A single shivering fleck of sunset-light

Layout 1How fortunate we are as calligraphers not only to be moved by the words of authors and poets, but also to be able to interpret that text visually. I had the task of creating a number of pieces of the same artwork for a special occasion – what to choose, and how to interpret the text? As it’s what I do, I homed in on vellum and quills, and had some lovely classic-finish skin which hadn’t been bleached too much so still had many of the characteristics of the animal such as darker areas, veining and specks of hair follicles.

 

 

 

IMG_2163I wanted something that would be a bit of challenge as I had to write it out over a dozen times and I do tend to get bored rather easily (!), but I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of that challenge when I started! As it was a special occasion I chose my favourite verse of my favourite poem, Gift, by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this poem he writes about what he could give to show that he cares. Tagore considers a flower – it will fade, a jewel – it could get lost, a candle in the darkness – it will get blown out. So he chooses a moment – that point when, wandering in a garden, a hidden flower’s scent ‘startles you into sudden wondering’. Or when, at dusk, a ‘single shivering fleck of sunset-light turns your daydreams to gold’ (I get a shiver up the spine whenever I read that). I tried the verse in various formats, portrait, landscape, in Italic, in Foundational hand, and in the end decided to go for Compressed Italic Majuscles (Capitals) with the words and phrases that meant to most to me in wider Roman Capitals. Rather than using the same colour, I chose three – bright yellow, a bright green and an olive green as I felt these reflected the colours in the verse, and fed these into the pen as I wrote. This is technically quite challenging to do as you can see here and here. So the first thing to do was to see how the lines would fall, as on the right above.

IMG_2162Having determined the line endings and seen how big the piece was, I realised that I needed to go down a nib size, as on the right, but even this was too big, so I then went for the smallest nib size – a size 6 – this was turning into quite a challenge! I did have the basic layout of the poem though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2155I don’t usually use lines for these pieces, relying on eye and the balance of the text, but to do this number, I appreciated that I did need some sort of guide. The great thing about vellum is that usually you can just about see through it. So I worked out the line spacing, length of lines, beginnings and endings and the balance of the artwork and ruled up a piece of paper to use as my guide on which I placed the prepared cut pieces of vellum ready to write.

 

 

 

IMG_2152Pieces that are completely evenly centred often cause a problem as the eye is taken by the shape the edges of the lines make, so in my view it’s better to have the lines based on a central line. For this, to ensure that there is a balance, use a plastic ruler and place the narrow edge down the vertical central line of the piece. Half close your eyes and there should be the same amount of text on the right-hand side of the line as there is on the left. It can take some adjusting of individual lines  to achieve this. What is important is that some part of all the lines must go through this central line; if they are flying off to the right or left without this the piece has no cohesion, no spine.

 

IMG_2153So I was ready to go, and hope that the recipients are pleased with their original artworks, each one different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lindisfarne Gospels

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed759970d-580wiThe Lindisfarne Gospels are, in the opinion of many (including me!) the greatest treasure we have. This manuscript had, of course, to be featured in my book The Art and History of Calligraphy, published by the British Library in May 2017. The Lindisfarne Gospels were written before 720 and the scribe and artist was Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, according to Aldred who added a colophon (scribe’s note) at the back of the book in the tenth century. You can see Aldred’s dancing Insular Minuscule gloss between the lines on the right; he added this lettering during the 100 years or so when the monks were at Chester-le-Street. However, what is far more eye-catching are the wonderful colourful and decorated letters. The patterns range from interlace, to geometric red dots, to birds with necks and legs intertwined in the first and last strokes of the enlarged letter N at the start. And it is the invention of letter-forms and their placement that is so delighted. Look at the letter U sitting comfortably within what actually is a V but looks like a U on the top line – NOVUM. Note, too, the four birds’ heads hanging off the top serifs and springing up from the bottom ones on the squared-off letter O on the next line.

