History, Theory, and Practice of Illuminating/Present

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Illumination, in whatever form practised, can never be properly regarded as any other than one of the genera into which the art of Polychromatic decoration may be subdivided. What was originally termed illumination, was simply the application of minium or red lead, as a colour or ink, to decorate, or draw marked attention to, any particular portion of a piece of writing, the general text of which was in black ink. The term was retained long after the original red lead was almost entirely superseded by the more brilliant cinnabar, or vermilion. As ornaments of all kinds were gradually superadded to the primitive distinctions, marked in manuscripts by the use of different-coloured inks, the term acquired a wider significance, and, from classical times to the present, has always been regarded as including the practice of every description of ornamental or ornamented writing.

Because such embellishments were, during the early and Middle Ages, and, in fact, until long after the invention of printing, almost invariably executed on vellum, there is no reason whatever why illumination should be applied to that material, or to paper, which has taken its place, only; wood, metal, slate, stone, canvass, plaster, all may be made to receive it. Again: because ancient illumination was almost entirely executed in colours, in the use of which water and some glutinous medium were the only "vehicles," there is no reason why modern illumination should not be worked in oil, turpentine, encaustic, fresco, tempera, varnish, and by every process in which decorative painting is ever wrought in these days. It is in such an extension that the most valuable functions of the art are likely to consist in all time to come. That utilitarian application which it, originally and for so many centuries, found in the production of beautiful books, copies of which could be elaborated by no other means than hand labour, has been, to a great extent, superseded by chromolithography and chromotypy. No doubt a wide field for useful, and even productive labour, is still left to the practical illuminator on paper and vellum, in designing and preparing exquisite originals for reproduction by those processes, as well as in the rich and tasteful blazoning of pedigrees, addresses, family records and memorials, and in the illustration for presentation, or for private libraries, of transcripts from favourite authors; but, at the same time, an equally elegant and useful application of the art would be to enrich ceilings, walls, cornices, string-courses, panels, labels round doors and windows, friezes, bands, chimney-pieces, and stained and painted furniture in churches, school-rooms, dwellings, and public buildings of all kinds, with beautiful and appropriate inscriptions, of graceful form and harmonious colouring. Such illumination would form, not only an agreeable, but an eminently useful decoration. How many texts and sentences, worthy, in every sense, of being "written in letters of gold," might not be thus brought prominently under the eyes of youth, manhood, and old age, for hope, admonition, and comfort. No more skill, energy, and taste are requisite for the production of this class of illumination than are essential for satisfactory work upon vellum and paper; and while in the one case the result of the labour may be made an incessant enjoyment for many, in the other, it is seldom more than a nine-days' wonder, shut up in a book or portfolio, and seen so seldom as scarcely to repay the amateur for the expense and trouble involved in its execution.

This, if I may be allowed the term, manifold application of forms, primarily available for book decoration only, has not been lost sight of in the selection and arrangement of the illustrations, both in this and in the "Historical Manual." Mr. Tymms has, with excellent judgment, so arranged them as to lead the student who may occupy himself in copying them, or enlarging from them, gradually onwards from the comparatively easy to the more difficult varieties of the art. Adopting, in all cases, the alphabet of capital letters as a starting-point, the beginner will do well to learn to write before attempting to learn to draw: he should copy the alphabet, say on Plate I., fig. 1, on waste paper—common cartridge, or paper-hanger's lining paper, will be best—many time; at first, in fac-simile, then twice the size as printed, then four times, then eight times, until he may be able to form letters as much as six inches high, correctly. Having so far mastered the capitals, let him try in exactly the same way to produce and reproduce the same text, or lower-case letters in which the passages from Scripture, say Plate No. 1, fig. 2, have been written. Let him then try a sentence not given in the plates, using for it the capital and lower-case letters he has been learning how to form, and let him work out his own sentence in as many different sizes as he has previously tried Mr. Tymms's in. By the time he has drawn the enriched initial letters of the same plate several times, he will find that his eye and hand will have probably gained sufficient command to justify his attempting to copy, in outline as before, on waste paper, and both on a small and large scale, the ornaments given on Plate No. 3. In the intervals between his outline studies, the young illuminator may occupy himself in mastering the instructions given in this volume, so that he may have a general idea of the theory of the different processes before be commences an attempt to put them in practice. His first lesson in colouring should then commence by his attempting to colour Plate No. 3, in fac-simile of Plate No. 2.

It will be well to begin gilding and silvering with shell-gold and aluminium, reserving for more advanced experiments the use of gold or silver paper and leaf. The student may then with advantage copy in outline, first of all the outline Plate No. 6, inking it in so as to produce, on fine-grained drawing paper or card, a fac-simile of the printed plate. He should next proceed to colour the printed plate to correspond with Plate No. 5. Avoiding any defects he may have made in this operation, he may colour his own outline as he had done the printed one; he will then find himself able to copy both outline and colour on a small scale.

In his next set of lessons a much heavier demand will be made on his capabilities.

