Divine writing, the art history of an idea: Visualising the first language in the early modern Low Countries

My PhD project examines the rise of visual representations of universal language in the early modern Low Countries. The starting point for this project is an investigation into the humanist quest for a perfect language, which was believed to be given by God to Adam in Paradise, and to have vanished as punishment for the construction of the Tower of Babel. Considering a range of images in print culture, my research explores the ways in which artists attempted to give visual form to the concept of a universal language. I analyse these images as both witnesses of and contributors to scholarly debates about the language of Paradise and the concept of a transcendent alphabet.

My project particularly focuses on the exquisite writing manuals of the so-called ‘Golden Age of Dutch Calligraphy’ (c. 1590-1650), as calligraphers specifically connected their search for perfect handwriting to the divine origin of writing. My dissertation aims to offer a novel interpretation of these volumes as objects of central importance to emerging notions of political and religious identity during the Dutch Revolt.