Grotesque #2

Calligraphy & Illumination

Grotesque #1


by Chris Robertson, aka Mistress Yseult de Lacy


Heart's Ease, 72K

Last updated: Feb 9 2003


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Gallery Images About Gilding Useful Books Commissioned Works

Scribal Links Scribes' Mailing List Illuminated Gift Books Heraldry Australia Society

I began learning Medieval calligraphy and illumination in 1991, and am largely self-taught (with assistance from friends--in particular Robyn Spencer and Steve Roylance, to whom much thanks). I have been moderately active since then, creating work mostly as presents or Award scrolls in the
SCA*, plus commissioned pieces. The works shown here are A4 size (roughly US letter size), and were painted on goat or horse parchment (vellum) using Windsor & Newton Artists' Gouache, with 23- or 24-ct goldwork on latex- or PVA-based size or plaster-based gesso, unless otherwise noted.

Most of the images were scanned from colour photocopies, since their originals were given away long before I bought my scanner (*sigh*). Incidentally, many of the photocopies survived a fire which melted and crisped the top edge of my portfolio, so there is cropped-off damage at the top of several of them. Of course, it does make them look much more medieval...

The images on these pages are all copyright © Christine Robertson 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002. They may not be reproduced by any means whatsoever without my written permission.

* The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) is a worldwide Medieval-ambience social and educational group.

Commissioned Works

I'm for hire! Please send me e-mail regarding commissioned pieces or copies of my originals.

As a rough guideline, an original A4 (US letter) page with a short poem, a little goldwork, and a flower/scroll border costs $100-$200 US, depending on amount of text and decoration; a wedding certificate with a fancy border typically costs $200-$400 US. Prints of my work with hand-gilding/detailing cost $15-$25 US.

Click here to see some of my commissioned works

Up to 80% off art and craft supplies!

A Word About Gilding

A major contribution to the exquisite beauty of medieval manuscripts is the use of metallic leaf* to decorate the pages. Indeed, strictly speaking, the term "illumination" refers only to such work, as the reflections from the polished metal literally "light up" these pages.

Gold, which never tarnishes, was used extensively; silver less so. Unfortunately, silver leaf tarnishes with exposure to air, and only those books which were rarely opened can now be seen in their original beauty. Most silver now is either a dull grey or an odd navy blue colour. If you have seen pages from the Duc de Berri's Trés Riches Heures or other works by the Limbourg Brothers, the dull grey water in these is actually silver leaf overlaid with a transparent light green glaze, which must have been quite gorgeous when it was new. Aluminium leaf burnishes well and is used as a modern-day substitute for silver.

No scan or photograph can show the full effect of gilding. Raised, burnished goldwork is astonishingly beautiful--the way it catches and reflects the light really has to be seen to be understood. The delight in my clients' faces as they turn the piece I have done for them this way and that, seeing the effect of the gilding, is one of the things I really treasure about making commissioned pieces or gifts.

* "leaf" is very, very thin sheet metal -- about 0.01mm (1/200th of an inch or so).

Useful Books

Learning by oneself means that books are very important--indeed, the best advice I can give anyone who wants to learn this style of art is to begin by copying real medieval works. And since very few of us just happen to have genuine medieval manuscripts lying around the house, this means books. The link below leads to a list of books which I personally have found useful, or know to be highly recommended. The page is divided into several sections:  sources for medieval calligrapy, general overviews of medieval manuscripts at both layman and scholarly level, collections from famous galleries and museums, and facimilie reproductions of specific books.  I have provided what I hope will be useful reviews/notes.

Now, at this stage I should mention that where you see a link to the book name and/or cover picture, it will take you to Amazon, and if you actually buy this book through them, I will receive a modest commission from them and can buy more books. So naturally I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so!

Useful Books on medieval caligraphy and illumination.