To satisfactorily reproduce, either upon the same or upon an enlarged scale, the compact black letter of Plate VII., and the solid brilliant colours of Plate VIII., with the golden grounds, which should in this case be highly burnished, will be found a much more difficult task than any yet encountered. The student must not be discouraged by a little failure at first. The technical operations of illumination are essentially manipulative, and like the fingering of a musical instrument, must be learnt by frequent and active exercise. The mere degree of skill requisite to enable the artist to lay on a perfectly flat tint of very strong or of very delicate colour, is only likely to be acquired after he may have washed some fifty different tints, more or less cloudy and muddled. Few hands will be found capable of tracing out a pure, firm, even outline, of equal thickness and force in every part, with either pen, pencil, or brush, which have not made many a score of ragged, feeble, or blotched attempts at steadiness. To keep a number of lines perfectly upright, parallel, or evenly spaced, demands an amount of dexterity which can only be gained by laborious practice. The student must not therefore feel discouraged if at first his hand may scarcely answer to the call made upon it. The failure of to-day, with proper attention and perseverance, may become the germ of the success of to-morrow; all that is essential is never on one day to repeat the fault of its predecessor. Nothing will tend to give the beginner greater confidence than the habit of working out the same forms and processes upon various scales. Taking, for instance, such an initial letter as the P, fig. 1, Plate X.; it would be an improving lesson to copy it in pen-and-ink outline, exactly as it is shown, and then to copy it, say six times the size given on the plate, thickening the lines, of course, in proportion. Then let the student once again try to copy it in fac-simile, and he will himself be probably surprised to find how much better and more easily he will accomplish his task than he was enabled to do on his first trial. A corresponding experiment, involving the application of gold and brilliant colours, such as would be essential to a reproduction of figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, of Plate II., on various scales, will be found probably no less useful and satisfactory.

Technical Manual. Plate No I.
IXTH Century.

Plate I

From the Charlemagne Bible, British Museum, Add. 10,546.

A similar technical principle to that which has governed the selection and order of the plates in this manual has also determined those in its companion, the "Historical Manual."

Beginning with the simpler conventional styles of the Carlovingian school, in Plates I., II., and III. (from the fragments of the Bible of Charles the Bald, Harleian, 7,551), involving outline and flat tinting only, the student may advance to the lightly-shaded pen-work and foliation of the Romanesque style given in Plates IV., V., and VI., from the British Museum, Reg. 1, C. VII. In the purely mediæval illumination of the 14th century, Plates VII., VIII., and IX., from the British Museum (Reg. 1, D 1), the tints become more solid; while the raised and embossed gold, the complicated diapers, and more fully-shaded foliage, demand both considerable mechanical dexterity, and some real artistic capability on the part of the amateur, who would successfully revive the brilliant and powerful execution of the master-scribes of the Edwardian age. Towards the end of the 15th century, the miniatures of the illuminated books reflected the general advance made all over Europe in the art of painting. Imitative art rapidly superseded conventional, and although much ornament is freely introduced in combination with small pictures, it is made to participate in the general system of light and shade and arrangement of colour which dominates over the more essentially-pictorial portions of the decoration. Such a style of ornament is well shown in Plates X., XI., and XII., from the Bedford (so called) missal, and in the three last plates of this manual, from the beautiful Missal of Ferdinand and Isabella—British Museum, add. 18,851.

Thus the student will find, that his own progress will tally with the transitional changes of the art, from its infancy to its most artistic phase, and that long before he may have learnt enough to enable him to imitate successfully the miniature style of the 15th century, he may be in a position to produce tolerably satisfactory reproductions of the early and mediæval work.

Having thus suggested the most profitable mode in which the student can, I believe, make use of the beautiful examples Mr. Tymms has prepared for his assistance, I consider it well to proceed to offer to his notice such counsel, as may, I trust, tend to induce him not to rest contented with reproduction of old examples upon a small scale, but rather to extend the sphere of his studies and operations into the origination of a fresh and expanded system of decoration, based as a starting-point upon the labours of the most zealous masters of the craft.

In the few remarks I am about to offer in respect to what the Art of Illumination really should be now, I propose to treat briefly, but specifically, of its application to each of the different substances on which it may be most satisfactorily worked, in the following series: vellum, paper, tracing-paper, canvass, plaster, stone, metal, wood. Dealing with design only in this section of my essay, I propose, in the following and concluding one, to adhere to the same order in noticing the best processes by which amateurs may carry out the class of work I would recommend to their notice.

To commence, therefore, with vellum: it is obvious that good copies of ancient illuminated manuscripts can be made on this material only, for there is a charm about the colour and texture of well-prepared calf-skin, which no paper can be made to possess. For the same reason, and on account of its extraordinary toughness and durability, it is especially suitable for pedigrees, addresses, and other documents which it may be considered desirable to preserve for future generations. To transcribe on vellum and decorate the writings of ancient and modern authors so as to form unique volumes, appears to me—nowadays, when God gives to every man and woman so much good hard work to do, if they will but do it—little else than a waste of human life. In days when few could read, and pictures drawn by hand were the only means within the reach of the priesthood, of bringing home to the minds of the ignorant populace the realities of Biblical history, and of stimulating the eye of faith by exhibiting to the material eye pictures of those sufferings and triumphs of saints and martyrs, on which the Church of Rome during the Middle Ages mainly based its assertions of supremacy, it was all very well to spend long lives of celibacy and monastic seclusion in such labours; but the same justification can never be pleaded again. I am quite ready to admit that the exceptional manufacture of these pretty picture-books may be not only agreeable, but even useful: it is the abuse, and not the occasional resort to the practice, I would venture to denounce. For instance, a mother could scarcely do a thing more likely to benefit her children, and to fix the lessons of love or piety she would desire to plant in their memories, than to illuminate for them little volumes, which, from their beauty or value, they might be inclined to treasure through life. Interesting her children in her work as it grew under her hand, how many precious associations in after-life might hang about these very books. Again: for young people, the mere act of transcription, independent of the amount of thought bestowed upon good words and pure thoughts, and the selection of ornament to appropriately illustrate them, would tend to an identification of the individual with the best and highest class of sentiments.

