‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’

IMG_2489It is not always the case that a new non-fiction book is a page turner, but ‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’ by Helen Chislett and David Linley is certainly one such. Page after page of beautiful photographs are surrounded by an informative, fascinating and interesting text. To be fair, craft usually photographs well, but these images are exquisite!

In my view, the book starts not on page one, but with the gloriously marbled blue endpapers by Lucy McGrath, acknowledged in the text – reflecting books in the  nineteenth century when most would have had endpapers like this. It gives the book the quality that continues on the following pages.

IMG_2490Lucy McGrath is marbling paper here by flicking – in a controlled way – colour on to a thickened water base. A piece of suitably sized paper is then floated on the top and when lifted off the marbling has been transferred on to the sheet of paper. The beautifully patterned paper is used not simply for endpapers but for books, book marks, Christmas baubles and much else.

 

IMG_2496From the wonderfully colourful to the monotone, but equally exquisite work of Geoffery Preston MBE. He works in stucco/plaster, moulding by hand the flowers, foliage and flourishes that he designs. This is an overmantel that he’s produced and if you want to see more of his work, save up and go to the bar at the Goring Hotel in London where you’ll be amazed at the sea creatures and his designs that are on the wall leading out to the garden. This craft links to pargetting which is included in the book.

 

IMG_2494Although all craft is beautiful in my eyes, particularly heritage craft (!), it is often, and perhaps usually, useful as well, and none more so than most objects to do with the making of shoes. Steven Lowe owns and runs Crispians which produces lasts for bespoke shoes; lasts are the wooden former, the shape of a person’s foot, around which shoes are made. He also runs Lastmaker House which trains those who wish to learn the craft. When Steven presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft a few years ago he explained that the vast majority of those who come on his courses are from abroad; it is a sad situation when this endangered craft cannot recruit those in the UK who could make it viable.

 

IMG_2495Another craft carried out by only a few people is wheelwrighting. Mike Rowland and Son are featured in the book. The skills are being passed on in that they have trained one apprentice already and now have Sam Phillips, shown here, working in the workshop. Self-employed makers and micro businesses like these find the costs of training almost prohibitive. If just one day a week is set aside for passing on the skills, and it is usually much more, then production goes down by 20% and that’s a craftsperson’s profit, so they can afford to live, not enouigh to pay for an apprentice. Government provision for support for apprenticeships in the UK works well for bankers and hairdressers, but is virtually non-existent for these endangered crafts. This is rather ironic because the crafts are where the whole apprenticeship, journeyman and master system was established!

IMG_2498Many do not realise the craft skills that are involved in scientific glass instrument blowing, but they are definitely right at the centre! A lot of scientific and medical experiments and processes could not take place if they did not have the correct glass equipment to do so. This elegant tower of glass could sit under a spotlight on a shelf in an expensive penthouse suite as an ornament, but it is actually a water jacketed oxygenator made by Terri Adams as part of cardiovascular research. Terri is the University of Oxford’s only scientific glassblower, and this is an endangered craft with fewer than fifty of these craftspeople in the UK.

 

 

IMG_2491Nowadays we are used to wallpaper being produced by machine, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past wallpaper was printed from carved wooden blocks, often cherry wood; here Hugh Dunford Wood is carving a pattern in lino bespoke to clients who can choose not only the design but also the colours for the ground and print.

The book is divided into twelve chapters after a foreword by Stephen Bayley and an Introduction. Each chapter is a cornucopia of crafts, with details and photographs of each one. It really is an absolute delight and very highly recommended.

‘Words Made Stone’

IMG_2272‘Words Made Stone’ records a ‘conversation’ between Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley MBE, one of the country’s leading letter cutters, and Marcus Waithe, lecturer in English at Magdalene College in Cambridge. The value of this style of gaining information was brought home to me when I interviewed a number of lettering luminaries for Heritage Crafts series of ‘In Conversation With …’. The one with Lida is here, and there are others worth watching on the Heritage Crafts website as well.

 

 

IMG_2274This book provides a fascinating insight into how a modern letter cutting workshop with masters, journeymen and apprentices actually works, and works very successfully indeed. This workshop format allows for exchanges of ideas, creativity, and for skills and techniques to be passed on collaboratively at the same time. Here four people at the workshop are each working on different projects.

