‘The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club’

IMG_2191Christopher de Hamel is a wonderful and inspiring writer, wearing his scholarship lightly and introducing his readers to manuscripts, libraries, manuscript makers, and authors with the lightest of touches such that they hardly realise that they are absorbing so much knowledge. This is evident in all his books, but particularly his previous best seller and award winner – ‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’. Could his newest book live up to that?

It certainly does!

 

 

IMG_2193In this latest one – ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club’ – a play on the title of Dickens’ first novel, Christopher de Hamel takes as his theme not the makers of manuscripts (apart from Simon Bening), or the manuscripts, but those who collected and commissioned them, whether for themselves, other people or for religious foundations or libraries. It is an interesting conceit and one which could easily become rather dull and monotonous, but Christopher has such deftness of style, and introduces contemporary sources so well into the narrative, that it becomes such a good read and a difficult-to-put-down book. He starts with St Anselm as here, abbot of Bec Abbey, and then Archbishop of Canterbury. As with his previous book, Christopher takes us on a journey to Bec and describes what it must have been like at the time, bringing in Anselm’s correspondence and the ‘prickly’ script of Canterbury along the way.

IMG_2194The range of Christopher’s collectors include a monk (above), bookseller, illuminator, librarian, and, bringing us into the twentieth century, a curator. There are twelve chapters, all focusing on these different approaches of manuscript collection. The bookseller in chapter 3 is Vespasiano da Bisticci, the bookseller of Florence, and Christopher again sets out and visits the city to trace not only Vespasiano’s original shop but also the house where the bookseller retired; it is situated about five miles outside Florence. He left the city once the printing press signalled the decrease in demand for hand-written books, and Christopher quotes a letter from Vespiano to Pandolfini trying to persuade him to come and stay at; ‘…this pleasant and charming place, where the woods, fine hillsides, springs and clear streams and cascades invite you …’ – who could resist? Before his retirement, Vespasiano commissioned many manuscripts for his prestigious clients including this for the Duke of Urbino, illuminated by Francesco Roselli.

IMG_2192Constantine Simonides was a nineteenth-century forger, specialising in Greek manuscripts and particularly those of the early Christian era and ancient Greek authors. The photograph of him in the book (as here) certainly shows someone who lived up to that of an itinerant scribe and dealer, looking slightly dishevelled and about to pull out unknown manuscript treasures no doubt from a carpet bag! This is an intriguing chapter of deception and veracity, and brings in doubt about the authenticity of the Codex Siniaticus in the British Library (soon dispelled!).

 

 

IMG_2203Sir Sydney Cockerell will be familiar to calligraphers as the person who advised the great scribe Edward Johnston to study the manuscripts of the late tenth century so that he could improve his writing style, and from which Johnston devised his Foundational Hand. Cockerell had been William Morris’s secretary and together they bought the manuscript shown here, when, as this book describes they were in Beauvais together and at just after 7 in the morning Morris demanded that Cockerell ‘come out and buy a manuscript’! Despite his later advancement to be Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, manuscripts were in Cockerell’s heart throughout his life, and the excitement with which such works could be bought for relatively small sums during the latter part of the nineteenth-century, and the delight of such collectors Cockerell advised and worked for such as John Ruskin, Henry Yates Thompson and Charles Perrins (of Lea and Perrins sauce fame) when they owned them is almost palpable in this book.

This is such a good book, a romping read through the ages of book collecting and dispersal that any thought of it being boring is dispelled in the first sentence. Should you buy it? YES, you should – it is very highly recommended!

 

The Imperial Crown

IMG_1872 2The Imperial Crown in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is an amazing example of craftsmanship and also of symbolism. It is quite a large crown, suitable for a king with a rather large head, and weighs a considerable amount with all the gold, gemstones and pearls which adorn it. The crown was made in the west of present-day Germany and is dated to 960–980. At one time it was thought to be the crown of Charlemagne who was made Holy Roman Emperor in 800, but this theory has since been disproved. There are twelve large gemstones on the front panel which represent the twelve Apostles.

IMG_1873The crown consists of eight large arched panels, the number eight being particularly significant for emperors. There are four panels encrusted with pearls and precious stones alternating with four depicting Christ, King David, King Solomon and King Hezekiah with the prophet Isaiah – these represent God’s grace, righteousness, wisdom and long life. At the back of the crown, shown here, are twelve large gemstones, indicating the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

IMG_1874The form of the crown is said to be the tangible expression of the spiritual relationship between the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms. It also represented the emperor as being the ruler as Christ’s viceroy on earth. The arch, which can be seen here, was added in 1024–39 during the time of Konrad II.