pod85Opposite this page is one of the famous cross-carpet pages, called this because they are densely decorated and patterned like a Persian carpet, but are also in the shape of a cross. On the right is the cross carpet page opposite the incipit, the beginning, of Mark.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.56What is intriguing with this cross-carpet is the central part of the design in that the lines are not completely straight; so this circular design looks almost as if it is slightly raised in the centre, a bit like the ‘boss’ on a shield perhaps. Look at the red geometric patterns top and bottom and right and left; notice the way in which the black outlines aren’t exactly perpendicular emphasising this effect.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.37Now these patterns didn’t come about by chance when Eadfrith was doodling away one wet afternoon. They were very carefully planned and constructed. This is the back of that page. These are the guidelines made by lead point, the earliest example of it according to the great Michelle Brown. However there are also pin prick marks where a set of dividers has been used to ensure that the distances between the lines on that central ‘boss’ shape are even. Michelle suggests that some sort of back lighting was likely so that Eadfrith could follow his planned design. Read more here about Michelle’s work on the Lindisfarne Gospels.

images-2The intricacy of Eadfrith’s designs are quite amazing when magnified. The is the chi-rho page – the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek (not x and p as some believe!).

 

 

 

 

imagesAnd this is a close up of part of that page. The swirls are very similar to patterns on jewellery and metalwork around this time.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 21.29.18Red dots feature heavily in this manuscript, in patterns around and between the letters as here.

 

 

 

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed769970d-580wiWhen the patterns are really enlarged the dots each have a dimple. This means that there would have been a dome. So, were these dots done with a pen/quill or a brush? I’ve experimented and am sure that they were done with a quill. There is a fascinating blogpost from the great British Library Typepad where they have enlarged various parts the page at the top of the blogpost, click here for more details.

 

images-3The lettering is in a particularly clear Half-Uncial, and even if you don’t read Latin, you will be able to make out the letters once you have realised that the letter A is a ‘two c’ letter and the rather strange squiggle is a letter G.

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 22.13.21This shows the clear letter-forms. Note the two c letter A at the end of the first line (TERRA), and the Half-Uncial letter G is the third letter from the end of the last line.

 

 

 

 

images-1There are also four author portraits of the Evangelists. This one shows St Matthew writing his Gospel in a book, with his symbol of a winged man blowing a trumpet behind him.

 

 

But you can see all this yourself as the Lindisfarne Gospels have been digitised by the British Library and you can look at page after page of wonderful lettering and glorious patterns, and enlarge them to your heart’s content! Click here for a couple of hours of pure joy!

 

The Vespasian Psalter

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.56.19The Vespasian Psalter is an Anglo-Saxon book written, it is thought, in the second quarter of the eighth century. The style suggests the south-east of England, possibly St Augustine’s or Christ Church, both in Canterbury, or Minster-in-Thanet.
The large full-page illustration on the right shows an intriguing mix of Insular interlace, La Tène spirals, and Roman motifs. David is painted as the psalmist with scribes recording his words on a scroll (which could represent the Old testament) and a codex (the New Testament). Musicians play musical instruments and a couple of young men look almost as if they are break dancing!

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.53.12The prefatory material contains pages written in small elegant Rustic letter-forms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.54.53The main text is written in delightful Flat Pen Uncials, held with the pen almost horizontal. The fine serifs at the top and bottom of many of the letters give the impression of the script being written between tramlines.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.55.37The huge advantage of viewing this manuscript on the British Library’s website (view here) is that the pages can be enlarged so that the formation of each letter can be seen. The large triangular ends to the downstrokes on the letters N and T are clearly shown here, and it is possible to enlarge the pages even more. And the change in nib angle from the flat pen used for the fine hairline serifs and the diagonal stroke to about 45° for the bowl of the letter A is also obvious. The very fine curved stroke leading off to the left from the bowl of the letter A is made by the left-hand corner of the pen. How this is done is shown in writing the letter t in this Calligraphy Clip for Gothic Black Letter here, about 2.30 minutes in. The dancing Insular Minuscule Gloss (word-by-word translation) was written about a hundred years after the main text and is the earliest extant translation of biblical text into English.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.54.11But it is the decorated letters which are so inventive. Here is a little gold bird in the letter D with rather unusually-shaped lumpy companions either side. The gold is flat, but it does look like leaf gold rather than shell gold here.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.58.07And on this page, there is a line of decorated letters with a huge initial S. This letter is an intriguing mix again of patterns and decorations from different cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.58.36And when enlarged, the sad little bird, who looks most perplexed, can be seen clearly. Note, too the many red dots indicating the line markings and surrounding the letters; these are typically insular. There is more about this page in my book ‘The Art and History of Calligraphy’, published May 2017 by the British Library.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.56.38The book has another first and that is that it contains the earliest known historiated initials, and the one shown here is of David and Jonathan. An historiated initial is one that tells a story as opposed to a decorated initial.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.53.36The book was owned by Sir Robert Cotton, and his was one of the three major collections which made the British Library. Here is his signature in the book.

