Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘Lettering for Western Iconography’ category

Lettering of the Melisende Psalter

hand made book of the Melisende letters

‘Melisende’ –  lettering from the 12th c

Long overdue, but here’s the last installment from my dissertation on lettering which would be lovely to see adapted for use on contemporary western icons. For the last subject, I chose the Melisende Psalter, an extraordinarily beautiful example of ‘East meets West’.

It was written in Latin and thought to have been produced in the scriptorium of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem sometime between 1131 and 1143. It is attributed to the work of six artists, and a scribe who are thought to be of French or Italian origin as the work reflects their backgrounds.

The introduction features 24 full page miniatures of scenes from the life of Christ, with Greek inscriptions, painted with gold backgrounds.

Annunciation Melisende Psalter British Library crop.png

Detail from the Annunciation (image from the digitised British Library Manuscript)

The manuscript is held in the British Library Manuscripts Department (Ref Egerton MS 1139), London.   

The word psalter derives from the old English word psaltere/saltere which came from church Latin Psalterium and simply means ‘a volume containing the Book of Psalms’. These hand written and illuminated books often had other devotional material bound in as well and were most widely owned by wealthy lay persons. They predate the later emergence of the ‘Book of Hours’.

5-a-melisende

Letter A adapted from the Melisende Psalter

Looking at the letters in this manuscript, it was hard to know where to begin as there are so many examples to choose from. It really is a rich resource for both iconographers and calligraphers alike.

I decided to illuminate a few letters to bring out their qualities as stand alone designs. The letters are confident and stems terminate with a flourish and the double stems add a light but strong quality to the letters. This example is painted with Azurite and Malachite. I have applied a few washes of azurite over the malachite to get this velvety soft green.

letter B Melisende

Melisende letter B

This example is painted with lapis lazuli and malachite. I’ve washed a few layers of blue over the green to deepen the green and offset the brightness of the gold.

The letters themselves are on raised gesso – a slightly more flexible mix to the gesso used for icons. This is Patricia Lovett’s recipe and it gives a flexible surface which burnishes up a treat when gold leaf is applied. Patricia’s book ‘Illumination Gold and Colour’ gives more practical guidance on this and is on sale at Cornelissen’s in London (or by mail order)  where you can get all the materials needed to paint your own letters. If you do get a chance to visit Cornelissens in the next few weeks, you will see some of the work by the icon diploma students on display in the window – more about this in the next post.

Before I share the letters which I painted from this manuscript, I’d like to give you a taster of one of the illuminations in this psalter as how it’s a useful resource for icon painters.

magi bring ing gifts melisende

Melisende Psalter – Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child, Image from the British Library Digital library

To see this image and others in the psalter, here’s the link to the British Library page.

I love the movement of the Magi and how their composition directs the viewer’s eye to observe them placing their gifts at the feet of the Christ Child under the stern direction of the angel. Even though these are tiny paintings, they are dynamic and vibrant.

Back to the lettering. I’ve attached an eight page document with a full alphabet of hand painted letters which are an interpretation of the letters in the Melisende Psalter. Feel free to print them off or save them till later for use on your own icons. I would love to see them in use one day! 11-melisende-letters-v1

letter C Melisende gilded lapis lazuli

Letter C in Lapis lazuli – based on examples in the Melisende Psalter

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Back to lettering Bury Style

4 Letter A Bury

Gilded Letter A adapted from the Bury Bible

I’d like to pick up where I left off on my previous taster post of the Bury Bible’s Romanesque lettering (you can refer back to it here). I’d like to share some examples which I’ve gathered from this great work which may be suitable for naming saints of this period, for example:

Some saints with direct or indirect associations with this manuscript or who lived during the early 12th Century:

Edmund the Martyr (also known as St Edmund or Edmund of East Anglia, died 20 November 869

St Anselm feast day 21 April

St Cellach (Ceilach Keilach) b1080 Ireland d 1129 Archbishop Armagh

St Elisabeth Rose, Benedictine nun, b 1130 Courtenay France

St Stephen Harding, b 1059, d 1134 co-founder of Cistercian order

St William of York, England, b 1154, Archbishop of York

St Wulfric, b 1080, Bristol, England

St Thomas Becket of Canterbury, b1118, Cheapside, London, martyr

St Hildegarde of Bingen b 1098, Germany

St Lawrence O’Toole, b1125, Kildare, Ireland, Archbishop Dublin

St Gilbert of Sempringham, b 1083

St Bartholomew of Farne b1193, Whitby Northumbria

I’m hoping that the painted letters which I’m sharing here will be clear enough to save to your desktop for your own use. They need a bit more refining but they are a reasonable start. If you do get round to using them – I would love to see your work!

lettering based on bury bible

Letters A to D ‘Bury Style’

lettering in red ochre

Letters E to J ‘Bury Style’

KLMNOP

letters K to P ‘Bury Style’

 

4 Letter N Bury

Crisp balanced lines of the Bury letter N

QRSTVW.jpg

Letters Q to W ‘Bury Style’

UXYYZM

Letters U to Z (plus an extra fancy M) ‘Bury Style’

Hope these are useful some day and thanks for reading!

Ronnie

Fragments of beauty from 8th C Avranches

Avranches banner 2a
Painted letters in the style of 8th century French uncial hand

I began my dissertation for the Icon Diploma with lettering discovered in Mont St Michel, France.  The style is a majuscule script known as ‘uncial’, written in capital letters, in common use from the 4th to the 8th century by both Latin and Greek scribes.

I stumbled upon this exceptional 8th century lettering some fifteen years ago, whilst on a family holiday in Normandy. Mont St Michel is home to some beautiful illuminated manuscripts, some of which can be seen by request in the town hall at Avranches, nearby.

