An illuminated letter based upon a page from the Bible or Borso D’Este 2013


I have just begun attending the local scribes college this year and have completed many pre drawn scrolls but decided to have an attempt at drawing up one of my own, and to over come my fear of entering kingdom level Art and Science competitions.
I looked through many illuminated manuscripts online until I found one that really stood out for me, the Bible of Borso D’Este.



This bible was commissioned by Borso D’Este, (1450-1471) the first duke of Ferrara, who intended it as a demonstration of the splendor of the House of Este, which at the time was competing with Florence and the court of the Medici for international status.

The work was completed between 1455 and 1461, the same time that Johann Gutenberg was producing the first printed bible from moveable type. The Borso D’este bible consists of two volumes with more than 1000 illuminations. The Illumination of the bible was done by a team lead by Taddeo Crivelli and Franco dei Russi, both very skilled and respected illuminators of their time. The leaves are all richly painted  with scenes from the Bible, historical events, the Estense coat of arms, and views of nature. The beginning of each of the books of the Bible is decorated with an elaborate architectural border and richly coloured designs. It is considered the pinnacle Of Ferrarese illumination.The text was written in a fine Renaissance hand by the Bolognese scribe Pietro Paolo Marone.

In 1598, following the transfer of Ferrara to papal control, the Estense family abandoned Ferrara for its new seat of ducal power in Modena, taking with them their paintings, sculptures, and books. The Bible remained in Modena until 1859, when the city became part of the new Kingdom of Italy. Francesco V d’Austria-Este fled to Vienna, taking with him many family possessions, including the Bible. In 1923, the industrialist Giovanni Treccani degli Alfieri acquired the Bible from a Parisian antiquarian bookseller. As a sign of respect for the Republic of Italy, he returned the Bible to the Biblioteca Estense in Modena. In the second half of the 18th century a new binding was made. The Bible was crudely trimmed and part of its decoration was lost from the upper and outer margins.

I began my piece by spending many hours looking at the illuminated pages of the bible. As this was my first attempt at drawing a scroll I tried to find a section I could simplify a little so the task was more manageable and that I knew I could complete in a reasonable time.
I came upon page 48, and the smaller designs with the large border caught my eye.


The entire page 48




The details inside the major border.
I began by ruling the frame and then pencil drawing the letter and flourishes on parchmentine paper. The original piece was completed on natural vellum paper, but due to its scarcity and cost these days I have used Parchementine,a more modern substitution that has similiar qualities.



Once I was satisfied that I have captured the essence of the piece I outlined in black ink using a crow quill. It was my first time using the crow quill so there was quite a bit of practising on a scrap piece of paper and I was extremely nervous about actually starting on the parchmentine. The line work on the bible look to be a darkish brown however I have used Windsor and Newton black ink as it was what I had on hand and budget did not allow me to purchase any further supplies. The original piece would have been done using a natural quill fashioned from feather and ink made from black soot.

The colours in the original bible were quite vivid and bold, so I felt that ti would be appropriate to keep in this scheme, however I changed it a little using a carmine red rather than the pinkish red shown in the original. The gold work in the bible is quite shiny and would have been real gold leaf applied using gesso, however as I am still learning and have not mastered the art of applying gold I leaf, I painted the gold pieces with gold gouache giving a similar but not quite as lustrous look. The colours in the original would have been made of various substances  that were ground up to create the paints however I have used all modern substitutes, Windsor and Newton gouache. The yellow line work on the letter was done using a yellow gouache and very fine brush, and the white was done with Doc Martins white and brush. Once all the colouring was complete, I went back and filled in some more of the flourishes where there seemed to be gaps as the original shows the filligree work coming in very close to the coloured pieces. I then re-inked some of the outlines.

I am fairly happy with the piece as a beginning, and hope to move on further and recreate some more parts of this magnificent bible. I am currently saving up to purchase a reprint of the bible so I can better see all the plates.

Many thanks to Baroness Branwen of Aneala, for her guidance and inspiration.

Sadly I did not keep a picture of the completed piece which has now been passed onto the scribes college to be used for an award scroll.



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