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.

 

 

 

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament III

This is not one of my usual blog posts. There are no pictures as what has happened is, in my view, very serious and needs no illustration. A clear decision taken by MPs in the House of Commons has been overturned by 3 members of a committee. The result is that Acts of Parliament will no longer be printed on vellum, despite a clear and substantial majority of MPs, and, it seems, the view of almost all of those interviewed in the media. What a shocking state of affairs for the Mother of Parliaments and democracy! 

We were all so thrilled when on April 20th 2016 the debate in the House of Commons on vellum and Acts of Parliament resulted in a resounding majority vote of 117 to continue printing Acts of Parliament on vellum, with only 38 against (see the full debate here in Hansard). It seemed that the campaign we had been running since November 2015, whereby many people who had never had any advocating or lobbying experience and who had probably never before contacted their MPs, had succeeded. I remember going home in the train after that debate and phoning William Cowley (the company that produces the vellum used in parliament) to tell them the good news, and almost dancing a little jig in delight!

Obviously it was going to take a little time for the decision to be enacted, but we had won and we were patient. However, early this year we heard quietly that there had been a meeting of the Commons Administration Committee, chaired by Tory MP Paul Beresford. Apparently, despite various options researched by the Clerks of the Commons, Beresford allowed no debate of the issue and simply proposed a vote on whether to continue using vellum or not for printing Acts of Parliament. There were 7 people attending that committee, 5 voted to discontinue the use and 2 voted to continue. So by a majority of only 3 people, the clear wish of those MPs was overturned; many of those MPs had been contacted by their constituents with strong arguments as to why vellum should be used.

When we heard this, Adrian Visscher whose family owns William Cowley wrote this letter to Mark Lancaster, the company is in his constituency (I have permission to use the text of each of these letters):

Dear Mr Lancaster,

Supply of vellum for record copies of Acts
by William Cowley Parchment and Vellum of Newport Pagnell.

My two brothers and I are owners and partners of William Cowley Parchment and Vellum, who as you know have supplied vellum for record copies of Acts for a very long time. It is with a real sense of urgency that I now write to you on behalf of the Partners in support of the campaigning work on this issue by our excellent Manager Paul Wright. May I first take the opportunity to thank you for your assistance to date supporting the strong advocacy of James Gray within the media and parliament during the past year and not least in the Commons debate on 20 April 2016.

The William Cowley Partners ask for your immediate assistance in challenging the apparently undemocratic decision of the House of Commons Commission on 23 January 2017 when the minutes state “The Commission endorsed the provision to the Lords of front and back vellum covers for record copies of Acts”. Consequently, on 30 January, the Clerk of the House then wrote a letter to Paul Wright declaring the House’s intention to order “front and back covers” in due course.

Our dismay and concern at this turn of events is because hitherto we had always supplied two larger sheets of manuscript vellum on which the two copies of each Public Act were actually printed. The 117 – 38 Commons vote on 20 April 2016 supported a motion specifically stating the House’s wish to continue the traditional printing of public Acts on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The subsequent Commons Commission’s decision disregards these wishes, choosing to use archival paper after all, with a token gesture of using vellum for front and back covers which we understand would also be of smaller size and lesser quality resulting in a serious loss of overall business for William Cowley. These facts were confirmed when Common’s representatives went to speak with Paul Wright following our receipt of David Natzler’s letter. This is of great concern to us, but may I say, so is the apparent failing of the democratic process in parliament which threatens to ride roughshod over proven practical considerations and centuries of British parliamentary tradition, as were well aired in the 20 April debate.

In support of my request to you and my remarks above may I remind you of the following:

Re: The House of Commons debate “Record copies of Acts” on 20 April 2016

The motion that day began as follows:

“That this House disagrees with the conclusion of the House of Commons Administration Committee in its First Report of Session 2015-16, and regrets the decision by the House of Lords to discontinue the use of vellum for printing Acts of Parliament;

 The motion further noted that

“the Second Report of the Lords Select Committee on House of Lords Offices, published on 25 May 1999, clearly states that when the Parliament Rolls of Acts of Parliament were discontinued in 1849, it was resolved by both Houses that two copies of every Act should be printed on vellum and that resolutions of both Houses would be needed to give effect to a recommendation to discontinue the use of vellum;”

 …and called for…

“the House of Lords to reverse its decision to use archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament”

 Furthermore, Hansard shows the Commons resolution following the debate:

“instructs the Clerk of the House to convey to the Clerk of the Parliaments that the House of Commons has withheld its consent to the use of archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament.”

