Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Medieval project (5)

In the previous week we just practiced a bit of writing; for this week, students were supposed to write and decorate a text. We only had to write one or two pages, but I didn't like the idea of ending up with a mostly empty manuscript, so I was determined to copy out and illustrate my entire chosen text, namely the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson (1809 - 1892).

We were supposed to base our decorations on actual medieval manuscripts, but were also given some freedom to improvise, so I did a bit of both - some of my pages are more in the style of medieval work, while others are decidedly modern. I looked at some actual manuscripts to see how some specific decorations, that I wanted to try out, were done.

This one gives one a sense of the style of illustration used, as well as the elaborate stylized leaf pattern decoration (known as rinceau) used in the margin:

Calendar from a Book of Hours, in Latin, on vellum [French Flanders (perhaps region of Binche or Mauberge), c.1450]

This one shows several things: more rinceau design, a decorated initial and some marginal drolleries. These were bizarre, humourous and sometimes blatantly obscene pictures found in the margins of many medieval book pages:

Crucifixion Scene from a French Book of Hours (c 1470) 133x93mm

Here a historiated initial, i.e. an initial with a picture in it. In this case it is an inhabited initial, where the picture is a human or animal:

Illuminated Manuscript, Book of Hours, St George, Walters Manuscript W168

This page shows another form of border decoration, where pictures are more realistic and less stylized:

The poem I copied consists of nineteen verses of nine lines each, and thus, using one page per verse, I could keep pretty much the same layout for every page. Every page contains a decorated initial, and a rubricated one (where an initial is written in a different colour for emphasis - traditionally red was used, but I used other colours as well). I also included an illustration on most pages, and all the pages contain border decorations, some fairly medieval in style, others more modern.

I used modern materials such as watercolour and acrylic paints, and modern ink, but I used a fairly old-fashioned dip pen for writing. I am not at all versed in calligraphy so I just used a "normal" handwriting, but tried to keep it neat and legible.

Here then are my illuminated pages (click on the pictures for the full-sized view), with comments on some of them:

Medieval scribes often used gold leaf for illumination. Unlike medieval scribes, I am not rolling in money, so I used gold craft paint instead. Unfortunately one cannot see the glitter in these photos. In the image below, the decorated initial has quite a bit of gold in it, but it comes across as light brown in the photo. Same thing happened with all the other pages where I used the gold paint:

In this page, and one of the others, I tried some Celtic knot designs in the margin. These were popular as decorations in some medieval books. Unfortunately, they take ages to do, so I had to limit them:

This page contains a historiated initial: the Lady of Shalott makes an appearance in the decorated letter O. The reapers were roughly copied from an original painting by Maggie Laubser (1886 - 1973):

The plain, abstract design behind the weaving lady was often used in medieval manuscripts. Also, I paid no attention to proper perspective, because that is what medieval artists would have done:

The stylized leaf designs here are only vaguely based on medieval examples; I made more authentic-looking ones in other pages. 

The border decoration here is an anachronism; tomatoes were unknown in medieval Europe. I did try to get the characters' clothes to look more or less medieval:

The blue colour in the text area is an artifact introduced by the camera, that I couldn't work out how to remove; the original page is white. Also, the darker stars are actually done with gold paint, but one would never guess in this reproduction:

In the poem, several pages are devoted to the appearance of the knight; I didn't want to draw the same character over and over, so I stuck to decorations for some pages, in this case trying my hand at somewhat more authentic-looking rinceau:

The knight on a snail in the left margin is my attempt at a drollery:

The illustration here was roughly copied from the famous original on the theme of the Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917):

In the pages above and below my border designs are decidedly un-medieval. But the scroll in the illustration below is not: in the days before speech bubbles, such scrolls were often used to indicate what people were saying:

As in the case of Sir Lancelot, several stanzas of the poem are about the lady floating downriver, so instead of drawing the same picture over and over, I stuck to decorative designs:

And finally, the end, with an illustration that is not exactly medieval in style - I actually found it rather difficult to imitate the medieval style, and developed a new respect for forgers!

Other posts in this series:

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