All that has been said with respect to illumination on vellum applies, with equal force, to illumination on paper. There has to be borne in mind, however, the essential difference that exists between the relative durability of the two substances. Elaboration is decidedly a great element of beauty in illumination: and neatly-wrought elaboration cannot be executed without care, patience, and a considerable sacrifice of time: why, therefore, bestow that care, patience, and time upon a less permanent material, when one only a trifle more costly, but infinitely more lasting, is as easily procured? Work on paper, therefore, only as you would write exercises or do sums upon a slate; learn and practise upon paper, but reserve all more serious efforts for vellum only. No effect can be got upon the former material, which cannot, with a little more dexterity, be attained upon the latter.

As none of the other substances mentioned as those on which illumination may be executed are available for making up into books, before proceeding to a consideration of the special conditions under which the art may be applied to them, I beg to offer the following recommendations with respect to design, as suitable for book-illustration generally.[1]

Firstly:—Take care that your text be perfectly legible; for, however cramped and confused the contents of many of those volumes we most admire may now appear, it is to be remembered that they were all written in the handwriting most easily read by the students of the periods in which they were written. The old scribes never committed the solecism of which we are too often guilty, of bestowing infinite pains on writing that which, when written, not one in a hundred could, or can, decipher.

Secondly:—Fix the scale of your writing and ornament with reference to the size of your page, and adhere to it throughout the volume. This rule, which was rigidly observed in all the best periods of the art, is incessantly disregarded in the present day; and to such an extent, that not only does scale frequently differ, as we turn page after page, but the same page will frequently exhibit scroll-work, derived from some great choral folio, interwreathed with leafage borrowed from some pocket Missal or Book of Hours.

Thirdly:—If you adopt any historical style or particular period as a basis on which your text, miniatures, or ornamentation are to be constructed, maintain its leading features consistently, so as to avoid letting your work appear as though it had been begun in the 10th century, and only completed in the 16th; or, as I have once or twice seen, vice versâ. For however erratic changes of style may appear to be in Art, as they run one another down along the course of time, it will be invariably found that there exists a harmony between all contemporary features, which cannot be successfully disregarded; and this it is which has ever rendered eclecticism in art a problem,—not impossible, perhaps, to solve, but one which, as yet at least, has never met with a satisfactory practical solution.

Fourthly:—Sustain your energies evenly throughout your volume; for, remember, your critics will estimate your powers, not by your best page, but by a mean struck between your best and your worst. Book illumination is generally looked upon as microscopic work, demanding the greatest exactitude; and whatever merits any page may display, they will go for little, if that page is disfigured by a crooked line, or a single leaf insufficiently or incorrectly shadowed; and the greater the merit, the more notable the drawback.

Fifthly:—Rigidly avoid contrasting natural with conventional foliage. Adopt which you like, for by either beautiful effects may be produced; but mix them, and the charm of both is gone. Natural foliage may be successfully combined with any other varieties of conventional ornament, excepting those based upon natural foliage.

Sixthly:—Take care that some at least of your dominant lines and borders are kept parallel to the rectangular sides of your pages; for unless your flowing and wayward ornaments are corrected by this soberer contrast, they will, however beautiful in themselves, have a straggling and untidy appearance in the volume. Where the lines of text are strongly marked, as in black ink on a white ground, and the page is so far filled with text as to leave but little space for ornament, this rule may be, to a great extent, disregarded, for the lines of the text will themselves supply the requisite contrast to the flowing forms; but where the page is nearly filled with ornament, or when the text is faint only, as in gold lettering on a white ground, it becomes imperative.

Seventhly:—Be decided, but temperate, in your contrasts of colour. It would obviously exceed the limits of these notes to attempt in them to enter upon the principles of the "harmony of colour;" they must be studied from treatises specially devoted to the subject. Such study must, however, be accompanied by constant experiment and practice; for it would be as foolish to expect a man to be a good performer upon any instrument, because he had learnt the theory of music, as it would be to suppose that he must necessarily paint in harmonious colouring, because he studied the theory of balance in combination. To the experienced eye and hand, functions become intuitive, which, to the mere theorist, however profound, are toil and weariness of spirit.

Such are a few of the rules, by attention to which the illuminators of old achieved some of their happiest effects, and which can never be safely disregarded by those who would emulate their efforts.

