Tag Archives: Suffolk

Kedington Roll of Honour

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Bury Bible

f956The Bury Bible is a stunner! It is thought that it was made about 1135 at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in the east of England. We even know who did the illuminations and who commissioned the bible (quite unusual for a book of this age). The Gesta Sacrum includes this (in Latin obviously!): ‘This Hervey, brother of Prior Talbot, met all the expenses for his brother the Prior to have a great Bible written, and he had it incomparably illuminated by Master Hugo. Because he could not find calf skins that suited him in our region, he procured parchment in Scotia.’ Although it may seem an obvious translation that the skin came from Scotland, the skins could also have come from Ireland.

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Master Hugo’s talent was certainly as incomparable as his illuminations. Detailed figures with expressive faces react with one another and look out from wide and heavily detailed framed borders. There is not a lot of gold and the adhesive isn’t very raised, but the vibrant colours make up for any lack of it. The figures in many of the larger illustrations are set against a dark green rectangle as here; in many manuscript books this would have been gold leaf, but the detailed drapery (wet-linen-look) and active, realistic figures would have competed against shiny raised gold. (Note the interestingly cut hole in this image so that the text from the previous page shows through. I can’t see any reason why this hole was cut out; it is unlikely that there would have been anything which was later controversial in this picture that then had to be removed, nor is there anything that I could detect on the previous page of text that should be cut out either. Another mystery about the book!).

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Another mystery is that most of the illuminations are on double pieces of skin. A smaller piece of vellum has been pasted on where the images are to the main page. It’s intriguing why this should have been done. I think there are two possibilities. First, there is a lot of paint over the illuminations and it is possible that the water in large areas of paint can relax the structure of the vellum and cause it to cockle and buckle, by having a reinforcing layer underneath this may prevent this. In addition, this density of colour can cause serious show-through to the other side of the skin. By adding an additional layer of skin this will help to prevent this show through. However, it doesn’t look as if the images were produced on separate pieces of skin and these were then pasted in afterwards. As can be seen here, the piece of skin is longer at the bottom, so some of the second line of green lettering is written over the join (look at the letter ‘S’), and the foot, neck and part of the head and ear of the lion on the top right also are painted over the join.

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

This image gives an indication of the detail of the painting. Even in small areas three or four different tones and shades are used to create a three-dimensional effect, a fine white line gives a highlight and a lift, and the areas and shapes are outlined in black. In this small section, there are two bearded men’s heads also squeezed in, and although tiny, they have been painted so carefully that they still look terrified!

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There are very detailed decorated initial letters too such as this one with two blue and orange winged animals munching on a blue swirl, two bearded men, that same green background, and a narrow double ribbon of gold outlining the letter. The intense blue is ultramarine pigment made from lapis lazuli from north-west Afghanistan. Interestingly, it is thought that this actual pigment came via the Holy Land as a result of raids by the Crusaders, although tests have shown that much of the blue in manuscripts at this time was foliate.

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The incredibly detailed painting can be seen easily here with just about every hair in the prophet’s white beard and eyebrows painted separately, and the care with which this face and the modelling on the pink (madder) robe have been minutely picked out is also shown. It is thought that the bible took two years to produce; my very rough estimate is that it would have taken this long to do the illuminations alone.

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There are other enlarged letters too, in red, blue, green and a tan colour. Calligraphically, these are called Versals – letters where the width of the letter is made by repeated strokes. Note here where letters have been placed inside others to save on space. Perhaps the second word on the second line is a little too contracted!

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

That tan colour is most intriguing. The blue is, as indicated above, lapis lazuli which produces ultramarine pigment. The vibrant red is cinnabar (vermilion), and the green, verdigris (‘Greek green’ produced from copper and quite corrosive).But what of that tan? It is certainly very wishy washy and doesn’t stand up at all against the other jewel colours. And it’s not an adhesive for gold as it’s not sticky.  As yet, work has not been done on identifying the pigments used in the bible, but it would be interesting to know what this colour is. Master Hugo and whoever wrote these wonderful letters were experts in colour and balance, surely it was a much stronger colour originally to hold its own against the rest, and has just deteriorated over the years – but what is it?

 

 

© The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There has been some debate as to whether these letters have been painted or made with a pen. This shows clearly that it is a pen that has made repeated strokes to build up the width as some of the verdigris paint has been worn away revealing the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Here the central part of the letter has almost worn away completely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

And what inventiveness, as here various patterns have been etched into the strokes of the letters to add interest – or this may have been done by someone not particularly competent later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It is thought that the text was written by one person. It is particularly strong and vibrant – and needed to be with such wonderful illuminations; it had to hold its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

As is typical with manuscripts of this age, there are many abbreviations. The one here indicates that the letters ‘us’ have been omitted (eius), and is usually written as a curving comma just above the letter ‘i’. Here, the scribe has used the left-hand corner of the pen to draw what looks like a bell-shaped flower. In the absence of a more technical term, we decided to call it a ‘bluebell’ abbreviation!

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The usual swiftly written abbreviations are taken to another level of careful construction in the Bury Bible. A horizontal bar above letters, again indicating an omission, is written with a thick stroke downwards and slightly to the right (some are almost hooked), and then the second thick stroke is made after a pen lift and with the pen repositioned before making the stroke.

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It is clearer here where the repositioning of the last, third, stroke is made after a pen lift as a tiny part of the thin horizontal stroke peeps out beyond the second abbreviation.

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

And the abbreviation looking like a little ‘2’ shown here on the second line is written by making first a stroke to the left. The pen is then lifted and the curved stroke moving right is made then downwards to the left, and finally a thin stroke to the right. The abbreviation is finished by lifting the pen to make a serif downwards and to the right. This is a tiny curved abbreviation, not even an actual letter, and yet it involves three separate strokes. In this image the surface of the skin can be seen easily, with a wonderful speckling of dark hair follicles.

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It’s not known whether the incomparable Master Hugo completed the lettering as well as the illuminations. He certainly was a talented man and could well have done so as it is of such a high standard and the care taken on writing matches that of the illustrations. There’s more information about of the book itself here, and images of each page on the Parker Library website here.