I was commissioned by a friend to make, in secret, a Court Barony scroll for his wife, Sabina. He had some very specific ideas for what he wanted it to look like. He wanted a very long scroll, that could be unfolded (and unfolded and unfolded). He wanted a genealogy, going back to the line’s founder, and ending in Sabina. Her persona is Italian, so he wanted a very Borgia-like family, plagued by misfortune and calamity (some of it wrought by other family members).
Looking around, I found a manuscript, the Genealogy of Christ by Peter of Poitiers (ca. 1130-1205, which is way early for a Venetian courtesan, but who’s telling this story?!) that we both liked the bold, graphic nature of.
I started off by measuring the longest sheet of paper I had, Somerset printmaking paper. It turned out to be 30″ long. I settled on making the scroll 11″ wide, to make it look even longer proportionally. I taped two pieces of graph paper together and marked off 1.5″ margins all around. Then I marked out the central line and circles where I thought they’d look pleasing. It should be noted that this is not meant to be an accurate family tree, even for her persona. It’s meant to be a prop that looks good, and is accidentally a legal document.
The design was inked to allow for easier tracing via lightbox.
Using my patented Giant Natural Lightbox technique (ie: taping the papers to my french door and tracing the lines), I transferred my design onto the final paper. You may not that I didn’t do any “wet-fits,” or making sure that the calligraphy would fit into the allotted space. If you look at the original manuscript, the text is rather jammed in around the lineage. I wanted the same look. I did, however, leave what I was pretty sure would be enough space at the bottom for the actual award text.
I inked the initial lines in red. Originally I used brazilwood, but I think perhaps some remaining iron-gall ink in my nib oxidized with it and instead of a lovely light pinkish-red, it darkens to a pretty (but incorrect) purple. Instead, I used a red india ink.
You can see my first serious screw up. I traced the line with my ruler upside down and the ink bled underneath it. I love my first screw-up of a project. It keeps me from being too precious about the rest of it.
And for a mistake, it’s easily fixed by scraping the top layer of the paper off with my scalpel and burnishing the fuzzy spot that’s left. The green inner circles were drawn with watered down gouache, and the faces were sketched in (very loosely, this is not a time for perfectionism) and then inked with my favorite Scribal Workshop Iron Gall ink.
Portraits are all finished! That’s Sabina at the bottom right. It kinda looks like her, too.
Side by side comparisons of the design paper and the in-progress scroll. All the painting is finished there; I’m particularly proud of the central stripe. It’s so lovely and graphic.
A close-up of the portraits. They got a small bit of shading after this picture; I thought they looked a bit too flat, even for this style.
Names and causes of death filled in. Like any good Venetian family, lots of poison, lots of war, lots of killing each other in underhanded ways. Even one “defenestration,” which is being thrown out a window.
And with the text and marginalia written in. The actual award text is in English, while the marginalia is in Latin. I wanted the writing to be there, but not to detract from the actual award. Some of the latin bits are Bible verses on the importance of a loving family, and some are notes about how horrified the poor scribes are about how “unlucky” this family has been.
If you notice, the last seven heirs died in a fire (started as they attempted to kill each other to obtain the estate). This family tree and the coronet she was given were the only surviving artifacts. Part of my commission was to make sure that the scroll looked like it had been rescued from a fire. I aged the paper with various washes of watercolor, and added some bloody handprints and splatters. I also painted the paws of my more tolerant cat and had him walk over the back of the scroll. He was very patient and only cried a little bit when I washed the excess paint off him.
I added some wine rings on th front (such careless scribes!) and some more blood splatters and sooty handprints. I was going to make those in charcoal, but it wasn’t wanting to cooperate, so I just used dark grey gouache instead. Then I took a candle and burned the edges, and made soot marks.
The one place I deliberately (mostly) avoided was the legal text. I didn’t want that getting smudged or burned beyond recognition. The hole in th middle accidentally forms a nice portrait window if you fold it over right, too.
The scroll all folded up. I actually have some hanging seals to attach, but I thought it’d be easier to do it after the hoopla in court was done.
A clean version of the scroll text, before clean-up. I misspelled her name horribly, but it’s a relatively easy fix.
Photo by Katy Thompson. Used with permission.
And Her Excellency Sabina with her scroll!