Scribes' Mailing List

There is a mailing list for those interested in practicing medieval-style calligraphy and illumination. Most of its members belong to the SCA (worldwide medieval-ambience social and educational group), and thus many of the matters discussed are relevant to the group, but the list is a fount of knowledge and practical help. It is a particularly kind and polite group, with very few irrelevant topics discussed. Questions from beginnners are welcome, as are comments from experts. Topics cover all practical aspects of re-creating medieval manuscript pages: paper, parchment (vellum), paints, inks, pens, quills, making pigments and inks, combatting hand fatigue, comfortable writing postures, preserving finished pieces, and much more. The list can either be received as individual mail messages, or a digest with the day's postings combined into a single message. Traffic is currently about 5-20 messages per day.

To join, go to and follow the instructions there.

You will get mail asking you to comfirm that you want to join, and when you do so, a message with useful information about posting to the list or unsubscribing will be sent to you.


Below are scans of many of my works. I remind you that these images are copyright, and may not be reproduced without my permission. That said, permission will not be refused for any reasonable use; and blanket permission is hereby given to reproduce these in SCA publications, provided credit is given to me and my copyright is stated.

Laurel Scroll

This scroll was presented to a friend in honour of his becoming a member of the Order of the Laurel, the highest award for Arts and Sciences in the SCA. It is done on goat parchment and has raised 24ct gilding on plaster-based gesso. The layout and wording are based on an Elizabethan Grant of Arms, with a portrait of the recipient in the initial "T" where a picture of the King of Arms would be in a real grant. The hand is a late derivative of Gothic Littera Bastarda. A grisaille portrait of King Jade of the West is shown centre top. The bottom of the scroll is designed to be folded up and have pendant seals attached.

Master Arenwald was laurelled for several things -- music, woodwork (he carved the linen-fold chest he is seated on), armouring, pavilion-making, and general period lifestyle.

Arenwald's Laurel Scroll  (270k)

Spring's Daughter

This piece was a birthday present for one of my friends (it's good to be my friend ;-). The text is a haiku written for her by her partner, who is many years older than her and almost thought himself beyond the age of falling in love. Their relationship has been a great joy for both of them.

It is painted on parchmentine, and measures 10 x 15cm (4 x 5 3/4"). The visual pun is entirely intentional.

Illuminated Wedding Book

Click here for my web page describing a small Illuminated Book I created as a wedding anniversary present for two of my friends in the SCA

Award Scroll, 53K

Award Scroll

This is an Award Scroll blank I did for some friends when they were Prince and Princess in the SCA. It is based on late 15th century Italian white vinework, and was actually scanned from the original. The hand is Humanist Bookhand, in which by this stage I was quite comfortable. It was painted on plain white watercolour paper.

Tournament Scroll

This is another Award Scroll (for winning a tournament in the SCA). The hand is Gothic Textura Quadrata. It was painted on "parchment-like" calligraphic paper.

Tournament Scroll, 57K

Invitation Scroll, 64K


This was an invitation to attend a special feast to mark the retirement of our then-Baroness in my local group of the SCA, the Barony of Rowany (Sydney, Australia). The blank top section had the invitees' names filled in with nice tall twiddly Cadel capitals in the same Gothic Batarde script.

Laurel Scroll

This scroll was presented to a friend in honour of his becoming a member of the Order of the Laurel, the highest award for Arts and Sciences in the SCA. It is done on goat parchment and has raised gilding on plaster-based gesso. The goldwork has been detailed with patterns of dots. Wax seals are attached to the two roundels in the bottom corners. The hand is Gothic Textura Quadrata.

Master Dafydd of the Glens received his Laurel for choir direction, pageantry, and verse. The initial O shows him conducting a small group of singers, while his coat-of-arms is supported by two of the characters from his play "Macbeth: the Musical." The border decoration tells the story of one of his best-loved humorous verses, "The Enchanted Gambeson" (click
here to read the words of this delightfully silly poem), beginning with the death of Sir Arbalest, and continuing with Kevin finding the gambeson, his rise in the tournament circuit, his proposal rejected, the attempt to bury the gambeson, and finally King Kevin victorious with his lady, holding the Bar of Soap.

