Author Topic: Female scribes through history  (Read 470 times)

Offline Estefa

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Female scribes through history
« on: February 23, 2019, 07:07:06 AM »
Dear flourishers, I've started a bit of research regarding female scribes / calligraphers in the past. In premodern times most female scribes in Europe were to be found in convents – they also needed scribes, and men were not allowed, so some nuns (mostly those coming from nobler families, but also craftsmen's or merchant's daughters, as far as my research tells me) learnt not only reading but also writing and illumination.

I'd be delighted for more names – feel free to post more links! Sorry, some of my finds are only available in German. For some scribes there is very little information, if someone is able to dig out more, I'd find it very interesting!

For a start, look at that cheerful nun! This is a page from a book written and illuminated (probably) by Elsbeth Stagel around 1440. It is from a »Schwesternbuch« (= book of sisters), describing religious experiences of devine grace from the sisters in the convent of Töss (Switzerland). They were Dominican sisters. Elsbeth carries the typical tools with that also male scribes were usually shown – quill and pen knife:

Elsbeth Stagel (Switzerland, 14. Century)

More about sister-books in general:

Sister-books (Germany, Switzerland, Middle Ages)

And some other scribes:

Regula von Lichtenthal (Germany, 15. Century)

Dorothea Schermann (Germany, 16. Century)

Ida of Nivelles (Belgium, 13. Century – according to the German Wikipedia entry, she was also a scribe and illuminator)

Nuns from the scriptorium of the Klarissenkloster Sankt Clara (Germany, 14. Century)

Just a mention in a list of graves:

Irtyu (Egypt, 600 to 300 before Christ)

The old Egyptians also had a goddess of writing:

Sehat, Old Egypt

In this (German) article about one of Mohamed's wifes, Hafsa bint Umar, a female scribe is mentioned that teached Hafsa writing and reading:

Schifāʾ bint ʿAbdallāh al-ʿAdawīya (Saudi Arabia, 7. Century)

Christine de Pizan, one of the earliest known female authors, was also a skilled scribe:
Christine de Pizan (France, 15. Century)

She worked with another female artist, who must have been an outstanding illuminator:
Anastasia (France, 15. Century)

Sorry, bit of a not so pretty picture, but this is evidence of another female illuminator from medieval times – the evidence being teeth with dental plaque containing lapislazuli pigments: she must have licked her brush (I got that link from the newsletter of British master calligrapher Patricia Lovett):
Unknown artist (Germany, around the year 1000)

Then Maria Strick, a Dutch scribe, teacher and head mistress – her husband actually engraved her work! Thanks to @sybillevz for telling me about her:
Maria Strick (Netherlands, 17. Century) and a bit about her life.

I'm sure there are more and I'll keep digging if I have time … would be interested also about women writers in Asia – maybe also in monastery settings? … Also I think I read somewhere about a famous female Turkish calligrapher (Arabic calligraphy), but I couldn't find her name with a quick search. There was also another Swiss scribe, who was not a nun, and who was nearly publishing a copy book, but then had to look after a sick family member and apparently nothing came from the plans. She must have been very talented, but it seems I forgot to bookmark the link and can't find out more now.

Have a nice weekend everyone!
« Last Edit: February 25, 2019, 02:04:59 AM by Estefa »
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Offline AAAndrew

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2019, 12:38:16 PM »
Very cool! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to more as you find them.
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Offline sybillevz

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2019, 03:48:59 PM »
Very interesting topic Stefanie !
There is of course Maria Strick, whom you already mentioned. She was a badass scribe and won the "golden quill" at a contest against the best master penmen of her time. Her Italian hand was specially praised by the judges. She published 4 copybooks with the help of her husband who engraved just for her (I think he also didi it as a favor for someone else though)....

There is Esther Inglis, a Frenchwoman who migrated to England because she was a protestant. I don't think I have seen any of her work, she didn't publish anything, but her work was highly regarded. I'll see what I can dig up about her.

Finally, I read that there was a wonderful penwoman in London around the time Bickham was looking for contributors for the Universal Penman. She was said to be better than some of the other contributors, but Bickham didn't want to shock any of his subscribers and decided not to use her submissions. I'm going to try and find her name in my notes if I can...


Offline Estefa

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2019, 05:04:05 PM »
Ooooh that sounds fascinating, @sybillevz – especially about that contemporary of Bickham :)! As you know that is one of my very favourite topics ;D
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Offline sybillevz

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2019, 05:14:24 AM »
This is what Ambrose Heal wrote in his Bibliography of English Writing master's copybooks (p.xviii of the preface)

"Calligraphy, one would have thought, was a field in which woman would have excelled, but we find records of very few writing mistresses.
Ballard in his Memoirs of Several Ladies in Great Britain mentions Elizabeth Lucar (died 1537) as a skilful and curious calligrapher.
In the days of Queen Elizabeth and King James I, Esther Inglis was renowned for her fine writing and numbered members of the Royal families of England and Scotland among her patrons. Specimens of her exquisite work are presereved in libraries in this country and on the Continent.
In the Pepys collection is a trade card of a writing school kept by Elizabeth Penniston in Ave Maria Lane in the final decade of the 17th century.
Massey speaks of a contemporary of his, one Mary Johns, a proficient in the art, specimens of whose work were offered to George Bickham for inclusion in his Universal Penman (1733), "but upon some frivolous pretext, that offer was rejected". It is fairly safe to assume that Bickham, being employed by the leading wrting-masters to engrave their copy-books, was anxious to avoid the embarrassing situation which might have arisen with his clients if he had introduced competition from the other sex."

I also found a copy of a book by Marie Pavie, a Frenchwoman : https://paleography.library.utoronto.ca/islandora/object/paleography%3A516
This is what Mediavilla says about her :
She was born in 1580 and published a book in 1608 called (my translation) "The first essay by the hand of Marie Pavie". Her style is reminiscent of Le Gangneur, even though it lacks in fluidity. This book is the first signed by a women that mentions a date.
This last information may only be true for France, as Maria Strick published her first book in 1607.

Mediavilla also cites :
Marie-Angélique Duru (born around 1680) : she was part of the "corporation des maîtres écrivains de Paris", and produced beautiful manuscripts (often on vellum). Most of her works have been lost.

Esther Inglis (1571-1624) : was born in Dieppe (FR) as Esther Langlois, but her father took his family to Edimburgh after the Massacre of Saint-Barthelemy (when protestant were killed in France). Esther was taught calligraphy and illumination by her mother (as part of her artistic education). In 1596, she married Bartholomeuw Kello, a gentleman and the Queen's minister.
She never taught writing in a school setting, but produced many artistic books for her patrons and taught her art to Henry Prince of Wales (older brother of Charles I). The Queen Elizabeth (I) and James I were among her patrons, one of Esther's manuscripts is dedicated to his son : prince Charles. A series of her manuscripts can be seen at the Royal Library in Stockholm, her major work is kept at the British Museum. Esther Inglis was considered as one of the best calligraphers of her time.

Mediavilla explains that few women were admitted to the corporation as the role of men and women was so well defined in society that few women ever managed to earn a living by holding a writing school, or even sold any "artistic productions".

Offline Inked botanicals

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2019, 07:14:25 AM »
So interesting! You have inspired me and as soon as I sit with my pc I’ll search about it. Not so much time for research these days, but if I happen to find anything, I’ll share!
Alba.

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Offline Starlee

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2019, 10:54:38 AM »
Stefanie, thank you for starting this thread! I just really started digging into the history of things a little more, and did notice how disproportionately male the exemplars are. The use in monasteries makes sense. Makes me wonder how many exquisite exemplars remain behind closed doors...
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Offline Estefa

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2019, 08:24:16 AM »
Thanks everyone for your responses! @sybillevz so great to read about these ladies. I'd heard from Esther Inglis before, I looked it up – there is one example of her work in P. Lovett's book »The art and history of calligraphy«. It shows a small illumination (a flower) and a paragraph in Italian Hand. I can't post it because of copyright – if I have time later, I can search if I find something online!

I think that book by Marie Pavie quite impressive :)!! – Have you seen that fun little drawing in the document page PP_202_018? It looks like it was drawn with very light ink …

Thanks again :)!
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Offline RD5

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2019, 06:00:40 AM »
.

Esther Inglis (1571-1624) : was born in Dieppe (FR) as Esther Langlois, but her father took his family to Edimburgh after the Massacre of Saint-Barthelemy (when protestant were killed in France). Esther was taught calligraphy and illumination by her mother (as part of her artistic education). In 1596, she married Bartholomeuw Kello, a gentleman and the Queen's minister.
She never taught writing in a school setting, but produced many artistic books for her patrons and taught her art to Henry Prince of Wales (older brother of Charles I). The Queen Elizabeth (I) and James I were among her patrons, one of Esther's manuscripts is dedicated to his son : prince Charles. A series of her manuscripts can be seen at the Royal Library in Stockholm, her major work is kept at the British Museum. Esther Inglis was considered as one of the best calligraphers of her time.

Mediavilla explains that few women were admitted to the corporation as the role of men and women was so well defined in society that few women ever managed to earn a living by holding a writing school, or even sold any "artistic productions".

This contains errors, her husband was certainly not a Queen's minister. James VI became King of Scots in 1567, before she was born and so no Queen ruled Scotland during her lifetime. Britannica lists him as a clerk and sometimes cleric. So perhaps that is what is meant by minister. (There is a lot of contradictory information about her)

I am skeptical that her husband is best described as a gentleman. (It is hard to know in Scotland, because everyone with the same name was considered related. ) Still, she came out of a middle class family and he worked in a middle class job, so he was probably more middle class than upper class.

