The Benedictional of St Æthelwold

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

The Evangelists’ Symbols

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

The British Library One Day Illumination Masterclass Course

August 2023, finished animalsIt can be quite daunting signing up for a course which for many involves completely new techniques and tools. Most people haven’t picked up a paintbrush or dealt with paint since schooldays, and the thought of painting a mediæval miniature may be very tempting, but what if everyone else on the course is a trained artist? The British Library one-day Illumination Masterclass course is geared to allay all fears (at least most of them!). Much of painting in the style of mediæval miniatures is technique, and this is what I teach. These are the results of the course held in August 2023.

IMG_3380Everything is provided for each participant, no-one has to bring anything. It takes quite some time to prepare everything beforehand, and also a considerable time to set up for the course on the day. Here are the wet and dry boxes (those on my courses will know all about these!).

 

 

 

 

IMG_3381Each participant has their own work station set up on individual tables so that there is lots of space and everything they need is to hand. This is set up for a right-hander.

 

 

 

IMG_3382To allay any fears about not being creative, to avoid too complex an image for one day, and to use the time as effectively as possible, bestiary animals from manuscripts held at the British Library are chosen, and even these are selected to be ones that aren’t too complicated. Tracings are made which are transferred to treated vellum. The outlines are then reinforced with paint as here.

IMG_3383Instructions are given on dealing with gouache paint, using brushes, and how to paint using fine sable brushes. Here the pigment is being tested with a mixing brush to ensure that the very dilute consistency to paint the outline is correct, and also that the brush is held at the right angle to make the very fine strokes.

IMG_3385Then a modern adhesive is applied. There is not enough time in one day to use traditional gesso which raises the gold from the surface so that it shines brightly, and also creates a smooth surface to achieve a brilliant burnish. Anything other than gesso won’t have the effect of gold as in manuscripts, but it can still be stunning! Here the adhesive has been applied.

IMG_3386Next it’s GOLD. Despite not using gesso it’s always exciting to achieve that brilliance of metal with real gold leaf shining in the light. Areas not being worked on are masked as here.

 

IMG_3387Agate dog tooth burnishers are used to apply the gold.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3390And the effects are rather wonderful!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3392And again here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3394Finally the paint is applied to create a wonderful mediæval miniature.

 

 

 

Comments from participants on this course:

Fantastic! Well structured and most enjoyable.

Such an enjoyable day, it’s amazing what can be done in a day due very much to the preparation and expertise Patricia brings.

Wonderful day and a very good and welcoming tutor.

Fascinating stuff!

Patricia is a great and supportive instructor. I look forward to taking more classes with her.

Humour, even steady pace, clear instruction, perfect level of detail, and fantastic tuition.

Most enjoyable and informative. Never thought I would produce such illumination in such a short time.

Very well pitched (in my view) to meet the requirements of novices and more experienced participants from a range of backgrounds. Loved the technical information.

Really enjoyed it! It was especially detailed with supplementary information which I liked.

It was very well planned and instruction and teaching were well summed up and delivered. I am going to return and learn more. Thank you Patricia.

It was very interesting and informative; I thoroughly enjoyed the day!

Well organised course. We didn’t bring anything to the course, which is great, everything is provided. Big thank you to Patricia.

(The only negative comments were to do with the arrangement of tables and movement round the room, which we realised as soon as the participants came in, and will be resolved for future courses, and the lighting in the room; it is suggested that if this is a potential problem, then participants may like to bring an illuminated magnifying glass with them.)

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.

The Glitterati of 2023

Layout 1What a wonderful group of eight budding illuminators-to-be there was for this year’s intensive Tools, Techniques and Materials of Mediæval Manuscripts three-day course in May. It is always interesting to see how eight different people, complete strangers, from different parts of the UK and the world will react when spending three days together. I have been so lucky in that everyone who comes on my courses has been really nice – and so it proved to be this time!

