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!

 

 

 

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.

‘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 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.

A wonderful collection of manuscripts

MS1r(90)Seeing a mediæval manuscript without any glass protection is very special. Imagine then, having a collection of manuscripts that you can see and handle anytime you want to, and how much it would be missed if given away. This was the case for the owner of a select and special collection of manuscripts that has recently been given to the University of Reading Special Collections department. The manuscripts range from single leaves to books and includes this gloriously decorated and gilded page.

 

MS102r(120)Even not very elaborate leaves have a rare simplicity, purity and attractiveness. This long narrow page has a red and blue pen-decorated gold initial which is balanced well by the regular and restrained fine Italic writing. Just look at that exquisite long curved stroke on the letter ‘A’ in ‘Amen’ on the second line.

 

 

 

 

And another long narrow page of Renaissance HMS53r(200)umanistic Minuscule. Again the initials are simply decorated with a grey, gold and red colour scheme. The lettering is very fine and even, but it is the line fillers that catch the eye. A very modern looking black and gold curved design alternates with a gold coloured knotted line and a line that looks as if it could be the branch of a tree. Note the particularly well executed knot design at the base of the page.

 

 

 

MS18r(Dscn1796)There are music leaves as here. This is a large leaf, probably from a choir book, where it would be propped on a lectern and the singers would stand closely around so that they can all see the words and notes. The Rotunda lettering is extraordinarily well executed with very fine hair lines to the ends of strokes. The larger initials are beautifully decorated with pen-drawn lines, and the large music notes are placed on four red lines not five of the music stave as now.

 

 

 

MS40r(90)There are calendar pages, probably from the beginning of a Book of Hours. Here you can see the water carrier of Aquarius, with the letters KL for ‘Kalends’ – from which we get the word ‘calendar’. Then follows a list of saints’ days with Saint Genevieve, Saint Symon, Saint Lucien and Saint William (Guillē). All this is surrounded by an elaborately detailed border of red, blue and green

 

 

 

MS23v(50)This Renaissance manuscript of Humanistic Minuscule has a typical ‘white vine’ ornamented initial letter. Here there is a winding clear white line and white dots; the line twines like a vine, hence the name. The lettering here is very even and it looks almost as if it has been typeset. It seems as if the scribe was very much enjoying the writing particularly with the lines above the letters indicating an abbreviation. There is a wonderful curved swoosh on the first word on the top line, and some lovely ‘wave’ shapes almost in the middle of the page on two successive words.

 

 

MS100f1r(72)Again a deceptively simply manuscript in Italic that is so even that it could too be printed. There is great rhythm to this script and real movement to some of the strokes – look at the red letter ‘Q’ halfway down the page, and the elaborate flourishes to the tails of strokes along the bottom line. The very restrained gold letter ‘I’ contained within a malachite green box has a little sunburst in gold and pen-work lines for added emphasis.

 

The Art Fund has kindly supported this very special collection.

 

 

Props for film and TV

CIMG2859As a professional scribe and illuminator, I am often asked to make props for film and TV. These have ranged from 19th century petitions of ‘thousands’ of names, Elizabethan maps, writing in ‘invisible ink’ and making it reappear onscreen, any number of documents, poems and letters, and, a few years back, to coincide with a big exhibition in Venice by one of the UK’s most well-known artists, a double spread of a 12th century manuscript written in Greek.

CIMG2811The story was that a freed Roman slave had amassed great wealth such that he was able to buy up great treasures. He wanted a suitable palace to display these and planned to take them on the ‘biggest ship ever made’ – the ‘Unbelievable’ – and then build his palace. Sadly, it was said, on his journey a sea monster caused the ship to wreck and the treasures were lost only to be found again hundreds of years later and brought to the surface in the twenty-first century. I was given a very wide brief and set to creating this double spread, checking the designs as I went along. I researched palaces in mediæval manuscripts, and it was lovely to create my own … in the style of! Of course the palace would have a fountain and fish pond and, as with many pieces I’ve done I enjoyed adding a bit of personal amusement. Each fish, for example, had an extra fin from one to four.

CIMG2809I knew that the spread was going to be aged but selected a piece that had a lot of character to it anyway. There was a fair smattering of brown spots which indicated the hair follicles. In my rough sketch I had planned to have carts with treasures being loaded on to the ship but realised that this would take far too long so in the end settled for wrapped bales on the quay, and a few treasures being shown on the deck of the ship. The freed slave, Amatan, is shown here, again in his fur hat and rich red robes lined with cloth of gold, supervising the loading. At this point I didn’t know what form the treasures would be so I painted in a few objects. To ensure that, mediævally speaking, the ship was in character, as it was meant to be so big, the prow extended well beyond the border.

CIMG2814They did give me a sketch of a mediæval monster from a manuscript as a suggestion but I thought it looked far too benign (a bit like a Tellytubby!) so I asked if I could make mine much more scary, to which they agreed. So here it is with horns – because it was evil – rows of sharp teeth and sharp claws. And because the monster was wrecking the ship by creating a storm, I drew a waterline which wasn’t horizontal to reflect that. (I did try it with a very angled sealine but it just looked weird!)

CIMG2804There are quite a few miniatures of ships in mediæval manuscripts, especially connected with the Jonah and the whale story, and I found a lovely image of a sailor falling overboard, which I copied, painting treasures tossed into the sea by the storm too. Amatan and another sailor are here pointing in horror at the monster, and even the ships’ prow is looking a bit scared! The mast is broken and the sail in tatters.

