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.

‘A Word for Autumn’

Layout 1The changing of the seasons can be one of delight or one of apprehension. Winter to spring promises fewer cold days, the singing of birds and the appearance and flowering of bulbs. Spring to summer indicates the lengthening of days, increased warmth and new growth. Summer to autumn can be a change that heralds colder, wind, rain, and shorter, darker days. The ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ then quickly becomes a season of shivering, endless rain and drizzle, even snow and ice, and closing curtains in the late afternoon against the gloom as well as battening down the hatches. However, A. A. Milne had it correct in ‘A Word for Autumn’ – it can be a time to fear, or a time for looking forward with some pleasure.

 

IMG_4169I wanted to create an artwork that I could use for an A5 greetings card for winter and Christmas. I loved the words (taken from a longer extract), and at the time of producing it the leaves on the trees were changing to a riot of autumn colours. First I experimented writing the text with a warm brown that I thought would echo that of many of the leaves. It seemed a bit dull and ‘samey’, but this first effort confirmed the chosen nib size (a Mitchell 5), and the line spacing and layout. I was on my way!

 

 

IMG_4167One of my favourite interpretations of words is to use a limited range of colours fed into the nib whilst writing (see blogpost here for how to do this). To some extent it is random, but it is also very controlled, assessing each individual stroke as it is written and also looking at the line above as to whether a different colour needs to be fed in. It’s not exactly conducive to a good rhythm and flow, but the end result, in my view, can be very pleasing. The key is not to use one colour or one colour combination for more than two strokes and to wash the nib out frequently. At this stage it doesn’t matter if mistakes are made. The letters or words should simply be re-written as here. I had the idea of a landscape-shaped card and experimented with a rough indication with coloured pencils of what it would look like if a representation of autumn leaves was falling and gathering at the bottom of the text in a layer of leaves. This didn’t give the impression enough of the leaves falling, so I decided on a portrait-shape.

 

IMG_4170Next I experimented with painting the leaves on vellum (calfskin). In my opinion this really is the best surface for painting and writing. The darker colours in this photo are not at all representative of the actual painting! I used yellow, brown and green gouache, and painted leaves from different types of trees that I noted on walks in the countryside. I wanted to give the impression of the leaves falling from the trees and being tossed and turned in a slight breeze so they didn’t all fall in the same direction. These then collected in a bed of leaves on the ground.

 

 

 

IMG_4168I always photocopy the text and use this as a guide for writing the finished piece. This means that the rough is then available for reference and for future use. As there was no centring or design to consider – the lines were aligned left with some indented – there was no cutting lines in to strips and working out the best arrangement. To ensure that there were no mistakes on letters, words or spacing, I folded the photocopy horizontally into the separate lines and placed these on the vellum just above where I was going to write, attaching the paper with masking tape as I did so.

Layout 1The text was written in the same colour combination as the leaves creating a coherent whole, with the dropping leaves emphasising the left aligned text, and the bed of leaves at the base creating a firm ending for the piece.

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.

A Scribe and Illuminator’s Workroom

IMG_3268Having just finished twenty-one new pieces for my forthcoming British Library book (this post is written in July 2023), I decided to re-cover my sloping board – something I do once about every 3-4 years, depending on how dirty it is. As it was so lovely and clean I felt that it might be interesting to show the board and the rest of my workroom. This is the view from the door, and although it looks big, it’s about 2 metres by 3·5 metres. However, don’t think that I’m complaining that it’s small! I know how very lucky I am to have a dedicated workroom when most people have to share their working space within another room, as I did for very many years. My chair in front of the board is padded with two flat cushions and stools are to hand on the right to put completed work or a computer, or texts just written. Note also how close my chair is to the sink on the left.

IMG_3297So, the room tour. Directly to the left of the door are large cardboard tubes. Most of these are from vellum skins sent from William Cowley, but the large one at the back right is from work I did for the Damian Hirst ‘s exhibition held in Venice – ‘Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. To the immediate left are red tubes of tracing paper for large projects. The tubes are useful not only for storing large sheets of paper but also for sending large artworks to those who have commissioned pieces. Now, however, I work mostly on vellum, and so large pieces are stretched over board requiring a different delivery system, and so these tubes are a bit redundant, somehow, though, I can’t bring myself to throw them away!

