22 August 2017

HEAVENLY OUTLOOK: PART 1 of 9

Part 1 of 9 of the Lecture Heavenly Outlook, which I recently delivered to the Catholic Art Guild on 12 August 2017.

Notions about art are diverse, strongly held and contradicting. Facing such conflict, many hoist a flag of surrender and say that art is just a matter of personal taste. Some even fly that flag triumphantly. They heatedly argue that art is not a thing worth arguing; they insist that nothing about art is objectively true except its lack of objective truthfulness. Art cannot easily be quantified or ranked; therefore, they say, everything said about it is mere opinion.

This way of thinking is not entirely new; de gustibus non est disputandum has been uttered for centuries, although I suspect that it has only recently been understood in an absolute sense. I see an error at the start of this way of thinking: the assumption that in order for a thing to be real, not just a product of the imagination, it must be calculable. This is the perhaps the most common error in the modern mind. At the end of this way of thinking is a colorless, mechanical view of reality. The philosopher and mathematician Wolfgang Smith described it well:
We are told that [the universe] consists of space, time and matter, or of space-time and energy, or perhaps of something else still more abstruse and even less imaginable; but in any case we are told in unequivocal terms what it excludes: as all of us have learned, the physical universe is said to exclude just about everything which from the ordinary human point of view makes up the world.... What is being bifurcated or cut asunder are the so-called primary and secondary qualities: the things that can be described in mathematical terms, and those that cannot.

Logically speaking, the bifurcation postulate is tantamount to the identification of the so-called physical universe (the world as conceived by the physicist) with the real world per se, through the device of relegating all else (all that does not fit this conception) to an ontological limbo, situated outside the world of objectively existent things.... Let it be said at once that this reduction of the world to the categories of physics is not a scientific discovery (as many believe), but a metaphysical assumption that has been built into the theory from the outset.
New technology impresses this way of thinking even more deeply. Computers have it built into their every function, for they actually cannot heed anything unless it is reduced to a number. And technology imparts its bias to its users. To a man with a hammer, the adage goes, everything looks like a nail; to a man with a computer, everything looks like a datum.

The modern mind has acquired the habit of attempting to quantify and rank things that are not inherently numerical: beauty, intelligence, personality, friendship - as though primary reality exists within some Cartesian grid upon which the things we see and hear and feel must be plotted! This is, to the modern mind, the only way to make them real. That art is recalcitrant to numerical description merely proves that it does not satisfy the modern notion of reality. But reality is older that the modern notion; so is art. Neither depends on it.

My first advice to anybody who wishes to appreciate or make sacred art is never to treat art like data. Do not rate works of art with stars; do not sort them into top-ten lists. You will appreciate them better just by looking at them for a very long time. It is in the looking that communication through art happens.

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Truth and Goodness, those things that sacred art is meant to impart, are transcendental; they are names of God. According to Dionysius, the author of The Divine Names, Beauty is another:
The superessential Beautiful is called Beauty, on account of the beauty communicated from Itself to all beautiful things, in a manner appropriate to each, and as Cause of the good harmony and brightness of all things, which flashes like light to all the beautifying distributions of its frontal ray.... From this Beautiful comes being to all existing things, that each is beautiful in its own proper order.
This doctrine implies that even the coarse material world, the lowest level of the universal hierarchy, partakes in the divine essence; Him whom Dionysius calls the superessential Light and the invisible Sun shines even there. Thus the bodily senses may be used unashamedly, for they are the means by which we perceive the visible beauty that is an image of the invisible beauty - so wrote Hugh of St. Victor, one of the great intellectuals of the twelfth century and a faithful interpreter of this theology.

His contemporary, Suger of St. Denis, gave the same ideas artistic expression. In rebuilding and furnishing his abbey church, in decorating it with a symbolic program of stained glass, monumental sculpture and goldsmithery, Suger attended the birth of Gothic art. He wrote:
When - out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God - the loveliness of the many-colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the Earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner.
Gothic art is the basis of my own art. I do not think of Gothic art as a mere historic style belonging to a certain time and place; that would make it a very boring thing. Rather, I think of it as the best example of art made according to true Christian principles. These are not merely useful for creating religious art as it was in twelfth-century France, or in medieval Europe in general; rather, they are useful for creating religious art in any era, including our own.

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Works quoted or referenced:

Wolfgang Smith, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief, (San Raphael CA: Sophia Perennis, 2008).

