Pen, Ink, and Children: London, British Library Add. 43868

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 48r
What is in your leather bag? Perhaps it is full of tools for creativity. Or perhaps there are sheets of paper with important thoughts. Maybe its pockets are filled with little toys and other strange treasures that you picked up along the way. Mine contains my iPhone, my credit cards, my moleskin notebook, my pens, and some lipstick. The person who carried the Greek sketchbook that I came across today must have had similar things in their bag, minus the iPhone and the make up. Oh, and perhaps a few coins jingled in his or her pocket instead of plastic.

That leaves only the notebook and drawing utensils.

Whatever the bag may have contained, virtually thumbing through London, British Library Additional 43868 on the digital archive of the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website made me ponder the kind of days this artist might have spent as he or she made the images.

The description on the website indicates that the little sketchbook is bound in brown goat leather, is approximately 20cm by 14cm, and made of 63 folios of paper. Aside from a few small articles on the manuscript from the 1930s and the library catalog entry from 1999, nothing has been written about this artists sketch book. Which means that very few people have likely seen the images contained within this book.

Working my way through the pages on the digital platform, it was hard for me to tell if these images were drawn based on images that the artist saw on the walls and ceilings of church buildings or in the cloisters of a monastery. For all we know, they may have been sketches for a larger painting or mural that the artist was commissioned to paint. What is certain is that the iconographic material throughout the book indicates some level of skill.

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f.28v

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 54r
Familiar Biblical stories, such as the Last Supper, can be found throughout the sketch book.This image indicates rather clearly what the first two above did not: that the book was used as a place where ideas were presented, perhaps, as I already hinted at above, before painting them onto more permanent locations.

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 44v

Something about this etching of Mary and the Christ child must have been pleasing to the artist since it is pasted onto one page covering some parts of the sketch beneath it.

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 14r

Another sketch  reveals the careful attention to detail detected throughout many of the images. In this case, the position of the legs and the draping of material makes for a nice study of someone sitting down on the ground.

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 11v

What fascinated me most about this sketchbook was not the images drawn by this skilled hand. It was the realization that this artist had a little protege who left a few of his or her own creative traces throughout the sketchbook.

I have had some fascination of "intruders" of manuscripts, especially of medieval manuscripts, as already indicated in a previous blogpost. To me, the human activity in manuscripts that are far from pristine offer enticing opportunities to imagine who might have opened that book and how they engaged with what they saw. I believe that the process of unveiling how these books were read by whom can often be found hidden among the margins or in between the lines.

In the case of this manuscript, I was thrilled to realize that a young reader, perhaps the child of the main artist, had visited the pages of the sketch book to leave their own doodles behind. 

To my great amusement, I found little human figures with far too many fingers, similar to what my nieces and nephews might draw for me to proudly put up on my refrigerator door, and bigger than life personalities dotted throughout the pages of the sketchbook. 

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 16v
London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 7v
London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 18v

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 36v

The aspiring artist in the margins of this sketchbook created beautiful children's art which is for us is a rare glimpse into drawings by children from the 18th century. You can almost hear gleeful laughter of the children bouncing out of the sketchbook.

London, British Library Additional MS 43868, f. 42r

The 18th-century sketchbook contains among the iconographic images, recipes, Biblical quotations, and church accounts. My little moleskin also contains random and inspirational ideas, recipes, phone numbers, and directions to meeting places. I can imagine that, in a moment of desperation while baby-sitting my nephews, I would pull it out for them to draw their own images, which in turn creates a beautiful tapestry of my daily life. I believe that this sketchbook resembles what many of us also carry in our leather bags - that small notebook that you pull out to scribble some ideas in, that catch-all pad that contains all of those images that have not been formed into a perfected state for the world to see.

Bibliography for this Manuscript
V. Grecu, 'Byzantinische Handb├╝cher der Kirchenmalerei', Byzantion 9 (1934) pp. 693-698.
H. J. M. Milne, 'An Iconographic Sketchbook', British Museum Quarterly 10 (1935-1936) pp. 65-66, pl. xxiii.
Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1931-1935, London 1967 pp. 254-55.
The British Library Summary Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts, I, London 1999, p. 262.