The Benedictional of St Æthelwold

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb6f970b-500wiA benedictional is a book of blessings given by a bishop; some manuscripts, such as the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (904/9–984), are richly decorated with gold and colour. Unusually we actually know who wrote this particular benedictional – the scribe Godeman as he included his name in a poem, probably in shell gold, placed at the beginning of the book. The poem includes the fact that the book should be richly decorated in gold and colour, as below, as instructions were given:

 

 

 

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb8b970b-500wi-1‘A bishop, the great Æthelwold, whom the Lord had made patron of Winchester, ordered a certain monk subject to him to write the present book … He commanded also to be made in this book many frames well adorned and filled with various figures decorated with many beautiful colours and with gold … Let all who look upon this book pray always that after the term of the flesh I may abide in heaven – Godeman the scribe, as a suppliant, earnestly asks this.’

 

 

 

CIMG3078The manuscript, written in Winchester, which was where St Æthelwold was bishop, is decorated in the  ‘Winchester style’. This includes borders of acanthus leaves intertwining around circles and vertical and horizontal lines. There is much modelling and the appearance sometimes is almost 3-D. There is lavish use of gold and pages are most striking, although it could be said that the illumination on occasion almost overpowers the text. This style is seen clearly here, a copy of the beginning of the Eadui Psalter written a little later than as the Benedictional but decorated in a similar manner. This page was prepared for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library, 2018–2019. There’s more about the creation of this page on my website here. And a blogpost with short films on how manuscripts were made here, including a film of gilding and painting this page.

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73d69da35970d-500wiThe potentially rather overwhelming aspect of the Winchester style is shown well on this folio. This full page miniature shows St Benedict and is placed in the book just before the benediction for his feast day. It is rather difficult to identify the central figure surrounded as it is by the gold and colour, with heavy and elaborate decoration at each corner, looking a little like shield bosses, and ones almost as elaborate halfway down the side. There are, though, as instructed by St Æthelwold, many arches in the book!

 

 

 

Screenshot 2024-05-14 at 17.43.51The lettering in the manuscript is very similar to, but not exactly the same as the Ramsey Psalter (shelfmark: BL, Harley 2904). The latter was written around the same time, and both in Winchester; the Psalter was the key manuscript used by Edward Johnston for his Foundational Hand. It is rather intriguing to think that both scribes may have been sitting next to one another in the scriptorium, and writing the letters slightly differently, perhaps even comparing notes!

There’s more information on a British Library blogpost here and it will certainly be worth looking at each page when the British Library website is up and running (this blogpost written May 2024).

 

 

The Evangelists’ Symbols

12th-century_painters_-_Bury_Bible_-_WGA15724A number of saints are depicted with their symbol – St Jerome may be shown with a lion, as he removed a thorn from the lion’s paw and so it accompanied him as he worked, St Catherine is often depicted with her wheel, and St Lawrence with his gridiron, and so on. The four Evangelists are also often shown with their symbols: that for Matthew is a winged lion, for Mark a winged lion, for Luke a winged calf or ox, and for John a winged eagle. But why? How did these four symbols come to be associated with these four New Testament greats?

In the Bury Bible (above) the animals representing the Gospellers are shown in the four corners in an image of Christ sitting on a rainbow within a mandorla (a mandorla is the shape of two spheres overlapping; Jesus occupied that space between the sphere of heaven and the sphere of earth). The symbols around Christ are shown in this order – the man for St Matthew is top left (but on the right hand of Christ), the lion for St Mark below that, across the bottom is St Luke’s ox or calf, and finally the symbol for St John, the eagle, top right. All are winged and hold scrolls – the scrolls represent the writing of the Gospels.

Lindinfarne-apostleThese symbols didn’t come about by accident as they were noted by the prophet Ezekiel, 1, vv 4–14:

Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings, as for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

 

 

St._Mark_-_Lindisfarne_Gospels_(710-721),_f.93v_-_BL_Cotton_MS_Nero_D_IVIn the Book of Revelation, 4, 5–8, St John also has a vision of four animals surrounding the throne of heaven.

… and round about the throne were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

Towards the end of the second century St Irenaeus of Lyon, associated each animal to the Evangelists. The man represented St Matthew, the lion St Mark, the ox or calf St Luke and the eagle St John.