Laurel Scroll, 158K

Nativity 124K


This piece was created as a birthday present for my older sister and was one of my early pieces. Is is a straight copy of two French illuminations from the 1380s, with a Pater Noster (Lord's Prayer in latin) instead of the original text. The border is from the Petits Heures and the miniature from the Tres Belles Heures, of Jean, Duke of Berry (brother to the King of France, probably the richest man in France, and a notable collector). Doing this piece taught me a very great deal about the mechanics of painting. The calligraphy style is Gothic Textura Quadrata, which was common throughout Europe from the twelth century to the mid-1400s. (The fire damage is very noticeable in this piece; the borders on the original are quite a bit wider.)

Heart's Ease

This piece was a birthday present for one of my friends, done on the spur of the moment the evening before I was taking her to lunch. The flowers are Kenilworth Ivy, painted from life--the plants growing on the appartment building next door just happened to have ONE flower out, though it was the wrong time of year for them to flower! The text is one of my own poems in Elizabethan style (click
here to read the text). The border is based on the Prayerbook of Michellino da Besozzo, Italian, c. 1410. This is a smaller illumination, measuring 18cm x 9.8cm. The calligraphy style is Gothic Batarde, common from the 1400s onwards.

Heart's Ease, 72K

Pater Noster, 106K

Pater Noster

This was also a birthday present piece, based on a late-1400s Italian page of white vinework. The original bishop in the initial has been replaced with a picture of Christ from the same period, and where the bishop's coat-of-arms would normally be shown in the circle in the bottom border I have inserted a nativity from the same period (since it was a present for a friend who did not have much knowledge of Medieval art I was not particularly concerned with authenticity). The calligraphy was my first attempt at Humanist Bookhand; in my arrogance I did almost no practicing before I wrote out the text on the vellum. I got the word spacing right about half-way through. I am particularly pleased with the little nativity scene in this piece.


This piece was (you've guessed it) a birthday present for one of my friends -- well, actually, it covered several Christmasses and birthdays. It is based on the Hours of Marguerite d'Orleans, c. 1426-38, a stunningly beautiful French Book of Hours. The text page has the beginning of the Magnificat rather than the original text, but the border is a straight copy of one of the text pages. The miniature is a composite from several sources: God and the angels are based on one of the Limbourg brothers' annunciations, as is Gabriel, while Mary is based on Michellino da Besozzo's annunciation. The room with its tiled floor, raised platform, wood panelling, and star-studded ceiling were essentially my own invention, which is probably why the panelling is structurally a little strange. Colours of robes etc. were varied to suit my taste. The border's general look is based on one of the Orleans Hours' pages, but the strawberries, cranes, and the bas de page figures are my own. The calligraphy is Gothic Textura Quadrata. Apart from some rather rough work in the curves on the text page, this is one of my pieces I am most pleased with.

Annunciaton, 191K

Lady and Unicorn, 105K

Lady and the Unicorn

This piece was not a birthday present. It is a composite piece, designed as a fund-raiser raffle prize, and succeeded very well, raising over $600 (she said modestly). The border was based on a 1460s French Book of Hours from the State Library of Victoria, as was the diaper design. The miniature and trees are much earlier, from the mid-1200s. The text is a verse from a French trouviere chanson by Thibaut de Champagne (1201-1253). The calligraphic hand is Gothic Textura Quadrata again. In case anyone is wondering, there are about 1200 little squares in the diapering, and yes, there is a hell of a lot of gold on it.

To contact me with any comments or enquiries about commissioned pieces, please send me e-mail:



Mark Calderwood, Master Calligraphy Artist -- top-quality medieval and modern calligraphic art

Merouda Pendray's Scribal Information Page -- dozens of links to scribal info of all kinds

Jennifer Fraser's Gallery (click on "far gallery") -- medieval illumination, modern graphic design, useful links



You will notice that many of these works show shields with coats-of-arms on them; this is because heraldry is very important in the SCA. However, heraldry is still alive and flourishing in the 21st century. If you would like to see some modern-day heraldry, click on this link to Heraldry Australia.


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