 

 

 

Making pigments at Guédelon

Guedelon paint (1)The building of a mediæval castle at Guédelon in France involves much more than simply the construction of the building. They are also looking into how the rooms would have been decorated and how the pigments were made. Jill Robertson, from Australia, who subscribes to my free online monthly newsletter (join here), has visited the site and supplied these photographs of pigments being made and used. I am very grateful indeed to her for doing this and allowing me to share them. PLEASE NOTE: All photographs on this page are © Jill Robertson.


Guedelon paint (10)
Pigments may be made from ground stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (3)Or vegetation and flowers can be mix with water and heated until the colour is released, or pigments, such as cinnabar, can be made ‘by alchemy’.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (2)The water in some pigments is then allowed to evaporate leaving the pigment to dry to a powder, which is much easier to carry around than wet paint. It is then reconstituted with an adhesive, and finally mixed with water to a suitable consistency.

 

 

Guedelon paint (5)This one has dried so that it looks a little like milk chocolate curls – better not taste it though!

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (9)Then the pigments are mixed again…

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (8)… and are ready to be used.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (6)Walls in many mediæval buildings, particularly ones like castles which may have housed a noble family with money, could be quite colourful.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (11)Patterns and floral decoration were painted freehand.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (13)The walls would certainly brighten up what could have been a rather dull life!

Work, my workroom and ‘Landlove’ magazine, December 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted when brilliant journalist Kerry Fowler contacted me about being featured in the popular lifestyle magazine Landlove. This was not the first time that I’ve been in a magazine, but that was usually just half a page or a page. This time it was 6 pages, a whole 3 double spreads. I had bought the magazine before and was most impressed by their focus on crafts and makers – not at all ‘token’ treatment as in some other publications. However, the other makers they had featured usually had large workshops, and often more than one person making the craft. Here, it’s just me and my workshop is not much wider than a large cupboard! (when we had this part of the house built, I wanted the width of the room to be where I could sit at my sloping board and simply swivel round to wash my pens out in the sink behind without getting up – it all just fits, but it’s a squash for more than one person at a time!)

Layout 1Kerry said that the editor had particularly requested ‘a festive piece’ as the feature was due to be in the December issue. This was September, and Christmas wasn’t exactly front of mind. However, a walk in the woods gave me inspiration, and you can read more about the piece I produced shown on the right here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_021

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

And here is the photograph Sussie Bell, the wonderful photographer, took of me putting the finishing touches to this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

My workroom is a bit of a squeeze and so everything is crammed in. I didn’t have anywhere to remove all the stuff to, but before Kerry and Sussie came, I did have a bit of a tidy round and blew the dust off the tools and surfaces (and just for clarification, I make a lot of dust because I sand vellum skins!). I have an artist’s trolley (now well over 30 years old!) on my left-hand side which has paints, pen rests, the pens in current use, ink and sharpening stones on the top, and then other tools and materials in the drawers below. I’ve looked online for something similar, as I know that some of you may contact me and ask where I got it from, but it seems that ones exactly like this aren’t now available. There are others, though, so put ‘artist’s trolley’ into a search engine for the range. This trolley really has been invaluable for me and the way in which I work. Feathers for quills and then cut quills are also to hand in pots, and for those of you who are interested, the very first Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set is on the window sill. There is a special offer for subscribers to my newsletter on this, so if you want a set for £60 instead of the usual £96, subscribe to my newsletter (home page of this website) and then look here.

