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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
Calligraphic Moralizing

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Calligraphic Moralizing

Renaissance humanists used the teaching of handwriting to instill edifying phrases. At the same time, moralizing texts were enriched by the use of beautiful handwriting, illustrations, color, and ornamentation. Memorizing a moral precept could be aided by linking it to a memorable image or a letter of the alphabet.  Handwritten illustrated manuscripts could perform these functions more effectively than monochrome printed texts.

Esther Inglis. Octonaries. Manuscript, 1 January 1601

Esther Inglis. Octonaries. Manuscript, 23 December 1607

Esther Inglis. Octonaries. Manuscript, 23 December 1607

Esther Inglis. Argumenta psalmorum Davidis. Manuscript, 1608.

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608

Esther Inglis

Esther Inglis, a Scotswoman of Huguenot ancestry, created more than fifty-five Protestant devotional manuscripts, which she presented to patrons and royalty in England, Scotland, and France. She was known for her virtuostic display of a variety of "designer" hands—that is, handwriting styles that had no other function than to delight the senses. Often she included self-portraits, as seen above (top left).  In this one her quill hovers over the words, "de dieu le bien de moy le rien" (from the Lord, goodness, from myself, nothing).


One of at least nine copies of La Roche Chandieu’s Octonaries made by Inglis, this copy is dedicated "to the vertuous and my loving freinde and landlord," William Jeffrai. The “mirror” writing (top middle, right) is an example of Esther Inglis’s calligraphic wizardry. Each of the forty-seven “octonaries,” or eight-line stanzas, in this manuscript is penned in a different calligraphic style and illustrated with flowers.


Esther Inglis acted as both calligrapher and embroiderer for the manuscript of versified psalms in Latin that she dedicated to Prince Henry (top row, far right).  Prince Henry's royal arms appear on the verso of the title page. The crimson velvet binding on this tiny volume is decorated with stylized flowers, leaves, and stems decorated with silver thread embroidery and seed pearls. It is closed with a silver clasp.


Thomas Trevelyon

Thomas Trevelyon’s 600-page manuscript miscellany includes three sets of moralizing alphabets. The letters of the alphabet serve as the first letters of quotations from successive books of the Old Testament, the New  Testament, and an anonymous set of verses titled “A right godly and Christian A.B.C.” While all of these texts were available in print, Trevelyon’s manuscript rendering of them, with colorful and decorative letter-forms and the alignment of the alphabet with the arrangement of the books of the Geneva Bible, would help his readers to commit the verses to memory.


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