Tag Archives: books

Teach Yourself Calligraphy

FullSizeRenderTeach Yourself Calligraphy was described by one reviewer as doing ‘exactly what it says’. It is, of course, always best to learn calligraphy from a good tutor, but for many people this isn’t possible. This book, then, could be the next best thing! It consists of the main four alphabets – Uncial, and minuscules and majuscules (capital letters) of the Foundational Hand or English Caroline Minuscule, Gothic Black Letter, and Italic. It starts by considering tools and materials, what to look for, and how to look after them.

 

IMG_2194But it isn’t just writing individual calligraphic letters, it is also putting those letters into words and the words into phrases. So there are clear explanations of how to space letters in words, the best spacing between words, and then between lines to get the most pleasing effects.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2195And then, most people don’t want simply to write out words, but to use their calligraphy in different ways. So there are ideas, and clear and precise instructions, on how to make bookmarks, cute little boxes, bags for gifts, wraps, folds and envelopes.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2198Some people like to use their calligraphy to make books. So there are also instructions on how to create simple single section books of various types, with lots of different ideas. And for those who want to produce a hard-backed book with covered card covers, Teach Yourself Calligraphy shows you how to set out the book’s text (page design), how to sew the pages together, and how to put those pages into a hard cover with a spine.

 

 

 

IMG_2196There are also lots of ideas for using calligraphy for invitations, menus, wrapping paper and matching gift tags, mementoes and cards.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2197And for those who want to write out poetry and prose as broadsheets, there are clear guidelines on how to start with the text, the best layouts, how to transfer a rough to a best piece of paper, how to use colour (with a clear colour chart for reference), how to lay a wash, use pastels and gouache, and so much more.

With 124 pages and a pleasing square format, chapter headings are: tools and materials; writing calligraphic letters; greetings cards and bookmarks; wraps, folds and boxes; celebrations; writing little books; poetry and prose; and a glossary.

To get your own signed copy for £10 + p+p with your name written calligraphically, please contact me via my website.

 

 

History of the Book in 100 Books

GutenbergIt would be difficult enough selecting 100 books just in Britain to represent the history of the book from scrolls to codices, to manuscripts to printed books to e-books. And then there’s what’s in the books – fiction, scientific books, company reports, instruction manuals, religious books – and what religions? – Christian (Gutenberg Bible completed in the mid-1450s on the right), Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism etc  – so authors Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad really did have a task on their hands when they took on all the books of the world!

 

 

Ptolemy's world mapStarting with cave paintings, this book is divided into 11 sections and ends with digitisation and the future of the book, having taken in mediæval books, books from the East, printed books and printing and the great classics along the way. Atlases are included, such as this of Ptolemy’s world map from the Cosmographia of 1482, and describes all the known world. As he was based in Alexandria the most detail is around the Mediterranean, and the southern hemisphere is lacking a bit!

Elementa GeometriaeScience books are not left out, and Euclid’s Elementa Geometriæ, was translated from Arabic into Latin by Abelard of Bath in the 12th century. The printed version by Erhard Ratdolt, on the right, was made in Venice in 1482, and, amazingly at this early date in printing history, there are printed geometric diagrams.

 

 

 

 

L'escole de fillesAnd pornography is not new either! In 1668 Samuel Pepys burned a book (another copy on the right) that he had bought for his wife to translate from the French. L’eschole des filles was a dialogue between a young virgin and a more experienced female cousin. Pepys made sure that he read it before burning (hmm! even missing church to do so); he described it as ‘the most bawdy, lewd book that I ever saw’.

 

 

Playfair's Commercial and Political AtlasThe History of the Book in 100 Books is comprehensive and has details of a very wide range of selected books (including Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas on the right). There is also an extensive bibliography for those who want to read more, and a detailed glossary. Each opening spread has a very useful ‘Connections’ section so that it’s possible to look at other related books. If you’re stuck for a gift for the person who has everything, then this could well be the answer!

Girdle Books

Mediæval bookTaking a book with you to read on a journey was rarely an option in mediæval times. Vellum or parchment pages, oak boards and metal hasps and clasps all resulted in a heavy book, usually far too heavy to carry around easily – as with the book on the right. The eighth-century Codex Amiatinus, written in Northumberland and now in the Laurentian Library in Florence, takes two men to carry it – hardly a pocket book!

