Armenian Nativity on Vellum
Every now and then, I come across a manuscript or icon that captivates me. This is one of those pieces. The original can be seen here attributed to Toros Roslin, the 13th century Armenian illuminator.
Although I’m currently working on a large nativity icon for the diploma (which we have to compose ourselves rather than copy) I side-tracked to paint this particular nativity scene on vellum as Aidan has encouraged us to study other icons to really get into the essence of the feast we have chosen.
Some 12 years ago, I went to Patricia Lovett’s Traditional Skills and Gilding course, which she ran over four days. I learnt how to stretch vellum and to prepare it for painting and gilding and she ignited an enthusiasm for this art which helped direct me towards embarking on the icon diploma. I had a piece of goatskin vellum from William Cowley already stretched on to a plywood board ready for painting so I set straight to work transferring the cartoon on to the vellum in the same way as I would for an icon, by rubbing red pigment in to the back of the cartoon paper, then setting the pigment with a watery red ochre line.
Next step was to lay the gesso for gilding. When we were on Patricia’s gilding course, she advised us to make detailed notes on the method. For anyone who would like to learn more, my notes from one of the gilding days are here and I would also recommend Patricia’s books and dvd’s on gilding available through her website. The ‘Gilding gesso on vellum’ notes can be downloaded as a pdf here.
First wash of Caput Mortuum pigment applied on the earth and shepherd.
Colour palette: Caput Mortuum, Azurite, Lapis lazuli dark, vermillion, terre verte, ivory black and titanium white.
All these pigments can be obtained from L. Cornelissen & Son, Great Russell Street, London where this piece is now on display as part of the Heritage Craft Association‘s exhibition with Cornelissen’s celebrating ‘Gold on Parchment’, for the upcoming London Craft Week, where some practical demonstrations will be taking place.
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