Plate IX (Frontispiece)
J. A. Burt
Lessons in the Art of Illuminating by W. J. Loftie
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Description of Plate VIII
Such measure of perfection as had been attained by English illuminators in the latest period is well illustrated by this Plate. It is from a Book of Hours in the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth. Leave to copy it was kindly accorded to us by His Grace the late lamented Archbishop Tait. The volume is square in shape and rather thick, the vellum not being of the fineness seen in the Bibles of the thirteenth century, already noticed. It is numbered 474 in the Catalogue, and is described by Mr. S. W. Kershaw, f.s.a., in his book on the Art Treasures of the Lambeth Library, who assigns it to the early part of the fifteenth century.
The illuminations in this book are admirable examples of what is known as the English flower pattern, a style, as we have already observed, which was as peculiar to our insular artists as the Perpendicular style in architecture. It was used for all kinds of manuscripts, and even law deeds are sometimes to be seen thus ornamented. Even after the invention of printing it continued to flourish for a while; and books are sometimes found printed on vellum abroad, and illuminated in England with the beautiful native flower pattern in borders and initials.
Mr. Kershaw observes regarding the book from which the present page has been taken: "This, a very nice example, is fairly written, and ornamented with a profusion of beautiful illuminated initials of English art. The volume contains but two miniature paintings, the remainder usually found in MSS. of this class having been abstracted. The initial letters vary in size and pattern; they are all upon backgrounds of gold, and frequently form with their finials short marginal ornaments of elegant tracery work. Pink, blue, and orange brown are the prevailing colors, the blue being often heightened on the outer edge with flat white tints. The larger initials are rich in design and varied in their coloring, and would supply the artist or amateur with abundant materials for study."
I would desire to call the student's attention to one or two points of importance. In imitating or copying work of this kind it is well to observe that though the artist appears to have used the utmost freedom of line and direction, he has really been most careful in his composition. The initial O comes well out from among its surroundings, and is not overpowered by the weight of its dependent ornament. The scroll-work requires especial attention. That which fills the centre of the letter appears to press tightly against the edge, and is so arranged as to fill completely the vacancy for which it is intended. There is nothing limp about it. Too often modern work can be detected by its want of what I must call the crispness of the original.
With regard to the writing, it will be observed that a great change in the form of the letters has taken place since the thirteenth century. The difference between u and n is often hardly perceptible, and has led to many curious mistakes. Nevertheless, if the student is careful about such particulars, this is a very beautiful style, and admirably suited for modern requirements. The colors used by the artist who copied this page were as follows:—for the blue, Prussian, lined and dotted with Chinese White; for the pink, Lake and Chinese White, shaded with the same color darker; the deepest shadows are Lake; for the orange, pale Indian Yellow for the lights, shaded with Burnt Sienna, and Lake for the deepest shadows.
In some books illuminated in this style the centre of the letter is occupied with a scene containing figures, and occasionally a picture extends across the page, the initial fitting close up to it. The picture, in this case, is always surrounded with a double line or framework of blue, or red, and gold; and the color has a delicate white line on it, and occasionally gives out a branch which, crossing the gold line, bursts into flower in the margin. This style was largely used for official documents for a long period, and many excellent facsimiles representing examples are to be found as frontispieces to the volumes of the Roll Series. It lasted with more or less modification until the
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