IMG_3296On the work surface to the right of the tubes are swans’ and Canadian goose feathers ready to be cut into quills. It may look like quite a lot for one scribe but most are waiting for workshops I teach on ‘Quills and Calligraphy’. I also don’t cure feathers with heat – sand or a Dutching tool and an iron. I find that feathers cure themselves by just being left to dry naturally as I’m sure happened in mediæval and Renaissance times. It was only with the rise of literacy and growth of empires and the need for records that more and more pens were needed and the curing process had to be speeded up that heat was needed.

 

IMG_3270Above that are cupboards of books and supplies. This is the first cupboard. At the bottom left is a small folder bursting with papers. These are quotations, poems and prose that I’ve collected over many years and which I write out to give to friends or for my own use. Occasionally someone will ask me if I’ve got something suitable for an occasion and it may be in here or in one of the books to the right which focus on important stages in life – birth, marriage and death mainly. Above that are various books by other calligraphers – it’s always useful to see what the competition is up to. And above that books on Latin, Chaucer, and various reference books to use in my work.

 

IMG_3298Under that cupboard is a new piece on vellum waiting to be sent to the person who commissioned it. I hope to be able to do a blogpost about this in the future as it was a really interesting artwork to do. Behind that is a strip of lead to be made into lead points to show to classes and for them to use. And at the back, to the right is oak gall ink getting nicely black. Oh and more books!

 

IMG_3300Below that, all along the work surface are even more books! Book shelves in the house are completely full, so are the cupboards here. I also have my own books here which I also use for reference – not everything stays in mind and so it’s helpful to look things up. In front of the books is a new box of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to use in photographs for the new book. They really are the best paints to use for writing and for painting. There’s more about them and mixing colours from the two reds, two blues, and two yellows here.

IMG_3292There’s a small sink just behind where I sit, completely reachable by simply swivelling round in my seat. I cleaned it up specially for this photo! It’s usually covered with ink and colour and not a pretty sight. To the right of the sink is a pot with old toothbrushes in it ready to brush the nibs clean. To the side and behind the sink are clean little jars up-ended and ready to fill with water for washing brushes when painting or to add to gouache to dilute it for writing and painting. It isn’t shown here but the tap is this side of the sink just to the left again for ease of use.

 

IMG_3272On to the window sill there’s clean paper towels for wiping nibs and reservoirs dry so they don’t rust, and tubes of Schmincke gouache ready to use. There are too many tubes to store neatly but I know where each tube is in that pile and usually just need to reach my hand out to grab the one I want.

 

 

IMG_3288Further along the window sill is a pot of quills already cut just waiting to be used. The nibs of all of these will have separated into two halves. This is not a disaster! The strength of a feather is when it is complete, cutting into it weakens it. However, popping the quill into a jar of water for an hour or so brings the two tines together ready for use and doesn’t soften the nib.

 

 

 

IMG_3275Below the window sill and just to the left of the seat is a trolley of already mixed (but now dried) small palettes and crucibles of paint, jars of black ink, and ink droppers to add water to paint (never use a brush dipped in clean water as the quantity can’t be controlled). Good quality gouache will last in this dry state with water added when it needs to be used. At the front right are pen holders, the green one in the shape of a dragon, and an Arkansas stone to sharpen nibs. As a right-hander, everything is to my left so that I can easily fill pens with ink and paint with my left hand, and then not take a fully charged pen over where I’ve just written. I did think to clean this up a little before this post, but it’s how I work and so I left it!

IMG_3276Then, proud moment here, my clean new board. This is flat whereas it would usually be at a slope of about 45°. It’s a large board with its own stand with a sloping rule, ideal for drawing the many lines calligraphers need to do. A pad of white paper completely covers the board, and then a fold of paper (fold at the top) goes right across bottom part of the board held at a slight tension, so that the writing paper can go to the right and left, and up and down, and doesn’t slip. The writing paper or vellum isn’t attached anywhere because it needs to be at a comfortable writing level which is usually when the hand is about the same level as the shoulder. The shadow is a large light fitted with daylight bulbs so it gives the truest light. The window, which is another source of light, is of course, for a right-hander on my left so that my hand doesn’t create a shadow where I’m writing and painting.

IMG_3299To the right of the board are all the tools I need for painting and writing. At the back on the left is a long metal straight edge for cutting paper and skin of large pieces, and to the left, in the front, are erasers in a little muller, behind that a tiny jar of pounce, and behind that little bags of sandarac in a shallow pot. Magic tape, used pretty much all the time to attach lines on roughs and best pieces is to the left of a hygrometer which indicates the humidity for illumination. And behind that are scissors, dividers, pens, brushes, paste and wash brushes etc. To the right of the storage pots are large knives for cutting vellum.

