Learn how medieval artists transformed materials found in plants, minerals, and animals to create beautiful illuminated manuscripts. Participants will learn to identify common medieval materials and techniques used in manuscript illumination, and make a calligraphy tool.
Focusing On: Leaf from a Beatus Manuscript: Christ in Majesty with Angels and the Angel of God directs Saint John to Write the Book of Revelation, Spanish, ca. 1180. (1991.232.3), Secondary Focus: Gospel Book, Carolingian (France), ca. 825-50 (2015.560)
Jaharis Byzantine Lectionary, Byzantine Constantinople), ca. 1100 (2007.286).
Basic Steps to Making an Illuminated Manuscript
1. Choose whether the book pages will be Paper or Parchment
If on parchment, the parchment will need to be gently sanded then pumiced or pounced to remove oils from the skin's surface. When making a book, skins need to be rough cut into the proper size. Each gathering of folded skins should be arranged with hair side to hair side and membrane side (flesh side) to membrane side.
2. The layout or grid of each page needs to be determined and drawn onto the individual pages. Needle prickings are followed for the margins and all horizontal lines. These lines can be scored with a stylus or drawn with a metal point or pointed quill using black, gray or red ink.
3. The text is written in black calligraphy (most common) with special texts in red or blue. Blank space is left for Versals and Miniatures. One of the easiest ways to identify the time period and origin of a manusctript is through the identification of the calligraphic hand.
4. Versals (decorated letters) are created. And images are assigned to blank spaces.
5. Decorative borders and miniatures are drawn and inked.
6. Wherever gold or other precious metal leaf is desired, a mordant (glue for gilding) is painted and allowed to dry.
7. The mordant is gilded and burnished.
8. Painting begins only after the gilding and burnishing is completed.
Codicology, the study of the History of Book production techniques, quickly benefitted from advances in scientific conservation studies at the end of the 20th century. Spectral analysis of colors & binders and electron microscopic study of colors have given rise to new understanding of illuminated manuscripts. This century has seen more analytic study techniques develop. Palaeography, the study of the history of hand written texts (manuscripts), has benefitted from the mass digitization of manuscripts. Comparison of scribal practices around the world has improved due this increased availability.
Paper vs Parchment
Parchment is the generic term for animal skin that has been specially prepared for use as a writing and illumination surface. Parchment, traditionally made from sheep, goat or calf skin, differs from raw hide, in that it is tautly stretched and dried on a frame. It is not leather. The stretched skin is then scraped to a smooth surface on both sides. Paper is made from plant fibers that have been soaked and cooked in caustic solution until only cellulose fibers remain. Beaten to a pulp, these fibers are then felted into sheets and dried. Medieval and Renaissance papers, typically made from linen rags, are strengthens by being dipped into animal hide glue dried and hand polished to a smooth finish.
To Identify Parchment, look for hair, hair follicles, the animal’s spine, vein patterns, and horny bits.
Paper will have screen patterns, laid lines, and sometimes watermarks. It helps to have the support back lit.
The two most common black medieval inks are, 1. Lamp black (soot from a lamp) mixed with gum arabic, and 2. Oak Gall Ink also called gallo-tannic Ink and iron gall ink. It is made with ground oak galls (infusion), iron (II) sulfate, gum arabic and pure water.
Oak galls are where wasps lay their eggs in the leaves, twigs, and branches of oak trees. They are the best source of gallen and tannen. Easy to identify, oak galls are called oak apples in German. Warning: If you want to harvest oak galls, only collect galls with a hole (where the developed wasp flew away).
Gum arabic, the sap from an Acacia Tree from Sudan, is a paint binder and a food additive. It can be reconstituted with water when the paint dries. FYI It is the major ingredient in some brands of lolly pops.
Drawing Quill vs Calligraphy Quill Drawing quills are pointed while calligraphy quills are broad edged. When large birds are molting it is easy to find flight feathers where the birds feed or nest. Warning: Protect yourself from diseases (West Nile, etc.) by wearing gloves and disinfecting the feathers before use. Also, birds are irritable when they are molting and nesting.
Raised Gilding vs Flat Gilding
Gilding is the application of a thin leaf of precious metal to a surface. Typically, real gold leaf is 1/250,000 of an inch thick. The mordants (glues) for gilding will create either a raised or flat effect. Flat gilding emphasizes the surface texture of the support, while raised gilding looks like a piece of smooth gold was glued to the surface.
