Esther Inglis: Linguist, Calligrapher, Miniaturist, and Christian Humanist
Esther Inglis (1571-1624) spent her life crossing borders. Born in Dieppe, raised and married in Scotland, and embedded in both Continental and British literary culture, it is difficult to give her even a geographic label. Similarly, her corpus of over 50 manuscript copybooks resists classification since they incorporate elements of illuminated manuscripts, emblem books, and humanist collecteana.1 Many contain her miniature paintings of birds, flowers, and insects, as well as her self-portraits. Alongside the images, however, appear texts in diverse calligraphic hands, some of which are so precise in their imitation of typescript that the volumes become almost indistinguishable from printed books-a characteristic feature of “scribal publication.”2 As Inglis most often drew from Scripture and published devotional material, it would be tempting to classify her texts as commonplace books. Yet her bold authorial stance, the range of languages in which she worked (French, Latin, English, and Greek) and her roster of noble and royal patrons make even this categorization problematic. Given these difficulties, previous studies have focused on the distinctiveness of Inglis’ calligraphy, limning, and needlework; only recently have scholars begun to explore her engagement with Elizabethan
1 For the most complete catalog of Inglis’ works to date, see A. H. Scott-Elliot and Elspeth Yeo, “Calligraphic Manuscripts of Esther Inglis (1571-1624): A Catalogue,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 84 (1990), 10-86. Hereafter stated as “Catalogue.” All translations are my own, unless otherwise noted, but I extend my thanks to Diana Robin for invaluable assistance in sorting out the neo-Latin of Inglis and her admirers.