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, (New York: Vantage Books, 1992).

The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, translated by John Parker, (London: James Parker, 1897).

Hugh of St. Victor, In Hierarchiam Cœlestem, quoted by Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, translated by Hugh Bredin, (Yale University Press, 1986).

Suger of St. Denis, On the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its Art Treasures, translated by Erwin Panofsky, (Princeton University Press, 1979).

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www.danielmitsui.com

21 August 2017

COLORING BOOK: CHRISTIAN LABYRINTHS

Christian Labyrinths , my third coloring book, has just been published by Ave Maria Press. It measures 9" × 12" and contains thirty coloring pages. Some of these display labyrinths that connect different scenes from the Old and New Testaments; others spell out the Pater Noster in stylized block letters; others imitate the cruciform carpet pages in early medieval manuscripts. There are two different puzzle challenges in the book: that of finding a single deliberate mistake in the ornament on each page, and that of deciphering a coded message at the end.

It can be ordered through the following websites:

Ave Maria Press
Amazon

You can also purchase a signed copy from me directly; if you would like to do this, please e-mail me at danielmitsuiartist at gmail dot com. I only have a few of these available, and will give preference in selling them to anyone who is willing to write a public review.



Here is my introduction to the book:
One of the most distinctive and beautiful styles of Christian art flourished in Irish and Northumbrian monasteries from the sixth to the ninth centuries. The style is usually called Celtic, although some of its finest examples were made by Saxons. Its greatest masterpieces are sacred manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, which are decorated with intricate, labyrinthine patterns of knots, spirals, keys and animals.

Its greatest masterpieces are sacred manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. Although this style of art fell into disuse, the surviving manuscripts continued to be held in the highest esteem. In 1185, Gerald of Wales wrote: You will make out intricacies so subtle and delicate, so exact and compact, so full of knots and links, with colors so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this was the work of an angel, and not of a man.

Today, Celtic knots remain popular, although they are more commonly encountered on knickknacks than in churches. I want to reconnect this style to the purpose that occasioned its greatest works: not to decorate bits of paddywhackery, but to honor the Holy Gospel.

A different tradition of Christian art places labyrinths on the floors of churches, at a large enough scale that their paths can be walked. This kind of labyrinth was inherited from Classical culture and given new use and meaning by the early Christians. In some churches, the labyrinth is a symbol of escape from the spiritual death of sin; in others, the center represents a destination of pilgrimage, such as Jerusalem. The most famous examples are in the Gothic cathedrals at Chartres, Reims and Amiens.

In recent years, there has been a revival of labyrinth-walking, whose promoters are influenced by New Age spirituality. This has made some Christians leery of labyrinths altogether. My belief is that labyrinths are well-established within the artistic tradition of orthodox Christianty, and that they only become dangerous if taken out of their rightful context and assigned some dubious mystical meaning in themselves.

My intention is to restore Christian labyrinths to their rightful context: biblical, patristic and liturgical, the same that they had in illuminated manuscripts and in Gothic cathedrals. I hope to demonstrate that the beauty, the mystery and indeed the fun of these things properly belong to orthodox Christianity.
You may read more about this and my other coloring books at this web page.

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www.danielmitsui.com

31 July 2017

CATHOLIC HERALD ARTICLE

I wrote an article recently for the Catholic Herald:

Concerned about the Church? Become an Artist

An excerpt:
The supreme model of sacred art cannot be an artefact of history, something that came from men; it is, rather, something that comes from God. Catholic sacred art does not have a geographic or chronological centre. Rather, it has two foci, like a planetary orbit. One is the foot of the Cross; the other is the Garden of Eden.

The first focus corresponds to the artist’s duty to hold fast to tradition. Catholic tradition is based on real memories of real events, on things that Jesus Christ said and did and revealed in the lifetimes of the Apostles. It is an all too common error for the faithful in the present day to confuse tradition itself with its legal enforcement by the Magisterium, as though tradition were nothing more than a stack of documents bearing the correct signatures.

29 July 2017

BLUE PATTERN SHEETS

PATER, CREDO, AVE, SALVE, QUICUMQUE and GLORIA

This is a set of three small drawings on calfskin vellum. Each measures approximately 3 1/2" × 4 5/8". I drew them using technical pens and calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

Included on these sheets are large versals of the first Latin words of six important prayers. There are also four smaller versals of the word Ave; heraldic emblems of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity; tracery and key patterns; and scenes of two prefigurements of the Crucifixion: the death of Eleazar Maccabee and the death of Codrus of Athens.

