Trajan’s Column II

IMG_0281Trajan’s Column in Rome, completed in 113 AD, commemorates the victory of the Emperor Trajan over the Dacians. It is stunning when viewed in real life as it towers over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum and Market, being 98 feet (30 metres) high. The main part of the column consists of a frieze in bas relief which shows in great detail the preparations, movement of troops and battles that took place before the final victory, with Trajan, not surprisingly, being the tallest of all the figures in the column. There are 20 drums in all around which the figures wind, each drum weighing about 32 tons. It truly is a magnificent example of Roman engineering.



IMG_0262It is the base of the column, though, which is most interesting to calligraphers and letterers because it shows exquisitely carved Roman Capitals, regarded by many as the purest examples. It has been only recently (post written May 2024) that it has been possible to get anywhere near this part of the column to view the lettering.



IMG_4762An exhibition in spring 2024 at the Coliseum detailed how the column was constructed. Huge blocks of Carrara marble were moved from the quarries in Lunigiana sliding on wooden poles and being pulled by a team of oxen.







IMG_4764The stone drums were shaped into circles and the inner staircase cut as well. What is amazing is the accuracy of each block which had to fit on the next. The masons also had to allow for the fact that to make the columns look straight, there needed to be a swelling just below half way. This is explained in a blogpost on this website here. The huge round blocks were then loaded on to ships using a system of pulleys and a lot of labour as shown here.





IMG_4767 2Once at the forum, they needed to be put into position. The stone blocks were far too heavy to use a simple system of pulleys, and so a tower was built as here.

Either side of the column were two libraries, one for Greek texts and one for Roman, with bookshelves to store the scrolls. It was possible from balconies on these buildings to view the carvings spiralling round the column close up.





IMG_4771At the base of the column during construction was a huge wooden treadwheel. A similar one is shown carved into the family tomb of the Haterii. During the reign of Domitian (81–96 AD) Haterius was working on the construction of buildings and would have used a treadmill as the one carved on his tomb. The treadwheel had 5 men inside and ropes held by more men outside acted as brakes. There were two parallel wide poles creating the crane’s mast between which was the wheel’s axle; this all made up a strong block and tackle system.


IMG_4768 2This is shown more clearly here. The sheer mass of the wood being used for construction is amazing, and also the strength of the men using this machinery.







IMG_4737The spiral stone staircase carved inside the blocks led to the top of the column where there was a viewing platform. It must have been quite a sight, climbing the stairs and reaching the top for a view over Trajan’s Forum and the main Forum itself!






IMG_4812But, of course, it is the carvings on the outside of the column that are the true stars! Twisting round the column, with no allowance given from one stone drum to the next, a narrow carved line stands proud and separates the scenes one from another.






IMG_4823Here preparations are being made for the battles, with Neptune looking on benignly, no doubt giving his blessing to the campaign. The detail on the clothing, the wooden ships, the horses, a wooden bridge and building walls is really wonderful.






IMG_4821And even the base has the same care and attention to detail, with enviable precision of carving. Note the carefully carved garland of individuals leaves, and the metal ‘scales’ on the cuirass in the middle.

It truly is one of the wonders of the ancient world, and still astounds today.





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).



St Martin’s Church, Canterbury

IMG_4594It was fortunate that, when St Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 596, landing probably in Ebbsfleet in 597, to bring Christianity back to England, there was already an established church just outside the city. It meant that his arrival was not met with hostility as could have been the case. The reason for this place of worship was because the King, Æthelbert, had married a Christian Frankish princess, Bertha. Æthelbert restored and gave his wife an existing small Roman building for church services – it was possibly a mortuary chapel. Bertha came from near Tours, in France; two centuries before her birth, St Martin had been bishop there, and so the church for the queen was dedicated to this French saint. The tower at the west end of St Martin’s is shown here and was added in the fourteenth century.