 

 

 

IMG_1875In all the crown is 24·4 cms tall, and weighs 3,465 g (c. 7lbs 10 oz). The plates have 116 gemstones and these are mainly sapphires, emeralds, spinels and amethysts which have been carefully selected and arranged by shape and colour. There are also about 200 pearls. The later arch has small seed pearls and smaller gemstones as decoration.

 

 

 

IMG_1872The forehead cross, too, is later, and is from the time of Henry II (r. 1002–24). The side facing outwards is decorated with carefully selected large gemstones, and the four on each arm could represent the four evangelists with the central white one being Christ. It symbolises victory.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1884On the reverse of this cross is Christ the Redeemer bleeding on the cross, crucified, but at the same time conquering death. The Latin inscription above this reads ‘By me kings reign’.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1881The four enamel or cloisonné panels are most intricately done whereby strips of gold outline the pictorial elements and are attached to the base. These small areas are filled with coloured glass which are heated to a high temperature in a kiln; this last process often has to be repeated to get the finish and colour required. The surface is then smoothed so that the metal strips and enamel are level. King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah can be seen here. Crowns usually contained an inner velvet cap and the red colour of this, dating from the 18th century, can just be seen.

Escomb Church

IMG_1600Escomb Church, probably built in the seventh century, is situated in a hollow just west of Bishop Auckland in the north east of England, and is one of only four complete Anglo-Saxon churches left in England. The many substantial slabs of stone for the building are thought to have come from the nearby large Roman settlement of Vinovia, now Binchester, where there are very well preserved Roman baths that can be visited. It could be that there was a pagan site here suggested by the circular churchyard.

IMG_1655The blocks in the stone walls vary in size from small to massive and are laid in a rather random pattern, but the corners consist of immense ‘quoins’ laid on alternate sides as can be seen here; these strengthen the walls. The stones are mainly very neatly cut, again emphasising the Roman link. Stone buildings were quite rare at this time, in fact the skill of building in stone generally left with the Romans at the end of the fourth century. It was Benedict Biscop (628–690) who brought masons from Gaul to build the stone churches of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, and who no doubt applied their skills here too.

 

IMG_1602Outside to the right of the porch there is a sundial set into the wall, thought to be the earliest sundial in its original position, dated to the seventh or early eighth century. There would have been a metal gnomon and the three lines carved into the stone indicate the hours of Terce (the third hour), Sext (the sixth hour) and None (the ninth hour), which are the times of the services held during daylight hours.

 

 

 

IMG_1616Inside the building is marked by its initial appearance of simplicity with whitewashed walls and wooden pews. The roof timbers have been dated to 1480–1490, and between 1875–1880 the roof was restored at a cost of £500.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1650The simple appearance is deceptive, because looking closer it’s clear that some of the building blocks have a history. Patterns and striations caused by chisels are visible in a number of stones.

 

 

 

IMG_1635And in the chancel, one of the vertical, narrow stones has a clear pattern that is thought to be the Tree of Life, with two figures at the base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1636These two figures could represent Adam and Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1620The windows are small, typical of this period, but open out to the inside to almost twice their size, thus increasing the light. It is quite surprising how much light these small windows give out.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1621The high, narrow chancel arch is of particular note as it is similar to those in Roman gateways and is again thought to have been dismantled from Vinovia and rebuilt here at Escomb.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1622There is evidence of painting on the underside of the arch, but only the red colour is still visible. The paint has been applied to wet plaster as in a fresco (fresco means fresh) rather than simply painted on once the plaster had dried. It is likely that the whole church would have been decorated in this way with patterns and pictures.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1639The simple altar cross probably pre-dates the church and would have been erected at a significant spot for visiting missionaries to preach and pray. Eventually a church would have been built to protect the congregation from the elements and the cross brought inside.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1658Escomb Church is such a delightful, seemingly simple building but its history and place in the annals of early Christianity in the area mean that it is well worth a visit and well worth, too, looking a little deeper and longer to gain  greater insight into a really fascinating structure.

‘The Fantasy of the Middle Ages’

IMG_1585Larisa Grollemond and Bryan C. Keene have written a fascinating book called ‘The Fantasy of the Middle Ages’ and the ways in which the images and ideas in manuscripts with the associated myths and legends, and our version of this period of time, have been interpreted throughout successive periods of history and in various media. It really is a riot of wonderful images and a real feast for the eyes!