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the part of the trolley top closest to where I work with pens ready to use; Arkansas stones are piled up to sharpen nibs (never done this? The difference it makes to the sharpness of your letters will probably amaze you. Look here at the free Calligraphy Clip on sharpening nibs). I use small crucibles a lot for paints as these are perfect for the amount of paint needed by calligraphers. Again for the free Calligraphy Clip on inks and paints for calligraphers, click here. Find crucibles by putting ‘small white porcelain science crucibles’ into a search engine. Look around because some are very much more expensive than others!

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Other tubes of Schmincke paint are in the drawer in the trolley. There is no system here, so I rummage round to find particular colours if I’m being lazy about mixing them! If you are interested in how to mix the paints of the Schmincke Calligraphy set to create no end of colours, again I have a free Calligraphy Clip here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_011

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Tools are all in jars on the right hand side. In my tidying up, I hadn’t noticed that I was cramming pens into the pen pot and one was sticking up rather a lot! I use pen holders that are quite small as my hands aren’t large; they are also a bit like using quills. I found these old wooden pen holders being chucked out by a school many years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

The rest of the tools I use most often are also in pots – erasers and sets of dividers, odd pens and a heavy duty knife nearest, brushes, ‘weird’ pens, brushes, quill knives etc further back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_020

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was photographed finishing off polishing some shell gold on a vellum piece I had written using an agate dog tooth burnisher. Shell gold is in the crucible and in the little glass jar, and the green felt burnisher’s sleeve is at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Kerry and Sussie seemed to love the copies of animals I had done from the Ashmolean Bestiary – using the traditional tools, materials and processes of mediæval manuscript miniatures. We shall be creating these and similar ones on the three-day intensive course I’m teaching in Kent, UK, on Saturday 27th May, Sunday 28th May and Monday 29th May 2017. Contact me through my website for more details. There is more about the previous course I ran here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_022

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the little miniature that I took with me when I went to teach and talk at Harvard in October 2016 to show the various stages in creating a mediæval miniature. Here I’m about to apply a piece of loose gold to the pink raised gesso. More on how I did this here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_019

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I use quills a lot, and also demonstrate how they are cut to conferences and at talks, so I have quite a few! There are goose and swans’ feathers here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_008I also have rolls of vellum in store ready to be used. For the difference between parchment and vellum and lots more information, and another special offer on vellum and parchment for subscribers to my newsletter, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_018

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Although I don’t teach egg tempera painting in classes any more, I do still demonstrate how to change the powdered pigment as here into usable paints with egg as the adhesive. Cornelissen in London stock traditional powdered pigments in cute little jars. The colours are amazingly strong! If you want to know how to make egg tempera paint from pigments then it is shown and written about in my DVD on Illumination and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. More details here. The one at the front right is orpiment. For more on a pigment that glisters but isn’t gold, see this blogpost.

 

 

 

Calligrapher_029

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was about to teach a course at the Fitzwilliam Museum when Kerry and Sussie visited, and always aim to take with me the names of the people on the course written out calligraphically so they have a memento to take home with them from the day as well as the work they’ve done. As I was writing out the names for the course, I included one for Kerry and Sussie too as a thank you to Sussie for making what I do look so wonderful, and to Kerry for writing such a fantastic piece on me. And Hurray for Landlove and their inspired editor!

 

 

Rustics – not that rustic!

6316096470_0cb8df28e2_bRustics are very elegant letter-forms that have a distinctive diagonal feel to them, with the thickest strokes going from top left to bottom right. The fifth-century Vergilius Romanus, a manuscript now in the Vatican Library, shows one of the best examples of Rustics in book form. This is one of the manuscripts featured in my British Library book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published April 2017) where a whole double spread is devoted to over 75 different manuscripts from the third century CE to the present day – each showing a full page image of the manuscript and the opposite text focuses in detail on the history, art and the script. These are in addition to chapters which give an overview on the art and history, explain how mediæval manuscripts were made and show how the letters were written.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 18.42.11The word ‘Rustics’ does somehow suggest a more rural and less well executed style of writing, yet they are hardly that. Perhaps they are less formal than Roman Square Capitals, but the many pen changes to create the letter-forms show nothing easy and casual. They are called ‘Canonised Capitals’ by some palæographers. Rustics occur also in the prefatory pages of the Vespasian Psalter, which can be viewed on the British Library website in its entirety here.

