Cotsen’s Covert Collections: An 18th-century Illuminated Manuscript from Rajasthan


Full page spread, Cotsen 46721

Full page spread (second text), Cotsen 46721

For this edition of “Cotsen’s Covert Collections” I’d like to post about another item I know very little about: an 18th-century manuscript from Rajasthan, India. But the manuscript is such an unusual item that I thought it was definitely worth advertising!

Here’s what we do know: The manuscript was written in the Braj Bhasa language in Devanagari script probably around 1780 in the Mewar region of the Indian state of Rajasthan. It contains 3 distinct works: the text Avatara-carinthr, which describes the different reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu; the text Shri Ramcandra-carinthr manas, which describes the life of Rama and Sita (from the Ramayana epic); and the tenth book of Bhagavata Purana, which is the holiest book for worshipers of the Hindu god Vishnu. Though the middle text appears to be the bulk of the manuscript, it’s hard to designate the sections (for me anyway) because the manuscript is unpaginated.

Physically, the manuscript is really beautiful and honestly kind of daunting. The folio-sized manuscript, which measures about 16 inches high, is massive! It’s over 500 pages long and contains around 1600 illuminated and hand-painted miniatures. When talking about Western medieval manuscripts, “illuminated” means that gold (or silver) foil is used in the decoration of the artwork; and  “miniatures” are not necessarily minute in size, but is a specialized meaning of the term to denote those paintings within a manuscript.


A page from the first text, the Avatara-carinthir.


A spread from the second text, Shri Ramacandra-carinthir.


Miniatures from the last text, the Bhavata Purana, Book 10.

Another fascinating feature of this manuscript is the folded binding–a one-of-a-kind example in our collection.

Bottom edge of the book

Bottom edge of the book

This means that 24-inch-long sheets, painted and calligraphed on both sides, were pierced and folded over each other and then tied to the outer housing through the center of the fold (though our current housing is definitely later than the book). Since all the sheets were folded together we are left with a distinct peak in the center of the manuscript which recedes in a teardrop shape as the folded sheets increase in number. This is very different from familiar Western style binding where small groups or quires of sheets are folded together and then the ends of the full book block are cut for uniform edges.

The marroon folded housing

The maroon folded housing

Decorative centerfold with ties

Decorative centerfold with ties

As you can see above, while perusing the manuscript for interesting images, I came across another very surprising feature of the book. Many of the illuminated miniatures in the second section are unfinished.

proof proof2The incompleteness of the images affords us insight into the process of this manuscript’s creation.

I hope that showcasing this beautiful object will bring it to the attention of someone more knowledgeable than I, who can help us discover more about this wonderful (and under-described) manuscript.  Cotsen has such a diverse range of unusual or unexpected artifacts, books, and objects. As always, this blog series is supposed to inspire researchers to see what else they can find in our collection.

Tiger tailpiece!

Tiger tailpiece!

The Noble Life of Moretto: An 18th-century Venetian Dog

21972, page 22

The author and his beloved dog on page 22. (Cotsen 21972).

On this dog day of summer, we thought we’d relieve the heat with a little canine levity in the Cotsen Children’s Library.  It’s not a children’s book, but it could be considered a forerunner of fictional animal autobiographies like Edward A. Kendall’s Keeper’s Travels in Search of His Master (1799) or Anna Sewell’s better known  Black Beauty.

The above image is from Il Moretto del Pittoni: narrazione encomiastica serio-faceta della dignissime perogative che in lui si attrovavano (In Venezia : Presso Leonardo Pittoni, MDCCXIII [1713]). Which is a mouthful of 18th-century Venetian. Very (very) roughly translated, the title is:”The Moretto Pittoni: The most Serious-facetious Laudatory Narration that is My Worthy Perogative to Find for Him. This half-serious encomium (an extensive celebratory and eulogizing biography of a person or thing) narrates the life and death of Moretto, the venerable dog of the author Giovanni Battista Pittoni and his publisher/father Leonardo Pittoni.

Most of the text is in Venetian, but the opening poetry of praise on the frontispiece (and the lengthy closing “epigraphe”) are in Latin.

frontispiece and title-page spread

The frontispiece and title-page spread.

The story opens with Moretto being found and then taken home to the young author. It follows him through his adventures as a young pup and the tricks he performed in his youth. But the life of Moretto takes a turn for the worse, unfortunately, when he finds himself in a confrontation with the dreaded family cat:

page 26

Page 26. Could the Pittonis have sat by and watched the epic battle without intervening?:

As a result of this episode, the poor dog is blinded. But much to the chagrin of his enemy this means the family treats him even better. Moretto is fed the best doggy meals while the cat looks on enviously:


Page 28. Interesting to see that the Moretto was fed in the kitchen.

But nothing can hold back Moretto! Despite his blindness he continues on in his virtuous life.

A well respected member of the dog community:


Page 34. This looks like an unsupervised dog play group.

And a courageous defender of his home from the traditional enemy:

Page 30

Page 3. How many animals were there in the Pittoni household, anyway?

The latter part of the book mostly deals Moretto’s old age and dignified infirmity. As the wise and aged canine reaches his golden years, he can no longer return to his bed without a little assistance:

Page 45

Page 45, where you’ll also see a picture of Moretto on the wall.

Alas! At the almost impossibly ripe old age of 25, Moretto succumbs to his rheumatism:

Page 53

Page 53. Poor Moretto…


For a relatively short book (72 pages), the story of Moretto’s life is bursting with 171 references and comparisons to classical thinkers and figures like Socrates, Boethius, Ovid, Seneca, etc (citations at page 68 and 69); a purposeful exaggeration of the encomium form. Though I think it is clear that the Pittonis loved their dog and mourned his loss (they published a book about his life after all), I can’t help but appreciate their sense of humor in creating a facetious and over-the-top tribute to a family pet.

Thanks to John Bidwell, Astor Curator and Department Head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library, for helping with the translation of the text. Any errors are mine alone.

P.S.  Can anyone take a guess as to Moretto’s breed?