 

 

 

IMG_1586It begins with, of course, the myths and legends of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, shown here in a late fifteenth-century French manuscript. The Arthur of possibly the fifth or sixth century who may just have existed would have looked very different from that depicted in mediæval manuscripts as here, or indeed the twelfth-century and after romances of chivalric knights of derring do, pathetic princesses and ladies needing their honour to be defended (in the main), kings and queens, and, of course, evil old crones. Sir Thomas Malory and Edmund Spencer of later centuries and then Tennyson in the nineteenth century all developed these themes and stories.

IMG_1587The costumes designed for stage and screen reveal the slightly over-the-top attitudes believed to be of the period. Here is the one for Morgan le Fay in ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ for the 1948 film.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1590The perception of mediæval women is of those completely dependent on their male relatives or husbands, whereas the reality was that many women ran workshops, estates or even countries – for the latter Melisende of Jerusalem (1105–1161) being just one example. In this image from Christine de Pizan’s ‘City of Ladies’ of the early fifteenth-century, here are the women planning and actually physically building the city with blocks of stone. These women have been reflected in stories by Chaucer with the Wife of Bath, Tolkien’s Éowyn, and Arya in the ‘Game of Thrones’.

 

IMG_1589William Morris was particularly susceptible to the mediæval influences and in a big way. The manuscripts during his calligraphy and illumination period produced by him show this and then the printed books he made from the Kelmscott Press – as an example – this image by Walter Crane produced for the first page of ‘The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of the Living Men’. The intense border decoration, enlarged decorated initial and dominating main image imitate manuscripts of the high mediæval period.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1591And the stories and influences continue not only on screen and stage with films, plays and television productions. The traditional ‘Procession of the Magi’ in Florence depicts the three kings in mediæval dress on horseback, their costumes relating back to a fifteenth century painting.

 

It was certainly a colourful and even flamboyant period in many ways and this has been picked up by the authors and designers of this book with a totally over-the-top gold embossed and angled cover title (it has to be seen to be believed!), and page after page of wonderful images and interesting, informative and thought-provoking text showing that, actually, those Middle Ages have never died! Thoroughly recommended!

‘Penned and Painted’

IMG_1479This new book – ‘Penned and Painted’ – by Lucy Freeman Sandler looks at books from many different aspects and provides a cornucopia of wonderful images of pages from manuscripts. If you like looking at manuscripts and finding out more about them, then this book is for you!

 

 

 

 

 

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Lucy Freeman Sandler starts by considering the book as an object, and then books as images in books. Sometimes the pages or scrolls in miniatures are left blank and at other times actual words are depicted. Here, this wonderful image of a rather grumpy elderly St Mark peering through his spectacles, with his lion looking on with sympathy, has text shown simply as vertical lines.

 

 

 

IMG_1488But St Dunstan, in all his gilded glory is shown with his quill in his right hand and his quill knife in his left holding down the bumpy vellum and ready to trim his pen, and is writing out the beginning of the Rule of St Benedict. As St Dunstan was one of the three people responsible for bringing the church into the benedictine Rule in the tenth century, this seems very appropriate.

 

 

 

IMG_1484The rest of the book consists of two main sections: Books as Symbols and Books in Use. The Harley Golden Gospels were produced during the time of Charlemagne, possibly in Aachen, and lives up to its name. Written in gold throughout, mainly in Uncials the four evangelists are shown holding books or scrolls. Here St Mark, looked on rather menacingly (look at that smile!) by his lion, is writing out a section from his gospel. One would have thought that he would have arranged his writing position and the position of his ink well a little more conveniently so that he didn’t have to twist his wrist quite so much to fill his pen to fill it from an ink pot on top of a pillar, but there we are! His lion holds a scroll with letters in gold. It is truly a magnificent book.

IMG_1486This manuscript shows a miniature which is most unusual – a left-handed scribe! It is from a fifteenth-century breviary produced for John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Margaret of Bavaria. The detail is quite amazing as the fifth-century pope, Leo the Great, dictates to an amanuensis sitting at his feet. The scribe is turning to hear the words which he is writing into a book on his lap. The expressions on the faces are amazingly detailed.

And that left-handed scribe – when left-handedness was certainly not looked on favourably? Well, you’ll need to buy the book to read Lucy Freeman Sandler’s possible explanation! This is a book that is well worth buying and well worth reading!

