Sunday, June 12, 2016

Biography - Esther Inglis Kello (1571-1624) embroiderer, calligrapher & miniaturist.

Esther Inglis Kello (Embroiderer, calligrapher, & miniaturist, 1571-1624) 1595, Scottish National Portrait Gallery. In this portrait, painted at about the time of her marriage, Esther holds one of her books.  She wears a necklace composed of several strands of tiny beads & on her left hand she has 3 rings. One has an amber-colored stone in a conventional quatrefoil bezel. On her little finger is a plain double hoop & her thumb has another double hoop. This might have been her wedding ring, which some ladies of the period wore on the thumb.

Esther Inglis Kello (1571-1624) became an embroiderer, calligrapher & miniaturist. She made exquisite illuminated manuscripts of religious verses for numerous aristocrats & monarchs.

She was born in France, probably at Dieppe.  Her father, Nicholas Langlois, & her mother, Marie Prisott decided to leave France for England about the time of the St. Bartholomew massacre in 1572.  Her parents with their infant children, fled from France to England & then to Scotland a few years later. They were probably related to the protestant pastor, Jean Langlois, who was martyred at Lyons in 1572.  

Her father Nicholas settled at Edinburgh, where he became master of the French school. On 16 December 1581, Nicholas was granted a pension by James VI for his teaching in Edinburgh. The royal letter mentioned his work forming his pupil's "hands to a perfect shape of letter." Esther was instructed in the art of calligraphy by her mother, & is said by Thomas Hearne to have become nurse to the young Prince Henry. Her patrons included Queen Elizabeth & her ministers, as well as the royal family of Scotland & David Murray.

When she was in her twenties, Esther married a minister, Bartholomew Kello, who also performed some administrative services for Queen Elizabeth. She married about 1596, Bartholomew Kello of Leith, a minister. John Kello, her father-in-law, & her mother-in-law Margaret were long dead by she the time she was born.  He had been hanged.  She had been murdered.  The minister of Spott, Haddingtonshire, in 1567 was hanged for the murder of his wife, Margaret Thomson, on 4 October 1570. His confession was published by Robert Lekprevik at Edinburgh. Esther moved from Scotland to England, as the minister's son Bartholomew was at the rectory of Willingale Spain, Essex, by December 1607.

Esther often did not assume her husband's last name for the purposes of retaining her artistic identity.  Upon moving to Scotland & becoming an artist, she anglicized her father's French name to Inglis. Though Esther & her husband were constantly plagued by poverty, their marriage seems to have been a productive one. They had 6 children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood.

On the inscription of the self-portrait, she wrote, “De dieu le bien/ de moy le rien” ("From the Lord goodness, from myself nothing"), a belief  that Inglis would repeat in her manuscripts. 

Inglis's talents as both a calligrapher & a miniaturist are evident in over 50 extant manuscripts that she presented to various wealthy patrons, including Queen Elizabeth, King James, Prince Henry, Prince Charles, the earl of Essex, & the Sidney & Herbert families. 

Most of the manuscripts are religious verses or translations; the great achievement of the works is their artistic presentation. The books are miniature in size, often only a few inches wide, with intricate borders of foliage & animals, & they are bound in leather, silk, or velvet. The calligraphy is exquisite, extremely detailed, & often microscopic. Inglis was capable of producing over 40 styles of the various scripts described in 16C handwriting treatises.

All but 3 of her books were signed with her maiden name (meaning 'English') in either its French (Langlois) or Scottish (Inglis) form, although in modern libraries her work is usually cataloged under the name Kello. She was an expert calligrapher, writing a variety of hands with equal skill in miniature form. Sometimes the letters were scarcely a millimetre high. She also decorated her books with paintings & drawings, & she often included self-portraits in them (based on the above portrait.  Inglis dedicated her books & manuscripts to European royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I, as well as to other aristocrats. She would send her work to whomever it was dedicated to, and the recipients would send her a gift of money in return.

In many of the dedications of her manuscripts, Inglis apologizes for her temerity in presenting her work since she is only a woman, yet she also takes evident pride in her labors, finishing off several manuscripts with the motto "Vive la plume." She also includes self-portraits in several of her manuscripts, a sign of ownership of the very works she would then present to potential patrons. In spite of the patronage she received, Esther Inglis was in serious debt, when she died in 1624, at the age of 53.

Esther Kello died on 30 August 1624; her husband survived her, dying on 15 March 1638.  She left 2 daughters, Elizabeth & Mary.  Samuel Kello (died 1680), her only son, was educated at Edinburgh (M.A. 1618). Afterwards he was admitted to Christ Church, Oxford, & became rector of Spexall, Suffolk.

Images of manuscripts from The Folger Library.

David Laing, ‘Notes relating to Mrs Esther (Langlois or) Inglis, the Celebrated Calligraphist, with an Enumeration of Manuscript Volumes Written by her between the years 1586 & 1624’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 6 (1868), 284-309

A.H. Scott-Elliot & Elspeth Yeo, ‘Calligraphic Manuscripts of Esther Inglis (1571-1624): A Catalogue’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 84 (March 1990), 11-86

Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Tjan-Bakker, Anneke. “Dame Flora’s Blossoms: Esther Inglis’s flower-illustrated manuscripts.” English Manuscript Studies 1500-1700. Vol. 9 (London: British Library, 2000), 49-72.

Ziegler, Georgianna. “’More than feminine boldness’: the gift books of Esther Inglis.” Women Writing and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart England. Ed. Mary E. Burke, et al. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000: 19-37.