Manuscript compilation on Arabia and its vicinity with 39 pages of illustrations, especially inscriptions, but including views of the Great Mosques at Mecca and Medina

Niebuhr, Carsten, et al. (Johan Louis Gerlagh, compiler and draftsman). Aanteekeningen uit de Reise naar Arabie, en andere omliggende landen, van Carsten Niebuhr, geteekent en geschreeven door Joh. Louis Gerlagh.

[Hoeven (near Breda)?], 1785.

Folio (29 x 22 cm). 63, (10) ff. Manuscript in Dutch, written in ink on paper, with two loosely inserted supplements (2 bifolia), with a calligraphic title-page (in script lettering with an interior white line giving an incised effect) and 39 pages of (mostly) ink and grey ink wash drawings of inscriptions, musical instruments, buildings, etc., including 3 pages of Kufic inscriptions in black ink with vowel points in red and decorations in red, yellow and green, and a few other written inscriptions showing the styles of script, plus a small drawing of an inscription and a few written examples in the text. Contemporary half canvas, sides covered with printed pattern paper (a matrix of 4-petalled rosettes on a background of horizontal and vertical lines, and dots, in red, blue and yellow, sewn on 3 vellum tapes and tacketted to the canvas spine through a vellum liner.


A Dutch illustrated manuscript devoted to the Arabian peninsula and neighbouring regions, compiled in 1785 by (and the illustrations drawn by) Johan Louis Gerlagh (1735-98), a director of the Dutch West India Company and East India Company (WIC and VOC). He takes a special interest in the various and styles of script, including Egyptian hieroglyphs and at least six styles of Arabic script (kufic, naskh, ta'liq, thuluth, ruq'ah and maghribi), but he also discusses and illustrates bas-reliefs, buildings (including the Great Mosques at Mecca and Medina), musical instruments, footware, a scarab, etc., and provides tables of data concerning tides, compass corrections and temperatures, and accounts of the Islamic calendar, precious stones, weights and measures and coins. The title describes the manuscript as notes from Carsten Niebuhr's "Reize naar Arabië en andere omliggende landen", a Dutch translation (Amsterdam & Utrecht 1776-78) of the German "Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien" (Copenhagen 1774-78), but Gerlagh apparently treats Niebuhr's complementary "Beschryving van Arabie" (1774, first published in German in 1772) as an additional volume of the Reize. All the illustrations and most of the text are copied from these two publications. Gerlagh does make use of other sources, however, quoting from Bernard Bredenbach, "Peregrinatio in Terra Sanctum" (1486); Heinrich Buenting, Itinerarium scripturae (1581); Fredrik Hasselquist, Travels in the Levant (1766); J.F. Martinet, "Historie der waereld" (1780-87) and Joseph de la Porte, "Nieuwe reisiger, beschryving van de oude en nieuwe weereldt" (1766-91).

Gerlagh came from a patrician family that had ties with the WIC by at least 1720 (including a director by 1730) and the VOC by at least 1735. He himself was a director of both by 1764. Although he is recorded moving from Tholen to Oosterhout (northeast of Breda) in 1779, this may have been a second residence, for he had already set up in Hoeven (west of Breda) where he served as "schout" (head of the municipality) from 1771 to 1794, his wife died there in 1786 and he died there in 1798, so he probably produced the present manuscript there. His amateur drawings and sketchbooks, most of them in Museum Gouda, have been exhibited.

The manuscript collates: [A]14 (- A9) [B]10 (B1 + [chi]2; - B7, 9, 10) [C]2 [D]4 [E]2 [F]4 [G]6 (± G1, 2, 3, 6) [H]4 [I]2 [K]-[N]4 2[chi]1 [O]-[P]4 [Q]2 = 73 ff., with E2 and H4 blank except for the leaf numbers (ff. 30 & 34). The main paper stock (including the endpapers at the front and probably also at the back) is watermarked: crowned GR in laurel branches, in a circle = Dutch garden (with "Pro Patria" above toward the centre of the sheet) above "H K P" (the main mark can appear in the left or right half sheet). We have not found or identified the initials HKP. After the last numbered leaf (2[chi]) a new part of the text begins with a different paper stock to the end of the manuscript (quires O-Q), similar but with no initials below the Dutch garden, in the general style of Heawood 3700 (1747) and Voorn, Noord-Holland 140 (1790). The cancel leaf G6± may come from the same stock, while the cancel leaves G1±, G2± and G3± show a different stock or stocks: G3± with a lion with 7 arrows, lance and freedom hat (pedestal with "VRYHEYT") in a crowned ring (double lines inside and out) containing (in mirror image) "Pro patria eiusque libertate"), in the general style of Heawood 3148 (1745) and Voorn, Noord-Holland 104-111 (1713-49); and G1± and G2± with the countermark "J[an] H[onig] & zoon", that form shown with a different main mark in Voorn, Noord-Holland 133 (1741). The firm name in the present form, with the present "zoon" (son), is recorded from 1735 to at least 1764 (probably at least 1768), changing to "zonen" (sons) probably by 1774 and certainly by 1793. So the paper used for these three cancel leaves may be several years older than the manuscript itself.

The manuscript is internally in good condition, with most deckles preserved. The binding is shabby, with tears in the canvas and the paper sides, the front hinge separated from the bookblock and the free endleaf at the back torn out. A good example of the fascination of leading figures in the VOC and WIC with the Arabian Peninsula and vicinity and with Islamic culture.

For Niebuhr and his accounts of Arabia: Hamilton, Europe and the Arab world 48; Howgego, to 1800, N24; for Gerlagh: Katalogus ... tekenwerk-schilderwerk van Johann Louis Gerlagh (1987); A. Romeijn, De stadsregering van Tholen (1577-1795) (2001), pp. 229f.