Student Doodles from the Middle Ages

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A doodle in Juvenal's <em>Satires</em>, a 15th century French text meant to teach children morals.

I am a doodler. The staff at Studio 360 knows this pretty well — I’ve been sketching them during meetings for a decade with mixed results. So I was fascinated to discover a blog by Erik Kwakkel, a scholar of medieval texts at Leiden University in The Netherlands. He posts doodles that date from the 13th to 15th century.

Most of the art that survives from that period is religious. As representatives of Biblical figures, the people are usually contorted into poses that signify spiritual meaning, down to the hand gestures. But these doodles are much looser, more playful and even raunchy — making medieval Europeans feel relatable (to use a very modern term). Then again, Kwakkel suspects a lot of these drawings were done by students, which explains their mischievous quality.

There are scenes of daily life, like this newsboy. 

Or this mother calling to her toddler in a wheeling crib.

It's amazing to think whoever sketched this drawing was not fantasizing about medieval times — he was drawing the world around him.

There are surreal drawings, like these bearded men with hands coming out of their mouths.

What Kwakkel finds most interesting about this doodle is not the erotic content — it's the fact that the drawing contains a rare self-portrait for that time period. He even has a separate page for medieval #selfies.