An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


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Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Glittering Gilders

IMG_1469We had an early start at the London University Palæography International Summer School to ensure that the images of mediæval beasts were transferred on to prepared vellum, and the adhesive laid before a break for coffee. It was marvellous that everyone managed this, but hard and concentrated work!

 

 

IMG_1472It’s tricky to get a whole miniature gilded and painted in a day, especially as most people have no experience whatsoever in even handling a paintbrush, let alone one with so few hairs, so we chose the miniatures carefully, focusing on animals from bestiaries. This lovely peacock is the copy, not the bestiary original!

 

 

IMG_1470Here is a fearsome bonnacon without its usual defence mechanism (look it up!), with two soldiers holding spears and shields.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1474And here two elegant goats, with the ‘original’ being copied in front. Notice the shine of real gold leaf on the vellum!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderA red elephant and a blue dragon are fighting here perhaps producing dragon’s blood!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And a knight on a horse is hunting a boar here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1475Two strongly coloured pigs!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1477 2And lastly a white horse fit for a princess!

Comments from students included:

Excellent!

Best class of the week.

A detailed, practical workshop.

I thought the teaching was excellent; all the explanations were very clear and thorough. Patricia was very encouraging throughout the course and I never felt that I wouldn’t achieve something worthwhile. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this course.

Next year, 2017, I shall be teaching a one-day practical calligraphy course for LIPSS, and the year after that, 2018, there will be a repeat of this course. Meanwhile, in 2017 I am thinking of running the three-day gilding and painting a mediæval miniature course again here in Sevenoaks, probably over the late May Bank Holiday. Look out for details and dates in my newsletters. This was the one last year.

Book of Hours greetings cards

squirrelSo many people have asked about the Wolf Hall Book of Hours that I produced for the BBC series, and whether copies of the pages are available that I’ve had some little cards printed. They feature on the front the cutest red squirrel with long pointed ears that look like a punk haircut, and on the back of the card a little grey rabbit, and are A7 in size (11 by 7 cm; 4 by 2 and 3/4 inches).

 

 

IMG_1383They’re ideal for little thank yous, greetings for birthdays and anniversaries, and tiny cards for children. I’m selling them in packs of 5 with white envelopes for £3.50p per pack (70p per card), with postage on top but at cost as they go into an A6 envelope. For the UK it’s £1 per pack p+p, £2 p+p for Europe and £2.50 p+p for elsewhere. (For multiple packs, please contact me.) Everyone, of course, gets their name written calligraphically on the envelope!

 

Please contact me through my website for details of how to pay, or through my usual email address.

Orpiment – it glisters but isn’t gold

220px-KellsFol032vChristEnthronedOrpiment, the word derived from the Latin Auripigmentum, and also known as king’s yellow, has been known since Roman times, and was a treasured pigment used in mediæval manuscripts. Its particular value was because it was yellow and could not only replace gold when it was unavailable or too expensive, but because orpiment was similar to gold and that was the colour that was considered to be near-divine and, like God, indestructible.

 

 

 

260px-LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMattCennino Cennini in in his Libro dell’ Arte of the 15th century, describes orpiment as ‘a handsome yellow more closely resembling gold than any other colour’. It was used in books like the Book of Kells (see above) which has no gold. The Lindisfarne Gospels does have a few areas of gold, but orpiment was the colour used for yellow as in this incipit to Matthew (right).

 

 

 

 

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Other yellows available at the time were not nearly as lasting as orpiment; saffron, urine and fish bile – all forms of yellow – were all far more fugitive. Orpiment could not be ground too finely, though, or it lost its egg yolk golden colour, but the advantage of this was that by being still a little crystalline, it actually glistened and reflected the light.

 

imgresIt is, though, one of those colours where it is very wise not to lick brushes. Orpiment is arsenic trisulphide, and Cennini said ‘beware of soiling your mouth with it, lest you suffer personal injury’! Wise words.

It wasn’t a colour that mixed well, though. Sulphur in the pigment reacted with copper in verdigris, and the lead in ceruse, or white lead. In the 17th century, Cornelius Jansen wrote: ‘Orpiment will ly faire on any culler, except verdigres, but no culler can ly faire on him, he kills them all’.