The original drawings are available for sale. See this web page for more information.

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www.danielmitsui.com

28 July 2017

MURREY PATTERN SHEETS

TETRAMORPHS, CHURCH FATHERS, MAJOR PROPHETS, HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM and ALPHABET

TETRAMORPHS, CHURCH FATHERS, MAJOR PROPHETS, HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM and ALPHABET

This is a set of eight small drawings on calfskin vellum. Each measures approximately 3 1/2" × 4 5/8". I drew them using technical pens and calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

Included on these sheets are pictures of the Tetramorphs representing the four Evangelists, the four Major Prophets and the four great Latin Church Fathers; as well as versals of the words HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM, or THIS IS MY BODY. There is also an alphabet of versals and various tracery, key, labyrinth and block patterns.

The original drawings are available for sale. See this web page for more information.

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www.danielmitsui.com

27 July 2017

RED PATTERN SHEETS

ECCE AGNUS DEI

This is a set of two small drawings on calfskin vellum. Each measures approximately 3 1/2" × 4 5/8". I drew them using technical pens and calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

I drew large versals of the words ECCE AGNUS DEI, or BEHOLD the LAMB of GOD, as well as the Lamb of God itself. There are also four calligraphic treatments of the word AMEN, knot patterns, and emblems of the Holy Cross and Nomen Sacrum IC XC.

The original drawings are available for sale. See this web page for more information.

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www.danielmitsui.com

26 July 2017

MASS for the DEAD

MASS for the DEAD

This Millefleur Press broadside is based on two of my ink drawings on paper. Scans of these drawings, slightly enlarged and modified, were used to create the plate for letterpress printing.

The image depicts the application of the graces of the Mass to the poor souls in purgatory. I drew the priest reading the Diptychs of the Dead; the beginning of this ancient prayer from the Canon of the Mass I wrote on a banderole. In the lower part of the central image, a dove representing the Holy Ghost carries the prayer to a company of suffering souls. Angels follow, pouring a cooling laver over them. I based this on illustrations in a late medieval manuscript of Guillaume de Deguileville's Pilgrimage of the Soul, a visionary account of a journey through hell, purgatory and heaven.

The scene of the Mass reflects common late medieval liturgical practices. The server holds an elevation torch, a blessed candle that was held by deacons, subdeacons and other ministers during the consecration and elevation of the Sacred Host, and that burned until the priest's communion. The faithful departed often would bequeath the six candles that burned around their coffins for this purpose.

The decorative border was inspired by the borders in the Sherborne Missal, a 14th-century English manuscript, and the borders in the printed Books of Hours produced by the partnership of Philippe Pigouchet and Simon Vostre in 15th-century Paris. It includes miniature pictures of church buildings, clergymen and hermits, and of a Gothic monstrance holding the Man of Sorrows. A small emblem at the top depicts the Hand of God holding five tiny figures representing the souls of the righteous. A quatrefoil in the bas-de-page contains an image of a pelican in her piety. These are surrounded by vines, flowers and cribly.

MASS for the DEAD

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

25 July 2017

ST. CHRISTOPHER

ST. CHRISTOPHER

This Millefleur Press broadside is based on one of my ink drawings on paper, with some elements taken from other works on paper, calfskin and canvas. Scans of these, slightly enlarged and modified, were used to create the plate for letterpress printing.

The subject and arrangement of the picture follow the conventions of late medieval, northern European art. I did not copy any older work of art directly, but the panel in Dieric Bouts’s Pearl of Brabant triptych was close to the front of my mind.

The Latin inscription is from the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. The blackletter typeface in Millefleur Canic, which I designed myself. The speech bubble in which it appears is a rendering of a piece of origami that I folded for this purpose. The text resonates especially well with a passage from the life of St. Christopher related in the Golden Legend:
Setting the Child down he said to him: My boy, you put me in great danger, and you weighed so much that if I had the whole world on my back I could not have felt a heavier burden! The Child answered: Do not be surprised, Christopher! You were not only carrying the whole world, you had Him who created the world upon your shoulders!
I wanted the image to convey this weight bearing down upon the saint, and this determined much of the surrounding imagery, which represents all of Creation, according to day.