I think this is important, because I doubt a lady would work as a calligrapher. Especially, a high ranking member of government. Mainly because a lady wouldn't need to. Sure, she might pursue it as a hobby and the religious aspects would certainly keep others from looking down upon her for it, but that is hardly conditions that encourage the achievement of excellence.

I think it must have been very hard to make a living as a calligrapher and miniaturist then. There wasn't that many people who could afford a handwritten book, let alone an illuminated one.Even then, we can't say for sure if Esther was able to support herself with her work. She was married and her husband had income, and it is possible that one or both of them had an inheritance that helped to support them.

I think the biggest barrier to becoming a calligrapher, is learning the skills. We are rather spoiled for choice when it comes to learning resources, but back then one had to find a teacher. Esther was lucky that her mother was capable and willing to teach her. Especially if the guilds (which I assume is meant by corporations) excluded women, it would be impossible to work as a calligrapher any where the guild had power.

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #9 on: February 27, 2019, 11:44:10 AM »
Absolutely fascinating. Thank you @Estefa and @sybillevz for sharing with us.  :)
Truly, Erica
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Offline sybillevz

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2019, 02:26:37 PM »
@RD5 The information I wrote is a loose translation of a book in French, but I wrote minister as a translation of "ministre", which cannot mean clerk in French... But it looks like Mediavilla was mistaken. I'm going to post the copy of what the Oxford Dictionary of national biography says about her below.

Inglis [married name Kello], Esther (1570/71–1624), calligrapher, was probably born in London. She is generally known as Inglis, the Scottish form of Langlois. Her parents, Nicolas Langlois and Marie Presot, moved to London from Dieppe in France as Huguenot refugees about 1569. By 1574 they were settled in Edinburgh, where, after initially receiving assistance for debt, Nicolas became master of the French school and died in 1611. Esther, the second of five children, was taught calligraphy by her mother, who was a skilled scribe. She married Bartholomew Kello (d. 1631) about 1596. John Kello, her husband's father, had become minister of Spott, Haddingtonshire, in 1567, and was hanged for the murder of his wife, Margaret Thomson, in 1570. Bartholomew Kello was a minor government official who occasionally went abroad in the royal service. He and his family appear to have moved to London by 1604 and from 1607 to 1614 they were in Essex, where Bartholomew was rector of Willingale Spain. They returned to Edinburgh in 1615, and Esther died at Leith on 30 August 1624. She was survived by her husband and four children.

Samuel Kello (d. 1680), Church of England clergyman, her only surviving son, was educated at Edinburgh University (MA 1618) and also studied at Christ Church, Oxford. From 1620 until his death in December 1680 he was rector of Spexhall, Suffolk, where his wife, Marie, is recorded in the parish register. His Carmen gratulatorium ad … Jacobum … sextum (1617) was addressed to the king on his visit to Edinburgh that year; another poem was published in The Muses' Welcome (1618). He also wrote a treatise, 'Balme for the wounded soul', dated 1628 (Trinity College, Dublin, MS 695). He was buried in the church at Spexhall, Suffolk, on 9 December 1680.

Fifty-nine manuscript books written by Esther Inglis and dating from 1586 to 1624 are known. Most of them carry dedications to royalty, members of the nobility, or people of rank and influence, and were evidently presented in hope of reward. Two early works, 'Discours de la foy' in verse, dated 1591 (Huntington Library, HM 26068) and the Psalms in French of 1599 (Christ Church, Oxford, MS 180), were made for Elizabeth I, and four for Henry, prince of Wales; another patron was the poet and courtier Sir David Murray of Gorthy, whom she addressed as 'mon treshonoré Mecoenas' (BL, Harleian MS 4324, fol. 2). But despite these wealthy patrons the family was not well off, and Esther was in debt at the time of her death. The manuscripts are written in a wide range of scripts, including the French secretary hand, chancery script, mirror writing, and the highly ornamental hands practised by contemporary writing-masters. Some of her most ornate books, executed between 1599 and 1602, contain over thirty different styles, but from 1608 she tended to use only roman and italic, often on a tiny scale. Several manuscripts written in 1615 measure about 45 × 70 mm and contain lines of text less than a millimetre in height. The decoration in her manuscripts changed too. The earlier works often have introductory pages, headpieces, and initials incorporating designs and elements copied from printed books. In contrast, her later manuscripts make use of colour but have far less decoration, and this often takes the form of flower paintings. Many of the manuscripts contain a self-portrait in pen and ink or in colour, sometimes accompanied by verses in her praise by the Presbyterian divines Andrew Melville and Robert Rollock.