The St Cuthbert Gospel – new studies

FullSizeRenderI have already written about this gem of a book on my blog here, but this blogpost is about fesh studies on the manuscript in a new publication from the British Library edited by Claire Breay and Bernard Meehan – The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of St John. The new research marks the fact that the manuscript has been saved for the nation (it was on loan before). Claire and Bernard have managed to get the very best experts looking at various aspects of the Anglo-Saxon manuscript which was found in the coffin  of St Cuthbert.

 

 

Loan 74, f. 1vThis new book starts with eight enlarged full-colour images of the manuscript. This means that those interested in the binding can really see the patterns which are both indented and also raised on the front cover, and even make out the remains of paint. And those interested in the lettering have an excellent opportunity to study the letter-forms closely.

 

 

 

 

Loan 74, f. 1The chapter on Materials, Text, Layout and Script by Richard Gameson of Durham is particularly fascinating. Richard notes that the arrangement of the vellum reflects that which was typical of Insular manuscripts, that is hair and flesh sides on opposite sides of an opening spread. On the Continent, hair faced hair side, and flesh faced flesh side, giving a much more even look to the pages when the book was opened. However, unlike many Insular manuscripts of the period, the skin is thin and smooth; usually the skin is thicker and more suede-like in finish. Richard also compares the Uncial style in manuscripts of the time, and includes a photograph of a page in the Codex Amiatinus (previous blogpost here) showing the usual Flat Pen Uncial used in this book with a column of the Angled Pen Uncial of the St Cuthbert Gospel. There is a series of my free Calligraphy Clips showing how to write Angled Pen Uncial here.

st Cuthbert_Appendix4-1The skin has been identified as vellum. An analysis of the hair follicles shows a pattern of narrow rows of three, five or seven holes which indicates calf skin. This can be seen on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

st Cuthbert_z1_Appendix1-9Raman spectroscopy has been used to identify the pigments used in the book. Generally the red in the initial letters is red lead, or minium, which has deteriorated in some places to black, as can be seen on the right. Some letters, though, have been over-painted, and vermilion or cinnabar was often used for this.

The dark brown ink was identified as oak gall ink from the presence of iron salts.

 

 

Add. 89000, f. Front CoverThe cover is particularly interesting, and is addressed in the chapter by Nicholas Pickwood. X-ays show that the wooden boards are particularly thin, rounded and chamfered, and the red covering leather particularly thick.This is the earliest European binding and has fascinated many for years. The red leather is, apparently, only surface coloured, yet it has maintained that vibrant pigment which, bearing in mind the age, is quite astonishing.The decoration of the front cover has also intrigued many – how was it done? X-rays again show that cords were used for the outer rectangles but a much more sophisticated and complicated method for the stylised vine central decoration. The book is not sewn together on cords but by a sort of chain stitch, very typical of Coptic binding. The whole covering and decoration of the book is very sophisticated and suggests the work of an experienced craftsperson.

St Cuthbert Cover_c03-1Leslie Webster looks at the meaning of the decoration and the dating of the binding, and compares the intricate interlace, the stepped cross on the back cover, and the vine decoration on the front with manuscripts and artefacts of the period. Raman spectroscopy has also identified the pigments used to decorate the cover as indigo and orpiment. It seems somewhat over critical, but the original painting, when the colours were fresh, may have made the cover rather garish! The lack of symmetry in the upper horizontal interlace border, in a very symmetrical design, is intriguing.

 

 

Loan 74, f. 2This new research in this book, focusing on the St Cuthbert Gospel itself, also includes chapters considering the cult of St Cuthbert, the St Cuthbert relics, the history of the manuscript and Irish Insular Books.