 

 

 

IMG_2277Do view the ‘In Conversation With …’ Lida to see the actual workshop. First of all I couldn’t believe how clean and tidy it was when I was there – and was assured that it wasn’t like this especially for the filming! Tidyness and order matter when in a workshop, whether with one person or several. Time is wasted looking for items of equipment, and putting things away after use is part of good craft practice – a place for everything, and everything in its place.

 

 

 

IMG_2279More collaboration is needed when cutting letters in situ, and not all of them are ideally placed. Each letter cutter here adopts a different position from kneeling, sitting and crouching over, lying prone and lying sideways (Lida at the back – how did that work?).

 

 

 

 

IMG_2275But in addition to that, the book explores how each commission is approached, every one being different. From very first ideas, sketches sometimes being made at or soon after the initial approach, to working out those ideas with more precision, and finally, as here, Lida  completing a precise drawing to scale.

 

 

 

IMG_2276Sometimes ideas pop up at rather inopportune moments. You will need to buy and read the book to find out exactly when Lida and her assistant Fiona came up with the ideas for the fourteen stations of the cross and how coincidental and even dangerous it was! The brief was to incorporate square tiles in the designs. Note the successful nesting of letters to accommodate different lengths of text.

 

 

 

IMG_2278So is this ‘just’ a conversation about workshops and processes? Certainly, not! The book is so much more. There is so much philosophy to the way of working, thinking about each commission, and a sense of, as Lida says, learning by doing, but also perfecting by doing. As she writes ‘We get on with the job, do the best we can and in the process we learn and improve. This is not achieved by sitting in front of a drawing board or easel dreaming of the perfect capital. It is only earned by getting on with it, through craftsmanship’.

There is so much to love in this book – the fascinating and interesting text, of course, beautiful photography, the images of white pencils sharpened to point beyond belief is so intriguing, but the whole design and production is really carefully done. Such thought has been given to the selection of the images illustrating the points being made, and even to the quality and feel of the paper – perhaps regarded as trivial by some, but how wonderful to enjoy the actual touch of fingers on the pages as they are turned. This is a book for anyone and everyone – buy it, enjoy it, read, learn and dream of being able to commission your own cut lettering from this wonderful workshop.

HUGE Choir books

IMG_1599Producing books before printing was an expensive exercise. The text was written by hand and often detailed and precise illuminations were added. Whereas nowadays each member of a choir would usually have their own copy of the music and words, this was prohibitive in times past because of cost. So how could a choir sing together without having to learn everything by heart? For rich and prestigious religious foundations and churches, large choir books were produced. However, in Granada cathedral in Spain, behind the altar, not just large books but HUGE choir books are on display! (Apologies for the photographs. Avoiding the reflections on glass was impossible on an iphone!)

IMG_1601Now when HUGE is mentioned, the actual size may not be truly appreciated. These books are actually over three feet high and two feet wide – they really are massive and would need at least two people to carry them! This ‘miniature’ of the Christ with Virgin Mary and St Anne with John the Baptist is at least 1 foot or 30 cms in size, and would have been glorious for the members of the choir to look at while they were singing.

 

 

 

IMG_1593Of course, the lettering had to be pretty large too! The x-height for these was over an inch, 3 cms, high, and written so very precisely, as can be seen here. It is likely that some form of balsa wood pen would have been used to create strokes this wide, but the purity of form, and the sharpness of outline, with dense black ink, are truly inspiring and commendable. The style of writing is called Gothic Rotunda by calligraphers, and was the Italian and Spanish equivalent to the dense Gothic Textura, or Gothic Black Letter, of northern Europe.

 

IMG_1603Each page shown was an absolute masterpiece and it was truly a privilege to see page after page of these books – and displayed at a height and in a way that they could be seen easily – not always the case with manuscripts!

Although there is no musical time indicated, and the notes didn’t appear to have a value in terms of length such as a crotchet or minim, it is likely that the positions next to one another indicated how long each note should be held for, and, of course, their position on the stave indicated the pitch.

The clarity of the script is shown well here.

 

 

IMG_1602The coat of arms in one of the books is certainly for a cardinal, indicated by the hat and number of tassels (although they should be red, but depicted here in grey against the red background), but I have not been able to find out which cardinal this represents.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1598Many of the pages have elaborate decorated and illuminated borders. This shows wonderful Renaissance decoration of urns, butterflies, and foliage with a scattering of gold dots – the ‘dots’ being at least a quarter of an inch, 5 mm in diameter!

