The Siege of Caerlaverock

IMG_2834Caerlaverock Castle is distinctive in many ways – for a start it is triangular! It is also distinctive in that it was the site of a siege between the attacking King Edward I of England and the defending Scots in 1300. In the grand scheme of things, this battle would be relatively insignificant but for the fact that the campaign was recorded in a poem in French by a herald, and this text has come down to us. When I was learning the craft, some years ago now, I wrote out this poem in translation and bound it into a book.The first page here shows Edward I’s seal with him depicted as a knight brandishing a sword. The title lettering is in Lombardic capitals and written and painted in shell gold.

 

 

IMG_2839I then wrote out the poem and painted in colour all the coats of arms of the participants according to the blazon (word description) as in the text. The first line of the verse on the right explains that Henry Tyes’ banner was ‘lily-white with rose-red chevron’, and this is shown at the end of the top row of banners. The background is white with an inverted ‘v’ – the chevron. I was very much into diapering at the time (creating a background pattern) so the white has a grey swirling design. William Lattimer’s banner, though, was ‘crimson a cross paty or’, and this is a red background with a cross with fleur-de-lis ends, and in ‘or’, the Norman-French for gold. I used shell gold throughout the book, which is why it is a bit thin in places (it required a lot of gold!).

IMG_2835On this page, Earl de Grey’s banner was ‘in pieces six of silver and blue’, well actually the ‘pieces’ are stripes, as can be seen in the second banner from the left along the bottom row. And the banner of Robert de Monhaut ‘high spirit him to heights of honour urged – raised aloft an azure banner with a silver lion charged’ (the English translation of the poem can be a bit contrived!) is to the right – blue with a white (silver) lion.

 

 

 

IMG_2841Here is an enlargement of a section of one of the pages, with Roger de Mortaigne’s banner of a gold background and six blue lioncels (little lions) ‘double-queued’, or with two tails. And also ‘Handsome Huntercombe’ had an ermine background to his shield (white with the black ermine tails inserted in slits for decoration) and two red ‘gemelles’ – horizontal double lines.

 

IMG_2838The actual design and layout of the book was a real challenge in that I had somehow to marry up the paintings with the text, and this wasn’t always easy, which is shown here. A whole page giving details of the battle but no shields actually described. The shields are, of course, for those who were below in status to those who could bear banners. And the humble foot soldiers, who no doubt did most of the fighting, were not recorded in any way!

 

 

 

IMG_2836 2The lettering is in Chinese liquid ink, which is a dense black, and the writing style a sort of upright Italic. I wrote the names below the shields and banners in vermilion Chinese stick ink, which I ground on a slate inkstone and mixed with water. The actual names in the text were written with the same ink but in Gothic Black Letter which made them stand out (perhaps a bit too much, but I was learning!).

As my course also included book binding, I bound the book myself in black leather, and gold stamped the title on the spine.

 

 

caerlaverock-gatehouseThe castle can be visited by the public now and although it is in ruins it is possible to see how much of a challenge this must have been to the English, although the Scots, despite their seemingly impregnable castle, were defeated. There’s more about the poem here.

 

Medieval and Renaissance Interiors

IMG_2879 2Medieval and Renaissance Interiors is a brilliantly colourful book published by the British Library and is generously illustrated with many high quality manuscript images. Eva Oledzka, the author, takes us beyond what we usually see – the figures – to the room that the people are in, their surroundings, the furniture, walls, ceilings, windows, and the glimpses we sometimes get to rooms beyond.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2875 2The book is comprehensive in that it covers the context of architecture and interiors, doors, stairs and windows, floors, ceilings and walls, furniture, heating, lighting and hygiene, and displays of wealth. This calendar page for February, painted by the Limbourg brothers for Jean, Duc de Berry, shows a peasant’s cottage with a family warming themselves by the open fire. The author notes the rod attached to the wall to hang clothes and the mattress or bed in the background, probably for the whole family. This is the earliest depiction of a snowy landscape in the history of art.

 

 

IMG_2876 2One of my favourite manuscripts is the Sforza Hours, particularly the pages painted by the court painter Giovan Pietra Birago; the book was made for Bona Savoy, Duchess of Milan. In this miniature the author notes not only the paintings on the wall – spalliera – typically Italian – showing St Peter and St John looking for the house where the Passover is going to be celebrated, but also the plate on the table and the glass tumblers being filled with wine by the two boys in the foreground.

 

 

IMG_2877 2The scribe Mark is shown here with his lion very conveniently peeping over the scribe’s sloping board with a pen case and inkwell in his mouth (as lions are known to do!). However it is the washing facilities in the foreground that are noted. There is a wash stand on a beautifully carved pedestal, a jug of water above it, and tucked into this, a towel. How often when I have inky fingers would I appreciate such a convenient way of washing my hands!