 I note that the Clerk of the House was present at the Commons Commission’s 23 January meeting.

Does his letter of intention to William Cowley not conflict with the above instruction to him by the House following the April debate. Is he not placed in a directly contradictory position with the Commission’s decision to now use archival paper for the printing!

The continuing actions of the House of Common’s Commission, (chaired by the leading opponent to continuing vellum Sir Paul Beresford), appear wholly undemocratic and we believe must be challenged. I further note that of the 11 Commission members attending the 23 January meeting, Hansard shows that only one, Valerie Vaz, had voted in favour of the motion on 20 April.

In strongly supporting this motion the House clearly advocated actually printing on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The earlier Commons Commission’s report of 12 October 2015 had requested the assent of the Commons to a change to printing on archival paper rather than vellum. That request was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons vote, so on what basis is the will of the Commons now being ignored we ask?

House of Lords reaction to the Commons debate vote:

The recently published Commons Library briefing paper ‘Vellum: printing record copies of public Acts’ reveals that the ‘House of Lords House Committee’ met on 3rd May 2016 to consider the implications of the Commons vote. As a result the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords wrote to the Chair of the House of Commons Administration Committee on 4 May 2016 saying;

“As you know, this House agreed in 1999 to move to printing Acts of Parliament on archival paper instead of vellum. We are persuaded that printing on archival paper is a more appropriate use of public funds, and that the case for continuing to print on vellum is not made. If, in the light of the debate, the House of Commons wishes to arrange a contract for printing record copies of Acts on vellum then the House of Lords Administration will gladly share experience of managing the legacy contract to assist you in making such arrangements. I am sure you will appreciate that this House does not wish to contribute financially to any future printing on vellum. It is also important that we ensure the longevity of any public acts, as the Clerk of the Parliaments must certify a record copy of them.”

This statement shows that the House of Lords would not stand in the Commons way of continuing to print on vellum and indeed would actively assist them in the process. Nevertheless, I would still question whether the Lord’s actually have the right to relinquish their funding responsibility as confirmed by answers to parliamentary questions put late last year.

Funding

The source of ongoing funding of traditional vellum use is clearly another key factor affecting this whole issue. The William Cowley Partners would be grateful for your intervention to clarify the funding issue. During the 20 April debate, the then Paymaster General, Matthew Hancock, said;

“Should the House carry the motion today, I hope that we can work with the other place to find a path forward that both Houses find satisfactory. In that spirit of pragmatism, the Government have offered financial support from other savings, without further burdening taxpayers, to ensure that this tradition, which is of great symbolic and practical value, is not irrecoverably broken by a lack of funding on this small scale.”

We are encouraged that Matthew Hancock’s successor, Ben Gummer, also voted in favour of vellum retention. Can you ascertain that he will honour the Government’s commitment made by his predecessor?

Printing

The facts behind the actual printing on the vellum are factors that appear to have muddied this whole matter. We have heard many misconceptions and inaccuracies quoted. Rather than the actual cost of the vellum itself, we suspect that it was printing costs and the perceived availability of suitable printing were major influencing factors in the House of Lords Committee’s request to discontinue vellum usage. It has emerged that the TSO printers were tied to exorbitant traditional contracts negotiated by Sogat. A clarification of their position would be welcome. From a technical stand point William Cowley (Paul Wright) will be able to recommend suitable alternative printing firms if needs be.

We sincerely hope that you will not only be able to defend William Cowley’s interests but we also reiterate our belief that there is a democratic principle to be defended here. We further genuinely believe that the National public interest is at stake both in practical terms of long lasting protection of our laws and in a traditional and historical sense.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and perhaps meeting with you and Paul in due course.

This letter was answered by James Gray, MP, who championed the use of vellum, and arranged for the motion to be put in the House of Commons:

20th March 2017

Dear Mr Visscher,

Thank you for copying your letter to Mark Lancaster on the subject of supply of vellum for recording copies of Acts of Parliament to me. Your letter is quite correct. In a Backbench Business Committee Debate on April 20th called by me, the House voted by a substantial majority to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. However that motion was not of itself binding, particularly since the instruction was simply to write a letter to the Clerk of the Parliaments informing him of our view. The House of Lords despite that declined to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament and returned the matter to the House of Commons Administrations Committee that vellum should be discontinued. I personally resigned from the Administration Committee because of it, and because of what I view to be bad handling. Like you I took the view that the House of Commons had voted to maintain vellum and was disappointed that a combination of the House of Lords, the Clerks in both Houses and the Administration Committee and House of Commons Commission, had apparently reversed that decision.

