minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

July. Ivy and Peacock Feathers

For July I looked back on January. My first attempts in my book of hours were full of trial and error. I revisited what I envisioned and here is the result. I will probably continue to re-do the first part of the year in the second half to see where I grew.

Ivy with gold leaves and a few animals. I used watercolor pencils for the peacock feathers and took a quick lesson on you tube on how to make them. Overall very happy with July and seeing my progress.

First page had a huge blunder on one date where I put the Saint on the wrong day. Blotted out to cover and shows. Will start focusing on the illuminated letters going forward. I figure that once I complete the calendar and move into other parts of the hours I will allow more room for this and have some fun.

Second page had no big blunders. Mixing the gold leaves with a few greens, red berries, a bird and a snail.

June and Kells

I decided to try a few designs from the Book of Kells in June. I ended up looking through several old manuscripts that fall into the Insular style of art. These include the Lindisfarne Gospels, Book of Durrow, Cathach of St. Columba, and of course the famous Book of Kells. So my poor attempts at knot work fill the pages here. Will need to work on these for better consistency and in future attempts to make them smaller and more fluid.

The “J” majuscule was a copy of one found in the Book of Kells as well as the peacock on the second page. Keeping with the style of insular illumination I didn’t add any gold foil to the pages in June. Insular illumination draws from the complex designs and imagery blended with the bright and carried colors. Yellow probably being used the most, other colors include purple, red, blue and greens. Animals and people also find their way into many of the designs in these books. If you ever have a chance to look at the art from Kells or Lindisfarne, you will see many times that even the knot work is a construct of animal shapes that have been morphed into the knot work. Truly amazing art.

I am most happy with the peacock on this page. I spent a lot of time trying to get the

right right feel on this and in the end it is the main attraction for June. Looking forward to doing more of these Celtic style designs in my book of hours and with any luck my knots will get better. …

May full of Sunflowers

Final for May in my book of hours. Had some fun with sunflowers for this page. I was thinking about what to do on this calendar page and all I kept getting was that old rhyme about April showers bringing May flowers. So I went with it.

On the first page I added a few Celtic trinity symbols that seemed to go nice with the sunflowers. Gold leaf fills in the rest of the center. Also tried a 3D spiral on the header bar that I saw in a real book of hours.

My wife has planted sunflowers before and while you know they are a big flower, it’s still amazing to see them up close and just how very large they can become. Once they are ripe the birds came in and devoured the seeds in just a few days.

A few more Celtic inspirations on the second page with some knot work. My knots need about as much work as my calligraphy. Lol. Still I like the result. The page is full of light and life.


April I felt a little adventurous with. Took a Latin approach with the month title and had some fun with the art. Still had a mistake on one of the Saint days that I had to blot out. Overall I had fun with this one. April is my birth month so I decided to take a “Genesis” approach.

The sword has some imagery embedded in it that should be easy to pluck out. The Latin around the sword refers to the guarding of Eden with a “Sword of fire that shimmered this way and that”. The Body and Blood as well as the cross shape of the sword all point to the promise of Eden. Leaves of green refer to the tree of life.

In contrast is the serpent before being forced to crawl. Dead leaves of the tree of knowledge of good and evil surround the dragon in darkness and death. No gold leaf on this page.

February and March

February calendar went a little better. Still had a few mistakes but didn’t need to patch anything like I did in January.

I tried a few different styles in February. The first page I tried to follow the look of a Flemish Book of Hours. Focus on objects shadowed to allow them to pop out of the page. Flemish book of hours often used natural objects like flowers, plants, vegetables and even animals like fish shadowed on a flat color background.

The second half I tried at a more Celtic approach. Found a design n the web that I thought would fit in the side panel and went from there.  I also took a different approach to applying the gold foil to keep it more flat and avoid the embossed look I ended up with in January.  Because the paper is rough I still don’t get a smooth shine but I am satisfied with what I get here.

March went even better than February, still working on the calligraphy, and seems I always get one date wrong and have to redo. Regardless, I felt much more at ease completing March as the process is becoming familiar.

The pictures this month were inspired by art I saw while in Mexico recently. The suite at the resort we stayed at was right on a pond with fish, turtles, frogs and iguana. I suppose this is the first month where I had a theme that seems consistent. January was just doodling, February had oak leaves timing it together, but March is all about the fish pond.

So a little about the calendar. A book of hours started with a calendar noting the various feasts and memorials of the church. Seems like there was always a day around the corner to remember, celebrate and maybe even prepare a special meal for. There are letters next to the calendar days which allowed the calendar to function as a perpetual calendar. These are dominical letters. A simple but brilliant idea. By adding these letters, from a to g for the days of the week, a person only needed to know what letter aligned with Sunday for the year they were in, then the rest of the letters would follow and they could know which weekdays each date corresponded to. For instance if Sunday (Domingo) this year aligns with “c” then every date with a “c” next to it is a Sunday for this year. That means that “d” will note Monday’s and so on.

