25 July 2017



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.


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