In discussion with Dr David Natzler, the Clerk of the House of Commons, he then made plain that if we were to seek to reverse that decision it would be necessary to have a full and substantive vote in the House of Commons since we would be asking for money to be spent which the Clerk himself would not be able to do. He was of the view, and I suspect he was probably correct, that any such full and substantive motion might well have been defeated by the Whips and we would therefore have been in a worse position than we are today. He and I therefore cooked up this compromise which is that rather than the Act be recorded on vellum, there should simply be back and front covers in vellum. This preserves the tradition and use of vellum although of course it does not give William Cowley and Sons anything like the business which they previously had.

…I fear that, under the circumstances there was nothing else that we could do about it and that we have achieved the best we possibly could. I recognise that is very regrettable from the point of view of William Cowley’s business, and I am sorry that I was not able to achieve more.

Jon Elliott of the Archives and Records Association of UK and Ireland worked with me on the campaign and in fact we were both in the House of Commons listening to the debate with Adrian Visscher. John Chambers who is CEO of ARA sent this letter to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. He has not yet had a reply.

Dear Mr Speaker

VELLUM

I write on behalf of the ARA, the lead professional body representing archivists and archive conservators in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to express the profound concerns of our members about the handling of what we understand to be a recent decision by the Administration Committees of the Lords and Commons to discontinue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. I say ‘understand’ because the only information we have is a series of brief reports in the media.

You will recall a debate in the House of Commons on 20 April last year and its clear majority in favour of urging the Lords to reconsider a 1999 decision it made to discontinue using vellum. You may recall that the Administration Committees had decided to try again in 2015 to implement a 1999 Lords decision, despite a Commons vote in the early 2000s not to recognise it. The fact that this latest, expressed view of the Commons appears to have been ignored and overridden, in manipulatory fashion behind closed doors, damages the credibility of Parliament and undermines its stated aims of openness and transparency. We have heard that the April 2016 Commons debate was ‘merely’ advisory so can be ignored. Its standing should be irrelevant. What is clear is that certain members of the administration committees in question have decided that their opinion is more important than the chamber’s. To members of the public, such behaviour looks like small-print, bureaucratic chicanery of the worst sort.

A number of speakers in the Commons debate last year debunked comprehensively arguments that had been advanced by the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, Sir Paul Beresford, in pressing for ending the use of vellum, specifically that:

  • –  Switching from recording Acts on vellum to ‘archival paper’ would result in a saving to Parliament of £103,000. This was, and remains, nonsense. The sole remaining supplier of vellum in the UK, William Cowley (also Parliament’s supplier), revealed that it received an average of £47,000 a year to supply the vellum to print Parliamentary Acts. Presuming that the £103,000 for the overall costs is correct, this means that Parliament has in effect been paying £56,000 to have Acts printed, ie the same whether for vellum or any kind of high-quality paper. Sir Paul’s assertions about the likely ‘savings’ are evidently based on mis-reporting of financial data and/or a false understanding of economics.
  • –  Switching to ‘archival paper’ would represent a substantial saving to Parliament and the public purse. Despite being asked, Sir Paul did not reveal the basis for this calculation, including what specific ‘archival paper’ he was referring to. I also asked for evidence of any detailed cost-benefit analysis that the Committee did before reaching its conclusions; I received no response on that point either. Our own research suggests that the difference between using vellum and the higher-end qualities of archival paper is small, and not likely to result in any meaningful savings. Sir Paul’s failure (or worse, an express feeling that he did not need) to answer the above questions suggests to us that he had not actually bothered to research specific paper options (or their costs) independently. Further, unless he can be precise about what paper he has in mind, he cannot guarantee the longevity of any printing done on it. The only conclusion we can draw from this inability to provide basic information is that Sir Paul and his team did not do a proper due diligence or cost-benefit analysis and that their decision to dispense with vellum was prejudicial.

– Printing on vellum requires some kind of special printing machinery that needs to be maintained and/or replaced at great expense. This is nonsense. Yet we saw the argument being advanced by an unnamed ‘Westminster source’ in an article in The Telegraph last week. There are a number of specialist presses in the UK, including the Westerham Press (which printed the Magna Carta facsimiles in 2015) and the Gregynog Press which also prints high quality books on both vellum and paper, using the same presses. I and others made this point to Sir Paul in correspondence last year and it was also raised in the parliamentary debate, so he and his colleagues cannot claim to be unaware of it.

