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Lesson 9

Spear Borders

Gael Stirler


Freeform Assymetrical Borders

The Assymetrical "Spear and Vine Border" is a transitional style between the Carolingian and Flemish. Manuscript decoration was still mostly a religious occupation but signs of secularism were creaping into the work in the borders and margins. In the first example, "The Archangel and Mary" you can see jousters practicing in the lower left. The distinguishing features of this style are the predominant red and blue color scheme, the upright "spears" and the curly vines. The verticle borders are basically straight and the horizontal borders are nearly always curving in a rather freeform manner. The page to the left is more typical in this than the page below, "The Adoration of the Magi."

Above right is an example of a border where the spear is obviously a spear. More often than not, it is stylized beyond recognition as in the picture to the left. Click on the pictures to see them in detail.

In the page to the right the predominant feature on the page is the miniature depicting the Adoration of the Magi. The background behind the figures is diaperworked in light red, dark red, and gold. The figures are painted or drawn in shades of grey called a grisselle. Sometimes the artists left the miniatures grisselle on purpose, as in this case, but usually they painted glazes of color over the grey tones to create depth. Click on the image to see more detail. By looking at the portions of the page where the glazes have worn away you can see how the artist drew the vines and leaves. The the woody vines were painted with red or blue and a tiny white line was painted down the center of each vine. The leaves are counter-changed (the opposite color) to the vines and always have a bit of white defining their shape. Sometimes the leaves are painted or leafed in gold. Occasionally the artist draws a vine sprouting from the "spear" to fill in a spot that looks empty. Stars and bugs are also employed to this purpose.

The beast to the left is a bird with a dragon head. It grasps a vine in its mouth and is perched on another vine below. Notice the free form outline of the gold background. This is one of my favorite scrolls. Click on the beast and spend some time examining the whole page. We will examine the lage letter "B" on this scroll in more detail in the next lesson.


In these two similar scrolls I have used the "spear and vine" style. The verticle bar is straight with vines issuing from the top and bottom. The woody stems are counter-changed to the leaves. The horizontal of the bottom of the scroll is softened by wrapping a ribbon around the pole. Notice how I used twigs, curly tendrils, and stars to fill in between leaves.

In these two examples I have introduced knots into the mix of spears, vines, beasts, and leaves. This is also typical in this style. The use of jewels however is not typical and was my idea. I would like to point out that though they are similar to Celtic knots, they are definately not the same. The beasts are not intertwined and the cords look round where Celtic knots have flat looking cords. These beasts are akin to the beast in the "Adoration" above which is a finial on the spear and the vine issues from his mouth. Look how the vines in the detail to the left are a combination of a plant with three lobed leaves and laurel leaves. The knot and the leaves near the base of the spear have a background of gold with that odd blocky, engrailed edge that is so typical of this style.

This style takes some time to master but is well worth the try. It is the most liberating style since you can wrap the vines around anything and fill the space with the most fanciful beasts, grotesques and drolleries. You can mix and match leaves on the same vine and use colors never found in nature. You can leave faces and hands white and avoid mixing a flesh tone all together. What I like best is that I rarely have to plan my scroll before putting pen to paper. I block out the miniature or large inital cap and then pen the text. Then I go back and add the vertical spears and curving vines until I think I have enough. Sometimes I put vingettes of common people doing everyday tasks in the vines.

Things to avoid in this style are too many colors, acanthus leaves in bright colors, realism, (I broke that rule in some of my miniatures here) strong horizontals, symmatry and solid areas of color without any whitework.

Go to Lesson 10: Initial Caps.
Go back to Lesson 7: Wide Borders.


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© 2002-2004Gael Stirler, Inc. 1-520-721-8346
Unless otherwise noted all art is the work of Gael Stirler.
AKA Mistress Dairine mor o' hUigin, OL


This page was last updated Monday, 16-Mar-2009 15:36:16 CDT