This is a terrific and fascinating publication taking a new look at a very old book and one which must surely be high on the list of the treasures in the British Library. For anyone interested in manuscripts in general, this manuscript in particular, and the ways in which scientific methods can be applied to shed new light on old processes this is an absolute must. I highly recommend this book! To get your copy, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vellum and Parchment, and a special offer

IMG_1600 - Version 2Most people are not aware that there is a difference between vellum and parchment – both being animal skin (not pretend ‘parchment’ paper). The names of skins are often used interchangeably and it can be quite difficult when looking at mediæval manuscripts to determine whether the substrate is vellum or parchment. The clue is often the crispness of the letter-forms, but if a sharpened quill is not used in the first place, then this can be even more challenging! I prefer the terms that the makers of vellum and parchment use and so regard vellum as calfskin; it is a dream surface to work on when prepared properly. Parchment is sheepskin and, in many people’s opinion, is inferior to vellum for calligraphy. Goatskin can also be used but its surface is often very bumpy. The skins are a by-product of the meat industry, and as far more skins are produced than can be used by the leatherworkers, many skins end up in land fill.

IMG_2351To see more about vellum and parchment and the qualities of the skin, what to look for, types of skins and the best to use, see my Calligraphy Clip, vellum and parchment.

 

 

 

vellum making

Skins for both parchment and vellum are selected carefully, washed and soaked in lime to slightly swell the hair follicles so that the hair can be removed more easily. The skins are washed again and then stretched out on a ‘frame’ or ‘herse’. Whilst on the frames they are kept under constant tension and scraped with a semi-circular razor-sharp knife. Lee Mapley of William Cowley Parchment Works, finalist in the Craft Skills Awards, is shown on the right; he produces skins of excellent quality. The skins are then allowed to dry and when ready, cut from the frames and rolled, stored and then sent out.

FullSizeRender******SPECIAL OFFER!! Three pieces of skin for £12 (+ p+p), usually £16 (+p+p). I always use skins from William Cowley, the only parchment and vellum maker in the UK, and I highly recommend their products. They have kindly agreed to a special trial offer for subscribers to my newsletter. A whole skin is very expensive, so why not try manuscript calfskin vellum, classic vellum and sheepskin parchment (*see next but one paragraph). All three pieces are about 5 x 3 inches (approximately 13 x 8 cm) which will be big enough to write out a verse of a short poem, piece of prose or paint a mediæval miniature (and without the hole as in those shown here!). To get this offer, please email me at the address on my website. I will then give you a personal code and the website link to William Cowley. They will give details of payment and ask where to send the offer. This offer is available to all my subscribers, and William Cowley will advise on postage for non-UK addresses.

FullSizeRender*******The Private Library, the journal of the Private Libraries Association, has produced a whole edition on vellum, featuring a fascinating, detailed article about many aspects of skin written by James Freemantle. It costs £6 for UK residents (£5 + appropriate p+p for non-UK) and is available from Jim Maslen at maslen@maslen.karoo.co.uk

 

 

 

 

vellum skinVellum skins are not the same thickness all over as is paper; this can be seen from the picture on the right. This was the skin that I produced for the British Library’s major Genius of Illumination exhibition. The haunches, spine and shoulders are thicker and the ribs thinner. Care must be taken when selecting the part of the skin to use as parts will move and buckle or cockle in heat or when damp.

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*There are also different types of vellum skin. Calfskin manuscript vellum is prepared on both sides and so can be used in books or where you want to use the back of the skin. Classic vellum is bleached but prepared on only one side – useful if you want to create a broadsheet. Natural vellum is not bleached, shows the character of the skin, and again prepared on only one side. Kelmscott vellum has a surface coating which makes it ideal for printing; it was made originally for William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. It’s good for painting, but you need to use a dry-ish mix of gouache to avoid lifting the special finish. Slunk vellum is from the skins of stillborn or uterine calves and is quite thin but still strong. You can see the thinness in the picture as the handle of the paintbrush shows through much more in the skin on the far left.
Lovett P 6 copyThe skin needs to be prepared before use for writing and painting, and this information is in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour – and the accompanying (and stand alone) DVD Illumination, which is over 3 hours long. Both include how to stretch vellum over board to avoid it buckling and cockling and how to gild and paint a mediæval miniature in the traditional way. There’s lots of information about tools and materials for Illumination, as well as projects which are very simple to make.