Luke-LindisfarneThe reason for this allocation is that the Gospel of Matthew starts with the genealogy of Jesus, and thus Christ as a human, his incarnation. Mark’s symbol of a lion indicates courage and monarchy, and this book starts with John the Baptist ‘preaching like a lion and Christ as king roaring in the desert’. The calf for Luke indicates sacrifice, service and strength. And finally the eagle of St John is the ‘king’ of birds and the one that flies closet to the sun and highest in the heavens and so brings the word of God directly.

 

St. John,[Whole folio] St. John, with his symbol, an eagle carrying a book Image taken from Lindisfarne Gospels. Originally published/produced in N.E. England [Lindisfarne]; 710-721.

St. John,[Whole folio] St. John, with his symbol, an eagle carrying a book
Image taken from Lindisfarne Gospels.
Originally published/produced in N.E. England [Lindisfarne]; 710-721.

These four images are from the Lindisfarne Gospels and show each Evangelist with their symbols and their names preceded by ‘Agios’ which is the Greek for ‘Saint’ in an angular runic-style script .

‘Makers’ by Roger Lee

Screenshot 2024-02-06 at 13.39.14In the light of only a few weeks ago the government  indicating that it was ratifying the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage in June 2024 it seems appropriate to highlight this book of fantastic photos of makers; traditional craft skills being one of the five domains specified in that Convention. (For more on the Convention see here.)

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.49.39Craft and craftspeople photograph really well, but not everyone can capture the skill, beauty and excitement of makers making. This certainly isn’t the case with this book. Roger Lee’s thoughtful and sensitive images show not only the end results of the making, but the stages in the process, the skills used, the tools, and the workshops of practitioners. It makes for a fascinating insight into the various stages in producing wonderful craft and the application of years of practice.

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.50.41Roger focuses on the makers in and around his home town of Sevenoaks, in Kent, and if you ever thought that not much craft was going on in your area, then this is a tangible demonstration disproving that! From a hat maker to a harness maker, a sign writer to a jeweller, a violin restorer (as here) to a tool maker, and more, they’re all featured in this book.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 17.36.56Gill Stratton is a hat maker in a local village. She makes hats for posh occasions such as Ascot and Royal Garden Parties, but also for weddings and christenings, and ones to keep you warm in winter and shaded from the sun in summer. Skills needed are not just those to create the structure and decoration on the hat, but also in how to deal with the materials and fabric used, and colour theory to match outfits.

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.51.34It is not only skilled practitioners in Roger’s book, Joshua Hook is an apprentice jeweller who won a silver medal in fine jewellery making at the WorldSkills UK National Final in 2021 – clearly a young man whose skills will take him far!

Roger’s book is available for sale on this link  where you can also view the whole book as a pdf (you don’t have to pay!). It is well worth indulging yourself by spending a bit of time enjoying the beautiful images.

Bede and the Theory of Everything

IMG_3746Many will have heard of the Venerable Bede (673–735) and appreciate that, to have been given that title, he must have been rather special and probably really clever. This new book by Michelle Brown explains exactly that – and more besides. Bede was clearly a most remarkable man whose intellect and reasoning was way beyond most, if not all, of his contemporaries and which still has an impact on us today.

 

 

 

cover_desktop_CodexOf course, any book by Michelle Brown is worth reading! Her knowledge in particular of this period is extensive and deep, but she wears her expertise lightly, and her writing is clear and most user-friendly. She considers Bede from a number of different aspects both the man and his work, and there are chapters about him as a monk and priest, as an historian and reformer, concerning the origins of written poetry, as a scholar and scientist, his influence on the Ceolfrith Bibles, Lindisfarne and the Lindisfarne Gospels and much more.

IMG_3773The three Ceolfrith Bibles, commissioned by the abbott himself, are particularly interesting and Michelle considers the text in detail and the ways in which it was influenced by Bede’s thought and writing. Two of the bibles stayed in England, one for the monastery at Jarrow and one for Monkwearmouth, but the book that became the Codex Amiatinus was taken to Italy to present to the pope. The cover of Michelle’s book shows this image of Ezra from Amiatinus, shown here. Ezra, from the Old testament, was a scribe and priest and is shown, of course, writing. The image of the scribe, with his feet resting on a footstool, an open book, and the slightly weird angle of the bench that he is sitting on is almost the same as the Matthew image in the Lindisfarne Gospels. What is sometimes missed at first glance are the instruments of making the book in the foreground. There are compasses which indicate the distances of the lines and the width of the text block, what looks like a stylus or dull point to draw the lines, and two ink sacks, probably pig’s bladders. In front of Ezra is another weirdly angled table with his inks, a well for red and a well for black.

