Going medieval on me – part 1

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were living in the wrong century because for the past few weeks things around here have been focused on the medieval. Of course its all in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. (If you didn’t know, Australia owns one of the only four extant 1297 copies of the document).

Two weeks ago we attended the Medieval Fest, held at Old Parliament House, which startled everyone by completely blowing out of the water all expectations of attendance. We tried to see the morning session of the heavy combat re-enactment but it proved to be difficult.

Too popular by half!, what we really saw of the combat reenactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Too popular by half! Or what we really saw of the combat re-enactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Luckily we were a lot smarter, not to mention arrived earlier on the spot, for the next session.

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

It was reported that over 10,000 people attended – so much for the theory that Canberra would be empty on the long weekend!

After we had our fill of medieval food and drink – thumbs up for the blackberry and brown sugar milkshake – we decided to take the opportunity to see the display of the Rothschild Prayer Book in the National Library of Australia. Created in the early 1500’s this is one very up-market Book of Hours. Each two page spread has a image, opposite a page of text, both encircled by exquisite margin surrounds.

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

I love this illustration of St Stephen, who, literally as a sign of his martyrdom, has rocks in his head! (in case you forgot, he was ‘stoned’ to death).

As only one page of the Prayer Book is displayed at a time, the Library is projecting onto a large screen a digital copy of the whole book. The modular nature of the layout was obvious as we sat entranced watching the pages of the book turn. Yes, not everything was invented recently! There appeared to be several artists who specialised in different forms of margin painting. One was focused on painting Gothic architectural detail, one of flowers, as above, and another on decorative lattices. Separate artists and craftspeople, yep there were quite a few women known to have worked in the medieval book trades, were responsible for the writing and decoration of the various sections of each page. Many of the paintings were made by leading Flemish artists of the time, such as Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening.  When I saw that the Library was holding a Medieval Manuscripts Day I just had to put my name down to attend (that’s a story for Part 2).

It was a happily tiring day and it was good to know that Magna Carta is still having an impact on our society today.

'Ello, 'ello 'ello ...

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