It is certainly true that some printers would rather not use vellum and would prefer to use paper in all their operations. They can make more money that way. But that does not necessarily make it good value for Parliament or the public purse. I asked Sir Paul to tell me when the contract for printing Parliamentary Acts was last put out to public tender, ie to see who could do the job – with vellum – at a more competitive price than the current providers. Needless to say, I got no response on that point either.

Separately, we understand that the current printers of Acts, Williams Lea, won a huge central government contract in 2011 (for four years) to do all official printing. What is the current status of that contract with regard to Parliament? Is it the case that Parliament is obliged to use Williams Lea because of this central contract, even if it represents bad value for money? Is the real reason that the Committees want vellum thrown out because Williams Lea would rather not have to deal with the material and the Administration Committee would rather not argue with Williams Lea and/or Whitehall departments? We remain having to reach our own conclusions on this until Parliament provides meaningful information.

The several thousand mere members of the public (and taxpayers) in our ranks find the way this matter has been handled both underhand and damaging to Parliament’s reputation. Parliament and its various committees should – by default – strive to be open in their decisions with the public and transparent and respectful of the will of our representatives in how it reaches them. In addition, I should not have to write to you because Sir Paul Beresford will not answer straight questions fully and properly. We should not have to initiate a formal Freedom of Information request to find out how the Administration Committees in both Houses conduct themselves on such matters.

All the above explains why I urge you to initiate a thorough, impartial investigation into the handling of this matter and to set aside the Commons Administration Committee’s recent decision to agree to dispense with vellum until it is completed.

Our position remains unchanged. Vellum remains both the best material for recording the most important decisions made in the name of the British people and also the best long-term value for money. Its storage flexibility, risk- mitigation, low-maintenance and research benefits – along with its easy accessibility – far outweigh its modest cost, compared to even the highest-grade of archival paper.

I will happily supply copies of previous correspondence if that would help. I am copying this letter to David Natzler, Clerk of the House (since we understand that he had a role in this matter) and a side copy to Sir Paul Beresford, for his information.

Many thanks in anticipation of your agreement to look into this matter and your reply.

So we shall see if Beresford, through the Speaker, answers the questions that challenge the due diligence that should be applied in all decisions, particularly where the public purse is concerned.

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!

 

 

Calligrapher_016

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_010

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.

 

‘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.

 

Gilding and painting a miniature of a female martyr

cimg2855I had been asked to speak at the Houghton Library, and teach and give a demonstration at Harvard as part of the wonderful ‘Beyond Words’ exhibition there. Taking a lot of tools and materials on a plane is not sensible, and so I decided to almost finish a tiny miniature shown in the exhibition, which is a cutting from an Italian mid-fifteenth century Anitphonal (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 983), and then add some more gold and paint more as a demonstration. The original female martyr, holding her martyr’s palm, had a bit of a double chin and a rather unfortunate expression, so I decided to do a bit of cosmetic surgery on her, and make a few adjustments (if only it was that easy in real life!).

 

cimg2833I selected a piece of vellum which had hair follicle markings on it and traced down the outline in red (minium) which is traditional. I then laid gesso ready to receive the real gold leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2834I planned from the start not to gild it all so that I could show how it was done when I went to Harvard.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2835Then it was on to painting the base colours. At this point, as always, any painting skills that you think you might have seem to go out the window (!).

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2855However, once the shades and tones, fine lines and details are added, suddenly the whole thing seems to come to life. The face, hair, hands and delicate white tracery on the blue background are very finely painted indeed, the dress and left-hand side of the initial ‘D’ less so. It is quite possible that the ‘master’ did the former, and an apprentice did the slightly less-well executed ‘colouring in’. It was a very interesting exercise and I do hope that Harvard find it a useful addition to their teaching repertoire.

The Brentwood Charters

cimg2583One of the more unusual commissions I had recently was to copy out two thirteenth-century charters on to vellum panels, and write the translations underneath.

 

 

cimg2585The charters granted the rights to a weekly market and an annual two-day fair to the district of Brentwood (Bois Arsus, Brendewode, and Burntwood); one was dated 1227 and the other 1252.

 

 

cimg2568
This may seem straightforward – until you see the actual charters, as one of them on the right. The earlier one of 1227 had a great many contractions, and I was most grateful to Tessa Webber at Cambridge University for very kindly transcribing it for me, so at least I was able to try to decipher whether a Latin word started with ‘min…’ or ‘uni…’ or ‘niu…’ etc! The later charter of 1252 was slightly clearer, but it still meant that I had to resort to my scant knowledge of mediæval Latin on occasion.

cimg2556The width of the panels was determined by the charters themselves, and I felt that there should be a consistency between the two panels in terms of size, shape and layout, even though this may mean larger gaps between the copied Latin and the English translation (as in the first panel above). I was able to get some wonderfully marked skin from Cowleys and cut pieces to size before stretching them. The excess was ideal to use for determining how much preparation was required for each skin.

cimg2560Then it was time to rule the lines with a 4H pencil and the sliding rule of my sloping board. Distances between the lines were marked with dividers.

