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The Collation

Spotlight on a calligrapher

In an era when many schools don’t even teach cursive handwriting anymore because everyone taps out their messages on screens, it may seem quaint to focus on a woman known for her handwriting. But that’s exactly why we’re attracted to Esther Inglis, featured in the Folger’s current exhibition, “Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700”.

Inglis was a master of calligraphy, an art form that raises handwriting to a whole new height. Hundreds of manuals depicting many styles of writing were published in Europefrom the sixteenth into the eighteenth centuries, providing copybooks for amateurs and professionals alike. One in the Folger collection even shows the correct and incorrect ways of holding a pen:

from A New booke, containing all sorts of hands (1611)

Esther Inglis, or Langlois, was the daughter of French Huguenots who fled to London around 1569, then relocated a few years later in Scotland. Her  father, Nicholas Langlois, eventually became Master of the French School, with a stipend from James VI. Inglis herself was born about 1571, and was evidently trained in the fine art of calligraphy by her mother, Marie Presot. Around 1586, Inglis started making the small decorative books for which she is known. Miraculously, almost sixty of her manuscripts survive, and four of these are at the Folger Library, given by American book collector, Lessing J. Rosenwald, from 1946 to 1959.


Congratulations to Georgianna and everyone else who made this exhibition such a success, as just noted by the New York Times!

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — February 27, 2012

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