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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


CIMG2727
Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Glittering Gilders

IMG_1469We had an early start at the London University Palæography International Summer School to ensure that the images of mediæval beasts were transferred on to prepared vellum, and the adhesive laid before a break for coffee. It was marvellous that everyone managed this, but hard and concentrated work!

 

 

IMG_1472It’s tricky to get a whole miniature gilded and painted in a day, especially as most people have no experience whatsoever in even handling a paintbrush, let alone one with so few hairs, so we chose the miniatures carefully, focusing on animals from bestiaries. This lovely peacock is the copy, not the bestiary original!

 

 

IMG_1470Here is a fearsome bonnacon without its usual defence mechanism (look it up!), with two soldiers holding spears and shields.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1474And here two elegant goats, with the ‘original’ being copied in front. Notice the shine of real gold leaf on the vellum!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderA red elephant and a blue dragon are fighting here perhaps producing dragon’s blood!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And a knight on a horse is hunting a boar here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1475Two strongly coloured pigs!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1477 2And lastly a white horse fit for a princess!

Comments from students included:

Excellent!

Best class of the week.

A detailed, practical workshop.

I thought the teaching was excellent; all the explanations were very clear and thorough. Patricia was very encouraging throughout the course and I never felt that I wouldn’t achieve something worthwhile. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this course.

Next year, 2017, I shall be teaching a one-day practical calligraphy course for LIPSS, and the year after that, 2018, there will be a repeat of this course. Meanwhile, in 2017 I am thinking of running the three-day gilding and painting a mediæval miniature course again here in Sevenoaks, probably over the late May Bank Holiday. Look out for details and dates in my newsletters. This was the one last year.

Book of Hours greetings cards

squirrelSo many people have asked about the Wolf Hall Book of Hours that I produced for the BBC series, and whether copies of the pages are available that I’ve had some little cards printed. They feature on the front the cutest red squirrel with long pointed ears that look like a punk haircut, and on the back of the card a little grey rabbit, and are A7 in size (11 by 7 cm; 4 by 2 and 3/4 inches).

 

 

IMG_1383They’re ideal for little thank yous, greetings for birthdays and anniversaries, and tiny cards for children. I’m selling them in packs of 5 with white envelopes for £3.50p per pack (70p per card), with postage on top but at cost as they go into an A6 envelope. For the UK it’s £1 per pack p+p, £2 p+p for Europe and £2.50 p+p for elsewhere. (For multiple packs, please contact me.) Everyone, of course, gets their name written calligraphically on the envelope!

 

Please contact me through my website for details of how to pay, or through my usual email address.

Orpiment – it glisters but isn’t gold

220px-KellsFol032vChristEnthronedOrpiment, the word derived from the Latin Auripigmentum, and also known as king’s yellow, has been known since Roman times, and was a treasured pigment used in mediæval manuscripts. Its particular value was because it was yellow and could not only replace gold when it was unavailable or too expensive, but because orpiment was similar to gold and that was the colour that was considered to be near-divine and, like God, indestructible.

 

 

 

260px-LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMattCennino Cennini in in his Libro dell’ Arte of the 15th century, describes orpiment as ‘a handsome yellow more closely resembling gold than any other colour’. It was used in books like the Book of Kells (see above) which has no gold. The Lindisfarne Gospels does have a few areas of gold, but orpiment was the colour used for yellow as in this incipit to Matthew (right).

 

 

 

 

orpiment19052a
Other yellows available at the time were not nearly as lasting as orpiment; saffron, urine and fish bile – all forms of yellow – were all far more fugitive. Orpiment could not be ground too finely, though, or it lost its egg yolk golden colour, but the advantage of this was that by being still a little crystalline, it actually glistened and reflected the light.

 

imgresIt is, though, one of those colours where it is very wise not to lick brushes. Orpiment is arsenic trisulphide, and Cennini said ‘beware of soiling your mouth with it, lest you suffer personal injury’! Wise words.

It wasn’t a colour that mixed well, though. Sulphur in the pigment reacted with copper in verdigris, and the lead in ceruse, or white lead. In the 17th century, Cornelius Jansen wrote: ‘Orpiment will ly faire on any culler, except verdigres, but no culler can ly faire on him, he kills them all’.