 

 

 

cimg2563I started with the translations. The two charters were in totally different hands, albeit being only twenty-five years apart, but I thought it important that the translations should be in the same writing style, trying to marry together the hands on the two charters rather than choosing any particular calligraphic style. Also, the writing needed to be legible for those who wished to know what the Latin in the charter meant.

cimg2562This is a close-up of my first efforts. I thought the final effect too heavy and dominant and so chose a smaller nib which seemed to balance the writing in the charters better.

 

 

 

 

cimg2480The writing in that period of time was Gothic, but Gothic Black Letter majuscules are so difficult to read, so again I devised a style, this time based on Gothic Black Letter and Gothic Cursive. I used a five-diamond cross to separate the title from the date, as this looked more in keeping than the simple dash. The titles were written in vermilion.

cimg2589The third panel, on paper the same size as the stretched vellum, explained about the charters, what they were written on and the pen and ink used originally. The cost of the charters was met entirely by sponsors who commissioned the panels (The Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Essex Farmers’ Markets Ltd) and Clive Othen, Chair of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, was the driving force behind this project. Dr Jennifer Ward translated them. Clive and Elaine Richardson from the Borough were some of the best clients I have worked with and I hope the panels prove interesting to those who live in Brentwood and others who visit.

 

‘Art of the Islands’ by Michelle Brown

img_1727Michelle Brown is a prolific author, yet every additional book comes with new insights explained in her inimitable user-friendly way, and this volume is no exception. It covers the period from c. 450–1050 AD, that is from the departure of the Romans to the incoming of the Normans and their conquest. The book is beautifully produced and the illustrations particularly clear and detailed, and it brings together aspects of manuscripts, stone-work, armour, metalwork, jewellery and architecture as well as archæological finds and hoards.

 

 

ship_burial_helmetAfter an Introduction, the book is divided into five sections, starting with the period 300–700. This includes artefacts from the Sutton Hoo burial mound, a belt buckle from Kent, the St Augustine Gospels, and the Franks Casket. The influence of figures such as Benedict Biscop, Bede, King Æthelbert of Kent and his wife Bertha are also considered.

 

 

 
lindisfarne_gospels_folio_139r-1The importance of the identity of the Anglo-Saxons in their art and artefacts at this time is brought out in the next chapter in a consideration, amongst others, of manuscripts from the early eighth century such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Codex Amiatinus. The influence of Bede and stylistic aspects led Michelle Brown to date the Lindisfarne Gospels later than the previously accepted date of 698. Her conclusion is that they were completed by Bishop Eadfrith from 710–20, the unfinished nature of a few pages in the book likely to have been due to his death in 722.

 

 

staffordshire_hoard_annotatedThe Staffordshire Hoard was found in 2009 near Lichfield, and, at over 3,500 items, is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold. In the next chapter in the book on Southumbrian art, this hoard is linked to the crypt at Repton and the ‘Tiberius’ group of manuscripts. This group includes the Vespasian Psalter, the Book of Cerne, the Tiberius Bede and the magnificent Stockholm Codex Aureus.

 

athelstanWhat happened in art after the defeat of the Vikings is covered in the following chapter where Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert is shown here being presented by King Æthelstan to the saint himself. Their rather swarthy appearance is due to the discolouration of white pigment. Art in Wales, Alba (Scotland mainly), Cornwall, Ireland and other places is considered with illustrations of many local stone crosses, and also a delightful set of stone caryatids from Fermanagh in Ireland and the glorious Cross of Cong.

 

 

2006bc6621_jpg_lThe fusion of Insular, Carolingian, Ottonian, Byzantine and Scandinavian influences are brought together in the last chapter which deals with art from the mid-tenth century onwards.The Benedictional of St Æthelwold, the Ramsey and Harley Psalters, the Sutton Isle of Ely brooch and a grave slab from St Paul’s Cathedral all show those influences.

 

 

 

For anyone who loves manuscripts this is a wonderful book, produced by the Bodleian Library Publishing, as it places script, illumination, and page design and decoration in the context of what else was happening in other forms of art at various stages in this fascinating period of British history. It is very highly recommended.