‘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.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

IMG_1609The Lindisfarne Gospels, the St Cuthbert Gospel, the Book of Durrow, the Alfred Jewel, the Vespasian Psalter, Beowulf, items from the Staffordshire Hoard, the Domesday Book, these and many other gems are all there in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library, from October 2018 to February 2019. It is an astonishing array of manuscripts and artefacts, and some, like the great bible that Abbot Ceolfrid at Monkwearmouth (Sunderland) had loaded on to his boat by two men to take to present to the pope on 16th June 716, have not been on show in the UK for centuries (and in the case of the Ceolfrid Bible – not since 716!).

 

IMG_1626The accompanying catalogue (see above) is packed with details of each exhibit, every one of which is photographed beautifully, and there is also fascinating background information in a series of essays, which include Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent (Joanna Story), Language, Learning and Literature (Andy Orchard), Interactions with Ireland (Bernard Meehan), The Emergence of a Kingdom of England (Simon Keynes) and Conquests and Continuities (Julia Crick). Each of these essays is lavishly illustrated with many full-page illustrations of manuscripts, including that of the comet drawn at the bottom of the page of the Eadwine Psalter shown here, heralding, according to many at the time, impending significant events – as in the conquest of England.

IMG_1628An early manuscript in the exhibition is the earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict. Made in England around 700 AD it shows a very ‘pure’ (in my opinion) form of Uncial script with larger initials written in red, outlined in black and with a black horizontal ornamental line, and surrounded by red dots made with a quill. This form of Uncial incorporates many pen nib angle changes and so would have been slow to write. For the letter N, for example, the pen nib angle is changed to 90° to the horizontal guideline for the first vertical stroke, the base triangular serif is then constructed with the left-hand corner of the nib, a change of pen nib angle to 0° for the narrow top serif and that thicker diagonal stroke, and then back to 90° for the second vertical stroke and again a constructed serif. Try it yourself and see how much longer this is than when you write a simple majuscule N!

IMG_1631And what real gems there are here! This magnificent page from the Harley Golden Gospels, so well named, is a riot of gold, pattern and colour. There is, as would be expected in a manuscript of this period (first quarter of the ninth century), interlace, but also a type of Greek key design, an intriguing pattern of semi-circles and white dots in triangles, but what caught my eye was the pattern half way down the right and left borders. This angular design, outlined in white, shows an understanding of perspective not always evident at this time. The two doe-eyed golden lions on a rich blue background, have their feet trapped in interlace – no wonder their tongues are sticking out in frustration!

 

Screen-Shot-2017-02-15-at-16.56.19-e1487178017944Having copied out the David as Psalmist page from the Vespasian Psalter, the horns blown by the musicians to the sides of the main image are fascinating, not least because only one of the four looks happy in playing their music!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1632How amazing, though, that an example of those very instruments, the River Erne Horn, is on display as part of this exhibition. The wooden horn was made by splitting the yew wood into two, hollowing out the middle, and then sticking it back together again, reinforcing the join with bronze hoops. There is also a bronze mouthpiece, with the metal bent back to make a rim for the player’s mouth.

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The Tiberius Psalter was made in Winchester in the second or third quarter of the 11th century, and has a series of prefatory drawings in the typical lively outline and coloured wash of that time. The incredible imagination of the artist is shown in this enlargement of St Michael (in this instance) and the dragon. The saint is poking his spear at a rather benign animal sitting on his haunches with a wonderfully curling tail, a slight snort coming from his nostrils, and a cheeky little animal representing his tongue, also about to attack the saint, and also with another tongue poking out of his mouth.

 

IMG_1634There are so many wonderful examples of manuscript illumination and scripts which are such a delight to the eye and a joy to the soul. But, of course, a favourite must be Eadui Basan, shown here in a Charter for King Cnut granting land at Ticehurst in Sussex to Ælfstan, archbishop of Canterbury. His identifiable writing includes an idiosyncratic construction of the letter d. For more information about this, please see The Art and History of Calligraphy

This exhibition is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see in one place a whole range of significant manuscripts and artefacts. It really is a ‘must-see’, but if that isn’t possible, then the exhibition catalogue, with its essays, fabulous images and detailed information about each exhibit comes a good second.

A stunning Renaissance manuscript

BL, Add ms 19553

BL, Add ms 19553

The British Library has a stunning array of manuscripts and one that has been recently digitised caught my eye because of its lively and idiosyncratic lettering; the shelf reference is BL, Add ms 19553. The page shown has typical Renaissance decoration – the manuscript is dated to c.1505 – with a rather restrained red, blue and green decoration on shell gold (powdered gold in gum Arabic base).

 

 

 

 

'que'It is the lively lettering, though, not the decoration, that caught my eye, particularly the exuberently free curved stroke on the letter q in the middle of the second line. This is an abbreviation and indicates that this word should be tibisque. There is wonderful control of the pen as the pen moves from the right to the left, and, with again great control, moves to the left with a slight hesitation at the finish of the stroke adding a hint of a thickening at the very end. Note also the letter g with the exaggerated lower bowl, and no little ‘ear’ to the right of the upper bowl. This scribe is really enjoying making these strokes!

xAnother beautiful stroke is the one from top right to bottom left in this letter x; it is rather more successful that the slightly more wobbly stroke from top left to bottom right. Notice also the very flat pen nib angle to the strokes. Usually the nib angle for this writing style, Humanistic Minuscule, is about 30°. The flatter nib angle gives a more chunky feel to the lettering.

a:eWhen the letters a and e are combined as a ligature it can be a rather clumsy form. Here, though, the scribe has sloped the usual upright of the letter a and the e nestles in neatly, sharing the same stroke. Extending the ‘crossbar’ of the e and just pushing it up slightly at the end, which thickens the stroke, gives a very elegant letter-form overall. Note, too, the second thoughts the scribe has had with the long s and t in posteritate . The long s started just above the line for x-height, and the letter t was written normally. Then the decision was made to extend both strokes and join them together. It’s great when watery ink like this is used as these sorts of things can be detected.

& and extended fThe ampersand (et = and) is very graceful here, with the smaller bowl written as a complete letter o, and the lower stroke travelling to the right has a real swoosh to it. Note, too, the additional extension to the letter f written after the letter had been completed.

 

 

 

yAnd lastly another wonderful stroke on this letter y, where the slight thickening at the end of the stroke bottom left not only collides with the letters o and n on the lines below, but the pen has also caught a little on the surface so it looks a bit messy.

And if you want to see more of this intriguing manuscript and spot fabulous letters yourself, then click here.

 

Recreating the ‘Beatus’ page from the Eadui Psalter

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

As part of the Polonsky project for the British Library and the Bibliotèque Nationale I was asked to show how mediæval manuscripts were made to create a series of short informative films. To show the process of completing a miniature we selected the ‘Beatus’ page from the Eadui Psalter, (although, to be honest, I immediately regretted it because it was so complicated!). We agreed that for filming, because of time and logistics, I would concentrate only on the central letter B, but aim to complete it after the filming.

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The first stage was to trace the outline from a print out of the original. It was such a complicated image that the tracing alone took 5 hours. The tracing needed then to be transferred to vellum. I used my own Armenian bole paper as ‘carbon’ paper; doing this took another 5 hours.Then the outline was reinforced in red, which is the traditional colour; this process took 6·5 hours.

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The next step was to lay the gesso with a quill. Gesso is the plaster-based cushion that raises the leaf gold from the surface, and the slight rounding of the cushion, once the gold leaf is attached, really catches the light so it looks as if light is coming from the book itself – truly illuminated. I had made a batch of good gesso and was filmed laying this on the letter B. The interlace at the head and foot of the minim was very complicated and it took a while to work out the pattern and lay the gesso according to the original. I had one day in between the schedule before the next filming session to lay, scrape and prepare the gesso. However, there was so much to be gilded that I ran out of gesso halfway round the border. I made another batch but didn’t have time to test it, and found out as I was laying it that it was rather bubbly. Laying, preparing and scraping the gesso took over 12 hours.

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And then for the gold. The stickiness in the gesso is reactivate by moisture in the breath and the leaf gold (23·5 carat) attached immediately. Once secure, the gold is polished to a high shine with a stone burnisher (just visible on the left). Building up layers of gold improves the depth of burnish.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The gold leaf can attach to the surface of the vellum as well, especially after a hard burnish. It was particularly difficult to remove the excess in the gold interlace area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Well-burnished gold really does catch the light.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Applying the gold, burnishing it and cleaning it up took 14 hours, but the end result was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

It was a difficult to decide what to do about the colours. Although contained within a book, pigments still deteriorate over time; some of the colours had changed even in adjacent areas. So should this copy of the manuscript page be exactly the same as the original that has deteriorated, or should I try to recreate the page as it was? I decided to plump for trying to paint it as it was. Matching the colours was a bit of a challenge!

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Painting mediæval manuscripts is a little like painting by numbers sometimes. Each colour is done completely and separately. Here the blue has been done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And now the magenta red, no doubt it’s madder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The basic colours have now been completed. At this point, I often feel that any artistic skills I may well have had have disappeared because it all looks so flat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

However, adding tones and shades starts to lift the image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The white highlights improve the image even more and it starts to take shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The black outline makes all the difference, separating the gold from colour and colour from colour, also emphasising what look like folds on draped cloth. Notice the difference between the letter B which has been outlined in black and the rest of the border where there is no black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And the final result again.

If you would like to recreate your own mediæval image, then my book and DVD on Illumination: Gold and Colour have clear instructions on making and using gesso, cutting quills, treating vellum for painting (and writing), and the process of creating a mediæval miniature shown step-by-step. See here.