Kedington Roll of Honour

IMG_1073All commissions present challenges, which is the joy of doing them, but some do create more than others! Such was the case with the Kedington Roll of Honour. This was to be a record of the the airmen who died and the few who survived in air crashes at Kedington in Suffolk, just before and during the Second World War, and forms part of the Kedington War Memorial. There were five dates that needed to be recorded with differing numbers of names and the amount of information. It was very difficult to get a balance between the lists and placement of them took some time. However, the best layout for the names left a large hole in the middle at the bottom.

IMG_1075I had been asked to incorporate flowers and shrubs relating to the places where the airmen came from which seemed to be the answer in filling this space, but getting a balance between the colours and sizes of the flowers etc was a challenge. It was also necessary in this balance to have the flowers and shrubs placed where they would grow in nature – prairie crocuses and daffodils at the bottom, thistles and lupins in the middle, and oak and maple ‘trees’ at the top for example. I tried many different shapes and designs for this, balancing the colours as part of the design. Initially I thought that a much freer shape, with branches and leaves extending beyond the main body of the vegetation would be better, but the extensions drew the eye too much. It was important to include all these elements but the shape, colour and detail should not then dominate; the names of the airmen are the most important part and nothing should detract from them.

IMG_0943As usual, the very first task was to experiment to decide on the size of nib, which determines the size of the lettering, for each of the sections, and then write everything out. Having done that, colour was introduced to elements of the lettering, including mixing a blue similar to that of Air Force blue. I then cut the names and information up into separate lines and placed them in order, attaching them to a large sheet of paper, and spacing the lines so that they weren’t too far apart, nor too close. Here everything has been laid out in rough and I am using two large L-shaped pieces of grey card to determine the margins before I ordered the vellum.

 

IMG_1077However, I wasn’t happy with the design. It didn’t seem to hang together and I couldn’t work out exactly what needed to be done. I researched various links with Kedington and Suffolk and found out that cowslips are the county flower. Suddenly I had an idea and after a few experiments then it all seemed to come together. I painted some cowslips of various sizes and in various groupings to determine the exact format and size. In rough the whole design was pulled together by a simple line of cowslips painted so that they looked as if they were growing in a Suffolk meadow. I thought that this could represent the Suffolk countryside where those who had sadly died were now buried – the oval design of flowers above representing them when they were alive – above the ground. The final touch was a small bunch of cowslips at the bottom of the panel, tied with a piece of brown string, just the sort of thing someone might pick from the countryside and hedgerows and place on the grave of an airman during the war.

IMG_1078It was a beautifully creamy-white piece of vellum, but the design was too large for me to stretch the skin over wood first, so everything was written and painted before stretching. I treated the skin, marked out the spacing and ruled the lines. I then set to writing the title, headings, names etc and the information at the bottom. Lastly the painting was done mainly in watercolours. Both the writing and the painting sat very well on the treated skin – it was a beauty!

I hope that this Roll of Honour in its frame sits appropriately with the actual Kedington War Memorial cast in bronze.

A Gift for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Good shipsIt is unlikely that anyone will experience a Platinum Jubilee again, so the celebrations in the UK of The Queen’s anniversary in 2022 were particularly special. It is traditional for organisations and institutions to mark this by presenting the sovereign with a small gift, but how to make yours stand out amongst so many? This was the challenge for Gallyon Guns. They were aware of work I had done before and particularly liked the words of the ‘Friendship’ poem. The relationship between The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh seemed to be not only a warm and loving one but one also based on friendship, and with HRH’s naval background, it seemed particularly relevant.

 

 

Good shipsMy challenge was to make this not only relevant to the occasion but I wanted to also make it personal. The Queen is the queen of the whole of the UK and so a design was created of the four flowers of the nations and principality at the top of the poem. A rosebud was included with the open rose to represent The Prince of Wales as heir to the throne.

Good shipsThis theme of national flowers was continued at the base of the text. The two open red roses represented The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, with four rose buds representing The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Three thistles on the right-hand side represent George, Charlotte and Louis, and on the left, Archie and Lilibet.

IMG_3474It is always useful, and very much advised, to keep the roughs of work completed as, if it is repeated, one process is removed as the lines already written can be used as a template. So having already written this previously, I was able to use the lines as a guide. If photocopies of the finished work are made, these can also be used. Take two so one can be a record, and the second one can be cut up for the lines, but don’t throw them away at the end – there may be yet another repeat!

