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.

Trajan’s Column

IMG_0299We have been fortunate enough to visit Rome in Italy a few times and on each occasion I make a pilgrimage to Trajan’s Forum intending to see if I can view the lettering at the base of the column. But every single time the Forum has been closed for renovations and as the lettering is on the side of the column facing into the Forum, the lettering has been impossible to see!

 

 

 

IMG_0313I want to see the lettering up close because it’s regarded as one of the very best examples of Square Roman Capitals. The column was erected to celebrate Trajan’s victories in the Dacian (present-day Romania) wars between 101 and 106 AD and was completed in 113 AD. It is thought that the architect was Apollodorus of Damascus. The victories of Trajan were significant. It’s estimated that he brought back half a million pounds-worth of gold and a million pounds of silver.

 

IMG_0308The column is simply magnificent – it’s 98 feet (30 metres) tall, but when the pedestal is taken into account it’s even taller at 115 feet (35 metres), and consist of 20 drums of Carrara marble placed one above the other. Winding round the column is a 620 feet (190 metre) frieze with carvings of the wars between the Romans and Dacians. There are 155 scenes with 2,662 individual figures and they have even been used as an historical source for the clothes worn at the time.

 

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The inside of the column is hollow and there is a spiral staircase winding to the top; there are narrow rectangular windows placed around the column to give light to this staircase which can just about be detected (there’s one just to the right of the arch almost in the centre of the top visible spiral, and then another beneath it three spirals down. In 1787 the German poet Goethe climbed to the 185 steps to the top to ‘enjoy that incomparable view’. Placed on the platform there  was a bronze statue of Trajan but this was removed by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and replaced by a statue of St Peter.

 

IMG_0258So there we were last month on our first morning, looking at Trajan’s Column and I happened to spot that the gate to Trajan’s Forum, which had always been firmly padlocked before, was open and it was possible to go down steps to the Forum. There was a kiosk selling tickets – it was open! We immediately bought tickets and I turned hoping to be able to stand in front of the column to view the lettering only to find this section was roped off and thus inaccessible! Without any Italian I tried to explain that I have visited Rome and each time been disappointed by Trajan’s Forum being closed as I really wanted to see the lettering at the base of the column. They very kindly lifted the rope and I was able to realise a long held dream of standing in front of the column and gazing at the lettering. The sun on the letters brought them in to sharp relief and it was such a privilege and thrill to view this panel of exquisitely cut letters that had eluded me for so long.

IMG_0262They really are magnificent! And the sun light added to the exhilaration. The letters also looked so fresh despite the fact that they are two thousand years old. At this point I do have to acknowledge that whoever it was who made the decision to cut into the inscription to allow for the roof of a porch to be built deserves every punishment they should get!

IMG_0265Standing at the base of the column and looking up the letters look very regular and even, but the top row of letters is considerably larger than the lowest row to allow for perspective – the Romans knew about this even then!

 

 

IMG_0270Each letter is so precisely cut and is a fitting tribute to the victor of the wars. And yes, if we go back to Rome, I shall indeed on the first day make my way back to Trajan’s Forum to view the lettering, though I may not be able to persuade the ticket seller to let me cross the barrier again!

 

‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’

IMG_2353The story of Elizabeth I, daughter of Ann Boleyn and Henry VIII, and Mary, Queens of Scots, is well-known from films and TV series, but this exhibition at the British Library (October 2021–February 2022) approaches these two monarchs from the point of view of documentary evidence – and much more. Bearing in mind how fragile much of these papers must be it is quite amazing how many have survived in good condition and are exhibited here. But don’t be put off by ‘boring’ letters and charters, there is much else here to excite the eye, but this post will focus on the written word.

 

 

IMG_2354But starting with images, here are two glorious miniatures of the two Queens painted by the incomparable Nicholas Hilliard. On the left, Elizabeth I in 1580–5, and on the right Mary, Queen of Scots in 1576. These are both really small and show well the amazing skill of the great artist. Both are in the Royal Collection Trust.

 

IMG_2356Elizabeth’s handwriting when she was young was neat, precise and very clear. There is certainly an Italic feel to this with the letter a, but there is also a touch of Humanistic Minuscule with the arches on the letters n and h. This is a translation into Latin, French and Italian of English prayers and meditations put together by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. It was presented by Elizabeth to her father, the king, in December 1545.