 

 

 

SmallHowever, there were smaller books. Some Books of Hours and Psalters were tiny enough to carry on a journey, or to look at without having to sit at a table, as this cutie on the right.

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There were also special ‘carrying cases’ for smallish books, whereby the book was encased in a soft leather or cloth ‘chemise’ which ended in a knot. The knot was then tucked into a belt or a girdle, and these were called, surprisingly enough, girdle books!

 

Holy familyAt the St Annen Museum in Lübeck, Germany, there is a carving of the Holy Family and St Anne. Spot the girdle books.

 

 

 

 

 

girdle bookA black one is being carried in the hand, the the knot being clasped firmly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

girdle bookand the knot of a red leather covered one has been tucked firmly into a golden belt. Note the circular mounts on the covers; these were to stop the leather, or sometimes silk covered getting damaged or dirty when the book was placed on the top of a table or shelf.

 

 

 

 

girdle bookI was fortunate enough to photograph a girdle book of the Psalms belonging to a private collector. This is not mediæval but from the nineteenth century, it does, though give some idea of the variety of such books. This book comes from Ethiopia and is written on gazelle skin treated to produce vellum. Note the pin prick marks on the right hand side which indicate the line markings.

girdle bookThe script is the ancient language of Ge’ez, which remains now only as the language of the liturgy of a few select Ethiopian orthodoxies. The ink is a very dense black with a vibrant red contrast.

 

 

 

girdle book bindingThe book is bound as a coptic binding which is incredibly flexible, and the cords are thought to have been made from the wild banana plant (see also the St Cuthbert’s Gospel – the oldest European bound book).

 

 

coptic bindingThe covers are from cedar wood, and you can see that the covers, as in all coptic (and some other) bindings are drilled such that they can take the cords which are then tied off inside the back cover.

 

 

 

 

book 'pocket'The book slips inside an animal skin ‘pocket’, which is carefully constructed from stiff vellum-like skin, perhaps a less-scraped skin from the gazelle? The thongs to tie the case together are also animal skin.

 

 

 

book 'pocket'

The case was obviously made for the book because although it is not tight, it is a snug fit and ensures that the book doesn’t move around inside when being carried.

 

 

 

 

 

outer case for bookThen there is an outer slip cover which ensure that the whole of the book is protected in transit. This is made of the same type of skin.

 

 

 

 

 

book coverAnd lastly, the thongs from the pocket are laced through the top covering to ensure that the book cannot fall out, These thongs, then, can be tied on to a belt for easy carrying. In all the case measures 130 by 110 mm (5 by 4 inches).

This is a book which really can be carried, especially with its handy case – so much better than a Kindle!

 

St Vitale, Ravenna – secret pens and ink pots

16436-san-vitale-basilica-ravenna-view-northRavenna is one of the most amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit. I was so bowled over the first time we went there that this year we went again, and if you haven’t been yet, don’t leave it too long before you go! For me one of the best places was the Church of St Vitale, the patron saint of Ravenna. The building was begun in 526 and finished in 547 – an amazing feat of craftsmanship in just over 20 years.

It is octagonal in shape and is a mix between Roman styles (dome, shape of the doorways, etc) and Byzantine styles (the capitals to the columns and narrow bricks).

San Vitale RIt is the mosaics that are the most spectacular though to me, and perhaps the most famous is that of the Emperor Justinian and his court to the left of the high altar, and his Empress Theodora opposite him. Justinian is wearing a deep Tyrian-purple robe, dyed from a liquid which comes from the murex brandaris mollusc. Each sea creature gives only one or two drops and it’s been estimated that 12,000 molluscs were required to dye a single robe. It’s easy to see why the colour was restricted to the most important people and even Roman Senators had only a broad purple stripe on their white togas!