24k gold is pure gold while 12k white gold is 50% gold and 50% silver by weight. The different colors of gold are created by the addition of different alloys such as copper, silver and zinc.
Gilding: Wherever gold or other precious metal leaf is desired, a mordant (glue for gilding) is painted and allowed to dry.
Raised gilding requires a gesso that raises that gilding like a pillow. Flat gilding is on a thin layer of glue.
The mordant is gilded and burnished (polished).
If tooling is to be added, it is done after the burnishing. The best tooling is done on raised gilding.
Basic Ingredients for Medieval Paint
Every paint needs: 1. A color source whether it is a dye or a pigment, 2. A binder (glue) that adheres the color to the support and the color to itself creating a film of paint. Glair (specially prepared egg white was the most common binder used in illuminated mss.), tempera (egg yolk), gum arabic (tree sap) and size (gelatine) are the most common medieval paint binders, 3. A vehicle makes the paint flow. Water is the most common vehicle for manuscript painting, although some pigments do not flow in water and need alcohol as a surfactant or solvent.
Pigment and Color Sources
Colors sources were diverse: Colored earths / animal products such as eggshell, scale insects, ink sacs, and calcined bone / plant sources included roots, leaves, saps, resins, flower petals, stigmata / semiprecious stones and mineral stones were processed for their brilliant color / proto chemistry provided a growing list of metal based colors, many very toxic such as white lead
Making Pigment from Malachite Stone
Mortar and pestle can be made of metal, glass, clay or stone. Choosing the correct type of mortar and pestle is important when making pigments. Stone mortar and pestles are the best for grinding stones. They reduce the grinding time significantly.
Stones are best ground using small tapping motions. Take health precautions, like wearing a particle dust mask and gloves.
Once ground to sand, grind further to a fine powder.
The ground stone powder is poured onto a grinding slab.
The purest water is added to the powder.
Next, the Malachite is ground to a fine whispering powder, the consistency of baby powder using a heavy muller.
To make paint, a binder and vehicle must be added.
DYED FABRIC and CLOTHLETS
Many colors were unavailable as pigments and were only available as dyes. Multiple layers of dye on linen cloth were a convenient way to store rare colors. These clothlets were soaked in water where they released their transparent color.
Woad (Isatis tinctoria)- fermented leaves- its blue color comes from indigotin
Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria)- fermented leaves- its blue color comes from indigotin
Cochineal (scale insects-Dactylopius coccus)- the dried body of the female insect- its carmine color comes from carminic acid FYI: it is a major food coloring- Natural Red 4, also called carmine
Brazilwood (trees and raw wood: pernambuco and caesalpina)- the wood-(warning- brazilwood changes color upon contact with metal) colors- depending on the pH from orange-red, to red to purple- its color comes from brazilin
Weld (Reseda luteola)- the wholeplant except the roots- (warning- sensitive to over heating)- its yellow color comes from barbarin and resedine which are formed when the plant is crushed
Saffron (Crocus sativa)- use the stigmata of fall blooming crocus- its yellow to yellow-orange color comes from carotenoid crocin
Black Walnut Husks (Black walnut with hulls on nuts----- Juglans nigra)- moldy husks make the best for making dye and ink- its brown color comes from juglone (5-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone), plumbagin (yellow quinone pigments), and tannin
Oak gall dye (Aleppo oak galls and horned oak galls)- use the crushed oak galls- the best color is after 6 months- its grey to black to purple-blacks colors come from gallic and tannic acids
Madder (Rubia tinctoria- plant with pink roots showing)- used roots that are at least 2,years old and have dried in a root cellar for at least 2 years- color- pink to orange-brown to red to burgundy- its red color comes from alizarin and purpurin
Materials Used in Manuscript Production Changed with Local Climate, Geography, and Geology
Availability of resources dictated the materials used in each region. Animal husbandry determined the type of parchment used: Italy-goats, British Isles- sheep, and Belgium-cows. Blues fromWoad was used in colder northern Europe while Indigo grew in warm regions. Local veins of useful green, yellow, white, blue and red earth were well guarded artist secrets. While copper mines, with Malachite and Azurite were scattered around Europe, Lapis lazuli, the source of the highly prized ultramarine blue, only came from the Sar-e-Sang mines in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. The trade routes with the east were the European manuscript illuminators’ source for lapis, kermes, rose madder, dragonsblood, etc. With the advancement of protochemistry, new colors, such as red lead and vermilion quickly became fashionable.