The St Cuthbert Gospel – new studies

FullSizeRenderI have already written about this gem of a book on my blog here, but this blogpost is about fesh studies on the manuscript in a new publication from the British Library edited by Claire Breay and Bernard Meehan – The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of St John. The new research marks the fact that the manuscript has been saved for the nation (it was on loan before). Claire and Bernard have managed to get the very best experts looking at various aspects of the Anglo-Saxon manuscript which was found in the coffin  of St Cuthbert.

 

 

Loan 74, f. 1vThis new book starts with eight enlarged full-colour images of the manuscript. This means that those interested in the binding can really see the patterns which are both indented and also raised on the front cover, and even make out the remains of paint. And those interested in the lettering have an excellent opportunity to study the letter-forms closely.

 

 

 

 

Loan 74, f. 1The chapter on Materials, Text, Layout and Script by Richard Gameson of Durham is particularly fascinating. Richard notes that the arrangement of the vellum reflects that which was typical of Insular manuscripts, that is hair and flesh sides on opposite sides of an opening spread. On the Continent, hair faced hair side, and flesh faced flesh side, giving a much more even look to the pages when the book was opened. However, unlike many Insular manuscripts of the period, the skin is thin and smooth; usually the skin is thicker and more suede-like in finish. Richard also compares the Uncial style in manuscripts of the time, and includes a photograph of a page in the Codex Amiatinus (previous blogpost here) showing the usual Flat Pen Uncial used in this book with a column of the Angled Pen Uncial of the St Cuthbert Gospel. There is a series of my free Calligraphy Clips showing how to write Angled Pen Uncial here.

st Cuthbert_Appendix4-1The skin has been identified as vellum. An analysis of the hair follicles shows a pattern of narrow rows of three, five or seven holes which indicates calf skin. This can be seen on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

st Cuthbert_z1_Appendix1-9Raman spectroscopy has been used to identify the pigments used in the book. Generally the red in the initial letters is red lead, or minium, which has deteriorated in some places to black, as can be seen on the right. Some letters, though, have been over-painted, and vermilion or cinnabar was often used for this.

The dark brown ink was identified as oak gall ink from the presence of iron salts.

 

 

Add. 89000, f. Front CoverThe cover is particularly interesting, and is addressed in the chapter by Nicholas Pickwood. X-ays show that the wooden boards are particularly thin, rounded and chamfered, and the red covering leather particularly thick.This is the earliest European binding and has fascinated many for years. The red leather is, apparently, only surface coloured, yet it has maintained that vibrant pigment which, bearing in mind the age, is quite astonishing.The decoration of the front cover has also intrigued many – how was it done? X-rays again show that cords were used for the outer rectangles but a much more sophisticated and complicated method for the stylised vine central decoration. The book is not sewn together on cords but by a sort of chain stitch, very typical of Coptic binding. The whole covering and decoration of the book is very sophisticated and suggests the work of an experienced craftsperson.

St Cuthbert Cover_c03-1Leslie Webster looks at the meaning of the decoration and the dating of the binding, and compares the intricate interlace, the stepped cross on the back cover, and the vine decoration on the front with manuscripts and artefacts of the period. Raman spectroscopy has also identified the pigments used to decorate the cover as indigo and orpiment. It seems somewhat over critical, but the original painting, when the colours were fresh, may have made the cover rather garish! The lack of symmetry in the upper horizontal interlace border, in a very symmetrical design, is intriguing.

 

 

Loan 74, f. 2This new research in this book, focusing on the St Cuthbert Gospel itself, also includes chapters considering the cult of St Cuthbert, the St Cuthbert relics, the history of the manuscript and Irish Insular Books.

This is a terrific and fascinating publication taking a new look at a very old book and one which must surely be high on the list of the treasures in the British Library. For anyone interested in manuscripts in general, this manuscript in particular, and the ways in which scientific methods can be applied to shed new light on old processes this is an absolute must. I highly recommend this book! To get your copy, click here.