San VitThe Empress Theodora with her court is depicted on the wall opposite her husband, and she is dressed in a rich purple cloak, but this time hers is embellished with a gold pattern and figures processing at the base. As her hand reaches out to hold the gold and jewelled bowl, it pushes her robe aside to reveal a white dress with a magnificent gold thread and coloured border. Of course, all this decoration, the expressions on the faces, and the richly patterned dresses and headdresses are not painted, but are mosaics. The workmanship is simply incredible! Look particularly at the patterns on the clothes of the woman on the right in this picture.

 

Ravenna mosaicIt is interesting in such an old church to see within the mosaics, if you look closely, examples of writing equipment – perhaps an indication of the importance of the written word to Christians. The man to the right of Maximianus in the Justinian mosaic above is holding a jewelled book (more on Golden Books), but there are also images of writing paraphanalia. Here is John the Evangelist holding an open codex, and beside him on a little pedestal table is his quill, quill knife, ink pot, and probably an ink horn. Note the red tabs on the book which are just dropping down. These were used to secure the bouncy animal-skin pages when the book was closed. Quite a few manuscript books had hasps and clasps, though not all have survived still attached to the binding.

 

29205-san-vitale-basilica-ravennaIn this mosaic the Evangelist Luke is pointing to his symbol, the calf (though looking more like a full grown bull here!), and holding his Gospel. You can make out the hasps and clasps a bit better here. At his feet is what looks a bit like a hat box with a strap to carry it. In fact this was a container in which to keep scrolls, as you can see they are tightly wound and stacked vertically inside – and remember that all of this is made up of tiny pieces of tile.

 

 

 

San VitaleThe Evangelist Mark indicates a very ferocious lion as his symbol, and again, on a pedestal table, are his quill, quill knife, ink horn and ink pot.

 

 

 

 

 

San VitaleAnd lastly, here is Matthew with his winged man symbol. Perhaps rightly so as the first Evangelist he has both writing equipment and a box of scrolls. Note the lock on the front of his scroll box.

 

Golden Books – the Lindau Gospels and others

Lindau Gospels front coverIt is rare to get a ninth century book where the original jewelled cover is still attached to the book. The Lindau Gospels is one such. It was bought by John Pierpoint Morgan and was his first major manuscript purchase. The cover is simply amazing. The centre piece is Christ on the cross in gold, standing proud from the surface. Mourning figures, some with wings, are also in relief in the four surrounding panels. It is thought that below the arms of the cross are the Virgin Mary, John, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleopas (Cleopas was one of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. His wife was Mary, and, in John’s Gospel, she was named as one of the women standing with Mary at the cross). The sun and moon are represented above the cross. (A design point: having a centred design makes the whole thing too far down the cover – how I want to just push it all up a bit!)

Rear_cover_of_Lindau_GospelsThe jewels are just stunning – pearls in abundance, amethysts, jade, beryls, and what could be moonstones amongst others. The back cover is not quite so lavish, but wonderful in its own way. Silver and gold have been worked into interlace, similar to that in the Lindisfarne Gospels, and although the jewels are fewer in number, the enamel work in very fine indeed. The additions of two vertical strips at either side edge indicate the the back cover was not made for this book. It is thought likely that the book was produced at the Royal Abbey of St Denis just outside Paris.

There is a discussion of the book cover in detail here.

462px-codex_aureus_sankt_emmeramThe Codex Aureus of St Emmeram (Golden Book) is also a ninth century book. The date for this book is quite precise – 870, and it was produced for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles II (the Bald), at his Palace School, probably again at St Denis. There must have been some exceptionally skilled craftspeople around at that time! It is a large book at 420×300 mm. Again there is a central cross shape, but this time the figure is Christ in Majesty holding a book where the text is clear and reads: ‘I am the way, and the truth…’. Around the central figure are the four evangelists’ symbols, and there are images of Christ’s miracles in the four L-shaped panels. It is thought that the monks Liuthard and Beringer wrote the book and to see some inside pages of their work click here.

Dodex Aureus of FreckenhorstThis is what some jewelled book covers are like now. This is the Codex Aureus of Freckenhorst, which is an 11th century gospel book. Although a few mother-of-pearl remains, with some pieces of jade, turquoise and amethyst, most of the stones have been prized out with a knife, which does leave us a peek at the wooden board forming the structure of the cover below. The central ivory is particularly exquisite. Christ is in a mandorla (this is the shape of two circles overlapping and so is where the circle of heaven overlaps with the circle of earth – which is where Christ is situated), holding a book, which again emphasises the importance of the Word at this time.