 

 

 

 

UnknownA fully clothed Christ, without his two companions at Calvary, is shown in this image of the crucifixion, with the most glorious surrounding border. It must have been difficult to focus on the singing with this feast for the eyes within sight!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1613The carved and elaborate stand on which the choir books are displayed is placed just behind the magnificent altar. There is space for one on each of the four sides, but only two were on show this time, allowing for the gilded and decorated back panel to be seen.

‘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 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!

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.

‘Findings’ in the calligraphic work and teachings of Irene Wellington

IMG_1559Irene Wellington was an amazingly gifted and  accomplished calligrapher whose lightness of touch and stunning and complex designs belie the hours of thought and care that went in to her work. This little book considers and explains more about Irene Wellington’s detailed approach to her work, the planning and thought for her work, and how she passed this on to her students.

 

IMG_1563After a short biography, Ewan Clayton MBE selects pieces of Irene’s work and draws out the thinking behind them, how Irene, as with her tutor and mentor Edward Johnston was concerned about the making rather than the practising, in that it is only by doing real pieces that the full range of challenges are met and can be resolved.

This piece was made by Irene as a gift for her second husband, Hubert Wellington, for his birthday; they were married the following year and their initials ‘I’ and ‘H’ are highlighted in red in the word ‘gladder’ near the bottom. Interestingly it is completely in pencils – no pen at all.

 

IMG_1565One of her main pieces was the impressive panel of the Bailiffs of Lydd. Ewan describes this piece as architectural, as if there are steps creating a platform with pillars and a pediment. There are 400 names with dates on this panel and it really is a tour-de-force. The second horizontal panel of lettering on a background of shell gold is just stunning.

 

IMG_1561The Coronation address is another complex piece with a number of quirks. The body of the address is in Uncials, which may be considered an unusual choice, but it works, and although the text is not justified, the right-hand margin is relatively even. The arms of London County Council are balanced by the detail of the Coronation Crown and below both are the oaths of dedication by The Queen herself.

IMG_1560Many people keep a record of a holiday or a diary, but few create an astounding artwork of the complexity and quality such as this (see also first image above used for the cover of the book). This is an account of a journey taken by Irene and her first husband Jack Sutton and written out by her in three weeks while her husband was away as a surprise. What a surprise it must have been and a wonderful gift to receive!

Calligraphy is so much more than ‘just’ writing out words and the thought and consideration that goes behind even seemingly simple and straightforward pieces is well illustrated in this book. Ewan always provides great food for thought in his talks, teaching and in his writing, and as a student of Irene Wellington Ann Hechle gives firsthand knowledge of Irene’s teaching and ways of thinking about letters and lettering. The appendix includes the tribute written by Ann Camp, another great calligraphy, after Irene’s death.

This book is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Inscriptions of Ralph Beyer’ by John Neilson

IMG_1380Ralph Beyer really was a remarkable letterer and to a large extent one of a kind. The influence of his German parents just before the Second World War was considerable, and the rather peripatetic childhood that he had resulted in experiences that affected his later work.

This new book by John Neilson focuses on Ralph Beyer’s inscriptions, but it is so much more than just this. It would be impossible to write about this remarkable man without touching on his time with Eric Gill, the influence of Henry Moore, how David Kindersley helped and very much more.

 

IMG_1379Because war was imminent, Beyer was sent to the UK from Germany when he was 16 years of age leaving the rest of his family behind, and one of his uncles arranged for him to go to Pigotts to work in Eric Gill’s workshop. Beyer seemed to find the rather traditional atmosphere restricting, and the contradictions of no electricity but a phone, and doing everything by hand but using a car rather strange. He was asked to draw a Roman Capital alphabet with a pencil. Eric Gill then used a red fountain pen to improve the letters as shown here.

IMG_1390It was the inscriptions at Coventry Cathedral where Ralph Beyer showed his great prowess. The mediæval cathedral had been bombed and almost destroyed in the Second World War, and the architect Basil Spence was chosen to design a new, modern one. His aim was to have a up-to-date building but incorporate many craft skills in a more contemporary way, and certainly Beyer’s inscriptions fulfil that role. He took on other lettering in the Cathedral and also carved the shell shape into the boulder of rock from Bethlehem to make the font.

 

IMG_1385It would be expected that work would come flooding in after the publicity of his work in Coventry Cathedral, although not everyone was in favour of the differing shapes and sizes of the letter-forms, but this didn’t happen and for some time his income, and the support for his family, was rather precarious. Beyer did, though, cut the letters for the National Library of Scotland.

