Beating the sin out of your body with a mediaeval flagellum may have worked in those times, but to me, this is a shocking use of beautiful writing and wonderful animal skin. I saw a flagellum first in the old British Library, when it was still housed within the British Museum in Great Russell Street. There was a well-used wooden handle, and Biblical texts in a form of Gothic Black Letter written on strips of animal skin, which were attached to the handle. The skin was rather discoloured, which it would be if it had been used to beat the body.
I thought that, following my theme of loving a lot of lettering that is 3D, I’d try my hand at making a modern flagellum. But what to write? Although I love the words of the St James Bible, I thought that to use biblical texts would simply be a copy. I then realised that there were words and phrases that seemed to be beating the living daylights out of the English language – pre-owned, meaning second-hand, faux, meaning fake, compact (with houses and flats) meaning tiny, economical with the truth, meaning lying. I also have a bit of a thing about verbs being used as nouns, and I’m sorry, but it’s the grammar police here, different from (not different to), fewer for numbers (rather than less than), and so on.
We had a great time one evening with our friends suggesting words and phrases, and then I set to. It may be flagellum, but I wanted to make it beautiful. So I chose some really creamy vellum, used Chinese red and black stick ink, and separated the individual words and phrases along each strip with a gold leaf dot on raised gesso. I marked out with pencil and a straight edge the strips on the vellum – the plan was to make long strips and fold them in half, and then attach them together – and set to. Once the gilding and writing were done I cut up the strips using a sharp knife and straight edge (not too clever with the raised and gilded dots, but there we are!), folded the strips in half and then sewed them all together with bookbinder’s thread.
I am not skilled in wood turning, but I know a man who is, our piano tuner! So we discussed the dimensions and he made the handle. I tried ramming the strips into the cup-shape in the handle but they didn’t stay there very effectively, so I then flooded the inside cavity with acid-free PVA, and it held.
Unlike the mediaeval flagellum which had been used and so the vellum strips were quite flexible, this vellum is stiff, and so, when displayed, each strip has to be separately attached to the backing (with white bluetac). I just wonder what people will think of this in years to come!