In taking up the class of substances on which illumination, as applied to general decoration, may be best executed, we meet, firstly, with one occupying a somewhat intermediate position,—viz., tracing-paper. I term its position intermediate, because, it may be wrought upon in either oil or water colour; and because, when so wrought upon, it may be either mounted on paper or card, and so made to contribute to book or picture enrichment; or attached to walls or other surfaces, brought forward in oil-colours, and be so enlisted in a general system of mural illumination. How this may best be done technically will be hereafter described; here I may notice only the use which may be made of this convenient material, by many not sufficiently advanced in design or drawing to be able to invent or even copy correctly by free hand, and yet desirous of embellishing some particular surface with decorative illumination. For instance, let it be desired to fill a rectangular panel of any given dimension with an illuminated inscription. Take a sheet of tracing-paper the exact size, double it up in both directions, and the creases will give the vertical and horizontal guidelines for keeping the writing square and even: then set out the number of lines and spaces requisite for the inscription, fixing upon certain initial letters or alphabets for reproduction on an enlarged scale, from this work, or any other of a similar kind, and making the height of the lines correspond therewith. Then lay the tracing over either the original or the rough enlargement, and trace with pen, pencil, or brush, each letter in succession, taking care to get each letter into its proper place, in reference to the whole panel, to the letter last traced, and to the other letters remaining to be traced. When this is completed, trace on whatever ornaments may best fill up the open spaces and harmonize with the style of lettering. When the tracing is completed, with a steady hand pick in all the ground-tint, keeping it as even as possible; and heighten the letters or ornaments in any way that may be requisite to make them correspond with the models from which they may have been taken. By adopting this method of working, with care and neatness of hand, very agreeable results may be obtained, without its being indispensable for the illuminator to be a skilful draughtsman. The tracing-paper may be ultimately attached to its proper place, and finished off, as will be hereafter recommended; and, if cleverly managed, it will be impossible to detect that that material has ever been employed.

Technical Manual. Plate No II.
IXTH Century.

Plate II

From the Charlemagne Bible, British Museum, Add. 10,546.

Technical Manual.
Outline for coloring.
Plate No III.
IXTH Century.

Plate III

From the Charlemagne Bible, British Museum, Add. 10,546.

The special convenience of illuminating upon canvass is, that instead of the operator having to work either from a ladder or scaffold, or on a vertical or horizontal surface, he may do all that is necessary at an easel or on a table on terra firma. His work when completed may be cut out of the sheet of canvass on which it has been painted, and may be fastened to the wall, ceiling, or piece of furniture for the decoration of which it may have been intended. All that is essential, with respect to the designs which may be wrought upon it, is, to take care that they are fitted for the situations they may be ultimately intended to occupy. Thus it must be obvious that it would be an entire waste of time to elaborate designs destined to be fixed many yards from the eye, as minutely as those which would be in immediate proximity to it. No branch of designing illuminated or other ornament requires greater experience to succeed in than the adjustment of the size of parts and patterns to the precise conditions of light, distance, foreshortening, &c., under which they are most likely to be viewed.

Illumination on plaster may be executed either in distemper, if the walls or ceiling have been sized only, or in oil if they have been brought forward in oil-colours. The former is the most rapid, but least durable process. Hence decoration is usually applied in oil to walls which are liable to be rubbed and brushed against, and in distemper, to ceilings, which are, comparatively speaking, out of harm's way. Very pretty decorations on plaster may be executed by combining hand-worked illumination with diapered or other paper-hangings. Thus, for instance, taking one side of a room, say about eleven feet high, to the under-side of the plaster cornice, mark off about a foot in depth on the wall from the bottom of the cornice, set out the width of the wall into three or more panels, dividing the panels by upright pilasters of the same width as the depth of the top border. At the height of about four feet from the ground mark off the top edge of another horizontal band, which make also one foot deep; continue on the lines of the pilasters to within six inches of the top of the skirting, and draw in a horizontal border, six inches high, running all round upon the top edge of the skirting: then paint, in a plain colour, a margin, three or four inches wide, all round the panels formed by the bands and pilasters, and let the paper-hanger fill in the panels with any pretty diapered paper which may agree with the style and colour in which you may desire to work your illumination. The side of your room will then present two horizontal lines—one next the cornice, and one at about dado-height, suitable for the reception of illuminated inscriptions. In setting these out, care must be taken to bring a capital letter into a line with the centre of each pilaster, so that a foliated ornament, descending from the upper inscription, and ascending from the lower one, may meet and intertwine on the pilasters, forming panelled compartments for the introduction of subjects, if thought desirable.[2]

It is by no means necessary for the sides of these pilasters, or the bounding lines of the bands containing inscriptions, to be kept straight; they may be varied at pleasure, so long as they are kept symmetrical in corresponding parts, and uniformly filled up with foliation emanating from, or connected with, the illuminated letters. Agreeable results may be produced by variations of such arrangements as the one suggested. Frequently round doors, windows, fireplaces, &c., inscriptions may be executed with very good effect, either on label-scrolls or simple borders, and with greater or less brilliancy of colour, according to the circumstances of the case. Often simplicity and quiet have greater charms than glitter or brilliancy; thus black and red, on a light-coloured ground, the most primitive combination in the history of writing, is always sure to produce an agreeable impression: blue, crimson, or marone on gold, or vice versâ, are no less safe: black, white, and gold, counterchanged, can hardly go wrong.

Few amateurs will be likely to attempt illuminations upon plaster ceilings, owing to the great difficulty they will experience in working overhead with a steady hand. They will generally do wisely—to execute the principal portions on paper, tracing-paper, or canvas,—to fasten them up, as will be hereafter directed,—and to confine the decoration actually painted on the ceiling, to a few panels, lines, or plain bands of colour, which may be readily executed by any clever house-painter or grainer, even if altogether ignorant of drawing and the art of design. The most beautiful illuminated ceiling of mediæval times I believe to be that of the chapel in the celebrated Jacques Cœur's house, at Bourges, in France. It is vaulted, and each compartment contains inscribed labels held by floating angels. The white draperies of the angels are relieved on a delicate blue ground only, so that the stronger contrast of the black writing on the white labels gives a marked predominance to the inscriptions; which, being arranged symmetrically, produce in combination agreeable geometrical figures.