IMG_4559In Bede’s ‘A History of the English Church and People’ he wrote about the church for St Augustine and his followers: On the east side of the city there was an old church in honour of St Martin, built during the Roman occupation of Britain, where the queen, who was a Christian, was accustomed to pray. Here they first began to assemble, to sing psalms, celebrate mass, to preach and to baptise, until the king was converted to the faith and gave them greater freedom to preach and to build and restore churches everywhere*. This round arched narrow doorway, now blocked up, was constricted in the Saxon period; it could perhaps have been the queen’s door; not it contains a modern statue of Bertha.


IMG_4577Although the church has been restored, the long, narrow Roman bricks are very much in evidence. These are in the chancel, but some Roman bricks were re-used in the seventh century to extend the church and build the nave, thus giving a larger space for the worshippers. This was the first Anglo-Saxon building to use bricks and stone with mortar; after the Romans left, buildings were constructed from wood. The Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Ruin’ is about the remaining stone buildings from the Romans having been built by ‘giants’ such was their awe at the sizes of buildings and the way in which they were constructed.


IMG_4560Inside the church, looking to the west wall, the construction of the nave with brick and stone can be seen clearly. Some of the stone is limestone from Paris. There are three narrow arched windows (the one on the right is clearest) which have since been bricked up and covered by the tower.





IMG_4562The font was thought to be from when the nave was built, and if so, it would have been used to baptise Æthelbert when he converted to Christianity, but it has been found to be later. In fact it was a well head from Canterbury Cathedral cloisters; the arched Norman decoration is particularly fine.





IMG_4589There is a squint, low in the west wall, and angled towards the chancel. Those who were forbidden from entering the church and so remained outside, such as lepers, could nevertheless peer through the squint and follow the mass being celebrated. It is rather low on the ground, though, and is unlikely to be a comfortable experience!





IMG_4581The piscina is also from the Norman period as the font, and was where the water used to wash the plate and cup used for the mass was poured away.

When St Augustine and his followers, about 40 in all, arrived in Kent it is likely that they landed first at Ebbsfleet; this settlement was then on a spur of land projecting south out from the island of Thanet into the Wantsum Channel. King Æthelbert ordered them to stay where they were and then agreed to meet them, however he knew that Christians dealt in magic – perhaps he was aware of the story of Samson destroying a building single handedly – and so he met them outside in the open air. Bede records this meeting as: They came … bearing as their standard a silver cross and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a panel. They chanted litanies and uttered prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and those to whom they had come. It must have looked pretty impressive, and no doubt with the encouragement of Bertha, the king allowed the contingent to travel on to Canterbury without any hassle, and then to have the use of St Martin’s Church for their services.

The church is now on the list of World Heritage Sites alongside Canterbury Cathedral, and a visit is highly recommended.




Victorian Radicals – the Pre-Raphaelites

IMG_4389The rather garish colours and attention to detail marked the work of those seven initial members of the Pre-Raphaelite Botherhood from that of their fellows. They followed the teachings of John Ruskin who encouraged getting back to nature and depicting that in finite detail. The figures in this portrait of ‘The Long Engagement’ by Arthur Hughes show the cleric looking skywards for divine inspiration perhaps, while his fiancée looks longingly at him in hope. The dark and light on their faces is a contrast emphasising this. His lowly stipend may well have delayed their marriage considerably. Despite the poignancy of the figures, the tree trunk in the foreground is perhaps more dominant than may be expected.



IMG_4391John Ruskin’s encouragement of getting back to Nature led to an almost photographic representation of foliage and flowers. The particular and carefully placed tiny brushstrokes on each leaf and the lichen is certainly not in anyway impressionistic! The time spent on depicting the vegetation in such detail must have been considerable.


IMG_4390But it is not only aspects of nature that were treated with such precision. The folds of fabric and the sheen of this satin or silk dress means that it looks as if it could be touched and the luxury of the fabric felt. Note, too, here the carefully depicted ferns and the hairs of the dog – what a shiny coat it has!





IMG_4387It wasn’t just men who were painting so carefully. Emma Sandys focused on portraits of women and children, and here is ‘A Young Woman Holding a Rose’. Note the detail in painting each petal of the rose, and the strands of glorious auburn hair entangled with her fingers.