I have for some time been fascinated by the account of the six days of Creation given in Genesis, especially the way that God on successive days distinguished and then populated different dimensions. On the first day, by separating day from night, He created a difference of time. On the second, by placing the sky between heaven and earth, He created a vertical order. On the third, by moving the land and the water apart, He created a horizontal order. Over the next three days, this succession (temporal, vertical, horizontal) was repeated, as each dimension was filled with moving things: first, the celestial bodies that mark the days and seasons and years; second, the animals that move vertically (by flying or diving); third, the animals that mover horizontally upon the earth, including Man.

I made sure to include in the picture both day and night, sky and earth, water and land. The sun, moon and stars appear in the sky. Three aquatic creatures in the foreground (two eels and one frog) represent the fifth-day animals. The sixth day is represented by Christopher himself, and the seventh (that of God’s rest) by the Christ Child resting on the saint’s shoulders.

When drawing the figures of St. Christopher and the Christ Child, I looked to Japanese art, specifically to Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e series The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido, which includes an abundance of river scenes and depictions of strong and fearsome men. None, of course, quite matches the description of a 12-foot-tall Canaanite, but they nonetheless provided good ideas for drawing the saint’s facial expression, musculature and posture.

St. Christopher wears a typical medieval European garment, a semicircular cloak fastened with a brooch at the right shoulder. To draw the garment accurately, I made a pattern out of paper and dressed an artists’ doll in it. To draw the Christ Child’s tunic, I asked one of my sons to put on an oversized shirt and pose.

The damask that appears of St. Christopher’s cloak includes images of battle elephants with towers on their backs. I designed the pattern myself. The elephants are actually wooly mammoths; perhaps this is outlandish, but once the image came into my mind, it seemed too perfect a symbol of St. Christopher not to include. It represents at once his strength and endurance, his patient bearing of heavy burdens, his gigantism and his wild appearance. The arrows refer to a later miracle; St. Christopher was to be martyred by being shot with 400 arrows but these hung in midair and would not touch him.

Around the border of the cloak appear the words QUI VULT VENIRE POST ME / ABNEGET SEMET IPSUM TOLLAT CRUCEM SUAM ET SEQUATUR ME, or If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

St. Christopher’s halo is similar to ones that I have seen in 15th century Italian paintings that copy the designs of Egyptian gold platters. The writing resembles Arabic, but is not; it actually spells the words Amen and Alleluia three times each. In the Christ Child’s halo are orthogonal letters spelling the words IESUS CHRISTUS DEUS HOMO repeatedly.

ST. CHRISTOPHER

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

24 July 2017

TRANSLUCENT ICONOGRAPHY

I have more and more been using the translucent quality of calfskin vellum to artistic advantage. In my recent drawings of the Invention of the Holy Cross and of St. Ambrose with the Emperor Theodosius, I depicted background architecture, damask patterns, wood grain and coral fossils within stone on the reverse side; these show through the surface faintly, and more clearly when the vellum is held up to light. These are the first works in which I have used this method as extensively as I plan to use it in my future drawings for the Summula Pictoria.

Here I am attempting to invent a new artistic medium, which I have named in my mind the translucent icon; My desire to do this was born of a fascination with perspective and lighting in medieval art, which have an altogether different significance than in most postmedieval art.

In the composition of medieval holy pictures, the artists’ intention is to depict earthly events from a heavenly perspective; to depict things as though seen by the eyes of a prelapsarian Adam, or of a saint in glory (at least insofar as the artists are able, being themselves fallen men and women). This is why medieval holy pictures do not include a single vanshing point or light source within them; the infinite and eternal and the source of all light is behind the artist and the viewer.









This compositional intention is the same regardless of the natural light source for the work of art; the same arrangements are present in illuminated manuscirps and panel icons (which are only brilliant if a light source is in front of them to reflect off of the gold leaf) and in stained glass windows (which are only brilliant if a light source is behind them). A beautiful symbolism is suggested by both kinds of art; God’s light is both reflected by His creation and permeates it. But in these media, relection of light and permeation by it are mutually exclusive.

Here I am attempting to create works of art that have something of the nature of illuminated manuscripts and panel icons, and something of the nature of stained glass windows, and that are beautiful no matter which direction they are struck by natural light. Beheld at different places or at different times of day, the drawings can have an unlimited variety of appearance.