IMG_2357By 1563, though, the precise and careful script of Elizabeth has deteriorated to what is described in the excellent catalogue as being written in her ‘atrocious cursive or ‘business’ hand, which had replaced the elegant italic hand of her youth’. Here she is reserving the right to choose whether she would ever marry, but had not decided not to marry!

 

 

 

 

IMG_2358The ‘scrawl’ of Elizabeth contrasts with the still precise handwriting of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1571. This is written by her to Elizabeth after the Ridolfi Plot had been discovered and Mary is writing in despair at her continued imprisonment, saying that if she can’t get support from Elizabeth then she must turn to other sources. Her neat and unadorned signature is at the bottom right of this letter – ‘Marie R’.

 

 

 

IMG_2359The famous signature of Elizabeth I and the ways in which she embellished with flourishes the descenders is well demonstrated here, in contrast with that of Mary. It seems to be pretty consistent throughout her life and was used here on a document which supported the Earl of Mar being regent to James VI in 1571. The script used for the body of the text – Gothic Cursive – contrasts with Elizabeth’s Italic signature. Note the four vertical slits on the left-hand side which indicate where the document would have been sealed after folding.

 

 

IMG_2360Mary was involved in plotting, if only to escape imprisonment, and codes were often used. Documents in code were also sent from the Tudor court. This document, though, is by Mary herself and written to Patrick, Master of Gray, as Scottish ambassador in 1584 to England. Mary wanted to return to Scotland or remain in England but to be free. This, of course, never happened and this letter was intercepted by one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s spies and deciphered by Thomas Phelippes.

This superb exhibition is certainly well worth seeing to give greater insight and background to these two queens, and the exhibition catalogue is, typical of the British Library, beautifully designed and a joy to read through, with thorough, well-researched text – and absolutely worth buying if you can’t make the exhibition.

 

 

 

 

The Glitterati of October 2021

Oct 2021 PAM courseThis was the first time that I have held the 3-day course in October focusing on the tools, materials, skills and techniques of mediæval illuminators, and I think that those involved on the course will be keen to tell you why. We had challenges, but the results were impressive nevertheless, as can be seen.

 

IMG_2263I have always been incredibly fortunate by the way in which these different groups of people from all over the UK and indeed the world come together on these courses, and this was no exception, with a WhatsApp group formed and dinners together in the evenings.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2265But it was the challenges that we had on day two which had to be overcome. The weather on the first day was horrendous; it was torrential rain and we’d never experienced it quite as bad as it was. It was a lesson for me to learn because when we came to prepare the gesso for gilding on the second day it was still very plastic because of the 90% humidity.

 

 

 

IMG_2261The good news was that everything didn’t go to plan, which is often exactly what happens when you get home after courses like this and start to do it yourself. It meant that we had to think on our feet, go to Plan B and work out how to gild in time to get the painting done. In the end we all had to wing it, and although the gesso wasn’t always as smooth as we would have liked, the gold was still pretty shiny!

 

 

And here are some comments from the course – not necessarily written by the person who produced the miniature the comment is beside.

IMG_2289Loved it! Would cheerfully do another 3-5 day class and workshop. Such generosity of spirit! Thanks for all the kindness and patience. A delightful time of learning and experimentation. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2287I would fully recommend this course, it has been amazing. It is incredibly good value for money too as the help and support have been brilliant and the supplies have been endless. I have been blown away by how hospitable you have been in taking us into your own space, cooking for us and entertaining our company. It has been wonderful!

 

 

 

IMG_2286Outstanding tuition – clear, concise, great encouragement and all the time felt what I was doing was possible in spite of my apprehension. A lovely course where I learned a huge amount. I feel it is something I could continue for myself. Very generous with items given to us.

 

 

 

IMG_2293Loved Patricia’s style – kind, endearing, engaging, enjoyed the simplicity and great structure to the days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2284I have had the best time. Learned, developed, and surrounded with like minded people. It has been Awesome!

 

 

 

 

IMG_2291Thank you for everything. SO worth every penny. Tremendous privilege to be part of this small group. We all gelled.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2297Thank you Patricia for world class masterclass.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2269Incredibly valuable experience that I will truly cherish.

The talks were fascinating, a great addition to the practical parts of the course.

(Unfinished on the right.)