IMG_4371Perhaps William Morris is the most well-known member of the Arts and Crafts movement. This is his design for wallpaper. It is an admirably balanced design, with the dark leaves and stems forming their own pattern within the design, and matched by the even spread of the bunches of jasmine flowers.





IMG_4373This enlargement shows the outline sketches of leaves and flowers before they are coloured.

The ‘Victorian Radicals’ exhibition is on in Birmingham at the Gas Hall of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery until 30th October 2024 and is certainly worth visiting.

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 .

Heraldic Hatchments

IMG_1383Many historical churches display diamond-shaped boards on their walls. These have heraldic emblems on them, but what are they, what do they mean, and why are they there? They are called ‘hatchments’, from ‘achievements’ of arms, or sometimes called ‘funeral escutcheons’ (an escutcheon being an heraldic shield). An achievement of arms includes the shield, helm, wreath, crest, mantling, motto, and supporters if used. One such hatchment is shown here; it is for Sir Thomas Barnardiston, third Baronet, who sadly died aged 26 in 1700. This hatchment is actually incorrect as explained below. All photographs (© Patricia Lovett MBE 2024) from the St Peter and St Paul Church in Kedington, Suffolk.

IMG_1381 2Hatchments indicated that a person bearing heraldic arms had died. Traditionally, they were first hung outside the house of that person and, after a period of mourning, were then re-hung in their local church. Bachelor’s  hatchments included their shield, helm, wreath and crest and sometimes mantling; unmarried women’s hatchments showed their coat of arms on a lozenge, usually with a bow at the top, as women’s coats of arms, not being shown on a shield shape, didn’t include wreaths, helms and crests. This hatchment is for the first Baronet, another Sir Thomas Barnardiston, who died in 1669.

IMG_1387Sometimes the helm, wreath and crest were replaced by a skull, a reminder of what was to happen to the corpse and a warning to all, or for women a cherub. And the motto may be replaced by ‘Resurgam’ – ‘I will rise’. The hatchment of Anne, widow of the third Sir Thomas Barnardiston (see first image above), is here. She died in 1701, the year after her husband. Her coat of arms is shown on a lozenge, impaled (combined vertically) with that of her husband.


IMG_1385 2Some hatchments have completely black backgrounds, and some white and black, divided vertically. This colour distinction indicates who is living and who is dead at the time the hatchment was made. In heraldry, the right and left sides are always referred to as if a shield is being held, so the dexter side is the right-hand side of the shield, but looks left to the viewer, and the sinister is the left-hand side, but looks right to the viewer. If the sinister side (right) is painted white, it means that the wife is still living; if the dexter side (left) is white, it means that the husband is still living. In the shield at the top of this post, both sides are black, yet Thomas, the third Baronet died in 1700, and his wife, Anne, the image as above, died in 1701. So at the time of Thomas’ death, Anne’s side of the hatchment, sinister, should have been white, however, as she died so soon after her husband, it may be that the painter simply coloured her side in black.

The variation to this is if the person died was single but their arms were impaled (combined vertically) with an official post. In this case that post continues even though the person has died, so the sinister side of the hatchment remains white.

The arms of Sophia, Viscountess Wimbledon, as show on the hatchment above are different because of her peerage. As a Viscountess, she qualifies to have supporters (although these rules were relaxed in the 19th century), and these are either side of the shield and blazoned (the heraldic description) as two lions rampant ermine, that is, two lions looking sideways, and raised on one hind leg. They are painted as if they were ermine, which is a white coat with black ermine tails pushed through; the ermine tails were often depicted as black patterns. Above the lozenge shaped coat of arms is a Viscountess’s coronet, that is a silver-gilt circlet with gems shapes (but not coloured gems), and sixteen silver balls touching one another (only nine being visible).

The top two shields of the baronets include an escutcheon of the red hand of Ulster, indicating their baronetcy. I understood this to be the fact that the baronets had contributed funds or services for the king in Ireland, but I can’t find any source for that at the moment.

For more on Kedington Church, see:

‘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.

Craft and the Effects of Brexit

At the outset, it is important to know that this is not a political blog.