I beleive that it is especially important in the present day, when so much artwork (including my own) is commonly seen in the form of digital scans, to assure that original works of religious art are inextricable from reality. As the adage goes, to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail; to a man with a scanner, everything looks like a .jpg. It is tempting, as an artist in the present day, to disregard any artistic method that does not translate to a scanned image (which is absoultely flat, absolutely static, identical in every light, without any objective size). I am rather determined to do the opposite.

22 July 2017

SACRED HEART

SACRED HEART

This Millefleur Press broadside of the Sacred Heart is based on one of my ink drawings on paper. A scan of my drawing, slightly enlarged and modified, was used to create the plate for letterpress printing.

When challenged by one of my patrons to create a new image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I determined to reconnect this devotion to its early expressions in the visions of St. Gertrude, and to create an image with the vigor and precision of late medieval art. The 1467 Sanctus Salvator engraving by the Master E.S. is the most obvious artistic influence on the figure I drew.

The Sacred Heart itself, in its oldest depictions, is flat, simple and symmetrical. Later artists gave it more dimension and detail, but without making it accurate anatomically. Their result, I think, is artistically disastrous: something like a dripping strawberry with a tube projecting from its top. Here, I have done the opposite: I started with the shape of a realistic heart, and reduced that to a stylized emblem.

I placed the emblem within a frame shaped as an ogee trefoil intersecting with an equilateral triangle. This is meant to suggest the triple invocations to the Holy Trinity and the triple petitions in the Kyrie Eleison that begin the Litany of the Sacred Heart. The Crown of Thorns fills the entire space beteween the edge of the heart and the frame.

The animals that appear in the halo include sea horses, embryonic dogfish in their tendrilous egg cases, platypodes, chameleons, lyrebirds and a pangolin. Here, I further another of my long-term artistic projects: the application of the vision of God in nature (one of the most important principles of medieval art) to contemporary knowledge of nature. As I wrote in 2013:
The temptation, for a modern man, is simply to snicker at the authors of the bestiaries for their zoological naïvety. But they were working with the best knowledge they had, and their being mistaken in the details does not prove that their method of interpretation was fallacious. If we no longer find symbols of Christ in the behavior of pelicans and lions, is it because they are not there, or is it because we have ceased to look for them? Were we to embrace again a theophanic worldview, might not our current knowledge yield even more profound symbols?
In the animals chosen here, I see symbols of universality; they represent all of creation worshipping its God. Chameleons are creatures that seem to contain within themselves all colors, and lyrebirds are creatures that seem to contain within themselves all sounds. Platypodes and pangolins are beasts so peculiar in their anatomy that they resemble animals of every class. Dogfish and sea horses (as their names suggest) are aquatic creatures that resemble terrestrial ones.

The Latin inscription that runs around the perimeter is the versicle and response that end the Litany of the Sacred Heart: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our heart like unto Thine. On the cope worn by Jesus Christ is a pattern composed of the words JESUS CHRISTUS DEUS HOMO in orthogonal letters and a labyrinth that once decorated the floor of the Basilica of St. Bertin at St. Omer.

SACRED HEART

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

21 July 2017

ECCE QUAM BONUM

ECCE QUAM BONUM

This Millefleur Press broadside of Psalm 132 (Ecce Quam Bonum) is based on two of my ink drawings on paper. Scans of these drawings, slightly enlarged and modified, were used to create the plate for letterpress printing. The typeface is Millefleur Benedict, which I designed myself. I used medieval spelling and punctuation in the text.

The text, translated, is:
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! As ointment on the head, which ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron: which ran down unto the hem of his garment: as the dew of Hermon, which descendeth upon mount Sion. Because there hath the Lord commanded blessing and life for evermore. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
I formatted the picture like a verso book leaf. The border is composed of tiny plants and animals, resembling a millefleur tapestry. The versal containing the word Ecce includes stylized oak leaves and a background of tiny sand dollars and anemones.

ECCE QUAM BONUM

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

20 July 2017

OUR LADY of WALSINGHAM

OUR LADY of WALSINGHAM

This Millefleur Press broadside of Our Lady of Walsingham is based on one of my ink drawings on calfskin vellum. A scan of my drawing, slightly enlarged and modified, was used to create the plate for letterpress printing.

The shrine of the Blessed Virgin at Walsingham was one of the major pilgrimage destinations in medieval England. Built to commemorate a series of visions experienced by Richeldis de Faverches in the 11th century, it housed a miracle-working statue. The shrine was looted and desecrated under Henry VIII, and the statue was removed to Chelsea and burned.