IMG_3753Excitingly, though, the use of Greek letters to mark passages of note in the Codex Amiatinus (see more about this book here), Michelle suggests could actually be the hand of the great man. Bede knew Greek and was using a system of Greek letters, applied here, in an innovative way. Michelle goes further than that in suggesting that one of the seven different scribes who wrote the huge book, a pandect containing in one volume all the books of the bible, was Bede.

Her book also dispels one of the common myths that all people at this time thought that the world was flat. Bede worked out that in fact the variations in the length of shadows cast on sundials and the changes in the length of daylight hours according to latitude indicated that in fact the earth was a sphere.

The date of Easter had long been a thorny problem at this time as the calculation depended on either the ‘Nicene ruling’ or the Johannine belief. Easter was the most important date to be marked in the Christian calendar, and at a time when missionaries were still on the frontline converting non-believers it must have seemed incongruous that one sector celebrated Easter at one time and others were at that same date still observing Lent and marked Easter on a different day. This matter was considered at the Synod of Whitby in 664  at which Wilfrid promoted the Roman dating system and Colman the Ionan. Because the Roman system was based on the city where St Peter established the Christian church, being ‘the rock’ on which is was to be built, and, in addition held the keys to heaven, it was decided to adhere to the Roman dating. But Bede’s studies went further than this and he devised a system whereby the date of Easter could be accurately calculated in perpetuity.

page32lgeIn her extensive studies of this great man, Michelle Brown has identified a number of ‘firsts’. It is possible that the red interlinear gloss for the book of John in the Lindisfarne Gospels, written by Aldred who describes himself as ‘a miserable priest’,  is in fact the translation of this gospel into English by Bede himself, in which case it would be the earliest translation of any part of the bible into the vernacular.

 

 

 

Cod Am

Bede was clearly a most remarkable man, perhaps the cleverest man there has ever been with his range of interests and the work he produced. This book brings together the many intriguing strands of the man, his huge intellect and the ways in which he influenced thought at the time and how that still applies today, as well as his extensive interests. It is the most fascinating and illuminating read, incredibly informative and detailed, and is very highly recommended.

 

The Sforza Hours

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.35.07Imagine how Sir John Robinson from the Victoria and Albert Museum must have felt in 1871. He was in Madrid looking for manuscripts, and had heard of a ‘wonderful Illuminated manuscript.’ A priest was selling it and a price agreed. He put the peseta equivalent of £800 (£66,000 now) into the inside pocket of his brown cloak. Somehow or other though the money was stolen, which was clearly a disaster! However, he found another £800 and managed to secure the manuscript.

This is a page from the book painted by Giovan Pietro Birago showing the penitence of King David. It depicts the king transported to a Renaissance Italian town, and detail that is so typical of this artist. Note particularly the lively modelling of David’s robe highlighted in shell gold (real gold powder in gum Arabic base).

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.07However, this wasn’t the only dramatic incident in the manuscript’s history. The book was originally commissioned by Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan, in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century from the best artist in the city. As can be seen here, Birago had a wonderful style of painting, very mannered but very precise. Bearing in mind that this manuscript is the size of a pocket book, the detail is amazing.

This image is the text from the Hours of the Cross and the angel at the top holds the crown of thorns and the nails; at the base is a cherub kneeling in adoration of the cross. Note Birago’s style of high cheek bones and wonderfully curling locks. The borders either side are in typical Renaissance style of intertwining foliage, trumpets, and mythical creatures – in this case sirens.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.51It was discovered some time later in a letter written by Birago to ‘Your Excellency’ (un-named) that a visit by Fra Johanne Jacopo to view the manuscript was not without incident. Apparently he stole part of the book! In that same letter Birago explained that ‘The part which your excellency has is worth more than 500 ducats. The other part is with the Duchess …’. So just a part of the book was worth five times more than Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Madonna of the Rocks’, valued at the time at 100 ducats.