Most of the preceding remarks apply equally to stone; but in reference to that material, there is one point to specially enforce,—namely, the advisability of not covering the whole of the surface with paint. There is about all stone a peculiar granulation, and in many varieties a slight silicious sparkle, which it is always well to preserve as far as possible. Illuminate, by all means, inscriptions, panels, friezes, &c., colour occasionally the hollows of mouldings, and gild salient members sufficiently to carry the colour about the monument, whether it may be a font, a pulpit, a tomb, a reredos, a staircase, a screen, or a doorway, and prevent the highly-illuminated portion from looking spotty and unsupported; but by no means apply paint all over. It is not necessary to produce a good effect; it destroys the surface and appearance of the stone, making it of no more worth than if it were plaster, and it clogs up all the fine arrises and angles of the moulded work or carving. Wherever stained glass is inserted in stonework, the application of illumination, or at any rate of coloured diaper-work of an analogous nature, is almost an imperative necessity, in order to balance the appearance of chill and poverty given to the stonework by its contrast with the brilliant translucent tints of the painted glass. In illuminating stonework, it seldom answers to attempt to apply decoration executed on paper or canvass; it should in all cases (excepting when it is at a great distance from the eye) be done upon the stone itself. The only exception is the one to which I shall allude in speaking of metal.

Slate, although from its portability and non-liability to change its shape under variations of temperature, a convenient material for filling panels, and forming slabs for attachment to walls, is not to be recommended to the amateur, owing to the difficulty he will experience in effecting a good and safe adhesion between his pigments and the surface of the slate. In what is called enamelled slate, an excellent attachment is secured by gradually and repeatedly raising the slate to a high temperature; but the process would be far too troublesome and expensive for practice by the great majority of amateurs.

Metal in thin sheets is liable only to the objection from which slate is free,—namely, that it is difficult to keep its surface from undulation in changes of temperature. In all other respects, both zinc, copper, lead, and iron, bind well with any oleaginous vehicle, and offer the great convenience that they may be cut out to any desired shape, and attached to any other kind of material by nails, screws, or even by strong cements, such as marine glue. Zinc is, perhaps, the best of all, as it cuts more readily than copper or iron, and keeps its shape better than lead; care should, however, be always taken to hang it from such points as shall allow it to freely contract and expand. If this is not attended to, its surface will never remain flat. It is a material particularly well adapted for cutting out into labels to surmount door and window arches, or to fill the arcading of churches and chapels, and to be illuminated with texts or other inscriptions. Very beautiful effects may be produced by combining illumination with the polished brass-work which is now so admirably manufactured by Messrs. Hardman, Hart, and others. Care should, however, be taken not to overdo any objects of this nature. Let the main lines of construction always remain unpainted, so that there may be no question as to the substance in which the article is made, and restrict the application of coloured ornament or lettering to panels, and, generally speaking, to the least salient forms. Of course, where it can be afforded, enamelling offers the most legitimate mode of illuminating metal-work; and ere long it is to be hoped that the beautiful series of processes by means of which so much durable beauty of colour was conferred on Mediæval metal-work may be restored to their proper position in British Industry, and popularized as they should, and, I believe, might readily be.

To woodwork, illumination may be made a most fitting embellishment; and the application of a very little art will speedily be found to raise the varnished deal cabinet or bookcase far above the majority of our standard "institutions" in the way of heavy and expensive mahogany ones, in interest at least, if not in money value. Almost every article of furniture may thus be made, as it were, to speak and sympathize; for the return every decorated object makes to the decorator is always in direct proportion to the amount of life and thought he has put into his work. It is a common saying, that, "what comes from the heart goes to the heart;" and in nothing does it hold good more than in the production of works of art of all kinds, including Illumination, which, through its special dealing with written characters, has so direct an access to the intellect and affections.

In all appeals the decorative artist can make to the brain through the eye, he has open to him two distinct channels of communication in making out the scheme of his ornamentation,—the one by employing conventional forms,—and the other by introducing representations of natural objects. In the former he usually eschews light, shade, and accidental effects altogether; and in the latter he aims at reproducing the aspect of the object he depicts as nearly as possible as it appears to him. Both modes have found favour in the eyes of the great illuminators of old, and by the best they have been frequently and successfully blended. Under the "conventional" series maybe classed all productions dependent on either an Oriental or Hiberno-Saxon origin; among the "natural," the later, Netherlandish, Italian, and French illuminations may be generally grouped; and, in a mixed style, the majority of the book-decorations of the Mediæval period.

To be enabled to recognize intuitively how to blend or contrast, to adopt or avoid, these different modes of treatment of ornament, is given to but few, and is revealed to those few only, after years of study and of practice. Rules may assist,[3] but can never suffice to communicate the power; work of the most arduous kind, and persistent observation, can alone bestow it. Still, with good models upon which to base his variations, and goodwill, the amateur may do much, and will probably best succeed by recurring incessantly to Nature, and combining direct, or nearly direct, imitation of Nature with geometrical lines and masses of colour symmetrically disposed. To aid his footsteps in this direction, I know no more convenient councillor than Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, whose historical introduction to his brother's "Manual of Illuminated and Missal Painting" contains some just remarks upon the subject.[4]

Technical Manual. Plate No IV.
XIITH Century.

Plate IV

From British Museum, Harl. 2804.