Surviving drawings of the destroyed statue show Mary seated on a throne, holding a lily stalk in her hand. The throne has seven rings around its two pillars, representing the sacraments. Under her foot is a toadstone, a traditional symbol of evil (which I depicted as literally bufiform). The Christ Child sits on her lap and holds a book.

The text below the central image is a line from a 15th century English poem:

I syng of a myden that is makeles.
King of alle kynges to here Sone che ches.
He cam also stylle there His moder was
As dew in Aprylle, that fallyt on the gras.
He cam also stylle to His moderes bowr
As dew in Aprille, that fallyt on the flour.
He cam also stylle ther His moder lay
As dew in Aprille, that fallyt on the spray.
Moder & mayden was never non but che -
Wel may swych a lady Godes moder be.


I formatted the picture like a recto book leaf. The design of the border was heavily influenced by the Sherborne Missal, a manuscript illuminated in 14th century England. Stylized vines twist through it, supporting geometric ornaments and small sections of millefleur and seashell patterns. To the right is a Gothic monstrance housing an image of the Man of Sorrows. In the bas-de-page I drew pilgrims coming to and going from the Chapel of St. Catherine, which is about a mile from Walsingham. In medieval times, it was common for pilgrims to remove their shoes there to walk the final mile on bare feet. Thus it became known as the Slipper Chapel.

I drew St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch (whose statues flanked the statue of Blessed Virgin in the medieval shrine) and St. Lawrence in the corners of the border.

OUR LADY of WALSINGHAM

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

19 July 2017

PAPER and INK

I carefully select the materials used to print the books, broadsides and bookplates issued by Millefleur Press. My first concern is that they be permanent; the papers are archival and the inks are lightfast. My second concern that they be beautiful, and my third is that they be traditional.

PAPER

Certain Millefleur Press broadsides are printed on paper from Twinrocker Handmade Paper (Brookston, IN). The following is a description of Twinrocker’s methods paraphrased from its own brochures:
Established in 1971, Twinrocker Handmade Paper was pivotal to the renaissance of hand-papermaking in America. Small and innovative, Twinrocker encouraged the art world to appreciate the æsthetic importance of paper. Twinrocker makes handmade paper just as paper was made in Europe centuries ago.

The first step is to beat the fiber to a pulp in a Hollander beater. The plant fibers are mixed with pure water and the pounding action of the beater crushes and abrades the fibers. The beating process creates new bonds between the fibers and is crucial in determining the physical characteristics of the finished paper.

Each sheet is formed, one at a time, by dipping a traditional European-style hand mould into a vat of pulp, scooping up a thin layer of pulp on its surface, throwing off any excess, and then, while holding the mould level, shaking it from side to side and front to back as the water drains through the mesh of fine brass wire. The shake interlocks the fibers into a smooth, even mat.

The freshly formed sheets are then couched between wool felt blankets. A stack of couched sheets is then placed in a hydraulic press which squeezes out most of the water. After pressing, the sheets are strong enough to be lifted by hand off the felts and dried.
The Twinrocker paper I use is very heavy text-weight; it is cream-colored and made from cotton rag. Its surfaces are cold-pressed with a laid pattern from the wires in the papermaking mould; laid paper was the only kind of paper manufactured in Europe before the 18th century. When possible, I preserve the deckle edges in the trimmed prints.

For other broadsides and for bookplates, I use Reich Savoy text-weight paper; this is made by machine from cotton fiber. It has a natural white color and a wove surface.

INK

Graphic Chemical & Ink (Villa Park, IL) produces some of the purest and most traditional printing inks available today. Their Albion Matte Black was first formulated it for use on iron handpresses. It has a linseed oil base and is pigmented with finely-ground furnace black; its composition differs little from that of 15th century printing inks. Graphic Chemical & Ink’s Bond Black is another fine ink for letterpress printing that uses the company’s original recipe from 1920. Albion Matte Black and 1920 Bond Black are used to print the letterpress broadsides issued by Millefleur Press.

The bookplates are printed using Van Son vegetable oil based black ink.

You may read more about Millefleur Press and see the broadsides and bookplates available at this web page.

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www.danielmitsui.com

18 July 2017

LETTERPRESS PRINTING

Letterpress printing is used for most Millefleur Press projects. This is the method that was dominant from the fifteenth century until the twentieth. Although letterpresses became much more efficient over those centuries, their essential mechanism remained the same: the raised surfaces of a printing plate or block of composed type are inked, and a piece of paper is pressed against them and lifted.