 

 

IMG_3284 2At the back of the table to the right is a plastic folder which holds set squares. One side of all of these has a metal edge for cutting (don’t cut using a set square without a metal edge as the knife is bound to cut into the plastic and ruin the straight edge). It is easy to stand up from my board and simply reach over for these. In front of them is a magnifying glass on its own stand for working on tiny paintings.

 

IMG_3285All sit on a variety of sizes of cutting mats. Of course, everything has to be moved off if I want to use the larger one, so I must admit that I usually use the medium sized one and just slide the paper/skin along. This isn’t the best or most efficient and it really would be more sensible simply to move stuff off!

 

 

IMG_3286 2A relatively new addition, recommended by my son-in-law who is an excellent photographer, is this flat table and two powerful lights (not the the Anglepoise to the right which has a different purpose) to take good quality photographs of my work, and the camera I use (far too old but I don’t know what new one to get – I’m far from an expert!) is at the back. On the table is a card with gesso at various mixes, and an experiment of shell gold on vellum written with a quill just to make sure that the treatment I was going to give for the actual skin produced the best result.

 

 

IMG_3287 2The last of the ‘tour’ are rolls of vellum (and one of paper to the left). It is better to take the relatively tightly rolled skins out of the tube they are sent in so that the roll is much looser; this then makes it easier to cut large and small pieces from the skin. In front of the rolls are smaller pieces of vellum in a clear plastic folder, some far too small to use but somehow I think they may be handy for something. I used to make vellum size from them for making gesso but now I use fish glue (Seccotine). This is a bit of a dark corner so the Anglepoise lamp is there to add light when selecting the skins.

 

 

IMG_3283And a last tantalising look at how the sloping board is at the moment (July 2023). These are the twenty-one new pieces of artwork with stage-by-stage of how they were done for the ‘Art of the Scribe’ book to be published Spring 2024 by the British Library. It is an information book about seven selected writing styles – the ones most commonly used by calligraphers –and also a practical section for each script of three graded pieces with detailed instructions on how to do them. You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see what’s in those folders!

Fear no More the Heat of the Sun

Fear no more‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ is a poem from William Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’. It is a poem of reassurance at death – nothing can touch the deceased now, not sun, cold, thunderstorms, whims of monarchs or tyrants, or even ghosts or witches.

I had been wanting to write this out for for time and thought it would be appropriate for my new book ‘The Art of the Scribe’, to be published by the British Library in 2024. It just wasn’t right though and so I went a different route in the end.

 

 

IMG_2745The first rough is here and the script I tried was Caroline Minuscule. This is one of the seven scripts featured in the new book. I had the idea of the sun colours changing from red to yellow through a couple of oranges for each verse, but it really didn’t work. The piece was far to large and it just didn’t hang together in these varied colours. The initial letters for each verse were emphasised here and I left space to write a gold initial for the first verse.

 

 

 

IMG_2634This lay on one side of my work bench for some time, mulling over the design and thinking of ways to improve it, I was spurred on by realising that it was the colours, size and script that were all wrong – not much right then! Quite a change was required. So I mixed one colour – a good orange (see here for colour mixing) using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache, I cut a small nib on a swan’s quill, about the size of a Mitchell nib size 6, and wrote it out in rough.

I had the idea of a setting sun at the bottom of the piece. This is depicted in some mediæval manuscripts with alternate straight rays and wavy rays which I rather like – good to have that difference. Not being that good at sums, it took me a little while to work out the appropriate angles so that the rays were even, but once this was done and half-circles inscribed with compasses, it was not too difficult to draw and paint them in Schmincke Goldpearl.

Fear no moreI had done quite a bit of research for the new books into scripts of the Renaissance and decided on a style of Arrighi Italic. I used a lovely piece of prepared vellum (see here, and here). With a left aligned margin and a small quill I wrote out the text in orange gouache, painted the sun at the bottom, with the rays carefully measured out and was able to give the piece to friends. I was sorry in a way to see it go as I rather liked what I had done with it in the end, but pleased, too, that they would be able to enjoy it.

A wonderful Edward Johnston book

IMG_2373Sometimes the most chance encounters bring rich rewards! At a recent Christopher de Hamel lecture at the British Library, I overheard the words ‘Edward Johnston’, and my ears pricked up. It turned out that a church on the south coast had an illuminated book of the Communion Service written by the great calligrapher in 1902. The photos I was shown looked amazing and I arranged to go and see the book as soon as I could. It truly was wonderful and such a thrill to see page after page of Edward Johnston’s writing and illumination.