The way in which I work is, once the writing style and pen nib size have been determined, to write out all the text first, without worrying about mistakes. This takes all the tension out of the task – always a challenge for the scribe as tension usually results in cramped letters and tight spacing at the start which tends to be improve later; this then shows in the finished piece. Without these concerns, if a mistake is made, the word is simply written out again and inserted into the correct place in the text. If any parts of the text are written in a different size, style or pen nib, then these are also written out at this stage without worries or obvious tension. The lettering is then cut into strips and placed on a suitable size of paper. Margins are also determined at this stage. The strips are cut according to sense and design and laid out on the paper. Lines can be shortened or lengthened, moved around to be aligned left or right, centred or whatever seems to be the most appropriate arrangement. At this point, colour in the background or illustration can be added so that the balance of the whole piece can be determined. This is a wonderfully creative process, but it can also be rather time consuming!

CIMG3159Once the guidelines have been drawn on the chosen surface, then these strips of text act as a guide for writing out the finished piece. Placing them just above the line being written means that spelling mistakes or words missed out are avoided, and starting and finishing lines where they should are indicated exactly above the places where they should start and finish! (The image is from a different piece but it gives the idea.) To attach the lines I use Magic tape but remove some of the stickiness by tapping my fingers on the tape – I don’t want any of the writing surface to be removed as well!

Of course, anything to do with the royal is confidential, but I did hear through the grapevine that, unlike many of the presentations made ,The Queen did see this one and she was not displeased! That certainly made my week!

Stanford University Library Calligraphy Collection

E Johnston Stanford mssCalligraphy is often a much neglected artform when it comes to being included in collections in libraries, galleries and museums, contemporary calligraphy even more so, yet is can be one of the most expressive combining text with colour, gold and illustrations. How wonderful, then, that Stanford University Library have decided to rectify that and create a collection of worldwide, contemporary calligraphy (initially focused on the western alphabet) as a three-year project, possibly extended. The launch of this was on the 150th anniversary (+ 6 months) of Edward Johnston’s birth in Uruguay on 11th August 1872 (already international!). His work, shown here, is already at Stanford.

Dr Ben Albritton and Patricia Lovett MBE are the Co-Directors, and are also on the Judging Panel, Patricia being Chief Judge. The keynote for the collection is excellence, but membership or fellowship of prestigious calligraphy organisations is not a prerequisite. Anyone can send in photographs of their best piece for consideration, but it is stressed that excellence in letterforms, design, use of tools and materials and creativity are paramount. Assessment will be made by submission of photographs, so their clarity is crucial – these should include one of the whole piece and additional close ups. Accompanying these in the same email must be the application form. There is a limited budget for buying artworks but it is also possible for calligraphers to donate their work if they wish (which will mean the Collection will be larger than envisaged!). All details are here. It is hoped that there will be an exhibition at the end of the three-year project as well as a conference/ symposium.

albrittonDr Ben Albritton, Co-Director of the Collection, is the Rare Books Curator and Bibliographer for Classics. He writes ‘I focus on enhancing, enlarging, and celebrating the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts collections of the Stanford University Libraries. Working with curatorial colleagues across many different departments in the library, I aim to provide support to Stanford faculty and academic programs using Special Collections materials, and to raise awareness of our collections amongst research communities around the world. I am passionate about the use of our materials in teaching, and work closely with faculty and students in class sessions and research projects. In order to connect more researchers with our materials, I also am eager to work with colleagues in the library to provide digital access to more and more of our primary source materials. To support these broader goals, I also work with rare book dealers and library donors to make sure that Stanford’s rare books collections are growing in ways that fulfil current research needs while also anticipating future areas of interest.’

IMG_3308Patricia Lovett MBE, Co-Director of the Collection and Chief Judge, is a professional scribe and illuminator who specialises in the skills and techniques of mediaeval manuscripts but in a contemporary way. She has written over a dozen books, her latest being the ‘Art and History of Calligraphy’ published by the British Library, and is working on another for the British Library to be published in 2023. Patricia co-curated the collection of contemporary calligraphy and the ‘Calligraphy Today’ exhibition for the Fitzwilliam Museum, and has worked with the British Library on their ‘Genius of Illumination’, ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ and ‘Gold’ exhibitions, being filmed to show techniques for the last two. She was awarded a National Honour for services to calligraphy and heritage crafts.

