Monday, November 30, 2020

Calf to Codex

 I don't think I ever posted about this back when it happened, so I figured now would be a good time.

In about 2010 (I think), Master Johannes von Narrenstein had a brilliant idea. We in the SCA, he posited, have all the skills needed to produce a book from start to finish. We have parchment makers and bookbinders, we have calligraphers and painters, we have people who make paints from scratch out of authentic pigments. Why not make a book?

The project took five years, and about seventy-five people, most of whom were poets and composers who provided the content for the book. But they did it, and Codex Mediterraneae is a thing that exists, and I and my child were part of it.

I don't have pictures of all the pages; I was given only the first "gathering" or "quire" of eight pages, and only had to write on about half of them. The very first poem was written about the Middle Kingdom's first king, and set to music in a style that honored the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. I took an online course in medieval music notation so that I could transcribe the music to medieval notation and make it "look right" for our book.

The lyrics and notation for the song.

Everything about this book was done as authentically as possible. The pages were parchment made from donated deer hides. The writing was done with black and red ink made from medieval recipes, and a goose quill pen. I was not allowed a pencil to sketch things, I was given a stick of lead! 

Here are as many photos as I could find of the project, with as little rambling commentary as possible.

Testing the inks and alphabet

A mockup of the text and notation of the first page.

Penciled guidelines for the pages

A marble slab to mull pigment, a bottle of gum arabic solution, a glass rod to stir them together, and a shell to put the paint in. I ended up not mulling the red at all.

Painting the guidelines onto the vellum, without a ruler; if you look closely, you can see where I scraped off the leftmost line because I got the spacing incorrect on it.

One page fully lined.

"On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, a song of history based upon the Agincourt Carol. Words by Nicolaa de Bracton; tune by Ursula Mortimer."

Lining the page for musical notation is not at all the same as lining it for text!

The page is paperclipped to my guidelines on all sides.

My practice sheet, with the modern notation above and medieval neumes on the bottom.

Copying the musical notes onto the page so that they line up correctly with the words.

Page two of the music. I only included notation for verse one and the refrain; the rest of the lyrics are written as poetry.

The remaining verses.

My favorite part of my assignment: The book curse!
"If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen." This is a translation of an actual book curse from the Middle Ages.

Preparation to mull pigments for paint.

Assistance with mulling azurite into a fine enough powder to make paint. This is my child, age 10 at the time.

Azurite behaves oddly in that it gets lighter the longer you mull it. The pale yellow-blue to the left is not what we wanted, but the darker blue is almost too gritty to paint with. It definitely added texture to the page, let's put it that way.

An example page from the 1400s of the illumination style we were to use. We were given several options to play with, but this was the style I preferred.

Sketching a beast modeled after one found on a tapestry dated to the early 1400s.

Preparing the gold leaf; as with the rest of the book, we were not to use modern adhesives. Behind the leaf, you can see a tiny jar of garlic juice.

Gilding upside down, as one does.

Burnishing the gold onto the page so that it will stay.

Sweeping away the excess to reveal the letter underneath.

Painting with garlic juice, in the areas where the gold is intended to stick.

A page of gilded initials.

A fully gilded page, ready to paint.

The gold is in place on this page but the excess has not yet been brushed away.

I always enjoy that before-and-after moment of gilding.

Base colors on the beast; the green is still wet here.

Vine work, leaves, and flowers are added to the golden bar.

The page fully illuminated.

Penwork around the initials on the music page; you can see where the gritty azurite failed to provide fine lines around the red "I".

Another page decorated and ready to go.

Not shown is my child assisting with the painting; the scales were laid out in white and then covered in blue, to give them good contrast with the green. My child painted the blue entirely without help.

Finally the beast was highlighted in shell gold, and delicate vines added around it. In closeup, it may be possible to see the name "Arrantxa" (my SCA name at the time) written inside part of the vine underneath the beast. It actually reads "Arrantxa et Celeste me fecit." Arrantxa and Celeste made me. Celeste was my child's SCA name at the time.

The book itself has traveled to many SCA events to be read and sung from, and has been featured in at least one magazine article. You can read it here.

The Calf to Codex Project remains to this day one of the highlights of my scribal career, and I'm proud to have been even a small part of it.

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