 

 

 

IMG_2930It takes quite a long time to get the rooms ready. The furniture has to be arranged, and then all the tools and equipment set out for each individual – well over 30 individual pieces of equipment. No-one has to bring anything with them – it’s all provided. I do this for three main reasons. It is very expensive buying vellum, books of gold leaf, sets of paints, and fine kolinsky sable brushes. If someone is doing this only once, it is a lot of cost, which could be seriously off-putting! Then, for those coming long distances and even from overseas, buying all the correct stuff is not easy and carrying it long distances on public transport is also a challenge. Lastly, and this is from experience of many, many years, it is so important to have the right tools and materials – too low a gold level in leaf gold means that it will not stick to itself, a old burnisher that someone has found in a drawer may be scratched and ruin the gold, and new scissors bought cheaply will make the gold leaf tear. It really is a case of, quite rightly ,a workman blaming his tools when things don’t go well!

But the results were amazing as you can see. Gesso well laid, gold attached and burnished to a bright shine, and miniatures painted well.

IMG_2945Here are the results and comments from those on the course, although comments are not necessarily next to the image completed (by the way, the images may be a bit skewwhiff because I wanted to make sure the brilliance of the gold was captured).

Amazed at what I’d learnt on the first day. I thought we had a lot to do, and we did, but Patricia had timings meticulously planned, and we finished. it was extremely good value for such an in depth course (and most memorable).

 

IMG_2934Your help and advice at all stages have been very welcome; thank you for your encouraging words throughout the course. So glad to have attended. I have learned a great deal and particularly enjoyed using gesso. Absolutely fantastic. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2935Superb! I’ve learned so much and will definitely experiment with techniques in the future, Unique and top quality training with plenty of inspiration for future explorations. Very clear, easy to follow and clearly based on practical experience. Brilliantly pitched.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2937I just want to say what a wonderful experience this has been – absolutely perfect for me! Thank you so much for your wonderful warmth and hospitality (well beyond what the course would require to be a success).

 

 

 

IMG_2936Perfectly paced and really fun, learned so much, quill making amazing. Patricia you are wonderfully encouraging and positive, Loved the gesso and gilding. Tremendous! Wish I could have stayed for a week.

 

 

 

IMG_2942I was so looking forward to it, but the course was so much more than I could have expected, The learning was wonderful, and I cannot thank you enough for all the effort you put in to make it an amazing experience. Excellent! Repeats, great demonstrations, you are a wonderful teacher! All my thanks.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2939This is famously the best course in the world, which is why we’re all here. No-one was disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IIMG_2940 loved the fact that you walked us through the details of all the supplies we used, where they came from and how they are made. It was an amazing experience, I have learned so much more than I had hoped to. Patricia, you are a very generous teacher and person. I am so glad I signed up for this workshop.

 

 

 

Courses are held in Kent, UK, about 35 minutes by train from London. They are run usually the third weekend (plus the Friday) in May, and details are sent out in my free online monthly newsletter. The courses fill up very quickly, so if you are interested, do book your place as soon as it’s advertised!

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.

‘The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club’

IMG_2191Christopher de Hamel is a wonderful and inspiring writer, wearing his scholarship lightly and introducing his readers to manuscripts, libraries, manuscript makers, and authors with the lightest of touches such that they hardly realise that they are absorbing so much knowledge. This is evident in all his books, but particularly his previous best seller and award winner – ‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’. Could his newest book live up to that?

It certainly does!

 

 

IMG_2193In this latest one – ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club’ – a play on the title of Dickens’ first novel, Christopher de Hamel takes as his theme not the makers of manuscripts (apart from Simon Bening), or the manuscripts, but those who collected and commissioned them, whether for themselves, other people or for religious foundations or libraries. It is an interesting conceit and one which could easily become rather dull and monotonous, but Christopher has such deftness of style, and introduces contemporary sources so well into the narrative, that it becomes such a good read and a difficult-to-put-down book. He starts with St Anselm as here, abbot of Bec Abbey, and then Archbishop of Canterbury. As with his previous book, Christopher takes us on a journey to Bec and describes what it must have been like at the time, bringing in Anselm’s correspondence and the ‘prickly’ script of Canterbury along the way.

IMG_2194The range of Christopher’s collectors include a monk (above), bookseller, illuminator, librarian, and, bringing us into the twentieth century, a curator. There are twelve chapters, all focusing on these different approaches of manuscript collection. The bookseller in chapter 3 is Vespasiano da Bisticci, the bookseller of Florence, and Christopher again sets out and visits the city to trace not only Vespasiano’s original shop but also the house where the bookseller retired; it is situated about five miles outside Florence. He left the city once the printing press signalled the decrease in demand for hand-written books, and Christopher quotes a letter from Vespiano to Pandolfini trying to persuade him to come and stay at; ‘…this pleasant and charming place, where the woods, fine hillsides, springs and clear streams and cascades invite you …’ – who could resist? Before his retirement, Vespasiano commissioned many manuscripts for his prestigious clients including this for the Duke of Urbino, illuminated by Francesco Roselli.