 

Gemma_BlackThe four remaining judges of international highest repute include Gemma Black from Australia. Gemma writes: ‘I grew up making things. I made music, books & letters. The formal discipline of learning the piano fed directly into my calligraphy and lettering training firstly through the Roehampton Institute in London then on to other allied art training in watercolour, bookbinding & printmaking at a variety of other institutions including the Australian National University School of Art. I feel fortunate to belong to a strong and rich tradition, the evolution of letterforms and to work with likeminded people in the field. Not only do I belong to this rich tapestry of human communication, lettering, I breathe it.’

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Peter Halliday from the UK is practitioner, teacher, author, calligrapher and lettering artist spans over sixty years. As he was taught by Maisie Sherley, herself taught by students of Edward Johnston, Peter gives an almost unique link with the early calligraphy revival. He was Chair of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and Founder Chair of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society as well as author of the National Diploma in Calligraphy. Peter was a Founder member of Letter Exchange. Peter’s creative approach to the lettering arts is both imaginative and innovative. Using a wide range of materials, respect for the traditions of illumination, especially gilding, gives his work a special place based on creativity, tradition and integrity.

KPatworkKultstadtfest22Katharina Pieper from Germany is a freelance calligrapher who, from 1988, has taught lettering and calligraphy at many prestigious institutions, and since 1991she has been invited to teach workshops all over the world. Her calligraphic work has been published worldwide in exhibitions, books and journals and she has also written articles for journals in Germany, England, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the US. With her books, calligraphy, and paintings she is represented in many public and private collections. In 2016 she founded the Stiftung Schriftkultur e. V, and in 2017 opened a gallery with a museum, library, workshop rooms and the Jean Larcher archives in Gut Königsbruch in Homburg.

JW.2012Julian Waters is the son of revered calligrapher Sheila Waters and pre-eminent bookbinder/conservator Peter Waters. His other great mentor was the legendary Hermann Zapf. Julian has taught workshops for lettering professionals worldwide, and typography, lettering and font design courses at The Corcoran School of Art, Cooper Union, NY, Letterform Archive, and Wells College. Julian’s book design and lettering clients have included U.S. Postal Service, National Geographic, agencies, publishers and memorials. His typefaces include Adobe Waters Titling Pro and “ThJefferson” for Monticello. His work has received many awards and has been widely published and exhibited.

On a personal note, I am thrilled that this Collection is taking place, and honoured to be working with Ben as Co-Director – and how inspired of him to do this! For many years I tried to persuade the British Library to buy contemporary calligraphy and they do have a few pieces, but certainly not enough! However, a chance remark I made to Dr Stella Panayotova meant that she and I worked on the Collection of Contemporary Calligraphy at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the accompanying ‘Calligraphy Today’ exhibition, which was extended twice because it was so popular! How wonderful, then, that with a budget (albeit limited!), this new Collection is now taking place, but rather than by  invitation as at the Fitzwilliam, this is for all those practitioners at the highest level who can submit their work to be assessed by this amazing panel of judges. Every practitioner judge is at the top of their game producing outstanding calligraphic artworks, and is also skilled in assessing lettering. This is such an exciting project and what a privilege to be part of it!

 

 

 

Glitterati of 2022

IMG_1727Although it was a slightly depleted group due to Covid, ill health and travel challenges, there was such enthusiasm for the three-day May 2022 ‘Illuminating a Mediæval Miniature’ course. And, as always, only lovely people seem to come on these courses so it was a joy to spend three days in their company. It takes quite a long time to set out all the tools and materials required for making, laying, preparing and gilding gesso, which raises the the gold from the surface of the vellum, cutting quills, preparing vellum, transferring the tracing and painting two miniatures. This image is just the work station for just one person.

IMG_1728This is the third course run since the pandemic, and very careful arrangements are made to allow for this. There are two or three people on long tables and two large rooms are used. In addition a virus extractor is run throughout the course. Naturally, people are often a bit worried that everyone else will be so much better than them, but the course is all about techniques and applying them, and so the results invariably astonish in a good way (!) those taking part.

 

 

IMG_0824It is an intensive and often exhausting three days, but seeing what people produce makes up for it all! See the results below.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0823These are the comments from those on this course, but not necessarily beside each person’s own work:

Oh how wonderful! Just being in this calm lovely space, surrounded by glorious artwork, was marvellous. Watching Patricia paint, measure out ingredients, teach, share her expertise and encourage us all was a masterclass in what exemplary teaching should be.

IMG_0829What a privilege! I have loved every minute and I cannot believe how much I have learned and achieved. It has been wonderful.