Esther Inglis signed and dated most of her work. Among the undated manuscripts are two collections (NL Scot., MS 2197, and Edinburgh University Library, MS La.III.522) probably intended as specimen books and modelled on the published works of writing masters such as John de Beauchesne. She certainly knew Clément Perret's Exercitatio alphabetica (1569), since she copied parts of its decoration in several manuscripts written between 1599 and 1601, notably in 'Le livre de l'Ecclésiaste' dedicated to the vicomtesse de Rohan (New York Public Library, Spencer Collection, French MS 8 ). But the most striking example of adaptation is a manuscript made for Prince Charles in 1624 (BL, Royal MS 17.D.XVI), a version of Georgette de Montenay's Emblemes ou devises chrestiennes (1619), in which Esther dedicated each emblem to a different English courtier. As with eleven other books made for royalty, it is in an embroidered binding which is probably also her own work. Another outstanding manuscript (privately owned) is 'A book of the armes of England' made for Henry, prince of Wales, in 1609. It contains paintings of the arms of the nobility and its velvet binding is embroidered with the prince's crest in pearls.

In contrast to her elaborate manuscripts, Esther Inglis wrote at least ten small books between 1614 and 1617 which are relatively plain and very similar in design. They contain little decoration, the script is a small roman hand, and the texts are either the 'Quatrains' of Guy du Faur, Sieur de Pybrac, or the 'Octonaires sur la vanité et inconstance du monde' of Antoine de la Roche Chandieu. Esther frequently copied these texts as well as drawing heavily on both French and English versions of the Genevan Bible. She also wrote out an English translation by her husband and incorporated verses by him in her work.

While other women calligraphers are known from this period, the quantity of work by Esther Inglis to survive is remarkable and her manuscripts have always been admired. Although her draughtsmanship was weak and she lacked originality, preferring to reproduce designs by others, the delicacy and precision of her calligraphy, particularly when working on a very small scale, was outstanding.

Wealth at death :
debts of £156: commissariot of Edinburgh, 11 March 1625, register of testaments, CC8/8/53

Offline Mary_M

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2019, 01:34:00 PM »
That's very interesting. Thanks for posting!

Julian of Norwich came to mind not as a scribe but as having been one of the earliest known and credited English writers. I would imagine her works would have been transcribed by other nuns and found some interesting information at  http://www.umilta.net/tablet.html

Towards the bottom is this:  These texts were read and copied in the midst of a living community of prayer and contemplation, and one that continues today at Stanbrook and at Colwich. But the Sisters had to fight with every weapon of love and obedience to preserve their manuscripts, including their manuscript of Julian of Norwich's Showings. In 1655, they were ordered by Dom Claude White, then President of the English Benedictine Congregation, to surrender their contemplative books which were perceived 'to containe poysonous, pernicious and diabolicall doctrine'. The Abbess and the Sisters prostrated themselves before Dom White, refusing, in charity, to surrender their books (one of them their exemplar manuscript of Julian's Showings ),

We humbly beseech your Very Reverend Paternity to pardon us that we do not answer you in the simple word of I or No, we having given your Paternity many reasons why wee could not answer I, and as for No, without the necessary circumstances wee feared it might carry a show of disrespect to your Very Reverend Paternity to whom we owe and desire to perform all dutifull obedience and respect.(5)
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Looks like Dom Claude White was "poysonous", not the contemplative books.


Offline RD5

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2019, 08:08:36 AM »
Thanks, that's interesting. Things were really different then. Today, to call someone a pro is a complement, but despite her high skill Esther at least maintained the illusion that she was an amateur.

Offline RD5

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2019, 04:46:17 PM »
I was reading a book on lettering that mentioned Anna Simons as a student from Morris, more research reveals that she was a student of Johnston and was responsible to spreading his ideas and those of the Arts & Crafts movement to Germany. She studied in Britain because the Prussian schools wouldn't accept women. She however found work in Germany, replaced Johnston when he couldn't give a seminar there and translated his works. She worked in Munich and did many Certificates there as well as typographic work.

[urlhttp://www.germandesigners.net/designers/anna_simons][/url]

Offline K-2

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Re: Female scribes through history
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2019, 05:54:51 PM »
I didn't see Jeanne de Montbaston in the list yet.  She was an illustrator/illuminator who worked with her husband, Richard, at their bookmaking atelier in Paris, around 1320 to 1355.  She outlived him, and kept the business going for a number of years, so I think she must have also done scribal work.  Her illustrations & illuminations appear in some of the world's most beautiful books.  (examples at the Getty: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/28932/jeanne-de-montbaston-french-active-about-1320-1355/)

She's also famous for the notorious 14th-century edition of the Romance of the Rose with illustrations of nuns harvesting penises off a penis tree (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 25526). You can view the entire manuscript online: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000369q.r=MS.%20Fr.%2025526?rk=21459;2

--yours, K