Left: Plate I. Initials by English Illuminators, 12th and 13th Centuries. Right: Letters from an Alphabet of the Fifteenth Century. from Lessons in the Art of Illuminating by W. J. Loftie. Source: Project Gutenberg EBook #40423 produced by Chris Curnow, Matthew Wheaton and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Description of Plate I

Loftie's decorated initial D

esigned by English illuminators of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the initials on this Plate must be separately described. Those at the left top corner are the oldest, and show a certain stiffness of form and dulness of color which contrasts strongly with the spirit and lightness of the letters to the right side of the Plate. These letters, which may be found in manuscripts of many different periods, should be carefully studied. There are some examples in which the initial is simply red or blue, as the case may be. Next it is red and blue combined, the two colors being carefully kept apart by a narrow line of white, which the student will do well not to mark with white paint but to leave out by delicate manipulation. Next the edge of the letter both within and without is followed with a line of red or blue drawn a little way from it and never touching. Then the space so marked within the letter is filled by a tracery of slight flourishes in red and blue, the latter always predominating in the whole design so as to obtain the more harmony of effect. The blue and gold letters are very sparingly treated with red. The blue is Prussian, but very deep in tint in the original. (Addl. MSS. 11,435.)

The initial S in the lower left-hand corner is of earlier date. It will probably, like the letters above it, be seldom used for ornamental purposes, and it will suffice here to mention that the colors used are as follows:—Cobalt raised with Chinese White for the blue parts; for the red, Vermilion shaded with Lake; and for the cool pale olive tint, Indigo and Yellow Ochre, toned with Chinese White.

The large initial E shows a sacred scene, and is of English late thirteenth century work, in a private collection. The harmony is studiously correct, and the original, which is slightly larger, glows with color. It is rather more than four inches square. The figures are firmly outlined, as are their draperies. The gold is leaf, the architectural portion being left very flat, but the nimbus and the border are burnished. It has been found impossible to reproduce exactly the pattern of the ground in chromo-lithography, but as it may readily be done by hand, a description taken direct from the original will be acceptable to the pupil. The blue ground within the letter is dark: on it is ruled a square cross-bar of deep olive lines of great fineness. Intersecting them, and so to speak keeping them down, is a net-work of very fine nearly white lines, the points of intersection being marked by minute circles. Within the little spaces thus divided are minute circles of vermilion. The outer groundwork is of olive diapered with a deeper shade of the same color. The ground outside the letter is pink divided into squares by brown lines, each square having a little red circle in it. The edges of the draperies are marked by minute white lines, and there is less shading than in the reproduction. Altogether this letter represents the best work of the period, and is an admirable example of the painstaking care by which alone great effects are produced. Even a genius, such as was the artist who produced this little picture, must condescend to take infinite trouble if he would obtain an adequate reward.


Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.

Loftie, W. J. . Lessons in the Art of Illuminating: A Series of Examples selected from Works in the British Museum, Lambeth Palace Library, and the South Kensington Museum.. London: London: Blackie & Son, nd. “The Colored Illustrations are Printed by W. G. Blackie & Co., Glasgow, from Drawings by J. A. Burt.” Project Gutenberg EBook #40423 produced by Chris Curnow, Matthew Wheaton and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. Web. 11 January 2014.

Last modified 11 January 2014