CIMG2164Vellum skin does, though, give the most wonderful surface for writing and painting, and if you’ve never tried it then you are missing a rare treat!

Eadui Basan – Edwin the Fat or Parchment?

Eadui PsalterEadui Basan was a monk who worked from Canterbury in Kent during the earlier part of the eleventh century, and his distinctive hand has been identified in a number of manuscripts. One of the ones I particular like is that of the Eadui Psalter, on the right. The whole page is united by the arched and pillared frame, yet divided by two lower arches. The hand of God holding a scroll with text is giving a blessing at the top, and blue lines indicate the heavens. Within the right-hand lower arch the monks of the foundation are shown in outline. This wasn’t because the artist ran out of ink or time, but it was the stye to colour people in outline only as they weren’t worthy of full-colour painting. In the left-hand arch sits St Benedict, and around his halo is written in Latin ‘St Benedict Father of the Monastery’. The saint sits resplendent in full colour, his hands open in blessing, with lots of gold leaf. At his feet is a small, kneeling figure grasping the feet of St Benedict and holding a book, again in full colour. There is no halo or other indication of sainthood so we must presume that he isn’t; around his waist is a belt on which is written ‘zone of humility’, and yet he is in full colour! It has been presumed that this is in fact the scribe of the book – Eadui Basan.

Grimbald GospelsEadui also worked on the Harley Psalter, another fascinating book (though what mediæval manuscript isn’t?), and the Grimbald Gospels, on the right. This shows his wonderfully clear script, and stunning gilded initials. Many will be familiar with the rounded letter-forms of Caroline Minuscule, which have a low x-height – often of only 3 nib widths – long ascenders and descenders, and a distinctly forward slant. A little later in time and across the English Channel, scribes slightly extended the x-height to 4 nib widths, but reduced the ascenders and descenders; they also made it more upright. Examples of English Caroline Minuscule are in the British Library’s Ramsey Psalter (Harley 2904) written in the last quarter of the tenth century. Some decades later, Eadui Basan takes this hand and runs with it. He forms letters based on an oval letter o, rather than a round one, and extends the ascenders and descenders creating the most wonderfully fluid writing style.

Corpus Christi PontificalAnother impressive book is the Corpus Christi Pontifical, right. A pontifical is a book of instructions for a bishop or archbishop including details on how to consecrate a church, ordinate a bishop, and even how to conduct a coronation. It is just possible that this book was used by Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown Harold Hardrada in 1066 and also Ealdred, Archbishop of York for William the Conqueror.  The characteristic regular and rhythmic script contrasts with the coloured Versal initials. It is a most pleasing book and one of the gems at the Parker Library. It has been conserved and re-bound in recent years in the most vibrant red leather, how appropriate for a Pontifical!

 

Eadui CodexIn the Eadui Codex, now in Hanover, we even have his ‘signature’, which is the coloured paragraph in the middle of the page right (and enlarged below): Pro scriptore precem ne tempnas fundere pater. Librum istum monachus scripsit EADUUIUS cognomento BASAN. Sit illi longa salus. Vale seruus dei .N. & memor esto mei (which has been translated as: Father do not neglect to say a prayer for the scribe. The monk who wrote this book EADUUIS second-named BASAN. Let there be to him long health. Good Health to the servant of God .N. and be mindful of me).

Slide067 copy

 

 

So was he ‘fat ‘or was he ‘parchment’? I always understood that the Old English translation of ‘basan’ was ‘fat’ as in David Dumville’s English Caroline Script and Monastic History. Studies in Benedictism, AD 950–1030. However a paper by Tracey-Anne Cooper has looked at the ‘surname’ and does not refer to the Old English translation but suggests instead a Latin one. She thinks that it could refer to the substrate used by Eadui for his books, and that ‘basan’ or ‘bazan’ or ‘bazin’ means ‘sheep-skin tanned in oak- or larch-bark’. Without wishing to split hairs, I would think that, with the craft processes so much more a part of their daily lives than now, those naming Eadui would be fully aware that the skins for parchment or vellum aren’t tanned as are those for bookbinding, shoes, bags or clothes, but treated in a completely different way. Yet another example of mediæval manuscripts sometimes presenting more questions than they answer!