My New Project

After years of enjoying illuminated manuscripts I have decided to make one of my own. Way out of my league of course, as my writing/calligraphy is terrible, never used gold foil before and,  well, to be honest just about everything is a hack on this. I decided to do a book of hours, so a little research to get things right and to also update information. I want it to be true to the history but with a little post modern thrown in. image

Using some traditional and some new types of media. Gouache, gel pens, ink of India and a calligraphy set, imitation gold foil, a blank journal with leather binding from Hobby Lobby. Calendar dates are from the General Roman Calendar online and some help from the annotated book of hours, also online. And of course reviewing pictures of several illuminated manuscript studies and facsimiles I have.


For my first month of January there was a lot of trial and error. I actually patched over a few sections to correct mistakes and cover failed attempts at the art. The adhesive for the gold foil I laced on a bit too heavy so it looks more embossed. I had a better time doing February which I will post soon with some information on the calendars in a book of hours.

Autumn Fire

Autumn Fire

Autumn Fire

Growing up in A small New Jersey town on the edge of the suburban and rural parts of the state I found the Fall to be my favorite time of year. The colors in the Northeast are like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Spattered out across the hillsides and meadows as if some mad artist spilled all the burning colors from his pallet across a massive canvas in bas relief; the clash of cooler air and the warm fiery panorama conjure thoughts of pumpkins and apples, Thanksgiving and All Hallows’.

I spent a lot of time in the woods as a youth, especially in the Autumn. Hunting, three wheeling, camping and hiking throughout the forest behind my home. Exploring the ruins of old structures reclaimed by the decades, looking for old bottles and plates left by the former inhabitants. Hunting for the mythical graveyard which was said to be in the woods somewhere but hidden by time and which I never did find.

Late September and into October the Earth would begin to change. You could feel it in the air, the brisk cool autumn, smells of smoke from chimneys dormant through the summer. Leaves would begin to fade from green and fall from their branches. The sound of wind rattling the tributary branches of trees swaying amidst a rain of confetti leaves swirling in a vortex or rolling like a wave down the forest path. All eventually to find their place on the forest floor and await the snows of winter.


“His Almagest, and bookes great and small
His astrolabe, belonging to his art,”

-from The Millers Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

So I finally have an astrolabe. My daughters found a shop at the Renaissance Fair in Charlotte that sold astrolabes that were hand made replicas of an ancient device and gave to me for Christmas. I have a certain fascination with the middle ages as well as ancient science, and the astrolabe, along with other early computing devices, always astound me. In my opinion the astrolabe is not only the most useful of these devises but also the most wonderful to look at. It could be used to tell the time, sunset/sunrise, celestial events, sidereal time (star time), navigation, architecture and surveying.

Astrolabes have their origin with the Greeks. The etymology derives from the Greek Astron (star) and Lambanein (to take) which formed the Greek word Astrolabos. Through the centuries the astrolabe found it’s admirers in the Roman Empire, Islam and into Medieval Europe. Islamic science brought the astrolabe to its full development during the first millennium. In the 11th century,  Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II) was noted to have built an astrolabe. Gerbert was known for several other “game changers” in Europe such as bringing the number zero (Persian/Arabic numerals), the abacus, the armillary sphere and constructing a hydraulic organ.

Use of the Astrolabe in Europe became popular in the following centuries and we can see it’s legacy in many Illuminated Manuscripts, several clocks such as the famous Orloj, an astronomical clock in Prague, and even in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.


Description of a Rete in an Illuminated manuscript.

The following is a quote from GC which I have provided in the Old English as well as a modern translation for those of you who remember reading the Canterbury Tales in the parallel text format.

Tractatus de Conclusionibus Astrolabii Bred and mylk for childeren astrolabe
Lyte Lowys my sone, I aperceyve wel by certeyne evydences thyn abilite to lerne sciences touching nombres and proporciouns; and as wel considre I thy besy praier in special to lerne the tretys of the Astrelabie. Than for as moche as a philosofre saith, “he wrappith him in his frend, that condescendith to the rightfulle praiers of his frend,” therfore have I yeven the a suffisant Astrolabie as for oure orizonte, compowned after the latitude of Oxenforde; upon which, by mediacioun of this litel tretys, I purpose to teche the a certein nombre of conclusions aperteynyng to the same instrument.

A Treatise on the Astrolabe

Little Lewis my son, I perceive well by certain evidences thine ability to learn sciences touching numbers and proportions; and as well consider I thy constant prayer in special to learn the treatise of the Astrolabe. Than for as much as a philosopher saith, “He wrappth him in his friend, that condescendth to the rightful prayers of his friend”, therefore have I given thee a suffisant Astrolabe as for our horizons, compounded after the latitude of Oxford; upon which, by means of this little treatise, I purpose to teach thee a certain number of conclusions pertaining to the same instrument.