 

The Fully Qualified Glitterati

Layout 1Another group of people eager to learn the traditional skills and techniques of mediæval illumination and miniature painting gathered in Kent, UK, in May 2021. This was a group who had planned to take this course in 2020 but the pandemic got in the way, so everyone, including me, was very excited to be able actually to take the course.

IMG_1726Everything is provided on the course, no-one needs to bring anything with them, and it takes quite a while to ensure that all the tools and materials are clean, pencils sharpened, erasers ready to use, and there are no scratches on the burnishers. Those who have been on my courses before will recognise the wet boxes and the dry boxes!

 

 

 

 

IMG_1727Each participant has their work station set up for them so that all they need is ready to hand; no-one has to share tools etc and wait for someone else to finish using them. There is also plenty of space so those working don’t feel cramped.

 

 

 

IMG_1749After practising applying gold and burnishing to already laid gesso, gesso is made for participants to take home to make more illuminated miniatures, and gesso made earlier is applied to their own choice of miniature. But first everyone cuts their own quill from a swan’s feather to apply the gesso.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1743Vellum is prepared and the outline traced and transferred to the skin. Gesso is then laid ready for gilding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1739Applying real gold leaf changes the pink gesso into what looks like solid gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1746Everyone is delighted with the magical effect, even if some gesso is a little smoother than others. Turning it in the light really does look as if the miniature is illuminated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1753After practising painting their miniature everyone sets to painting their ‘proper’ one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1759A great deal of concentration is required for this, and while people are busy painting, I explain about the types of skin to use, and also show and talk about the traditional pigments.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1751Everyone was delighted with their results and said they learned a lot. I hope they continue to do more as they were a very impressive set of illuminations. And no, most people had never done this before, and many had very little painting experience either.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1766Genuine comments from the course include:

It was great, relaxed but very informative. Lovely day, uninterrupted painting. Perfect. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1773Excellent instructions and I loved how passionate and knowledgeable you are about your subject. I learnt loads and my confidence built up over the duration of the course. I am looking forward to trying my new-found skills at home.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1779Very enjoyable, very well done. I was very happy with what I managed to achieve all thanks to Patricia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1775Everything was very clear and thank you for your individual support on any questions or problems. A wonderful course. Thank you so much!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1765Really clear instructions, explanations, etc, and brilliant being able to ask as many questions as possible. Had an amazing time, thank you. Will be definitely going home and continuing my painting. I had lost my enjoyment of painting any illuminations as I had just become frustrated not knowing what to do and the techniques needed. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1761Expert teaching of intricate techniques very well explained and demonstrated. The course is very well paced. Enough time to really focus on a good painting.

 

 

 

IMG_1770Brilliant, even for a beginner with no knowledge of the craft. Best course ever – would wish to do another. Experience shines through gently. 10 out of 10.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1763A model example of thorough preparation, micro and macro management of a complex subject. Delightful outcome of a memorable three days. Bravissimo!

(NB, the comments don’t necessarily match the person creating the miniature!)

****One person on the course had a Dystonic tremor which affects the whole body, and also has MS which affects other parts. Painting the practice piece was done in the afternoon and the hand wasn’t so steady, but painting the best piece started in the morning and they found that ‘with so much concentration, I was hardly shaking. It feels since the course that my self confidence has taken a huge boost as well’.

So don’t think this course isn’t for you if you have no experience. Illumination involves technique, and that is what is taught. And if you, too, have a tremor or a physical challenge, you may well surprise yourself and what you can do in three days!

 

‘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.

‘The Ins and Outs of Public Lettering’

IMG_0802This delightful little book ‘The Ins and Outs of Public Lettering: Kindersley Inscriptions in the Open’ by Marcus Waithe, Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley and Thomas Sherwood does exactly what it says. Following their books on the workshop itself, letter cutting, sundials, apprentices, cut letters in gardens and much else, this book focuses on examples of lettering from the workshop which all can see.

Amazingly, the workshop is now in its ninth decade, with David Kindersley having started his training with Eric Gill in 1934, and, after setting up on his own in 1936 he settled in the Cambridge workshop in 1946. This is now run by his gifted letter-cutter widow Lida and there are still apprentices and journeymen learning the skills of letter-form and letter cutting in the workshop.

