An illuminated letter based upon a page from the Medici Aesop 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 lhave been collecting many books on illuminations and one of these is called The Medici Aesop.



The Medici Aesop is a fifteenth-century Florentine manuscript of Aesop’s fables, traced to the library of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s son Piero and illustrated with exquisite miniature paintings ,these are considered by many to be among the loveliest in any Renaissance work.

The animal fables traditionally attributed to Aesop (ca. 620-560 B.C.E.), widely available in Latin translation in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, were transmitted in the original Greek to the West from Byzantium by the scholar Maximus Planudes (d. 1310). With the Renaissance came the humanistic revival of classical Greek texts, Aesop took on new life as a means of teaching Greek to young boys, and this elegant manuscript copied by an anonymous scribe from the edition printed by Bonus Accursius at Milan ca. 1480  may have served just this purpose.

It is known from a 1495 inventory that Piero de’ Medici (b. 1472), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, owned an illustrated Greek Aesop, and the Medici arms appear microscopically within some of the miniatures. Piero was tutored by the noted scholar Angelo Poliziano between 1475 and 1479. The fables are illustrated by lively and memorable miniatures, which would have appealed to a child and helped to fix in his mind the moralizing messages with which each story ends. The exquisite miniatures and the other decorative elements appear to be the work of several artists. Formerly attributed to Francesco d’Antonio del Cherico, the Medici Aesop is now assigned to Mariano del Buono (1433-ca. 1504) and the Master of the Hamilton Xenophon. It is considered to be the most highly illustrated version of the Fables to survive from the Italian Renaissance.

I began my piece by spending many hours looking through the book. As this was one of my first attempt at drawing a scroll I tried to find a page not too difficult so the task was more manageable and that I knew I could complete in a reasonable time.  Sadly I forgot to scan my piece whilst it was still uncoloured.

I came upon the seond page of the tale of The Fox and the Woodcutter, and the design with the large border caught my eye.

The entire page



The details of the corner

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 saified that I have captured the essence of the piece I outlined in black ink using a crow quill. It  am still getting used to using the crow quill so there was quite abit of practising on a scrap piece of paper and I was extremely nervous about actully starting on the parmentine. 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 piece were quite vivid and bold, so I felt that ti would be appropriate to keep in this scheme, I mixed colours to try to mimic as close as I could the colours of the original piece. The gold work on the original doesn’t seem to be shiny but I supposed it 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 similiar 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 gold line work on the letter was done using gold 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 fillagree work coming in very close to the coloured pieces. I then re-inked some of the outlines.

I am quite happy with the finished piece as a beginning and hope to re-create many more pages from the book when I have more confidence.

Image (8)

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

Harry N. Abrams, (1989) The Medici Aesop, New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc.
ISBN 0-8109-1542-1



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