In my 30 plus year career as a professional heraldic artist, scribe and illuminator I have designed, written and painted many dozens of illuminated documents for the Crown, the College of Arms, certain Livery Companies and many Orders of Chivalry including The Order of Malta.
I trained for three years at Reigate School of Art on the only course of it’s kind in the world. It was there that I learnt how to choose and prepare vellum skins with pumice and sandarac. How to mix gold powder into paint, how to lay gold leaf on raised gesso, to cut quills for writing and a myriad of other techniques little changed in over a thousand years.
Illuminated documents are perhaps my favourite commissions inasmuch as they allow me to use all of the skills I was trained in. Calligraphy, heraldic painting and of course decorative illuminated borders. The documents I have worked on have been varied from Grants of Arms to Royal Letters Patent of Appointment issued under the Great Seal of the Realm. Poems to Proofs of Nobility, Chivalric Brevets and Manorial Histories.
My latest is for a returning Patron who now has eleven pieces of my work in his collection. He was recently appointed to a Titular Abbacy by the Head of a Royal House in Europe and asked if I would produce his appointment certificate. This is fairly common I find. The official body issues a document which can sometimes, though not always look a little plain. I am asked to create a different version of it and produce my ‘magic’.
In this case I wanted the document to reflect it’s Sicilian/Aragonese origins and so I designed a highly decorative border with saints Agatha, George and Leone associated with the Royal House, an illuminated initial showing the traditional depiction of a subject receiving a gift from his Lord and the armorial bearings of the Royal House along with the ensigns armorial of the Patron. For me, this kind of work is what I exist to do, it is who I am and I cannot get enough of it. People ask me how it is I manage to get that sense of the medieval without actually copying existing manuscripts. The answer is I disappear from this world and go to what I call my ‘Strange Landscape’ – another almost meditative world where sunlight glistens on gold, fragrant sandarac fills the air and ink looks like dark sapphires on a the page all to the beautiful accompaniment of the voice of the late Monserrat Figueras. I am thankful that my Father in Heaven has given me these talents and through them I experience an almost mystical state and I feel in tune with my craft ancestors of the Middle Ages.
This year promises more medieval style works for Patrons who share my love of medieval aesthetics and I cannot wait to return to my landscape and put quill to vellum once more.
Andrew Stewart Jamieson