 

 

 

pompeya_2_reducidoIt is thought that the writing style originated from Roman Square Capitals. Rustics can be seen written with a brush on walls by the ancient Romans, and there is evidence of this in Pompeii in Italy as on the right. Here the shop looks as if it’s selling olive oil, and the lettering is magnificent for an advertising slogan!

 

Roman-graffiti-on-building-2This one is about election slogans.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 19.52.28But the best manuscript example of Rustics is the Vergilius Romanus and this is available for viewing online here. You might be able to enlarge it as much as I have on the right. If so, you will be able to see the effects of the ink on the vellum. Note to the right in the middle line where the ink, which contains acid, has eaten through the skin to create holes. This is a problem with this manuscript as in some places the letters, or the spaces between letters have fallen out of the manuscript. This is not an isolated instance with oak gall ink.

Making little boxes

fullsizerender-2There are occasions when you need a suitable container for a gift and there is nothing available. If the gift is small, why not make your own ‘wrapping’? These little boxes are really easy to make involving simple folding. They are so easy that children can make them if they are shown how.

 

You will need:

img_1932i. Suitable paper: photocopying paper is good – the boxes above were made with red and green 100 gsm photocopying paper on which I had printed the ‘Happy Christmas’ that I’d written out in Gothic Black Letter in a repeated pattern. Stiffish gift wrapping paper is good too.

 

 

img_1933ii. Paper should be cut into two squares, one with sides 11 cm long (the lid) and one with sides 10·5 cm (the base).

 

 

 

 

iii. A pencil and ruler. Scissors for scoring.

iv. Errm – that’s it!

How to make the boxes:

img_1934i. Use the pencil and ruler to draw lines marking the diagonals from point to point on the reverse of the patterned side, creating a cross.

 

 

 

img_1935ii. Fold in each corner so that the tip touches the point where the lines cross.

 

 

 

 

img_1936iii. Then fold over again, making sure that you hold the tip at the point of the cross and don’t let it slip. Repeat this for all four sides. Open out the folds so the paper is flat. The large middle square is the top (or bottom) of your box so make sure that it doesn’t get creased.

 

 

img_1938iv. In the middle of each side of the square is a small diamond.

 

 

 

 

img_1939v. Turn over to the other side and use the tip of the scissors to score a short line from tip to tip as shown.

 

 

 

 

img_1942vi. Fold in one side ensuring that the tip goes to the centre, and then fold the paper up again to make the side.

Now repeat this for the opposite side.

On the third side, push in two diamonds that you have scored as shown here.

 

img_1943vii. Then bend this side over to secure the other two adjacent sides. Use your fingernail to ensure that the top folds are sharp and smooth.

 

 

 

 

img_1944viii. Now repeat this for the last side and the box is secure. If necessary, you can use a dab of glue to secure the base.

 

 

 

 

img_1945ix. Repeat this for the other square making a base (or a lid).

 

 

 

 

img_1946You can do this again and again with smaller squares, making boxes that fit inside one another – a great idea for a very special surprise (perhaps something really really expensive!!). Reduce the sides by 5 mm each time.

Cut squares out using a sharp knife and straight edge, then children can easily make these boxes with a small amount of help.

 

A festive piece

Layout 1Occasionally, just very occasionally, a project somehow seems to work without a great deal of effort, and this is what happened with this piece. I was asked by Landlove, a UK lifestyle magazine, to have ‘a festive piece’ ready to be photographed for their Christmas 2016 issue, when they were running a six-page piece about me. This was at the end of September, and thoughts were not turning to Jingle Bells!

 

 

 

cimg2831On a walk in the woods I saw some ivy trailing over a tree, and pulled a strand off, and a few steps away was a holly tree. This reminded me of the Christmas carol ‘The holly and the ivy’, and I thought that I could perhaps do something with this. I cut a few twigs of holly and took them and the ivy back to my workroom so that I could paint them.

