“When you hold the letter of someone you admire and who was dead before you were born, I think it’s the closest connection you can have with that sort of person. Because you’re holding a little frozen moment of their life – they may have spent… a long time if it’s a manuscript with that piece of paper, they touched it.”
Pedro Corrêa do Lago has one of the largest private collections of autographed letters and manuscripts in the world. It includes tens of thousands of handwritten documents from 5000 of the most important figures in the fields of art, literature, history, science, music and entertainment since 1153. They have just been brought together in a new book, The Magic of Handwriting.
There’s a marble order sketched by Michelangelo; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s first and last known letters; Sigmund Freud’s bill for 20 sessions; a letter from Emily Dickinson; Puccini’s score for Girl of the Golden West; drafts for In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust; a sketch of the Tramp’s accessories by Charlie Chaplin; and a letter from Mary Shelley a few months after the death of her husband Percy Shelley, asking Italian authorities to hand over the boat in which he drowned and all its contents. There’s also a letter from Wolfgang Mozart to his father Leopold, mentioning that he’s been dating a young singer – something that might have troubled Leopold, who wanted his son to focus instead on his studies.
Corrêa do Lago tells BBC Culture what it’s like to hold a piece of handwritten history in his hands. “It’s the moment of creation that is materialised in that piece of paper.”
Click the play button above to watch the video.
The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection is out now, published by Taschen.
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