Excellent. Patricia is kind and encouraging, and great care and kindness is taken with all arrangements.

All beautifully paced and so encouraging. It makes a lot of difference to have expert demonstrations in person not Zoom, and to be able to ask lots of questions.

IMG_0835Heartily recommended. Everyone comes away having succeeded in producing something to be proud of using exquisite materials most would not usually have access to. Plus – what lovely people!

Wonderful! I did the 1-day course at the British Library and felt compelled to do the 3-day course. The teaching was so focused and clear, but also open and fun.

 

 

 

IMG_0838Very well worth it, I have truly learned something unique and wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0842Absolutely spot on – just the right amount of explanation etc including repetition.

Fantastic – would love to do it (yet) again.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0839I could not have asked for a more fun, fascinating and engaging course; I learned so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0841Down to earth, and crucially delivered with a sense of humour. Wonderfully accommodating of attendees’ skillsets from professional artist to complete novice. This must have been tough to do but Patricia made it look easy. A privilege to have been taught by a leading authority on the subject.

 

St Albans Psalter – New Ideas

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.14.26The St Albans Psalter is an intriguing and somewhat puzzling manuscript. It is believed to have been produced in the twelfth century at St Albans Abbey and presented to Christina of Markyate by the Abbott, Geoffrey de Gorham. It shows magnificent English Romanesque miniatures. The nativity seen here exemplifies that – the unusual perspective, the ‘key’ pattern in the border, vibrant colours, and what is described as ‘wet linen’ fabric (or as Professor Michelle Brown says – ‘wet T-shirt’ look!). Notice the intense interest of the animals and Joseph’s rather perplexed look at the birth.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.32.29On the St Albans Psalter website, it states that it is not clear where this manuscript was produced nor exactly when, but Rosemary Stevens, who has studied it in Germany in person at length, has further ideas. Most of this blogpost is based on these.

The whole book really is a collection of disparate articles, having particular resonance for Christina of Markyate – including a pasted capital ‘C’, Psalm 105 on folio 285 (see below) which is thought to be an illustration of her with the monks. Together with the Psalms, Liturgy and Prayers are three more sections: the Calendar; 40 full-page miniatures; and the Alexis Quire. Most important psalters start with an elaborate letter ‘B’ at the beginning of Psalm I ‘BEATUS VIR’ (‘Blessed is the man …’), often with gold leaf. In this instance the first page of the Psalms is not just disappointing but downright weird! Instead of the whole page being given over to the letter B and the rest of the text smaller, the folio has a couple of jousting knights at the top and the remains of text that starts on the previous page and refers to these two knights. The ‘B’ seems to have been squeezed in as an afterthought, but then the text on the left curls around it. The ‘EATUS VIR’ seems to have been written before the letter ‘B’ as some of the letters are covered by the gilding (the ‘T’ of ‘TUS’ and part of the ‘R’) as well. The page is also at the end of a gathering rather than at the beginning as would be expected, so it almost was included as an afterthought – but for the beginning of Psalms? This was either a most unpropitious start or a rather confused attempt at making good a useful set of Psalms. The academic Otto Paecht observes rather politely: ‘An astonishing lack of co-ordination’!

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.29.34Then the next page contains a repeat of the ‘EATUS VIR’ opening of the Psalms, as though the previous page depicted only the letter ‘B’ for ‘BEATUS; it then continues with Psalm I. Although the sizes of the letters for ‘EATUS VIR’ on the previous page are irregular, here they are written between defined lines and there are even horizontal lines of colour which keep the letters to size as well, though they remain unfinished. At the bottom the last word is ‘CATH’, which should continue as ‘EDRA’, for ‘CATHEDRA’, but see the next page.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.30.02The scribe here has missed out the letter ‘e’, so instead of ‘cathedra’ it reads ‘cathdra’. Neither of the previous two pages are in the top rank of proficiency. However, this scribe has managed well to write around a magnificent illuminated letter Q which possibly was completed before the text.

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.30.16However, it is the next page – 75 – that is really interesting! This is written by the person described as Scribe 2 who was the main scribe of the Psalms and the Liturgy. His hand is unknown in St Albans – in fact his punctuation shows him to come from the Continent according to Professor Malcom Parkes. The ink is very uneven in density – it is faint and dark in patches and the letter height is certainly not consistent on the page. It looks as if the scribe has had to replenish the nib much more frequently with the ink not flowing freely, and there are instances of a white line down the middle of the strokes again indicating poor ink flow. This could be an ink problem or a vellum problem – one or the other wasn’t prepared properly to work – or perhaps his health or temper was out of sorts!