 

 

img_1913I had the idea of a circular design, with the words going round in a circle and the greenery in the middle. I wrote out the words using a small nib (Mitchell size 5) and checked on the guidelines in one of my books – The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry (available from my website here) – on how to measure a circle to fit the text. I knew what to do but couldn’t find any compasses! So I found a stencil for ovals, and decided to change my design (such trivial reasons can change designs in this way!).

img_1914Not knowing how the words would fit I chose a size of oval that somehow looked about right, and started to write. The easiest way of dealing with the words would be to start at the top centre point of the oval, but I wanted the words in the first line to be obvious and sort of ‘straddle’ the top curve. Without really knowing where to place my pen, I started where I thought it was about right, and wrote around the line of the oval. Amazingly, the words fitted! I really couldn’t believe it, but there were some adjustments needed, with gaps where there shouldn’t be and a bit of bunching elsewhere. Also, the first line of the Christmas carol wasn’t placed evenly along the top curve and required a bit of tweaking. Using the holly and ivy that I’d brought home, I used a pencil to draw holly and ivy inside the oval, trying to create a balanced design.

img_1915I wrote it out again, starting a little further to the right for a better balance of the first line, but this time I ran out of space. I should have written it again, but didn’t have the time, so I knew that it was a deep breath and hope situation!

 

 

 

 

 

img_1918Usually the calligraphy should be completed first, as it’s easier to correct painting than it is lettering, but I had been doing a lot of calligraphy, and I wanted to do some painting for a change. I prepared the vellum skin and transferred the design using Armenian bole paper as carbon paper (see my Illumination book and DVD). I then reinforced the design with very dilute red gouache, and finally started painting. Once the design was in full colour, I realised that there was a bit of a gap on the bottom left, so I added in some more holly leaves to remedy this.

 
Layout 1Then it came to the writing. Really I should have written this out again to ensure that the words would fit, but I was really pushed for time. I placed the vellum over the first effort, adjusting the starting point so that the first line would be balanced, and lightly traced through, tightening up the spacing where I thought it was a little loose. It seemed to fit, and I decided to just trust to luck and a following wind! I cut a quill to approximately the same nib size, mixed up Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to make a dark green, and, with a deep breath, just went for it. I really couldn’t believe it when the words seemed to fit and looked even all the way round. I tidied up the lettering and the painting and then the piece was ready to be photographed by the magazine. I also had some cards printed to use for our Christmas greetings card this year – spoiler alert!

The Ramsey Psalter

imagesThe Ramsey Psalter (BL, Harley 2904) is a masterpiece of the tenth century; it was the manuscript identified by Master Calligrapher Edward Johnston at the beginning of the last century as a good example of strong letter-forms to start to learn calligraphy. Psalm 1 in the psalter begins with a huge gilded B and this is then followed by enlarged capital letters for (B)eatus Vir qui non abiit in consilio imporum (Blessed is the Man who walketh not in the path of the ungodly …), see right.

 

 

psalter_of_oswald_-_harley_2904_f3v_crucifixionOpposite this majestic page is a wonderfully delicate line drawing of the crucifixion with Mary and John the Evangelist. The economy of line is truly admirable. The artist also contributed to Harley 2506 which you can see here.

 

 

 

 

6412942719_3e20dd5645_bThe Ramsey Psalter was written in Winchester in the last quarter of the tenth century, and is reputed to have been produced for St Oswald who became Bishop of Worcester in 961.For more about St Oswald and the manuscript, the Clerk of Oxford website has a great article here. The script is English Caroline Minuscule; the forward slant, small x-height and elongated ascenders and descenders of Caroline Minuscule have been changed. Once across the Channel, the x-height has increased, ascenders and descenders decreased, and the letters are upright resulting in a grander script perhaps.