IMG_2308There has been quite a bit in the news about the problems of musicians, pop groups, opera singers, orchestras, sound and light engineers, roadies and the like, post-Brexit. Restrictions on travel with a 90-day limit of staying in the EU, visas and work permits for each EU country, requirements of details of musical instruments and equipment and their cost (for a whole orchestra!), etc, are all aspects of life in the UK that did not happen before the UK separated from the EU. The focus for many of these problems has been on those in the music industry.



IMG_2307The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft was concerned to hear stories about similar challenges for makers. A number of problems seem to have arisen for those who previously traded a lot with Europe. The unknown amount of additional tax and costs for those in the EU when buying craft from the UK causes difficulties when sometimes it seems that a considerable amount is added to the item which makes it prohibitively expensive. When items are returned as a result of this, makers may have to pay for their own work to be imported.

CIMG2507Craft pieces can be caught up in customs such that their arrival is delayed considerably. Exhibitions planned in the EU with UK artefacts have been delayed or even cancelled because of this. Many galleries and shops, previously showing or selling UK items, are not now exhibiting or stocking them because of this uncertainty. In addition, EU craft competitions are not accepting UK-made work because of the problems of delays in receiving items and the difficulties and cost of returning them to the UK. In one instance, the cost of receiving back an expensive item exhibited in the EU by a UK maker was too much for the maker so they said to destroy the work!


IMG_2305The problems are exacerbated when advice is sought from government websites and advisers. These are geared to lorryloads and containers full of goods and big companies, not makers asking for details with just one craft item to be exported. And this is repeated when makers want to take their work, tools and materials abroad themselves for craft fairs, workshops or demonstrations. There is considerable confusion and often the wrong advice is given, causing more problems.

IMG_3275One of the joys of being a maker is always passing on the skills, interacting with other makers and learning about new techniques, materials and tools. Due to customs and restrictions on travel, this has just about stopped.

There are many other aspects of craft and the EU post-Brexit that are causing difficulties. When the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft heard that there was going to be a debate on the Arts (and Crafts!) in the House of Lords and the challenges of post-Brexit were going to be considered, I sent out a message through every channel I could to ask for personal experiences. Over a four-week period in August (never the best month for makers) I had a number of responses, often interestingly long and detailed, and many of them sad and frustrating.

The responses have been condensed to bullet points and can be read Craft and Brexit points only.

Photos 1,2 and 4 taken at Fortnum and Masons in London when Heritage Crafts exhibited traditional crafts as part of London Craft Week.

UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage

IMG_0589 (1)What a wonderful Christmas present for those of us in the UK when, on 23rd December 2023, it was announced by the government that it was going to ratify the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in June 2024, after consultation until March 2024, see more here. This has been after years of advocacy and meetings with successive Ministers, Secretaries of State (four of the latter since 2020!), and civil servants. When we started this campaign the response was ‘not minded to’, then it was ‘not a priority’, and then we were told to go away and make a business case (how do you do this for story telling or clog dancing?). Early on, when we started, of the 193 countries signed up to UNESCO, the UK was one of only 27 not to have ratified the Convention; at the time of this announcement at the end of 2023, the UK was then one of only 12 out of 193 – a small club that the UK shouldn’t have been in!

IMG_0584The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft (APPG Craft), set up in 2018, understood the importance of ratification and, since its formation, has had meetings with those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Questions have been asked in parliament by the marvellous and supportive Officers of the APPG Craft and many informal conversations have been had also. The Group even got a petition together to support the advocacy and encourage ratification; this petition managed to get over 100 signatures within a week, a number of them from very prestigious people and organisations. It is clear that a great deal of effort has been put into encouraging ratification, and that there is a lot of support for it. This is why the government’s decision now is so important and why it will be a gamechanger.

CIMG2289It’s a tricky phrase – ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’, and not always easy to explain. Tangible Cultural Heritage is not too difficult. Essentially it’s mainly what can be seen – castles, stately homes, historical buildings, and the artefacts that go in them such as tapestries, furniture, ornaments; then there’s historical books, museum collections, and artworks. It also includes our landscapes including National Parks and designated walks such as the Pilgrims’ Way and the Pennine Way. The UK has been amongst the world leaders in how tangible heritage has been looked after and conserved through organisations such as the National Trust and Historic England, listing of important buildings, alongside support groups that focus on local and regional tangible heritage.

