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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Catlin le Mareschale's ffraid

This scroll had several firsts, for me:
  • creating an illumination drawing on several examples from one source, the Manesse codex
  • paying close attention to shading, and the order of colour layers
  • asking Ladies Agnes des Iles and Sela de la Rosa to provide a scroll text


For the figure I wanted a lady on a horse, and ideally a dog too; a tree to carry the acorns and oak leaves (badge of the order), and a border that had gold, blue and black for Insulae Draconis.

The lady on the horse came from Manesse Codex 69r. I looked very carefully at her tack and bridle, because Lady Catlin is a rider and would notice the details.

There are a couple of horses modelled like this in the codex - the figures for both humans and animals are very consistent through the codex. The horses' faces are wonderful.

The dog in the lady's arms came from 178r.

The border and tree is courtesy 194r.

For advice on painting I looked at Yates Thompson 49 with its unfinished minatures, which I posted years ago, that showed a piece in progress. 

What I noticed is that the blue, the pure white and the 'flesh' colour and the gray, were done first - other than blue, they were 'pale' colours. So I followed this order as well as I could, after gilding.

I also noticed that the figures' hands were basically mittens - the details (and there are lots of details in the finished pieces elsewhere in the MS) all come later. But it's ok to start with mittens.

For guidance on painting medieval faces, I've long referred to On Visage, an article written by Dame Merouda Pendray, back when the internet was young, hence the Wayback Machine reference. Her article meant painting faces, for me, went from impossible to do-able, if still requiring care.

Pope Felix

Some steps...

Sketching and transferring:


Gilding, white, flesh and gray:


Other colours

Shading, outlining and face finished


For this text I contacted a couple of poets, Lady Agnes and Lady Sela, who agreed to work on a text compatible with the early 14th c image, to celebrate a lady's virtues. I didn't expect them to write it in middle English but sometimes you take a gamble...Agnes sent me the finished piece, and I hope I did it justice.

Ichot a byrde in bourë bryght
Gentil maide that lemëth light
Hire name is Catlin le Mareschale
She is trewë frovringe flour of alle
This stedfast styward is mercie of mede
Rekene as Regnas resoun to rede.
Of every kinnë foul in frith
As faucon she is fyn and swift.
This lufsom lady is leflich in londe
For ryghtfulnesse and beuté
Prowesse, largesse and leauté
Menskful maide, fre to fonde.
I wolde nempnë hyre to-day
Ffraid is the name of that fairestë may.


I know a lady in a bower bright
Gentle maiden who shines light
Her name is Catlin le Mareschale
She is a true comforting flower of all
This steadfast steward is gracious in favours
Ready as Ragna to give advice
Of every kind of bird in the woods
As a falcon she is fine and swift
This lovely lady is beloved everywhere
for uprightness and beauty
excellence, generosity and loyalty,
A noble lady, gracious to know.
I would name her today
Ffraid is the name of that fairest maid.


The text is adapted from several lyrics dedicated to adoration of ladies, found in section I of Medieval English Lyrics and Carols, ed. by Thomas G. Duncan (D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2013). The spelling follows the practice of late 14th-century London English. To retain the flavour of the originals I have tried to preserve alliteration where possible, as well as the original conventions and vocabulary.  

Ragna: the early-twelfth-century wise woman who appears in the Orkneyinga Saga, c. 1200. (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~wpwt/harl2253/ichot/ichotnn.htm, n.42)


Usually my favourite part, but this time I struggled to reproduce the Manesse Codex mix of Gothic angles and curves. 

I was happy with the initial though - it worked up quickly compared to the main illumination.

Overall, I'm pleased with the finished work. I can see all the mistakes, but I'll have a chance to improve in future Manesse-inspired pieces. 

More process pictures are in my Flickr album.

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