 

 

fullsizerenderEdward Johnston developed an analysis of scripts by looking at 7 aspects of letters such that they could be copied. Here is my analysis of the Ramsey Psalter using Johnston’s 7 points (taken from the Historical Source Book for Scribes, I have a limited number of copies so do contact me through my website if you would like to buy one).

f151vThere are superbly executed smaller gilded and decorated initials, as here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

images-2Psalms start with an enlarged gilded initial, and then verses begin with a smaller gilded letter, followed by the grand text script.

 

 

 

 

 

harley-2904-f-144Explicits and incipits were written in Rustics. The gilded Square Roman Capitals starting each psalm are particularly fine.

 
screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-20-19-05What is intriguing to me is the slight darkening around the small gilded initials. I have a theory – it could be excess gold leaf being scraped off, or it could be the stickiness in the gesso leaching out. My preference is for the latter.

To see the whole book click here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of the Bible

fullsizerender-2This book published by the British Library is an amazing feat. The book is huge and the dimensions of it are as large as some of the manuscripts in their collections, with the result that the detail is quite amazing. Huge enlarged images fill whole pages, and it is possible to see individual brush strokes in many of the illustrations, the reproduction is so fine.

 

 

 

img_1883The book starts with a short but fascinating overview of the development of the bible and is then straight into the first of 45 featured manuscripts from across Europe, Africa and the Near East, all now in the safe care of the British Library. The Vespasian Psalter is one of the first books shown in detail, and detail means detail. This huge letter S at the beginning of Psalm 68 (Salvum) is reproduced so that it is over 22 cms (just under 9 inches) high. Of course, in the actual manuscript it is only a few cms high, but the enlargement is wonderful. The interlace on the letter, the rather anxious bird or animal (a duck?) on the bottom left, and the precise positioning of the red dots are really clear. And for those of us who love the script letters, enlargements at this scale really show how they were formed.

6a013488b5399e970c01b8d0f8b0b0970c-500wiThe Stavelot Bible is a giant by any stretch of the imagination. At 580 x 390 mm (almost 23 by 16 inches) it is shown well in this large book. We know that the monks Ernesto and Goderannus worked on this book for four years, however, as many as five different artists were involved in the manuscript, so it may be that the two monks wrote the script and left the pictures to others. The images, though, show a very thorough knowledge of the bible so the two religious brothers may well have guided the posse of painters. Find out more about this huge book here.

 

 

061922Another grand book is the Arnstein Bible, only slightly smaller than the Stavelot and produced just under a century later. With its twirling decorated colourful pattern on leaf gold on gesso background, everything about this shouts Romanesque. The image on the right is the beginning of the Evangelist John – work out the ‘In principio’ of the start of the gospel in Latin. Silver decoration has bled into the surroundings and looks rather smudged, but the hair of John, Christ and the old man on the bottom left is painted in amazing detail, and it can be seen really well in this book. All the pages have been digitised here.

 

6a00d8341c464853ef017d3d2dc471970c-500wiThere are over 1,000 images in the Queen Mary Psalter, and although not the original owner, Queen Mary, the sister of Elizabeth I and first daughter of Henry VIII gave her name to the manuscript. It is thought the have been written by one scribe and has two types of images. Gloriously coloured and illuminated pictures as well as line and wash drawings, often on the same page as here on the right. Christ is debating in the Temple, sitting on a rather precarious single-legged stool, and below that hunters are out with their birds on a rather windy day as the ladies’ headdresses look as if they might blow away! For more on this book, the great British Library Typepad has a post here.

 

thumbnail-by-urlThe detail is so amazing in this British Library book written by Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle that it is possible to see individual brush strokes on the faces, limbs and clothes of the people at Balshazzar’s feast (see right), which is the first image shown for the Bible Historiale of Edward IV. The rack of lamb, chicken and duck of the feast with a wonderful gold salt cellar are placed on a white cloth, while the king, with his gold crown balanced on a red hat looks at the moving hand writing on the wall. The manuscript was written in Bruges in 1470 and illuminated in 1479 during Edward IV’s book collecting campaign. See the image in the digitised manuscript here.

This is a treasure of a book and one to save up for to treat yourself on dark winter nights. Every page has brilliant colourful and enlarged illustrations that will delight the eye and warm the soul! Highly recommended.