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’.
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:
Example of lettering from the Avranches manuscript
Samples of gilded lettering in the ‘Avranches’ style and the hand bound book of lettering.
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.
Examples of gilded letters and hand bound book of Aethelwold lettering
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 from the Aethelwold Benedicitonal
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.
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.
Gilded letter A from the Bury Bible
Illuminated Letter N based on the Bury Bible manuscript
The Melisende Psalter was my fourth and final study.
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.
Letter A from the Melisende Psalter, painted with Azurite and Terre Verte.
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!
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.