Mediæval Monsters

Devil snatching soulThe British Library have done it again! This delightful little book on Medieval Monsters by Damien Kempf and Maria L Gilbert is the perfect introduction to all those fascinating creatures which delighted the mediæval mind as much as many of us today. Sometimes the monsters are familiar – the one on the right is the devil waiting for death when the soul leaves the body. In mediæval times this was believed to be through the mouth, hence the devil’s hands ready to make a timely catch!

 

 

Devil taking soulAnd here the devil has been successful. The soul is often depicted as a newborn baby, so this poor chap, having left this mortal coil, is off to spend eternity in hellfire as the devil drags his soul there.

 

 

 

 

 

Devil stealing inkpotThe devil was often at work in other ways too. Here is St John the Evangelist, with a couple of completed books behind him, writing the Book of Revelation on the island of Patmos – a place known for its dangerous criminals, scary bears and lions. None more so dangerous and scary than the devil who is here stealing the saint’s inkpot to prevent him writing the word of God.

grotesque

 

But it is the invented animals and grotesques which are often so intriguing. What about Panotii (which means ‘all ears’ in Greek) who had such big ears that are so large they act as scarves or blankets? Others have slightly smaller ears, but pointed, wizened grey faces and hands that are claws, with bodies wrapped in a long cloak. Now some of you may have thought that the creatures in Star Wars were completely invented, but no, here is Yoda on the right, the legendary Jedi Master, instructor of Luke Skywalker (NB I am getting this info from the internet!).

YodaAnd if you don’t believe me, there is the ‘real’ Yoda on the right.

 

 

BlemmyaeWhat mediæval imagination would have thought of Blemmyae? They were harmless, without heads with their faces on their chests.

This little book covers a number of fantastical monsters as well as dragons, unicorns, mermaids, werewolves and very many more. Many of the images are full page which means that you really can see the details and the print quality and design make it a delightful book to read.

If you want to see more mediæval creatures, here’s the top ten monsters of the middle ages here

History of the Book in 100 Books

GutenbergIt would be difficult enough selecting 100 books just in Britain to represent the history of the book from scrolls to codices, to manuscripts to printed books to e-books. And then there’s what’s in the books – fiction, scientific books, company reports, instruction manuals, religious books – and what religions? – Christian (Gutenberg Bible completed in the mid-1450s on the right), Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism etc  – so authors Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad really did have a task on their hands when they took on all the books of the world!

 

 

Ptolemy's world mapStarting with cave paintings, this book is divided into 11 sections and ends with digitisation and the future of the book, having taken in mediæval books, books from the East, printed books and printing and the great classics along the way. Atlases are included, such as this of Ptolemy’s world map from the Cosmographia of 1482, and describes all the known world. As he was based in Alexandria the most detail is around the Mediterranean, and the southern hemisphere is lacking a bit!

Elementa GeometriaeScience books are not left out, and Euclid’s Elementa Geometriæ, was translated from Arabic into Latin by Abelard of Bath in the 12th century. The printed version by Erhard Ratdolt, on the right, was made in Venice in 1482, and, amazingly at this early date in printing history, there are printed geometric diagrams.

 

 

 

 

L'escole de fillesAnd pornography is not new either! In 1668 Samuel Pepys burned a book (another copy on the right) that he had bought for his wife to translate from the French. L’eschole des filles was a dialogue between a young virgin and a more experienced female cousin. Pepys made sure that he read it before burning (hmm! even missing church to do so); he described it as ‘the most bawdy, lewd book that I ever saw’.

 

 

Playfair's Commercial and Political AtlasThe History of the Book in 100 Books is comprehensive and has details of a very wide range of selected books (including Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas on the right). There is also an extensive bibliography for those who want to read more, and a detailed glossary. Each opening spread has a very useful ‘Connections’ section so that it’s possible to look at other related books. If you’re stuck for a gift for the person who has everything, then this could well be the answer!