HCA_GildingFilm_28Our Intangible Cultural Heritage can’t be quite so succinctly defined in that, generally speaking, it’s the sorts of things that can’t always be seen, such as traditional crafts skills, languages, customs, traditions and celebrations. Perhaps thinking of it as ‘Living Heritage’ is an easier concept.



IMG_2463The UNESCO Convention on ICH identifies five domains. These are:

  1. Oral traditions and expressions, including language
  2. Performing arts
  3. Social practices, rituals and festive events
  4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
  5. And for me, really importantly, Traditional craft skills



DSCF2627The easy and trite view could be that these are only our historical customs with no relevance now, and can sometimes be viewed as being a bit weird as they cover traditions such as Morris Dancing, mummers’ plays, and cheese rolling. But it also includes sea shanties, Scottish dancing, Irish pipe playing and even the skills needed to make Arbroath Smokies and Kippers. ICH includes the intangible cultural heritage of all in that country as well so in the UK that would then include celebrations of those bringing their own traditions and heritage into the UK such as the Notting Hill Carnival and the skills of making and playing steel drums. Before that letter with the petition was sent to Oliver Dowden MP, then Secretary of State at DCMS, Professor Tim Ingold of the University of Aberdeen wrote:

‘I can imagine a sceptical reader of this letter, unconvinced of the value of craftsmanship, linguistic diversity and folksong, only finding confirmation of their view that what is it stake with ‘intangible heritage’ is no more than a miscellany of tidbits that would not be out of place in a tourist shop, serving to feed a popular appetite for nostalgia and the ‘artisanal’. They would not get the message that this is really about revitalising skills and practices that have the potential to be transformative for future generations. This is much bigger than Arbroath smokies and Stilton cheese. It is about placing values of care and custodianship, as well as respect for difference, at the heart of the ways we live.’ (Quoted by kind permission)

Version 2That last sentence is really significant – placing values of care and custodianship, as well as respect for difference, at the heart of the ways we live.

The purposes of the Convention are specified as:

1. To safeguard the intangible cultural heritage
2. To ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned
3. To raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible and to provide for international co-operation and assistance

All this is for communities, groups and individuals (as in the Convention) – each identifying what is their own intangible cultural heritage. I’ve often likened it to the applications to be Cities of Culture. In this instance, cities list what makes them different, what it is about them that should be highlighted and celebrated, and this often includes their intangible cultural heritage, their festivals, celebrations and heritage craft skills.

CIMG1636Each individual, hamlet, village, town, community, city, county, region, England and the devolved countries can think about, consider and identify what makes them them, what is their intangible cultural heritage, what makes them different, what gives them a sense of identity and belonging, and what do they want to celebrate and cherish. This is the heritage that is passed down from generation to generation and:

‘… is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.‘ (from the Convention)

And, most importantly, there should be respect for that difference, not division nor competition. These identified aspects of ICH should first be surveyed and recorded, then be safeguarded, they should also be respected, and awareness of them and their importance raised at local, national and international levels.

CIMG1517At the time of writing, the yearly fee for ratification of the Convention on ICH is $150,000 (about £120,000). This is a very small sum for the government.

However, there are also obligations for the government in addition. The ICH must first be identified and documented; there should be ‘research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement and transmission, through formal and non-formal education, and the revitalisation of aspects of heritage‘.

CIMG0982The surveying or research is already being done for traditional craft skills in the whole of the UK by Heritage Crafts by their creation of the Red List of Endangered Crafts (which is now replicated in a number of other countries), and steps have been taken through their Endangered Crafts Fund to support such crafts. But much more can and should be done such as promotion and raising awareness of such crafts, and support for training, including the establishment of full-time courses rather than the part-time courses – in many crafts the only ones available – which are usually self-funded and thus available only for those with means. And all this also applies to the other four domains specified.