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.04.40Looking at the manuscript in the original Rosemary Stevens has detected that the white line down the middle of many of the letters has been filled in by another hand or hands. She suggests that this could be that of the Corrector (who might have been Scribe 6), or of the Rubricator who has written the beautifully executed coloured initials. In some cases, he didn’t bother to rinse out and change the ink in his pen but used the same colour, which can just about be detected in some letters. Note here the very much darker letters ‘i’ and ‘r’ after the red letter ‘d’. (Apologies for the quality of the image, this was the best I could do!) Some of the letters are others quite carefully and sensitively corrected, and others quite crudely. Some are left uncorrected, so that we can see these mistakes quite clearly today. Every single line has received correction, while the line started ‘Reges’ has whole substituted words and also the ampersand and the correction of the original punctuation mark, all in the style of Peter Kidd’s Scribe 6. (Peter has studied the manuscript in detail.)

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.25.45Correction in colour can be seen after the blue P in ‘Postula’. The Rubricator has written the letter ‘P’ in blue and then continued correcting in this colour – which can be seen at the end of the tail of the ampersand after ‘tua’ in the second line. Also, in the second to last line, the mauve capital ‘A’ (‘Apprehendite’) precedes many corrections which appear to have been made in the same colour ink.

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.01.26In addition, the scribe has two particularly idiosyncratic features which may best be seen by looking at the manuscript itself online. First, what has happened to the tails of those letters ‘g’? It isn’t possible to get a really good enlargement to use here but it seems as if the scribe has lost all sense of how to construct them. The very worst is the ‘g’ in ‘confringes’ (bottom line here), when he completely loses the ductus. The tail goes far out to the right and then wiggles round in an ugly curve. In one instance the scribe has lost it completely and the curve stops and another stroke overlaps it to finish the curve.

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.01.26Then the bowl of the letter ‘a’ is far too large for its own good, and in some cases being almost as large as the top stroke, and it is also rather saggy and floppy, almost as if it has lost the will to live!

 

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.04.59Again the Corrector has come along and improved these letters but here he couldn’t help himself and made the bowl of the ‘a’ tighter and smaller, thus creating a more pleasing letter shape as in ‘dabo’ here in the middle of the second line, clearly in the slightly later style of Scribe 6.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.00.58Then there is a particular style of punctuation. This version of the colon is called ‘punctus elevatus’ by Professor Malcolm Parkes, who has said that it emanates from the Low Countries. It consists of a lower diamond and an upper up-flick as here at the end of ‘intelligite’ (line 3 in this enlargement). The downward tick, usual in England and Northern France can just be seen as a superimposed correction two lines up, before the ampersand (see the online version for this).

 

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.29.33So what does all this suggest? Fascinating conversations with Rosemary can be summed up as follows. She posits that this could have been an unbound roll of gatherings which was easier to transport, and anyway perhaps it was among a collection of such – brought with Geoffrey of Gorham when he came from France to the UK. Perhaps it was his personal, favourite book of Psalms? Would a man in his position travel to a new life in a foreign land as a teacher without such a seminal book?  He had been invited to come to England to be Master of the School at St Albans by the Abbott. However, by the time he finally arrived in England that post had been filled and Geoffrey went to Dunstable to teach there instead. While there he put on a miracle play and borrowed expensive copes from St Albans to use in the production. However, these were destroyed in a fire – this must have been such a disaster for him! The enormity of this, for which he took full responsibility, had a profound effect upon him. He resolved to make personal recompense by offering to become a monk at St Albans.

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.34.51When Geoffrey himself became Abbot he formed a relationship with the anchoress Christina of Markyate, for whom this book was put together. Here she is – in the most prominent position next to Christ and almost touching him. Intriguingly, this image was illuminated and painted on a very thin piece of skin and stuck on to the page. There is nothing underneath and it is the only miniature to be like this. Rather than a volume created specifically for Christina, Rosemary’s theory is that this was Geoffrey’s own copy of the Psalms and that it was finished with historiated capitals, with many additions cut to shape, with illuminations and rubrications and finally bound for presentation, such that it became a suitably luxurious volume to be presented to the holy woman.

It is an intriguing book which is still giving up its secrets, including that Rosemary can vouch for the fact that there is no other painting underneath the pasted in letter ‘C’ of Christina.