Having thus rapidly touched upon the series of materials upon which the Art may be brought to bear, and the leading principles of design suitable under different circumstances, I proceed to suggest the class of "legends," as the mediæval decorators called them, likely to prove most fitting for special situations. No doubt many more apt and piquant may suggest themselves to some practical illuminators than the few I have culled (with the assistance of one or two kind friends), principally from old English writers; but to others, those I now present may not be without, at any rate, a convenient suggestiveness. Something similar to the following I would recommend for the embellishment of ceilings, friezes, string-courses, or flat walls of the different apartments indicated. Of some I have given four lines—one, say, for each side of a room; of others but a line, such as might go over a door. Between the two are many suitable for panels or irregular situations; and in one or two cases passages of many lines have been chosen, fit for illumination on vellum or paper, and for framing to hang up in the apartments specified, or to be inserted in panels or furniture or on screens.


"For trouble in earth take no melancholy;
Be rich in patience, if thou in goods be poor.
Who lives merry, he lives mightily;
Without gladness avails no treasùre."
Wm. Dunbar.

"Since earthly joy abideth never,
Work for the joy that lestis ever;
For other joy is all in vain;
All earthly joy returns in pain."

"Who shuts his hand hath lost his gold;
Who opens it, hath it twice told."
George Herbert.

"No bliss so great but cometh to an end;
No hap so hard but may in time amend."
Robert Southwell.

"Freedom all solace to man gives;
He lives at ease, that freely lives."
John Barbour.

"That which is not good, is not delicious
To a well-governed and wise appetite."


"Order is Nature's beauty, and the way
To order is by rules that Art hath found."


"Boast not the titles of your ancestors,
Brave youths: they're their possessions, none of yours.
When your own virtues equall'd have their names,
'Twill be but fair to lean upon their fames,
For they are strong supporters; but till then
The greatest are but growing gentlemen."
Ben Jonson.


"A good digestion turneth all to health."

"If anything be set to a wrong taste,
'Tis not the meat there, but the mouth's displeased.
Remove but that sick palate, all is well."
Ben Jonson.

"Nature's with little pleased, enough's a feast;
A sober life but a small charge requires;
But man, the author of his own unrest,
The more he has, the more he still requires."

"To bread or drink, to flesh or fish,
Yet welcome is the best dish."
John Heywood.

"It is the fair acceptance, Sir, creates
The entertainment perfect, not the cates."
Ben Jonson, Epigrams, ci.

"No simple word
That shall be utter'd at our mirthful board,
Shall make us sad next morning."

"To spur beyond
Its wiser will the jaded appetite,
Is this for pleasure? Learn a juster taste,
And know that temperance is true luxury."
Armstrong, Art of Preserving Health, book ii.

"What an excellent thing did God bestow on man,
When He did give him a good stomach!"
Beaumont and Fletcher.

"The stomach is the mainspring of our system. If it be not sufficiently wound up to warm the heart and support the circulation, we can neither

Think with precision,
Sleep with tranquillity,
Walk with vigour,
Or sit down with comfort."
Dr. Kitchener.

"The destiny of Nations has often depended upon the digestion of a Prime Minister."—Dr. Kitchener.

"Is't a time to talk
When we should be munching?"
Justice Greedy, in Massinger's New Way to pay Old Debts.

"No roofs of gold o'er riotous tables shining,
Whole days and sums devoured with endless dining."
Crashaw's Religious House.

"Now good digestion wait on appetite,
And health on both."

"When you doubt, abstain."

"Where there is no peace, there is no feast."

"Not meat, but cheerfulness, makes the feast."
"Who carves, is kind to two; who talks, to all."
George Herbert.


"A feast must be without a fault;
And if 'tis not all right, 'tis nought."
King's Art of Cookery.

"Good-nature will some failings overlook,
Forgive mischance, not errors of the cook."


"Oppress not nature sinking down to rest
With feasts too late, too solid, or too full."
Armstrong, Art of Preserving Health.

"As men
Do walk a mile, women should talk an hour
After supper: 'tis their exercise."
Ben Jonson, Philaster, act 2, sc. 4.


"The nature of flowers Dame Physic doth show;
She teaches them all to be known to a few."
Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.

"The knowledge of stilling is one pretty feat,
The waters be wholesome, the charges not great."
Id. ibid.


"He that keeps nor crust nor crumb,
Weary of all, he shall want some."


"Music removeth care, sadness ejects,
Declineth anger, persuades clemency;
Doth sweeten mirth, and heighten piety,
And is to a body, often ill inclined,
No less a sovereign cure than to the mind."
Ben Jonson.

"Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears."
Shakspere, Merchant of Venice.

"Play on and give me surfeit."


"Tobacco's a physician,
Good both for sound and sickly;
'Tis a hot perfume,
That expels cold rheum,
And makes it flow down quickly."
Barten Holliday.

"Tobacco hic! Tobacco hic!
If you are well, 'twill make you sick;
Tobacco hic! Tobacco hic!
Twill make you well, if you are sick."


"Backe and syde goo bare goo bare,
Both hande and fote goo colde;
But belly, God sende the gode ale inoughe,
Whether hyt be newe or olde."
Bp. Still, in Gammer Gurton's Needle.

"The first draught serveth for health,
The second for pleasure,
The third for shame,
The fourth for madness."

"The greatness that would make us grave
Is but an empty thing;
What more than mirth would mortals have:
The cheerful man's a king."
Isaac Bickerstaff.


"If you your lips would keep from slips,
Five things observe with care:
Of whom you speak, to whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where."

"Every creature was decreed
To aid each other's mutual need."