Stockholm Codex AureusA note at the beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew in the Stockholm Codex Aureus tells us that the book was stolen by the Vikings, no doubt for its precious cover, but was bought back ‘with much gold’ and presented to the church. It is quite likely that when it was realised that this was a book not a box, the cover was ripped off and the Vikings were then quite happy to sell the inside of the book on.

Note at Stockholm Cod AurYou can just about make out the note written above the magnificent ‘Christi Autem’ and then continued at the bottom of the page. It explains that Earl Alfred, from Surrey, and his wife Werburg bought the book from the ‘heathen invading army’. The inside lives up to its name of Codex Aureus. A mid-eighth century book, it was probably produced in Canterbury. Pages of dyed purple vellum with gold, silver and white pigments are followed by undyed skin with black, red and gold. Wulfhelm the goldsmith is named, so too are Ceolhard , Niclas and Ealhhun, who were probably the scribes and illuminators.

 

On the rebound – a 14th century book

Cover of choir bookMany of us don’t fully appreciate the work that has to be done behind the scenes to ensure that manuscript books in exhibitions are presented in the best possible way. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, a choir book made in Tuscany, probably Florence, in around 1380 for a religious house of nuns is one such. It contains the chants to be sung in the Masses for saints on their feast days.

 

 

 

Piccolomini LibraryThese choir books were usually large enough to be propped on a stand so that all the choristers could see the words and music at the same time. Many of them are quite huge, and there is a glorious collection of these books which can be seen by the public in the Piccolomini Library at the cathedral in Sienna, Italy.

 

Choir book before restorationThe V&A book, though, was not in a good state of repair. It had been stored upright rather than flat and this had put a strain on the binding such that the front cover and the first few quires were separated from the rest of the book. Handling the book was challenging without causing further damage.

 

Detail of damaAlso, the inside was in a sorry state. It was very dirty, and some of the pigments and gold leaf had started to detach. There is a large chunk of gold leaf that has fallen off in this illumination and the other areas of gold look damaged too.

 

 

 

 

 

Partially cleaned manuscript pageSo the decision was made to completely rebind the book and also clean and consolidate the pigments. Most of the cleaning was done by using a soft eraser, although there was some use of a chemical sponge. The results can be seen here on the right and below. The pigments were also analysed and a whole range of colours including the precious lapis lazuli (ultramarine) and Enlargement of cleaned areavermilion (cinnabar), as well as red lead (minium), lead white, (ceruse), azurite (citramarine) and organic pink (probably madder looking at the manuscript). The non-destructive tests on the ink were inconclusive, so it is not clear whether it was oak gall or carbon ink used.

 

 

Book sections sewn on to alum tawesThe book was rebound, including removing the metal bosses on the covers to enable the latter to be attached to a new spine. A series of photographs of this process is shown on the website page and it is a fascinating record of a true craft process.

New Illumination book on the way

After many delays I’m now getting very excited at the publication of my new book on Illumination. I’ve updated a lot of the techniques from my previous British Library book ‘Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry’ (can’t believe how long ago that was published!), and it links very well with my DVD on Illumination. I think that we’re on the home straight now, and could even get copies in time for Christmas! Fingers crossed.

This is the cover (left side is the back, then the spine, and then the right is the front cover):

Cover of Illumination

The little angel on the back is a copy from the Sforza Hours. It’s one of my favourite manuscripts with paintings both by Birago, done when the book was in Italy commissioned originally by Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan, and then by Horenbout, in the Netherlands, when the stolen images were replaced by this great Dutch artist (the story of the book is really fascinating.)

Angels by BiragoMy favourites are those by Birago as he paints saints and angels with the most fabulous cheek bones and really curly hair. They almost look as if they have put their fingers in electric sockets such are the curls, and despite being angels they don’t seem to have known about frizz-eaze!

My angel is a copy of one painted by Birago and is of a chorister, but I popped a quill into his left hand to make him into a scribe (or an illuminator) ready to write or lay gesso into a book.