned a calligraphy book with an elegant alphabet and delicate drawings for her daughter. Born in Brussels in 1457, Mary of Burgundy died tragically in Bruges in 1482 when she fell off her horse, which fell on top of her.

The so-called Gothic Alphabet of Marie de Bourgogne is shown in a Dutch manuscript, circa 1460, that is found in the Louvre, and is dedicated to the duchess. The book features 23 letters (and an abbreviation of con or com that looks like a number 9), a complete alphabet considering that I/J and U/V shared the same letterforms, and W was hardly known in Romance languages at that time. Alongside the elegant and decorative script, we find pen drawings.

Since 1948, there has been an on-going argument about the authorship of this book. The first studies appointed to Nicolas Spierinc and Lievin van Lathem however, none of the two seemed to be the probable authors of the Alphabet of Mary of Burgundy.

In 2011, François Avril leads us to a completely different track. Avril refers to Pierre Coustain as the author of the book. Avril’s direction seems to be the most accurate one although we can’t prove it.



Special thanks go to Eberhard König for his correspondence and for sharing with me “Das Kalligraphiebuch der Maria von Burgund”,  a 24-page booklet containing extensive descriptions of every illustrated page, and transcriptions of every text in the German language. Finally, thanks to Julia Sturm for helping me with the English translation of the texts.


Personal revival

All my letters have been written with a 6mm Pilot parallel pen and a William Mitchell elbow nib and liquid watercolours. Original size: 30x40cm on 250gsm paper stock. As you can see below, there are a few letters such as E, L and Z that are difficult to identify. As many other examples of gothic capitals, we recognize the letters by context – reading the text that follows after them.

I hope you’ll like it!