Curator’s Choice: Pen Flourish Figures in Jan Haverman’s Copybook

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.

Jan Haverman’s signature on the leaf pasted down on the front marbled paper cover. Cotsen 91631.

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.

The woman with a cap and curls down her back on leaf 1. Cotsen 91631.

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?

The man in the feathered hat on page 3. Cotsen 91631.

The hissing snake on page 5. Cotsen 91631.

The dancing dog on page 19. Cotsen 91631.

The sly fox on page 21. Cotsen 91631.

The clever ape on page 67. Cotsen 91631.

The bird eating cherries on page 35. Cotsen 91631.

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?

A sprig of flowers on page 27. Cotsen 91631.

There ARE some blots, misformed letters, and wobbly lines on this page, so perhaps the figure in the margin here was intended as an incentive to do better at the next lesson!


A Halloween Spectacle of Skeletons!!!!!

Fifteen years ago today Cotsen opened its gallery doors to the public.   Perhaps we should have drawn people into the space with a seasonal spooktacular, but the previous day’s ribbon-cutting took all the wind out of our sails.  So here to celebrate the occasion are some ghoulish pictures to chill the funny bone and to jolt the brain from Cotsen’s Skelt and Webb Toy Theater Collection.

skeletons and their friendly poisonous reptilesThese pictures of skeletons and their friendly poisonous reptiles come from prints that were part of a juvenile theatre play based on Blue Beard or Female Curiosity!, (1798) a “grand dramatic romance” with script by George Colman the younger and score by Michael Kelly.   Colman and Kelly’s dramatic take on Perrault’s celebrated but grisly fairy tale was inspired by French composer Gretry’s  opera Raoul Barbe Bleue (1789), but they turned it into an over-the-top  “Oriental” fanasy inspired by A Thousand and One Nights.  But why skeletons and not djinns?

Think of Shakespeare set during the American Civil War or the Roaring Twenties.   It’s the concept, not historical accuracy, that counts.  If Colman and Kelly could reconceive  Bluebeard  as Abomelique, the Turkish tyrant or three-tailed bashaw who was preceded by a standard of horse tails (oh yes, there were live horses on stage), then it’s not such a leap of imagination to have the wife-killing villain stabbed to death by a skeleton and escorted down to hell by a platoon of his vengeful friends.   No wonder the critics hated Colman and Kelly’s alternative to the holiday pantomime and the audiences loved it.

battling skeletons

And if this comes knocking at your door tonight, throw away the healthy treats!

imp riding a bat

Thanks to Mr. Cotsen for making this blog, and everything else Team Cotsen does possible!