 

IMG_1386And for this he was helped by his assistant Peter Foster (shown on the right here). Sadly neither the lively coat of arms, nor the name are there now after a refurbishment programme.

 

 

 

IMG_1381Ralph Beyer cut letters in a rather unusual way. Rather than position the chisel with the corner in the central part of the letter, he placed it on the outer edge and cut from there.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1384His lettering, though, continues to inspire, and to help the reader focus on the text in a new way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1382And one of my favourites, the lively lettering for the Thames Chamber Orchestra, shown particularly well against a red background.

 

 

 

This book by John Neilson captures the spirit of this great letterer, it explains Ralph Beyer’s background and influences and the way in which he made his work all his own. It is a terrific tour-de-force and gives inspiration to calligraphers, type designers, logo designers (use hand-drawn lettering!) and letter cutters. It is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Book in the Cathedral: the Last Relic of Thomas Becket’

IMG_0803This year, 2020, marks the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29th December, 1170 and the 800th anniversary of his shrine built in the cathedral itself. A large exhibition bringing together manuscripts and artefacts related to the saint was planned at the British Museum, and this little book from the great Christopher de Hamel was due to be part of that. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the exhibition did not take place, but the publication of the book did, and despite its small size, it is a really wonderful book.

 

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.24.35Any book by Christopher de Hamel is worth reading and this one is no exception. Initially Christopher considers the meaning of relics in mediæval life. This beautiful 12th-century casket, for example, with Limoges enamel decoration was made for the relics of Becket. This side shows the murder of the holy man (note the sword being drawn), his burial (above) and to the right above his soul being taken to heaven. This particular casket is in the V&A Museum in London and is the most elaborate and largest of the Becket Caskets in existence now, and is the earliest being dated to 1180–90, within just a decade or two of the martyrdom.

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.21.07And whilst pieces of his body, hair, blood and clothing were considered to be worthwhile relics, why weren’t any of his books? Christopher focuses not just on the books owned, or thought to have been owned by Thomas Becket, as they would have given an insight to his thinking, but also concentrates on the psalter, Ms 411, now at the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge . Christopher was for many years the welcoming Fellow Librarian of this most amazing library, most of the books donated by Archbishop Matthew Parker who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Elizabeth I’s reign. Ms 411 has an intriguing frontispiece – an elaborate interlace border, complicated in pattern and in colour, surrounds a rather wraith-like figure holding a book drawn in a brown-black ink and of a later date than the border. Who is he?

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.21.42The psalter starts, obviously, with the letters of Psalm I, ‘Beatus Vir’ (Blessed is the man …) enlarged and in gold and colours. The text of the Psalms is then written in an engaging and regular Caroline Minuscule with letters very well formed making the text clear and easy to read.

 

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.22.33On the following pages the verses start with a pale turquoise or dark brownish-red uncial initial letter followed by the same regular text script. It is possible that the pale green is malachite. This is pigment made from grinding down the semi-precious stone used in jewellery and for boxes and vases. Unground it is the most glorious emerald, but when ground it gradually loses its vibrant colour. If ground too much it forms a very pale insipid green, and so is used in a fairly granular state. Initially the adhesive is sufficient to keep the irregular grains of pigment on to the surface of the skin, but over time the granular nature of the colour gradually rubs off leaving only the paler powder remaining on the page. The red, too, is possibly vermilion, which over time has deteriorated and the surface has gone black or silver. Imagine this page with brilliant emerald green and startling red initial letters – it would have sung!

Christopher covers in this book the importance of martyrdom and the fact that killing the archbishop resulted in Canterbury being the most important place for pilgrimage for centuries with 100,000 pilgrims attending at important festivals. He also considers what books an archbishop would have in his collection at this time, or, perhaps more significantly, what books would Thomas Becket have needed bearing in mind he wasn’t even a priest when he was made archbishop. Becket’s exiles in France are investigated and the books that he acquired while he was there. It is interesting that, after his death, Becket’s books were just left on the open shelves of the slype, which exists even today and is used as a store.

So this particular manuscript – what is its connection with Thomas Becket? Did it have significance for him? Who owned it before him? And how does pigment from Egypt come into it? This blog is not a spoiler – you will need to read the book yourself and it really is well worth finding out the answers to those questions. The psalter could, just, have been such an amazingly significant little book.