In this image the Holy Spirit is descending in the form of a dove on to the disciples. Note St Peter with his keys, the very lively robes, and the wonderful curls of the men.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.27The story of the book continues. It was not finished, but on the Duchess’s death passed to her nephew, Philibert II of Savoy. The manuscript wasn’t long with him because he died a year later and it then went to his widow, Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. She went there taking the book with her, and after ten years asked Etienne de Lale to finish the text in a style that is rather inferior to that in the rest of the book. This page is by the original scribe in a strong Gothic Rotunda, a style used in Italy and Spain, much less compressed than the Gothic Textura of northern Europe.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.32.03Margaret also asked the court painter Gerard Horenbout to add more illuminations. His style and that of Birago are totally different but both are supreme artists in miniature. Look at the detail here, how finely the figures are painted, although the sunny, hilly exteriors, and the light interiors of Italy painted by Birago have been replaced by Horenbout to dark rooms and the rather dreary, in comparison, backgrounds of northern Europe. The challenge of depicting haloes is well shown here. There’s not such a problem when the figures are full face and not looking down too much, but when shown as here it’s difficult not to see them as golden plates on their heads.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.48Admitting the huge skill of Horenbout, my preference very much is the style of Birago. Here are some more miniatures in the Sforza hours. Now there’s curly hair and there’s curly hair! Admittedly Mary Magdalene was known for her hair when anointing the feet of Christ … but! It was said that she was a hermit in the desert and didn’t eat or drink but was sustained by God. She is supported by angels rising to heaven to receive that sustenance.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.18Never has there been a group of more high cheek-boned, curly haired men than here in this image of the Last Supper. Even the servants ladling soup and pouring and serving wine are depicted in the same way. And for itinerant travellers, the disciples are certainly robed luxuriously.

There’s more to be seen on the British Library’s website here, and although there are only few pages of this manuscript remaining, each of the images is a real gem.

‘Hands of Time’

IMG_2913There is now only a handful of watchmakers in the UK which means that it has been in the Critically Endangered category in the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts since the first research was published. Hurray, then, for Craig and Rebecca Struthers who run their company, Struthers Watches, in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. The fact that this is such a rare craft means that Rebecca’s book ‘Hands of Time’ is even more important.

 

 

 

IMG_2919However, do not think that this is yet another book on craft, who does it and how to do it, of which there seem to be quite a few at the moment. This is a fascinating, delightful and well-written book about all aspects of time and the development of measuring time, as the title suggests, No wonder it was chosen to be ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC’s Radio 4 in what seemed like only seconds after it was published! Rebecca is the only person in the UK to have a PhD in horology and her research and depth of knowledge stands her in good stead for this book.

 

IMG_2926All the drawings in the book (here and as above) were done by Rebecca’s husband, Craig, and the care, precision, delight, and execution add immensely to the book. They also show the need for the supreme accuracy that is required for those who work with objects that are often less than a mm in size.

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2023-05-15 at 13.35.39What is particularly interesting about the book is the way in which Rebecca weaves her own story and experiences into the means by which counting and recording time has developed. In the first chapter, for example, it is meeting with friend Jim, whose wife is a shepherdess, who explains the effects of nature and the seasons on the times when ewes get pregnant and then giving birth; this emphasises the way in which the yearly cycle has on all of us, even though it is often not always obvious to city dwellers. This also relates to the 44,000 years old Lebombo bone (see image) which has scratched markings on it that are thought to reflect and represent the days of the lunar month and the monthly cycle – perhaps a degree of sophistication at that time which many hadn’t fully appreciated.

IMG_2920Rebecca considers both the development of watches and a number of special watches such as this lion watch which some believe to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, and was presented  to her by her first husband, Francis II, King of France. This watch was then given to Mary Seton, one of the ‘four Marys’ who accompanied the Queen to France and then back to Scotland. It was said to have been given to Mary Seton on the Queen’s execution, but was this actually the case?

 

IMG_2923Should watchmakers and repairers leave any sign of their work on watches? This is similar to calligraphy which is rarely signed. Decades later it is often difficult to work out who was responsible for great works of art. Rebecca was told never to leave a trace, but this person inadvertently left a finger print here on the back of an enamelled watch. (Can you see it, just under the word ‘Wilson’?) Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who this person was and at what stage they were involved in making the watch?