"The love of gaming is the worst of ills;
With ceaseless storms the blacken'd soul it fills,
Inveighs at Heaven, neglects the ties of blood,
Destroys the power and will of doing good;
Kills health, poisons honour, plunges in disgrace."
Young, 4th Satire.

"Play not for gain, but sport: who plays for more
Than he can lose with pleasure, stakes his heart,
Perhaps his wife too, and whom she hath bore."
Geo. Herbert, The Church Porch.


"Rise with the lark, and with the lark to bed;
The breath of night's destructive to the hue
Of every flower that blows.
      *       *       *   Oh, there is a charm
Which morning has, that gives the brow of age
A smack of youth, and makes the life of youth
Shed perfume exquisite. Expect it not,
Ye who till noon upon a down bed lie,
Indulging feverous sleep."
Hurdis, Village Curate.

"Watch and ward,
And stand on your guard."
Izaak Walton.

"Sleep is Nature's second course."


"Since as you know, you cannot see yourself
So well as by reflection, I your glass
Will modestly discover to yourself
That of yourself which you yet know not of."


"Birth, beauty, wealth, are nothing worth alone.
All these I would for good additions take:
Tis the mind's beauty keeps the others sweet."
Sir Thomas Overbury, The Wife.

"'Tis beauty that doth oft make women proud;
'Tis virtue that doth make them most admired;
'Tis modesty that makes them seem divine."


"The apparel oft proclaims the man."


"Extend generosity, it is profuseness;
Confine economy, it is avarice;
Unbridle courage, it is rashness;
Indulge sensibility, it is weakness."

"Catch Time by the forelock; he's bald behind."
"Nothing is truly good that may be excell'd."
Motto of King Arthur's Table.

"He may do what he will that will but do what he may."
Arthur Warwick.

"God dwelleth near about us,
Ever within,
Working the goodness,
Consuming the sin."
Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, born 1554.


"Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge: it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections: unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength or nourishment."—Locke.

"Crafty men contemn studies; simple men admire them; and wise men use them."—Bacon.

"Read not to contradict and refute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider."—Idem.

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."—Idem.

"In reading, we hold converse with the wise; in the business of life, generally with the foolish."—Bacon.

"That place that does
Contain my books, the best companions, is
To me a glorious court, where hourly I
Converse with the old sages and philosophers."
J. Fletcher.

"Bookes are a part of man's prerogative,
In formal inke they thoughts and voyces hold,
That we to them our solitude may give,
And make time present travel that of old.
Our life fame peceth longer at the end,
And bookes it farther backward doe extend."
Sir Thomas Overbury, The Wife.

"Books should for one of these four ends conduce,—
For wisdom, piety, delight, or use."
Sir John Denham.

"Cease not to learne until thou cease to live;
Think that day lost wherein thou draw'st no letter,
Nor gain'st no lesson, that new grace may give
To make thyself learneder, wiser, better."
Quadrains of Pibrac, translated by Joshua Sylvester.

"Who readeth much and never meditates,
Is like a greedy eater of much food,
Who so surcloyes his stomach with his cates,
That commonly they do him little good."

"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."—Bacon's Essays—Of Studies.

"Calm let me live, and every care beguile,—
Hold converse with the great of every time,
The learn'd of ev'ry class, the good of ev'ry clime."
Rev. Samuel Bishop.

"Of things that be strange,
Who loveth to read,
In these books let him range
His fancy to feed."
Richard Robinson.


"O mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought's so vile that on the earth doth live,
But to the earth some special good doth give."

"Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee."


"There is no theam more plentifull to scan,
Than is the glorious, goodly frame of Man."
Joshua Sylvester's Du Bartas, 6th day.


"'Tis not enough that thou do no man wrong,—
Thou even in others must suppress the same,
Righting the weake against th' unrighteous strong,
Whether it touch his life, his goods, his name."
Quadrains of Pibrac, trans. by Joshua Sylvester.

"Upon the Law thy Judgments always ground,
And not on man: For that's affection-less.
But man in Passions strangely doth abound;
Th' one all like God: Th' other too like to beasts."
Id. cod.


"Abusèd mortals, did you know
Where joy, heart's ease, and comfort grow,
You'd scorn proud towers,
And seek them in these bowers;
Where winds, perhaps, sometimes our woods may shake,
But blustering care can never tempest make."
Sir Henry Wotton.

"We trample grasse, and prize the flowers of May;
Yet grasse is greene when flowers doe fade away."
Robert Southwell.

"Blest who no false glare requiring,
Nature's rural sweets admiring,
Can, from grosser joys retiring,
Seek the simple and serene."
Isaac Bickerstaff.


"Omnia Somnia."

"Gae, silly worm, drudge, trudge, and travell,
So thou maist gain
Some honour or some golden gravell:
But Death the while to fill his number,
With sudden call
Takes thee from all,
To prove thy daies but dream and slumber."
Joshua Sylvester, Mottoes.


"Have more than thou showest;
Speak less than thou knowest;
Lend more than thou owest;
Learn more than thou trowest."

"A spending hand that always poureth out,
Had need to have a bringer-in as fast;
And on the stone that still doth turn about
There groweth no moss: these proverbs yet do last."
Sir T. Wyatt.

"How many might in time have wise been made,
Before their time, had they not thought them so?
What artist e'er was master of his trade
Yer he began his prenticeship to know?

"To some one act apply thy whole affection,
And in the craft of others seldom mell;
But in thine own strive to attain perfection,
For 'tis no little honour to excell."
Quadrains of Pibrac, translated by Joshua Sylvester.