IMG_0811The workshop has many important and significant commissions under its belt, such as the lettering on the gates of the British Library as shown on the cover of the book, but it does not omit the more seemingly straightforward perhaps and more discrete examples of public lettering such as this memorial in a graveyard. It seems to simple yet note how the word ‘Remember’ is carefully placed on the rather narrow, rugged stone, and that to fit in the larger letters, the first ‘M’ and ‘E’ share a stroke, and the second ‘M’ and ‘B’ do too. And note the three different forms of the letter ‘E’. All add variety, catch the eye, show what good design is all about, but need inspiration, careful thought and great cutting to execute.

 

IMG_0806Perhaps more easily seen and certainly more complicated is the memorial to Francis Crick at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. His work on the double helix structure of DNA won him a Nobel Prize. Cut in green slate and Caithness stone, the DNA structure forms the pattern for the memorial and can be seen from outside the college from the Senate House entrance opposite St Mary’s Church.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0804Another complicated piece for the workshop was the design for the Garden Building at King’s College also in Cambridge. Twenty seven slates from the roof of the college were used – not that easy as they had little depth for cutting and the edges were friable – to mark the benefactor, and tie in the name of the building and the life of the benefactor’s late brother with flowers from English gardens of particular resonance to the family.

IMG_0805Everyone in the workshop was involved in painting the flowers on the slate tiles.

 

 

 

IMG_0808Benefactors to Cambridge colleges and Nobel Prize winning scientists are one thing, those who gave their lives saving others at sea are another, but those unsung heroes are nevertheless recorded and remembered on this slate which is now on the Old Coastguard Rescue Station at Shingle Street.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0810Almost missed perhaps on the building itself, but appreciated by anyone who walks by and notices the many ways in which extraordinary people can be remembered in stone.

This little book has so many examples and is certainly worth buying to look through and appreciate the many ways in which letter cutting can bring buildings to life and record the lives of those of note.

The Wait

Cricket poem.PL 2020All those who love sport have been frustrated at either not being able to play it, or not being able to watch it, or both, during the spring and summer of this Covid-19 pandemic. Jimmy Lee from the England and Wales Cricket Board wrote a really poignant poem about this waiting, and the fact that in cricket this is what often happens. But, as he says, waiting isn’t time wasted, and we are a nation that queues. His words are really well chosen and they were read out by Stephen Fry in a wonderful film about the ways in which those who love this sport are just waiting for the game to begin, but that they are also contributing and helping those who are NHS and other Heroes on the front line during these challenging times. Watch the film here and have tissues ready!

 

CIMG3185So as some of you who are now familiar with how to tackle any text, poetry or prose will know, the first thing to do was to write it out. This artwork was to go on the wall so it couldn’t be written too small. And with quite a few lines too, there needed to be adequate space between them so that it was easy to read. I used my favourite green paint at the moment (Schmincke oxide of chromium – it really is wonderfully smooth for writing – mix with water to the consistency of thin, runny cream as always!) and a size 4 Mitchell/Manuscript nib and wrote the lines straight out just as they were.

CIMG3192I then photocopied this and cut the lines into strips to experiment with the best distance between lines. I also wanted to break up some of the lines and emphasise others by writing some of the text in small capitals. So I laid the lines out on to paper and played around with them a little and attached them with magic tape. I had the idea of writing out the title with a lot of space between the letters so that the letters themselves looked as if they were waiting, and when I’d done that I thought that red circles between the letters (a bit larger than just dots) could look as if they represented cricket balls.

 

 

Version 2I also wanted to add an illustration of a cricket bat resting on the stumps waiting – my first sketch in pencil is on the rough of the lines above. I searched for a long time to get an image of a bat at the right angle looking as if it could balance on stumps, and stumps too at the best angle, and made a number of drawings with the bat in different positions and the ball in various places. In the end I had what I thought looked best. The crease of the cricket pitch is usually cut very short, but all cricket lovers were waiting, and so I painted the grass longer than it would be in most matches. I also found an image of a bat with a red and black handle and this added a little bit of red to that part of the painting, thus slightly linking it to the red cricket balls in the title and the one by the stumps.

Cricket poem.PL 2020And so the piece was complete. It is so satisfying to write out words that have real meaning and to have a challenge in painting cricket stumps, bat and ball with an aim to get the proportions right and for them to fit in the best way.

 

Designing a vellum panel – the Kellogg College Grace

1Creating a suitable design for writing out the Grace of Kellogg College in Oxford on stretched calfskin vellum created an interesting set of challenges. Unlike all other Oxford colleges, the Grace is in Welsh rather than Latin (or even English?) and I was asked to include a translation as well. The college has a close association with the Kellogg Company incorporating an ear of wheat in its coat of arms so I thought it would be appropriate to use this in some way in the panel. And being an Oxford College not only did it have its own coat of arms, but it seemed sensible to include that of Oxford University as well.