 

 

IMG_2921One of my favourites, photographed by Andy Pilsbury, as indeed all the photographs are in the book, is this watch which is part of a chatelaine, worn by a housekeeper or someone in charge of a large house. What a lucky housekeeper to have such a wonderful instrument as part of her daily duties to refer to every day.

 

 

 

I have had such pleasure reading this book, and enjoyed every moment as stories both of Rebecca’s own experiences, and the history of watchmaking are revealed, and the art and craft of watchmaking are interleaved with the history and development of watches. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – buy one for yourself and one or two more for those who you may think would also be fascinated, and those really difficult people (uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers) who are difficult to buy for – you won’t regret it!

 

‘The Lindisfarne Gospels: Art, History and Inspiration’

IMG_2753This new book by Eleanor Jackson, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, on the Lindisfarne Gospels offers a fascinating insight into this magnificent manuscript. The fact that the Gospels are thought to have been created by one man, Eadfrid, Birshop of Lindisfarne, before 720 is quite remarkable. It is also glossed, an Old English translation of every word, not necessarily making complete sense, by Aldred, who describes himself as ‘a miserable priest’ in the colophon (‘peak’ or ‘finishing touch’ from the Greek) which he added at the end of the book, and is the earliest surviving translation of the gospels into English.

 

IMG_2755The new book has magnificent images, many of them enlarged so that the innovative and inspirational design and mastery of skill of pen and brush are clearly shown. This is the incipit, the beginning, of Luke, and it shows the innovative design, the intricacies, and the precision of execution. La Tène ornament (the whirls and swirls) contrast with the entwined bodies of birds lower left, and the multitude of red dots, so characteristic of insular manuscripts.

 

 

 

IMG_2756The enlargements emphasise also the accuracy of Eadfrid’s designs and the different colours used and can be studied in great close-up. At the top here is ‘Eusebius’ (note Aldred’s script just above), having a diamond for the middle crossbar of the letter ‘E’, and with its entwined birds, a dog, interlace, and a multitude of red dots; this is the opening to the prefatory text. Below is ‘Generationum’, the beginning of the chapter lists for the Gospel of Matthew, with restrained decoration but again many many red dots. Note the capitals written in Half-Uncial in red at the top ‘Incipit capitula lectio sec mattheum’ indicating what is to follow. The colour red used is beginning to deteriorate at the beginning to a darker red.

 

IMG_2760The book is notable for its cross carpet pages. These are designs that incorporate crosses (in the Lindisfarne Gospels many on one page), and look like the intricate designs in a Middle Eastern carpet. Research by Professor Michelle Brown suggests that carpets were used for prayer on special occasions at the time the book was produced in a similar way to Islamic traditions. Here the cross carpet page for Matthew is a riot of intricate birds and dog-like creatures. But for me, it is those white circles which really catch the eye. Were they left to be illuminated with gold or another colour? With such an eye for effect, it is really interesting that Eadfrid left them blank like this.

IMG_2758The author images are particularly striking, taking up a whole pages and showing the ages of man, writing in books and on scrolls, and three-quarters and full face. This of Luke, with his name and representative animal of a calf, is shown with him sitting on a cushion and bench, his feet on a stool, and writing on his lap. His name is written in Greek but in an angular script that is similar to Runes.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2759

The angle of the face of his calf is very similar to that inscribed in wood on the coffin of St Cuthbert made probably at Lindisfarne at the end of the seventh century. The calf is shown also holding a book between its front legs.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2761The colophon of Aldred is particularly important naming as it does Eadfrid as the scribe, Æthelwold as the person who bound it, and Billfrith who adorned the covers. It must have been truly magnificent and a great asset to the cult of St Cuthbert who was regarded as the greatest saint in England until Thomas Becket at Canterbury.

This new book by Eleanor Jackson brings together the knowledge that we have of this great book and looks anew at the manuscript. It, like the book, is a true treasure trove and anyone who is interested in Lindisfarne the Gospels, St Cuthbert and the history of this area, and wants their eyes to be delighted and their souls to be enriched by the artistry of this amazing manuscript needs this book!

‘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.