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.

yup

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

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

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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!

Illustrating Summertime Fun in Children’s Books

Little Tot's Holiday Book (Warne: not before 1881) Cotsen 30357

Little Tot’s Holiday Book (Warne & Co.: ca. 1881) Cotsen 30357.

As the days of summer dwindle into a precious few, the long days of sunshine slowly get shorter, and a new school term impends, we all tend to wonder: “Where did the summer go?”

With that thought in mind, we might help keep summer alive a little longer by taking a look at how children’s book illustrators picture summer and its activities.

It certainly didn’t take children’s books to make school kids (and the rest of us) love the prospect of having time off from school and being able to enjoy all the activities available for a few precious months a year. But nineteenth-century books for children certainly stressed summertime fun and vividly pictured outdoor activities, some relatively ‘novel’ ones at the time, such as beach holidays at newly-popular (and accessible) ocean-side resorts. As such, they provide a terrific window onto life and leisure-time activities at the time.

detail

Children at the shore (detail from Little Tot’s Holiday Book).

Frederick Warne & Co., one of the major nineteenth-century publishers of children’s books readily added “holiday” books picturing seasonal and summertime fun to its line of books. The large format (over 12″ tall) picture book Little Tot’s Holiday Book features vivid, full-page chromolithographed illustrations of children in all sorts of holiday activities (including some in winter). The bright red cloth front cover features a paper onlay of two Victorian children at a seaside locale. Note their fashionable, but modest, attire, fairly typical for the time.

“A Holiday at the Seaside.”

One of the illustrations inside the book shows children happily engaged in a range of contemporary seaside activities: playing on the beach and making sandcastles, taking donkey rides, and riding in a goat cart. I like the background detail of “On the Sands,” which shows a Brighton-like pleasure pier, one of the “novel” aspects of Victorian seaside resorts.

train

“Off to the Seashore”…via train.

Another full-page illustration features a train. While trains were always popular with children, particularly boys, why does a train appear in a holiday book? The answer lies in the caption: “off to the seashore.” Trains were a relatively novel form of transportation at this time, and one of the ways that middle-class and more prosperous working-class families went to the seashore in the 1880s.

holiday

Little Tot’s Holiday Book, alternate cover – Cotsen 30357 (c.2)

Little Tot’s Holiday was apparently a popular title, because Warne issued another version of the same title, with identical content, but a different cover, one showing a very different kind of summertime activity. Again, two fashionable and apparently affluent children (similar to the book’s target audience) are featured, but this time they’re presented in a rural setting, getting donkey rides from a young adult from the country (note, his mustache and “rural” attire).

Warne’s picture books repeatedly show children at the seaside, attesting to the popularity of the subject.  Another large-format picture book, Little Tots Playtime Book includes an illustration of a girl on a donkey, a sailor-suited boy, and the family dog on the beach, with sailboats in the background and a nearby patriotic Union Jack, which breaks the perfect (“boring”?) symmetry of the rectangular frame and creates visual interest via a technique sometimes used by painters.

At the seashore again… (Little Tots Playtime Book, ca. 1881) Cotsen 30359

LittleTotsPlaytime-cover

Cover of Little Tots Playtime Book

The general design of the Playtime Book’s cloth cover is essentially the same as that of the Holiday Book (perhaps this was Warne’s stock design for these picture books?), but the inset chromolithographed medallion provides quite a different, more formal and stylized, view of little women in summertime — a somewhat Kate “Greenawayesque” presentation.

Cover of Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games, (Routledge & Co., ca. 1899) Cotsen 5633

Speaking of Kate Greenaway (whose presentations of children are famous), let’s take a quick look at how she pictures summer in Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games, issued by by George Routledge & Sons in 1889 (and later reissued by Warne in 1899). The cover shows a vignette of children on a rustic teeter-totter. The twenty-four colored wood-engraved illustrations by Edmund Evans show children in Greenaway distinctive style: extremely well-dressed, fashionable, and not very kinetic. The two illustrations below present several girls in caps playing “Battledore & Shuttlecock” (“badminton” to us now) and “Puss in the Corner,” both accompanied by brief descriptions of the games.

greenaway 1

“Battledore & Shuttlecock”

grrenaway 2

“Puss in the Corner”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that summertime and beaches are featured only in English books for children — that was definitely not the case! For instance, a German book, In Sommer, from about 1900 features a terrific, highly-saturated color depiction of children playing on the beach on its cover. And illustrations inside the book show children busily involved in other summer activities: flying kites, picking flowers, and making quite a fuss over an apple!

InSommer-apple

In Sommer: quite a fuss about an apple in the woods on a bright summer day

InSommer-kites

In Sommer: Children and their kites, including the “Man-in-the Moon” and giant clown face

InSommer-cover

Children on the beach: cover of In Sommer, ([Germany? ca. 1900]) Cotsen 52215

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another terrific book cover appears on Johnny Headstrong’s Trip to Coney Island, published about 1882 by New York’s McLoughlin Brothers, perhaps the preeminent children’s books publisher in the USA at the time. In the 1880s, Coney Island was a seaside resort for residents of New York City and Brooklyn Heights, a place reached by train and with the same sort of summery, festive ambience as Cape May or Cape Cod, if you can imagine that. The chromolithographed cover of this “toybook” presents an idyllic beach scene via illustrator William Bruton’s artwork, although something in Johnny’s own facial expression suggests another strand in the thread of the story…

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Johnny Headstong’s Trip to Coney Island (McLoughlin Bros, ca. 1882) Cotsen 540

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Johnny arrives at Coney Island with his family (note the masted sailing ships in the background)

Johnny Headstong’s story begins in much the same way as the other summertime books we’ve been looking at – a fashionable youth sets out for the Coney Island seaside resort accompanied by his sister, nanny, and father, a “kindly man of good repute…and wealth.”

But as his name suggests, Johnny is impulsive and lacking in self-discipline — he gets into all sorts of trouble… He climbs over the railing while sailing a toy sailboat, falls into a pool, and has to be fished out. He then “slips away” from the adults “to see things by himself.” More trouble ensues in the form of various misadventures, as Johnny hits another boy in the face with a ball, falls off a swing he pushed too high, and finds himself on a runaway donkey, causing mayhem on the beach and knocking over an apple-seller (as Bruton’s double-page illustration vividly shows). Eventually, covered in bandages, Johnny winds up back home, where his father admonishes: “You see what comes to heedless boys, whene’er they disobey.”

JohnnyHeadstrong-center

Bruton’s double-page illustration of Johnny Headstrong on the pony causing mayhem

So McLoughlin’s Brothers’ rendition of this “summertime story” is really one of the “cautionary tales” inspired by Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter for which the firm was famous: stories showing kids “acting badly” and suffering the consequences. Some of their other classics in this vein have titles like: Little Suck-a-Thumb, Naughty Girls, Lazy Sam, Inky Jake, Foolish Fanny, Paulina Pry, and Moping Mary. After all, “to please and instruct” was the company motto, even during summer vacation!