Guerison du Paralytique 1 rev.jpg

Guerison du Paralytique, from the Gospel of St Mark

Whilst there, I bought the book l’Enluminure Romane au Mont-Saint-Michel” by Monique Dosdat which includes several fragments from a Book of Gospels. There are only a few of these pages which survive – the author and dedication are unknown.

Their history is intriguing as they were discovered bound into a later manuscript, at Mont St Michel. The two pages are identified by their full titles:

  1. “Fragment d’un Evangeliaire, Vllle siecle, Annonce aux Bergers, Luke 2, 12. Avranches, BM, ms 48.
  2.  “Fragment d’un Evangeliaire, Vllle siecle, Guerison du Paralytique, Marc, 2, 5-12  Avranches, BM, ms 71.

The author Dosdat writes: “These pages are an impressive witness of a beautiful, perfectly legible uncial lettering, its characters uniting a classic uncial calligraphy born in 4th Century Italy under the influence of Irish round hand lettering”.

This scribe had mastered the art of consistency, spacing, layout and rhythm so that the text itself is a work of art.

So let’s look at the lettering as examples for use on icons. This script would lend itself to early Celtic or French saints. The following studies are my second attempt at translating this quilled hand into painted letters.  I have ‘waisted’ the uprights and some letters will need to be refined but feel free to print them off and use them if you wish. I can see the serifs on the letter ‘C’ are pretty clumsy – so use the body of the letter C instead.

ABCDEF

DDD

Looking at the two types of ‘D’ used in the same manuscript.

GIJKLN

OGEC

MAQ

The right hand stroke of the letter A is a little top heavy.

ORSTUV

 

 

PQLH

 

WXXYZ

These ‘X’ and ‘Y’ letters are my favourite!

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Hallowed be thy Name

Lettering on handmade book

Hand made book covers for the dissertation showing four different manuscript lettering styles.

Hello icon friends,

Part of  the icon course includes submitting a dissertation. This sounded quite daunting but Aidan has been great at keeping this in perspective explaining that it is really just an essay on a subject which we are passionate about – something we can share with the rest of the students. I will be sharing my subject in stages here and will start off with an overview of my subject.

I was encouraged early on in the course when Aidan spoke about illuminated manuscripts as a rich resource for western iconongraphers. I have loved calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts since I was at school and so my dissertation subject was waiting in the wings: ‘A comparative study of four illuminated manuscripts as a resource for lettering on contemporary western icons’.

Hand painted illuminated letters

Finished letter samples and bound lettering books

The best part for me about this subject was when, on the very first day of the course, Aidan explained how it is the name on an icon that makes it an icon:

We venerate the icon that bears the name”.

It struck me how important it was to apply the same care to naming the icon as given to painting the image itself. When we are named in Baptism, the sacrament leaves an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ on the soul and thus our chosen name becomes an intrinsic part of who we are. Solomon declared that:

“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).

The significance of naming is a wonderfully rich subject but my dissertation is a practical one based on writing out alphabets interpreted from the lettering of four manuscripts, which I will briefly touch on here. I will go through each manuscript study in stages in subsequent posts.

The first manuscript I chose was a European example of an early 8th century uncial hand, taken from an unidentified manuscript from Mont St Michel which I named ‘Avranches‘ for the purpose of my study:

Avranches manuscript

Example of lettering from the Avranches manuscript

Avranches lettering

Samples of gilded lettering in the ‘Avranches’ style and the hand bound book of lettering.

Gilded letter G from Avranches

Gilded example of letter G from the ‘Avranches’ manuscript.

The second is the Anglo-Saxon Benedictional of St Aethelwold, written in Winchester 963-984, by the scribe Godeman.

gilded lettering

Examples of gilded letters and hand bound book of Aethelwold lettering

Aethelwold benedictional

Gilding the letter X from the Aethelwold Benedictional.

Gilded letter sample on heavyweight, hot-pressed watercolour paper, using gesso made from the recipe when I attended Patricia Lovett’s Gilding and Illumination skills course. Vellum makes the ideal surface for gilded letters but these are lettering studies rather than finished pieces.

Gilded letter X

Gilded letter X from the Aethelwold Benedicitonal

Gilded letters D and S

Letters D and S in the Aethelwold style

The third and fourth manuscripts were written about the same time but one written in Bury St Edmonds the other in the Holy Land – the latter providing context for my study.

lettering of the Bury Bible

Bury Lettering on the hand bound book of letters

The Bury Bible is an example of High Romanesque style, written c.1130-1135 AD, and is a spectacular work of art by the hand of Master Hugo, considered one of the earliest professionally documented artists in England.

letter A gilded in 23 ct gold leaf

Gilded letter A from the Bury Bible

letter N Bury Bible

Illuminated Letter N based on the Bury Bible manuscript

The Melisende Psalter was my fourth and final study.

melisend Psalter pic of dissertation work

Gilded letters and hand bound book of lettering based on the Melisende Psalter

It is written in the style known as ‘protogothic’ by a group of six artists and a scribe, thought to be of French or Italian origin, in the scriptorium of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, between 1134 and 1143 not long before the second crusade.

Illuminated letter A

Letter A from the Melisende Psalter, painted with Azurite and Terre Verte.

gilded letter B

Here’s B taken from the Melisende Psalter – painted in egg tempera with lapiz lazuli and terre verte.

My choice was also influenced by the availability of clear letter examples within the manuscripts. I was looking for enough images of each letter to study and compose an alphabet in the spirit of the original. That’s more than enough for now. Hope it has sparked a little interest in the subject!

letter C

Last example from the Melisende Psalter – letter C

Before I sign off,  I would like to say a big thank you to those who take the trouble to get in touch. I really appreciate hearing from you:-)

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie