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Medieval children let loose with the crayons

05 August 2016

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA LIBRARIES

Childish scribbles: “If you compare them with the doodles that children make today, they are really similar”

Childish scribbles: “If you compare them with the doodles that children make today, they are really similar”

DOODLES discovered in a medieval religious manuscript were probably the work of young children supposed to be studying.

The drawings depict a horse or cow, a human figure, and possible images of the Devil, and were made in blank spaces on the pages of a 14th-century book tat originally came from a Franciscan convent in Naples.

They were identified by an expert on historic manuscripts at the University of York, Dr Deborah Thorpe, who discovered them online. Child psychologists suggested that their creators were aged between four and six, having come up with a set of criteria indicating this. For example, Dr Thorpe said, the elongated shapes, the long legs, and the lack of a torso, the focus on the head, “are the things that are most important to children. If you compare them with the doodles that children make today, they are really similar.

“It was just a case of detective work, really. It shows how children back then enjoyed playing and learning, expressing themselves, and allowing their imagination to take off, just like today’s children. Perhaps they were allowed to do it, or perhaps they weren’t. It adds another dimension to a fascinating story.”

The book, which is held in the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, is a collection of sermons written in Latin, and astronomical and astrological tables for calculating the day of the week for any day from 1204 to 1512. There are also commentaries on the Gospel, Epistle, readings, and tables and lists for “biblical, classical, and Mideastern dates”.

An inscription shows it was written in 1327 by a scribe at the St Domenico convent. Dr Thorpe calculates that the drawings were added between 100 and 200 years later. An inscription on its inside back cover records that, soon after it was written, it was lent to the Dominican friar Umilis of Gubbio for a surety of one florin.

“It is probable that this friar never returned the borrowed book: books could be lent for long periods, even for life,” Dr Thorpe said. “Alternatively, the scribe may have died, or passed the book to another borrower after Umilis. It is also possible that the convent librarian sold the book.”

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