The rather prim illustrated masthead for the French children’s periodical, Le bon genie, gives little indication that nearly every number contained a luminous lithographic plate by Jean-Henri Marlet (1774-1847) during its run between 1824 and 1829. In 1824, Marlet demonstrated the artistic potential of lithography in an ambitious suite of seventy-two hand-colored plates about all aspects of life in Paris. He likewise documented French childhood high and low of the late 1820s as the house artist for Le bon genie.
This week when I was retrieving some manuscripts, I got distracted and made a discovery. I didn’t remember ever having looked at the materials on the shelf where the one manuscript lived and stopped to see what a few of the archive boxes near it contained.
One of the treasures was a eighteenth-century copybook that had been filled in between January and August 1733 by Jan Haverman, who lived in Amersfoort, a Dutch city on the river Een in Utrecht.
Cotsen has quite a few American and British copybooks, but I wasn’t aware there were Dutch examples too, so I was eager to peek inside the marbled paper wrappers. The pages are not ruled with carefully spaced lines that make it easy for the student to write the practice text across the page. The margins of the odd numbered pages are decorated with highly stylized decorations composed of swirling lines and whoever calligraphed these beautiful figures was something of an artist.
Jan Haverman signed the bottom of every page he copied out, but did he have the control of the pen to have drawn the figures in the margins as well?
Maybe the fantastic people and creatures be the work of Jan’s writing teacher. Scholars who study the history of writing instruction often call attention to the parts in an exercise that the student executed and the parts his instructor corrected. Could the writing master done the drawings as Jan’s reward for having finished his lesson?