IMG_2192Constantine Simonides was a nineteenth-century forger, specialising in Greek manuscripts and particularly those of the early Christian era and ancient Greek authors. The photograph of him in the book (as here) certainly shows someone who lived up to that of an itinerant scribe and dealer, looking slightly dishevelled and about to pull out unknown manuscript treasures no doubt from a carpet bag! This is an intriguing chapter of deception and veracity, and brings in doubt about the authenticity of the Codex Siniaticus in the British Library (soon dispelled!).

 

 

IMG_2203Sir Sydney Cockerell will be familiar to calligraphers as the person who advised the great scribe Edward Johnston to study the manuscripts of the late tenth century so that he could improve his writing style, and from which Johnston devised his Foundational Hand. Cockerell had been William Morris’s secretary and together they bought the manuscript shown here, when, as this book describes they were in Beauvais together and at just after 7 in the morning Morris demanded that Cockerell ‘come out and buy a manuscript’! Despite his later advancement to be Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, manuscripts were in Cockerell’s heart throughout his life, and the excitement with which such works could be bought for relatively small sums during the latter part of the nineteenth-century, and the delight of such collectors Cockerell advised and worked for such as John Ruskin, Henry Yates Thompson and Charles Perrins (of Lea and Perrins sauce fame) when they owned them is almost palpable in this book.

This is such a good book, a romping read through the ages of book collecting and dispersal that any thought of it being boring is dispelled in the first sentence. Should you buy it? YES, you should – it is very highly recommended!

 

‘The Fantasy of the Middle Ages’

IMG_1585Larisa Grollemond and Bryan C. Keene have written a fascinating book called ‘The Fantasy of the Middle Ages’ and the ways in which the images and ideas in manuscripts with the associated myths and legends, and our version of this period of time, have been interpreted throughout successive periods of history and in various media. It really is a riot of wonderful images and a real feast for the eyes!

 

 

 

IMG_1586It begins with, of course, the myths and legends of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, shown here in a late fifteenth-century French manuscript. The Arthur of possibly the fifth or sixth century who may just have existed would have looked very different from that depicted in mediæval manuscripts as here, or indeed the twelfth-century and after romances of chivalric knights of derring do, pathetic princesses and ladies needing their honour to be defended (in the main), kings and queens, and, of course, evil old crones. Sir Thomas Malory and Edmund Spencer of later centuries and then Tennyson in the nineteenth century all developed these themes and stories.

IMG_1587The costumes designed for stage and screen reveal the slightly over-the-top attitudes believed to be of the period. Here is the one for Morgan le Fay in ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ for the 1948 film.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1590The perception of mediæval women is of those completely dependent on their male relatives or husbands, whereas the reality was that many women ran workshops, estates or even countries – for the latter Melisende of Jerusalem (1105–1161) being just one example. In this image from Christine de Pizan’s ‘City of Ladies’ of the early fifteenth-century, here are the women planning and actually physically building the city with blocks of stone. These women have been reflected in stories by Chaucer with the Wife of Bath, Tolkien’s Éowyn, and Arya in the ‘Game of Thrones’.

 

IMG_1589William Morris was particularly susceptible to the mediæval influences and in a big way. The manuscripts during his calligraphy and illumination period produced by him show this and then the printed books he made from the Kelmscott Press – as an example – this image by Walter Crane produced for the first page of ‘The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of the Living Men’. The intense border decoration, enlarged decorated initial and dominating main image imitate manuscripts of the high mediæval period.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1591And the stories and influences continue not only on screen and stage with films, plays and television productions. The traditional ‘Procession of the Magi’ in Florence depicts the three kings in mediæval dress on horseback, their costumes relating back to a fifteenth century painting.

 

It was certainly a colourful and even flamboyant period in many ways and this has been picked up by the authors and designers of this book with a totally over-the-top gold embossed and angled cover title (it has to be seen to be believed!), and page after page of wonderful images and interesting, informative and thought-provoking text showing that, actually, those Middle Ages have never died! Thoroughly recommended!