A Rete with 27 star locations.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400)


The Astrolabe is made up of several parts which are aligned according to data that is provided and produces the result of additional information. For instance you could use the position of a star to tell the hour or date. Or you could use the date to determine the sunrise/sunset of any particular day. It is an example of an early computer like the Antikythera Mechanism or an Abacus, except it could do so much more.  In the picture above is the Rete. It has several star positions which you could use to align on the Mater below it.


Drawing of a Mater

The Mater is made up of a Plate and a Limb which is the outer ring surrounding the plate. Several types of plates were made which could be inserted into the Mater for locations at different latitudes . The drawing to the left is a mater with a planispheric plate. Just like a planisphere, it used the concept of stereoscopic projection to map the sky.

Astrolabe Back

Astrolabe Back

The back of the Astrolabe is also designed with scales and calendar and a rule (Alidale). This would be used to determine the angle or altitude of a celestial point which would then be used to process information on the Mater.

Astrolabes do come in many styles and a lot of thought went into their design to make not only a useful tool but also a work of art. This only follows with the general feel of the Middle Ages, with its gothic cathedrals, illuminated manuscripts and maps of the world. Art seemed to accompany all aspects of life from architecture to science which is very different from our modern utilitarian world.

Book of hours of Bénigne Serre, 1524

Several months ago I discovered a few places that will make replicas of Illuminated Manuscripts for a very reasonable price. Below is an example of my second purchase from one of these sites. These are printed pages and have no gold foil that you would find with a more expensive facsimile, but they are complete manuscripts, beautifully bound and covered by hand and they allow one to get a sense of reading, or just looking, at a book of hours.image

In the picture above I have the book cover shown. Decoration and a leather cover on it that will still need to rest as it was recently oiled. The pages, which you cannot see, were given gilded edges. The replica is of the Book of Hours of Bénigne Serre:

“A book of hours following the liturgical custom of Rome, with a calendar containing a selection of saints for Langres. The manuscript was illuminated and dated in 1524 by a Master of Bénigne Serre, who was known by the name of his client, a highly-ranked official of the King of Burgundy. The artist was a hitherto unknown illuminator from the circle of the “1520s The Hours Workshop,” which framed the miniatures with Renaissance architecture or added naturalistic flowers and animals to borders. This manuscript contains a number of unusual images, e.g., for the Lauds of the Office of the Virgin, the meeting of Joachim and Anna at the city gate of Jerusalem replaces the usual image of the Visitation. In the 18th century, the manuscript was owned by the family Bretagne of Dijon.” More information on this Book of Hours and contents.
Above is a text page from this manuscript. The writing is in Latin and all the pages in this book have excellent designs showing flowers, animals, people and places in the side bars. Below I have a few examples of some of the full page illustrations found in this book. These would normally indicate the beginning of a section of texts, prayers or psalms. The first is the adoration of the Magi from the “Hours of the Virgin”.  Joseph is in the door of the building behind, Mary and the Christ child in center and the Magi on the right.

This next picture shows a much darker scene as Death, riding a bull, slays a man. The text starts the Office of the Dead for Vespers. These are prayers for those in Purgatory.  The text follows from Psalm 116

“1 My heart is aflame, so graciously the Lord listens to my entreaty; 2 the Lord, who grants me audience when I invoke his name. 3 Death’s noose about me, caught in the snares of the grave, ever I found distress and grief at my side, 4 till I called upon the Lord, Save me, Lord, in my peril. 5 Merciful the Lord our God is, and just, and full of pity; 6 he cares for simple hearts, and to me, when I lay humbled, he brought deliverance. 7 Return, my soul, where thy peace lies; the Lord has dealt kindly with thee; 8 he has saved my life from peril, banished my tears, kept my feet from falling. 9 Mine to walk at ease, enjoying the Lord’s presence, in the land of the living.”


This last picture shows Mary as a young girl with St. Anne. This comes in the end of the book in what are called the “Suffrages”. These are prayers to Saints, or rather petitions to those saints to keep us in their prayers. The text in the picture translates: “A heavenly blessing entered into Anne, through whom the Virgin Mary was born for us.”
For more information on reproductions you can visit this website.
Golden Gryphon Productions

Ethiopian Icon

For my birthday my wife found this sweet travel icon triptych. The main/center panel is of St. George and the dragon. This depiction follow the Eastern traditions showing the rescue of the Holy Martyr Alexandra, empress and wife of Diocletian.  

The two side panels depict Ethiopian saints Tekle Haymanot and Gabra Manfas Qeddus.  

St. Tekle is identified by his severed leg and 6 wings. Legend is that he stood for so long his leg broke and spent 7 years standing on one leg. He was given 6 wings to help on a journey to Jerusalem. 

St. Gabra Manfas Qeddus is known to have formed a monastery. He was said to have lived over 300 years and for a time among lions and leopards which are shown in the image by his feet. Also of note in this icon is the tradition that during this time his hair turned white and covered his body.  

The case is hand carved and the binding was missing so I added my own to keep the doors from falling out. Seller thought this was from the 1950’s. 



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