 

 

IMG_2377The note at the back (see below) explained the production of the book and that the hands and faces in this crucifixion scene were painted by ‘my friend E G Treglown of Birmingham’. Note the border decoration of a waving pattern of vine stems and leaves with bunches of grapes, reflecting John 15 ‘I am the vine: you are the branches’. The gold here is shell gold – gold powder in gum Arabic base – with raised gold leaf grapes.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2400A paragraph in Priscilla Johnston’s book about her father notes that ‘ G B Gabb, a surgeon … accordingly commissioned Johnston to write out the Communion Service. The terms of the agreement were that he was to ‘make the most gorgeous book within his power’ and ask for money whenever he wanted it’. What a commission! The lavish use of gold leaf here and above, (where shell gold as well has been used in the border,) are certainly testament to the gorgeous nature of the book! Johnston used ‘Reeve’s raising agent’ as gesso. I haven’t been able to find out anything about this raising agent and would be grateful if anyone reading this can shed any light on it. It is a much deeper red than the pink colour made by the addition of Armenian bole to gesso today.

 

IMG_2393 IMG_2420The decorated initials are particularly fine as can be seen here. A raised gold leaf initial A with first a background of ultramarine and shell gold applied in straight lines with a ruler, with circles along the lines on the left, and then a similarly raised gold A with an ultramarine background and a swirling foliage pattern in green and red with the addition of white dots.

IMG_2382As would be expected of Johnston the initial letters are particularly fine as here, although the red gold cross behind the raised gold letter A may not be a complete success, but all is forgiven by the surety of the strokes in the versals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2406This glorious page of raised gold letters absolutely shone in the light and would lift anyone’s heart and spirit. It really is a tour-de-force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2386The book also contains music for the service as here with an impressive decorated border of raised gold leaves and blue cranesbill. The main wavy line going through the image is drawn with a firmness of the master. I think Johnston would particularly have enjoyed creating the squiggly fine black lines of decoration.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2407That same firmness of line is shown here in this red vermilion decorated chalice; many would envy that sureness of stroke. Interestingly, it looks in places that Johnston may have used a broad edge calligraphy nib for some of the strokes. Note how the furthest left curved line to the base gradually changes from a thicker line to thinner, and also the thin and thicks on the two circles in the oval shape halfway up.

 

 

 

IMG_2375The lettering, as Johnston explains in the note at the back, is based on tenth-century manuscripts. We know that he was introduced to these by Sir Sydney Cockerell, particularly the Ramsey Psalter (BL Harley 2904) which Johnston studied and then developed into his Foundational Hand. The tail of the letter g extending to the right is very much one found in the Psalter. The tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written at about the same time and probably at the same location, has a similar style of writing, but here the tail of this letter is dealt with more successfully. Now, dare I say this, pace calligraphers, but Johnston does need to work more on his letters s where almost invariably the top bowl is larger than the bottom (it should be the other way round to prevent the letter looking top heavy).

 

FE3FD8FE-D6DE-4589-915E-A043F639A74E_1_105_c IMG_2432And traditional to the period of study, Johnston used a blind point to rule the lines, where the furrow on one side of the page created a raised line on the other. On the left-hand image there is a faint black baseline where some of the ink on the opposite page has rubbed off on the raised skin.

IMG_2433 copyThe gold tooled cover is just magnificent – produced by Douglas Cockerell, probably the most famous bookbinder of his time, and brother of Sydney.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2442 IMG_2440 IMG_2438 IMG_2439In each corner is a little raised carved ‘button’, not as large as a penny coin, with the symbols of the four evangelists. These are exquisite and the design fits so well in to the circular shape.

 

Matthew – the winged man,

 

 

 

 

Mark – the lion,

 

 

 

 

 

Luke – the bull,

 

 

 

 

 

And John – the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2413At the back Johnston explains about the book, where his sources for the text come from, and also about the materials used. The skin is ‘Roman vellum’, or lambskin, manufactured at Brentford, no doubt by Bands (since closed), and could explain the difficulty in achieving really fine strokes as this skin is renowned for its greasiness. The blue is ultramarine ash, which I know only as a much paler colour than ultramarine, but here it’s about as strong.

This truly is a remarkable book and it is a privilege to show photographs of it here.

 

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.

Kedington Roll of Honour

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

A Gift for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford University Library Calligraphy Collection

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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