"If youth knew what age would crave,
Youth would then both get and save."

"Flee, flee, the idle brain;
Flee, flee from doing nought;
For never was there idle brain,
But bred an idle thought."

"Get to live; then live to use it, else it is not true that thou hast gotten."—G. Herbert.

"To him that is willing, ways are not wanting."


"Whoso trusteth ere he know,
Doth hurt himself and please his foe."
Sir Thomas Wyatt.

"Think much of a trifle,
Though small it appear;
Small sands make the mountain,
And moments the year."


"We take no note of time
But from its loss; to give it then a tongue
Is wise in man."
Young's Night Thoughts.


"Do not fear to put thy feet
Naked in the river sweet;
Think nor leach, or newt, or toad
Will bite thy foot, where thou hast trod."
Beaumont and Fletcher, Faithful Shepherdess.

With those still more admirable "legends" which may be selected from the Bible I do not meddle. In it golden words of comfort and admonition lie strewn so thickly, that error cannot be made by a selector. It may not be amiss, also, for the illuminator to remember, that not unfrequently "a verse may find him whom a sermon flies."

I cannot quit this portion of my theme without one word of summary, in the way of advice, to the designer of illumination, on whatever material applied. Briefly, then, let him eschew quaintness, and aim at beauty; let him not shrink from beauty in old times because it was masked in quaintness; but with a discriminating eye let him learn to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and, scattering the one to the winds, let him garner up the other in the storehouse of his memory, and for the sustenance of his artistic life; and let him rest assured that the best designers, in all ages, have been usually those who have gathered most widely and profoundly from the failures, successes, and experiences of their predecessors.

Technical Manual. Plate No V.
XIITH Century.

Plate V

From British Museum, Harl. 2804.

Technical Manual.
Outline for coloring.
Plate No VI.
XIITH Century.

Plate VI

From British Museum, Harl. 2804.

  1. Our good fortune in possessing at the present time, and in common use, a remarkably clear and easily intelligible set of alphabets, was thus admirably noted in an article in the Times newspaper of December 28th, 1859:— "Happily for us, the written symbols employed by the Romans, which are now the chief medium of expression for all the languages of Europe, America, Australia, and the greater part of civilized Africa, reflect exactly the rough and stalwart energy which made Rome to Europe what we are to the world. They have bestowed on us an alphabet as practically effective, and as suited to the capabilities of human vision, as any that could have been devised. This alphabet of ours is like an Englishman's dress—plain and manageable; not very artistically arranged, it may be, nor remarkable for copiousness or flow of outline, but sufficiently elastic and capable of extension. Its symbols have certainly no graceful curves like the picturesque Persian; but, better than all flourishes, each letter has plain, unmistakable features of its own. The vowels, which are to the rest of the alphabet what the breath, or rather life itself, is to the body, are assigned their legitimate position, and are formed to be written continuously with the consonants. Lastly, though scanty in itself, it is abundantly equipped with capital letters, stops, italics, and every appliance for securing rapid legibility, so that the eye can take in the subject of a page at a glance. Oriental alphabets are the very reverse of all this. They are complex, cumbersome, unmanageable." Much the same might have been said of many of the mediæval ones.
  2. For excellent examples, see plates Technical Manual, Nos. 7 and 8; and Historical Manual, Nos. 7 and 9.
  3. The best are contained in the writings of De Quincy, Owen Jones, Winkellman, Pugin, and Sir Charles Eastlake.
  4. See especially pages 24 to 28 inclusive, from which I transcribe a few elegant and suggestive passages:— "The student should keep," says Mr. Jewitt, "both in form and colour, as near to Nature as possible. No fantastic design can be so elegant as one copied and studied from Nature. What, for instance, can be more beautiful or more appropriate for intertwining with rich scroll-work than the convolvulus, the maurandia, the woodbine, the tropeolum, or the passion-flower? These painted upon a rich groundwork of diapered gold, or upon one of the beautiful grounds of the 15th century, composed of gold and blue or green, in fine waved or winding lines, crossing each other in every conceivable direction, form truly elegant studies, for almost all varieties of ornamentation. Whenever birds, insects, &c., are introduced, they should, as a general rule, be drawn true to nature; but they may, nevertheless, be turned and twisted into almost any position or shape. For instance, a lizard, with its beautiful emerald-green back, its yellow underparts, and rich brown mottlings, might be introduced with its long tail wrapped and twisted round the stem of a plant, and its little head, with brilliant eyes, shown just peeping out from under one of the beautiful flowers. The ladybird, with its bright red wings, covered with small black spots, might also be well introduced, creeping upon a leaf or stem. Hairy caterpillars, ants, beetles, snails, glow-worms, and even spiders, form also beautiful additions to a design, and may be introduced in almost any form or shape. Butterflies and moths, in their endless and beautiful variety, with their wings of every conceivable colour and shade, and of the most exquisite forms, are truly amongst the most beautiful and appropriate objects which the student can have for his mind to dwell upon. But not only these,—for occasionally a squirrel might be introduced perched upon the scroll-work; a cat, a goat, a dog, a monkey peeping out from behind a leaf; or, indeed, any animal, if artistically and naturally treated, may be introduced with really good effect. Flowers, fruits, shells, corn, &c., all add their beauties to a design; and, indeed, there is nothing in nature, no, not one object, but which may well be introduced into ornamental designing, and may be so translated and poeticised as to become appropriate to any subject."