IMG_2175The additional feature of the UNESCO Convention on ICH is that countries can identify those aspects of ICH that they would like to highlight and specify. On the press release that included pantomimes, sea shanties, and calligraphy (hurray!), and during this consultation period the government has asked for nominations. I am convinced that ratification will include much more than simply the listing a few aspects of ICH.


All photographs © Patricia Lovett MBE 2023. You’ll note that they are virtually all craft and probably won’t be surprised by that! My apologies to anyone here photographed but not acknowledged. I’ve trawled through my online album and picked out those I think suitable. These go back some years and I now can’t remember where they were taken nor of whom! However, in order these are: chair caning, cordwaining, tailoring and gold work, gilding on a shape, Morris Dancing, casting, applying gold to the gingerbread on the Cutty Sark ship, vellum making, illumination on one of my courses, cutting a quill from a feather, and calligraphy (of course!) from one of my free online Calligraphy Clips.


Vespasiano da Bisticci – ‘cartolaio’ of Florence

Vespasiano_da_Bisticci_portraitIt must have been a very exciting time in Florence in the fifteenth century. The Humanists favoured Greek and Roman texts, rather than religious ones, and wanted them written out in luxury books. But who could procure the fine vellum needed, or the scribes to write the books in the new/old style of Humanistic Minuscule, artists to decorate them with white vine-scroll ornament, and skilled craftspeople to bind them in velvet or supple leather? Enter one Vespasiano da Bisticci (1421–1498) as shown here. He started working at a libreria along a street of similar shops when he was only 11 years of age but he learnt quickly and, when still a young man, became a member of the stationers’ guild and thus a fully fledged ‘cartolaio’.

Bartolomeo_Sanvito_-_Portrait_of_Petrarch_in_the_Incipit_Letter_“N”_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Humanists wanted their ancient texts written in an ancient script. They thought Gothic scripts were too modern (though they look very old-fashioned to us!), and called them lettera/littera antica/antiqua. Looking back in history at various writing styles they were keen to get as close to the scripts of Rome and Greece, but they didn’t go back quite far enough. They settled instead on the clear and precise style developed during the reign of Charlemagne, another lover of all things classical. Charlemagne wanted a clear, easily readable script, that could be used throughout his empire, and this was it.


Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.31

The Humanists adapted it – they made the script more upright, they added feet to the  minims (sometimes emphasised too much!) and used classical Roman Capitals to complete the impressive look. The appearance on the page is almost of printed text when it is written as clearly and precisely as this. It is extremely difficult to justify text when it is hand-written – it is certainly not as simple and easy as highlighting a paragraph and clicking on a button to align left and right margins! Yet in this manuscript now in the British Library, written by Rodolpho Brancalupo, it is precisely what he has achieved.

Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.14Many of the pages of books at this time also reflected Classical influences. Those associated with the great Paduan scribe Bartolomeo San Vito and others often had decorations of swags and foliage, cherubs and acanthus leaves, vases and jewels, sea creatures and pearls – as can be seen in the manuscript page in the second paragraph. Others were decorated with bianchi girari (white twists), which worked well with the lighter and more delicate script. This is shown in this manuscript from the Fitzwilliam Museum which was supervised by Vespasiano da Bisticci and produced in about two months – an amazing feat!

IMG_3778Vespasiano’s shop can still be seen in Florence. It was on the corner of the Via del Proconsolo and Via de’ Pandolfini. Close by is another shop as here. This is a magnificent building with a most impressive doorway.


IMG_3780Above the rounded and decorated arch, between two horizontal swags of leaves and foliage, is a small carved open book. Those a little carried away by the romance of the bookshop of the famous bookseller thought that a book carved above the entrance indicated that this is the very shop.


IMG_3783This ‘book’ shop, though, is on the wrong corner, and in some ways sadly, although amazing that it’s still there, Vespasiano’s old shop is much more mundane now – at the time of writing it was a pizzeria. This is on here the correct corner and it was from where the bookseller traded.

There is much more about the Humanists, their manuscripts, and Vespasiano and his clients in ‘The Art of the Scribe’, published by the British Library, summer 2024.