 

 

 

IMG_2878 2And here is King Henry VIII praying in his bedroom, with a painting of a very elaborately carved four poster bed draped with ultramarine blue cloth decorated with gold – how fitting for a king! Notice too the patterned colourful tiles on the floor, and the view through the open door to a garden and buildings beyond.

 

 

 

 

This book is a treasure-trove of image and information – sumptuously illustrated with a readable and informative text. If you enjoy manuscripts and want to know how people lived, you will love this!

Art and History of Calligraphy

IMG_2440The Art and History of Calligraphy, published May 2017 by the British Library, does pretty much what it says on the tin! It covers writing from what is thought to be the earliest known writing by a woman in Britain in the first century, to the present day (as much as a book published in 2017 can do that!). Here is a sneaky peak inside the book.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 8What I love about the design is that images of manuscripts are large and so it’s possible to get up close and personal to the letters. Here a page from the Luttrell Psalter has been spread over two pages at the beginning of the book. I chose this page for its wonderful trumpeter – his instrument long enough almost to extend right across the whole column of text!

 

FullSizeRender 7The first chapter is called, surprisingly enough, the Art and History of Calligraphy, and, after defining the way in which calligraphy is going to be regarded in the book, traces writing through the ages. A number of manuscripts will be familiar, but there are some new ones here, including this lettering by Bembo and a delight of chrysography on dyed black vellum.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 6Then a chapter is devoted to how the manuscripts were actually made, including quills, vellum brushes, pigments and gold.

 

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 5This is followed by a section on Writing the Letters, based on Edward Johnston’s 7-point analysis.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 4And then there are full page double spreads of over 70 manuscripts from the second century AD to right up to the present day. In many cases, as here, there is an enlargement of a couple of lines to show the lettering really closely. The Bosworth Psalter is on the right.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 3Here is the Lacock Cartulary with wonderfully flourished letters.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And this is one of the first times that Edward Johnston’s Scribe, given to Dorothy Mahoney, has been shown this size in full colour.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderAnd the book is brought as far up to the present day as a publishing schedule will allow. A stunning piece by Stephen Raw of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy is shown on the right.

 

 

 

I really enjoyed writing the book, sharing information that I have learned from others and researching the manuscripts, and I do hope that others will enjoy reading it. It’s available from the British Library Bookshop, and I am also selling it through my website. If you order a copy from me here then I shall happily write a name in the book calligraphically to make it really special.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

‘Waters Rising’ – Sheila Waters


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This month, November 2016, marks the fiftieth anniversary of a devastating disaster in Florence. On the night of November 4th a series of disastrous weather combinations meant that a vast wave of water rushed through the city, with the narrow roads acting as funnels and the bridges impeding the escape of the flood. Sadly over 30 people were killed and millions of precious artworks and books damaged or destroyed. This new book by Sheila Waters, Waters Rising, is not only a fascinating personal insight to that event, but also an account of Peter Waters’ (Sheila’s husband) seminal work in Florence in book conservation. The majority of this book consists of their letters to one another during the separation while Peter worked in Florence and Sheila worked and looked after their three boys in the UK. The later letters, once Sheila had joined Peter together with two of their sons, were written to their mothers,

peter1990s2Peter Waters (right) was a prodigy, starting to train when he was only 14 with master binder William Matthews at Guildford College of Art in Surrey. He went on to the Royal College of Art where his talent and skills were noticed by the great bookbinder Roger Powell, and Peter later became his business partner. Sheila collaborated with Peter in many bookbinding designs, and their work is in the British Library and the V&A as well as other prestigious institutions.

 

 

imagesIt was in Florence where Peter pretty much revolutionised the process of book conservation. In that one dreadful flood, 1,300,000 items, a third of the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF), was under water. On November 25th fifty years ago Peter was asked to select two other colleagues and travel to Florence to help. He was joined by craftspeople from many nations, some staying only for a short time and others staying years. Any secret book binding and conservation processes known only to a few individuals were freely shared when everyone saw the extent of the damage.

91cb83b645ccb547b8c6c92012a9ab9dPeter assessed the situation and then set up a process whereby the books, which were not only damaged by water, mud and sewage but also by oil from the overflowing tanks for domestic heating, were dried, pages carefully separated, mud removed, cleaned, and their repair and rebinding prioritised. Sheila was on hand to use her artistic skills to draw diagrams of the equipment that Peter devised to deal with the situation, and she took part in the processes too. The ‘Mud Angels’ helped to rescue books and artworks, often simply handing items from one person to another, but being covered in mud in so doing! The book contains an astonishing unique collection of photographs mostly taken by Peter which gives an insight into the situation they faced and the processes which were devised in coping with such a tragedy.

watersOne of the results of Peter’s work in Florence is that he was recruited by the Library of Congress in Washington and here he transformed the way they dealt with the conservation of their book and manuscripts treasures.

This is a highly recommended book produced to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of what could have turned out to have been a far worse disaster for the BNCF had not Peter Waters been there.