 

 

IMG_2138So I knew from the start that the two shields would be there in the design and that the text in one language would be in a different style from that in the other language. I experimented with different sizes of nib and writing styles, and also sizes and placement of shields, and made a rough paste-up. This is a very first draft, it became more refined as I went on, but this is where I started.

 

 

 

Version 2Starting from the top. The size of the shields needed to be large enough to be significant and be seen, but not so large that they dominated the piece – it was to show the text of the Grace after all, and wasn’t an heraldic panel! Then to join the shields at the top or the bottom, or to have them side by side or even one above the other? As the college is part of Oxford University it seemed best to have them joined in some way and I thought that facing outwards (independent but linked) and joined by the corners touching rather than the shields facing inwards and joining at the curved sides worked best. I decided early on that I wanted to have just a little bit of bling in the panel so used gold for everywhere it would seen sensible to use gold – and even where perhaps it wasn’t! So the Oxford University shield had gold crowns and gold clasps on the open book, and Kellogg College had a gold ear of wheat. I had to check to see whether the number of grains was in the blazon (it isn’t), but did find that the indented vertical line (per pale) had a specific number of complete white ‘peaks’ which represented the eleven founders.

Version 3And then on to the heading. I had experimented with capitals for ‘Kellogg College’ and Italic for ‘Grace’ but this meant that there was very much then an hourglass effect in the design. I also wanted to make a little bit more of ‘Kellogg College’ so I re-wrote it in different sizes of nib until I had the one that looked right and also experimented with flourishes. I thought that there was need for some degree of restraint here as it is a Grace after all, so flourishing just the second letter ‘l’ in each word seemed to work best. I also added three gold diamonds made with the pen on the initials ‘K’ and the ‘C’ and used a pencil burnisher to make sure that they shined. Then on to the tricky ‘Grace’ word – there are only five letters and it brought the whole piece to a very narrow place visually. Writing them in capital letters allowed me to space them out without losing the cohesion of the word, and I then used the pen to make a red diamond between each letter, and added a small circle of gold in the centre of each which I burnished using a pencil burnisher so that they shone. This brought the gold and red colours from the shields down into the piece as well. And I wanted to use those wheat ears which I really enjoyed painting, so popped two in before the letter ‘K’ and two into the bowl of the ‘C’.

Version 4When there are translations like these it is a choice whether to use two colours (I did experiment with alternate red and green texts to represent Wales, but realised that it was a bit garish and actually this college was in England!) or two styles of writing, and tried also the Welsh in capitals and the English in Italic. As the Grace is said in Welsh, it seemed best to make this more dominant than the English translation, and, conveniently, the top line had quite a few letters ‘d’ which lent themselves to flourishing. Notice that only the first and last of the letters ‘d’ have been flourished in ‘dedwydd’ – more flourishes on the other letters ‘d’ would have upset the rhythm of those flourishes and drawn the eye particularly to that word. I also picked up the wheat ear theme again and painted a couple of very small little gold wheat ears at the top and bottom of the Grace itself.

Version 5One of the things that I always suggest to clients who are kind enough to commission such pieces is to say who gave it and whether this was for a particular reason. This is especially relevant when a piece is commissioned for a special birthday or an anniversary, otherwise it could look as if it was just bought off the shelf and not made explicitly for the occasion. It doesn’t need to be big or intrusive – here just a line of small capitals explains who gave this and when and it also neatly finishes the panel as well, bringing it to a conclusion.

Version 6And to bring the whole piece together, a single ear of corn wasn’t substantial enough at the bottom, so here there is a sheaf of golden wheat held together by twine. On the same lines of who commissioned the piece and for whom, I am always interested in who has done the work. We expect paintings and drawings to be signed, and the names of authors of books are on the cover and inside, but for some reason calligraphy is rarely ‘signed’. I now always try to ensure that my work is signed inobtrusively s possible either by using just my initials in a cipher (PL) or my whole name. In this instance, the width of the sheaf of wheat determined that I would be able to write only my initial and surname.

 

1Designing the whole piece created a series of challenges which shows the value of trying things out before committing to the final piece, which of course we all know!