LETTERPRESS

LETTERPRESS

Letterpress has now almost completely been replaced by offset and digital printing for commercial applications and mainstream publishing. Yet it has been revived in recent decades by private presses, artists and hobbyists who appreciate the distinctive beauty of the method and the craftsmanship needed to practice it. My reason for preferring this method to reproduce religious artwork I explained in my Steubenville lecture of 2015:
Catholic tradition maintains that the virtue of sacred relics can imparted through contact. Things that touch the relics of Our Lord’s Passion or the mortal remains of the saints become relics themselves, although of a lower class. When I speak of the virtue of sacred relics, I do not mean a magical property that works independently of the will of God (for the working of miracles is proper to God alone), but rather the quality that sets it apart from an ordinary piece of wood or bone or cloth. That distinction is real enough to terrify demons. In the Middle Ages, the faithful believed that this virtue could also be transferred optically; where the relics were inaccessible to touch, pilgrims held up mirrors to reflect them. The mirrors were then carried homeward, and treated as relics of a lower class.

The Cathedral of Aachen is home to four relics of particular distinction: the dress worn by the Blessed Virgin Mary on the night of the Nativity, the Holy Infant’s swaddling cloths, the fabric used to wrap the head of St. John the Baptist and the loincloth worn by Jesus Christ on the cross. Since the fourteenth century, these have been displayed at septennial jubilees, unfurled from the gallery connecting the cathedral’s belfry to its octagonal dome.

In anticipation of the jubilee of 1439, a clever silversmith began to manufacture quantities of pilgrim mirrors, convex ones that could reflect a panorama. He had partners in this enterprise; all were disappointed when the jubilee was postponed due to plague. At a loss for money, the silversmith offered to share with two of his partners another idea, one that he had been developing in secret. They listened, doubled their investments, and set to work on the confidential endeavor. The silversmith’s name was Johann Gutenberg; the endeavor involved the making of tiny metal letters that could be arranged into text; a viscous oil-based ink; and a press like that used by vintners and bookbinders, but adapted to the purpose of printing on paper, an art that previously had been done through manual pressure.

Indirectly, the cult of relics gave Gutenberg his funding. I think that it gave him also the idea for the printing press itself. Consider the mechanism of a printing press: a matrix - which might be a wooden block with a holy picture carved in its surface, or a Biblical text set in forty-two lines of metal type - is inked, and touched to a different object, a piece of paper. Through touch, the matrix makes the paper into something like itself. The process can be repeated with practically no exhaustion of the matrix. Every printer knows that typeset text must run backwards; when printed, images are reversed, just like things reflected in a mirror.

Gutenberg believed that relics can impart their virtue through contact and reflection. In the years when he conceived his printing press, this was at the forefront of his mind, as was the problem of sharing this virtue among great multitudes; we know this as a fact of history. What Gutenberg invented was a technological metaphor for pilgrimage.

In fact, many printed sheets of the fifteenth century were distributed as pilgrim souvenirs. Later scholars gave to the printed books of that century the name incunabula; how fitting this is! Incunabula is the Latin word for swaddling cloths, and the Holy Infant’s swaddling cloths were among the relics exhibited at the Aachen jubilee.

I am determined to make printed works of art in the same spirit, ones that look, feel, smell and are like those of the fifteenth century. I hope to publish my own illustrated editions of popular late medieval religious blockbooks and a Book of Hours. To date, I have issued relief prints only in individual sheets, their images based on my original drawings and typefaces. My method is not exactly Gutenberg’s; I hire pressmen who operate machines much faster than his, and they transfer the images and text onto plates by a photochemical process. But the printed sheets are nonetheless made by the same essential mechanism of contact and reflection.
The majority of Millefleur Press projects are printed at Rohner Letterpress (Chicago, IL), which uses Heidelberg windmill presses to print small sheets and Heidelberg cylinder presses to print large sheets.

PAPER

The question of how deep an impression to leave in a letterpress print is debated. Many contemporary printers leave as deep an impression as possible, to make apparent that this traditional printing method is being used. Others regard deep impressions as tasteless and ahistorical. The prints issued by Millefleur Press imitate what I have seen and felt in books from the 15th century and from the 19th century Arts & Crafts Movement: the impression is noticeable but not exaggerated.

You may read more about Millefleur Press and see the broadsides and bookplates available at this web page.

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www.danielmitsui.com