 

 

CIMG2815I also decided to have the monster coming up the side of the page and towering over the boat to make it seem even more menacing and had his gold tail pointing menacingly towards the crashing ship.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2863I then wrote the supplied Greek text and worked hard to ensure that it fitted the space exactly, rearranging the line spacing and the length of the lines to ensure that it did. I was also able to pretty much justify the lines so that the right- and left-margins looked neat.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2862I knew that they wanted the page aged, and so, once it was all done, took some sandpaper to the painting and roughed it all up a bit. However, when I saw it being used in the accompanying film about the story of the ‘find’, I saw that they had really roughed it up, with the gold leaf blistered and some of the images almost gone completely. The film of the story and the ‘find’ is available on Netflix if you subscribe. And the artist is still causing controversy about the whole project as here.

 

Even More Glittering Gilders

Layout 1Another group of keen potential gilders met in May 2019 to learn the craft skills of creating mediæval miniatures over three very full days. Their stunning results, albeit some unfinished, are shown here – just look at how shiny that gold is! The brilliance of this shine is really only possible on traditional gesso, as modern adhesives don’t seem to react quite so well with pure gold leaf.

 

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Everything was set out for each participant at their own work station so they needed to bring nothing with them apart from the willingness to learn!

 

 

 

IMG_2691The first day started with trial gilding then making and laying gesso. Then it was on to laying it for real around the mediæval animal image on prepared vellum pieces. Gesso forms the raised base on which the gold adheres. By lifting it from the surface, the shiny gold reflects the light, looking as if it comes from the illumination itself – hence the name.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2704Once the gesso is dry and calm, then the gold is attached, and on gesso it can be polished until it is really shiny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2695The brilliance of shine, polished with a burnisher, with this group was quite amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2701And on to painting. After a detailed demonstration on paint consistency, mixing paint and using the fine, Kolinsky sable brushes, everyone set to.

 

 

 

IMG_2713The results in terms of the shine of the gold and painting were most impressive.

 

 

 

IMG_2711Here are some comments from the participants:

IMG_2728Patricia, I enjoyed every moment of your course, thanks to your perfect preparation, wonderful teaching and fabulous hospitality. The course was everything I hoped for and more.

 

 

 

I have learned so much, a really great few days. You were clear and concise, very funny and informative. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2706Fabulous. Excellent. Pitched at the perfect level with exactly the right amount of repetition/reinforcement. Perfect course numbers to allow 1:1 assistance. A real privilege to participate. 

 

 

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I was so thrilled when I knew I’d be able to come, and the course has been everything I had hoped for and so much more. Thank you Patricia for your patience, expertise and wisdom.

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I loved that everything was explained in a clear, straightforward and good humoured manner. It was everything I had hoped for and so much more. The attention to detail throughout the course was fabulous, from our name cards to the gesso we could take away.

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Thank you for the wonderful course. I learned so much in such a short space of time! And I really appreciated all the care and attention you put into every aspect of our three days.

How Mediæval Manuscripts were Made

fcdcf8be-d41f-4954-b06e-603091f607c1It really was a great joy and privilege to be part of the great Polonsky Project, which was a joint venture between the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale in Paris to digitise manuscripts which from before the year 1100. They were keen to show how those manuscripts were made, and so it was on two very hot days in the summer of 2017 that Dr Alison Ray, filmer Jan and I spent many hours recording those processes. The films are now on the British Library’s and the Bibliotèque nationale’s websites (the latter being dubbed into French) and sections of the films were also used in the fantastic 2017–2018 Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 18.53.31The first film features the pen used for the writing, which, of course, was usually a quill cut from the feather of a large bird. I always use penknives which have curved blades as the curve rolls over the slight curve in the barrel of a feather to cut the nib tip, whereas a straight blade tends to squash the feather. Indeed, penknives today (the clue is in the name!) still always have a curved blade. Here’s the link. There’s more on quill knives and how to cut a quill on my website on this link.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.05.35Ink was usually made from oak galls, although in fact peach, cherry and apricot stones can also be used but give a less dense colour. It’s the tannic acid from the galls reacting to copperas (iron sulphate) that creates a dark liquid, and which needs an adhesive, in this case gum Arabic, to ensure that it adheres to the writing surface. To see the process, click here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.07.32The writing surface was vellum or parchment – calfskin, sheepskin, goatskin or ever deer on occasion. In this clip I explain about the differences between the hair and flesh sides of vellum and also the qualities of other types of skin. More here.

 

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.10.21Having cut pieces of skin to size for writing, the page needed to be set out, and often dividers – similar to sets of compasses, but with a point at the end of each leg – were used as it was easier to mark the exact positions of the guidelines in this way. On occasion, the lines would be set out using a ruler and lead point (or similar) and then the positions marked using the tip of a knife (perhaps a penknife). Here the ‘point’ would actually be a triangle shape and this can be seen in some manuscripts. There’s more on setting out a manuscript page here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.17.54Pigments used in illuminations came from animal, vegetable and mineral sources. Perhaps the most famous is ultramarine, as Cennini Cennino called it ‘perfect, beyond all other colours’. A very similar blue, but much cheaper was citramarine. Woad and indigo are from vegetable sources along with madder. And Tyrian purple and carmine came from animals. There’s more on this link, including dragon’s blood!

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.22.01 1These pigments have no natural adhesive (apart from saffron interestingly!) and so this needs to be added. Traditional either glair, the egg white or the egg yolk was added. This film clip explains the process, including the equivalent of a hole in one! It can be tricky removing the egg yolk from the egg sac, but when this was being filmed, it worked with the very first egg! Here it is with the knife being withdrawn and the yolk falling out at the bottom. See the whole thing and more here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.26.13And having got everything ready, it was then only the setting out the illumination, laying the gesso, applying gold and then painting bringing everything to life and with wonderful colour. Watch the process here.

It is hoped that these short films will add to the knowledge and understanding of these historical craft processes and ensure that more people understand and appreciate the skills that went in to creating the wonderful manuscripts now in great collections such as those at the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale.