Sunday, September 3, 2017

9th Century Box - It is Still in Progress

I was astonished just now when I looked back through my posts and saw that it has been 13 months since I posted anything on my box project. (here is a link to that post from July 2016) Even though it has been that long, there has been a bit of movement on it from time to time. I had wanted to finish up the back before posting about it again, but the time keeps running and I do not want the project to go completely cold.

I am not sure why I didn't take any pictures of the second scene whilst I was working on it or when I finished it, but I never did. This one was taken today after I did a bit more fussing with it, as can be seen by the lighter areas.
Proetus, king of Tiryns

The back panel of this box will have five scenes from the story of Bellerophon, this is the second scene in which He goes to meet with Proetus, a king in the Mycenaean realm, seeking forgiveness for a crime he committed. As with medieval artists, I searched for existing models to guide my work. In the 9th century (and for many centuries after) People did not draw from life, they used other pictures, or relief sculptures as a guide and source of inspiration. The fact that art styles continued to change tells us, however, that artists still used their own creativity and the influences of the styles around them in creating their own work based on those models. An example of this method can be seen from the way I used the following image from the 9th century Stuttgart Psalter as a model for my Proetus. (This Psalter is the model for most of my images on this side of the box)

A king on a throne, but this scene has a religious context, as evidenced
by the gospel book he holds on his knee

I carved most of this scene back in April, but did not finish it until last week. My museum adventures in Europe gave me the inspiration to get back to work on the project again. I have been so busy with my job that I have not been able to work on the box, but I decided that busy or not, I will make time for this project at least once every two weeks so that eventually it will get completed. I am ahead of the game, because I worked on finishing up the Proetus scene and began the next scene last weekend. This week I continued where I left off and worked another six hours. (about all my neck can take bent over working on such small detail) I took a Picture of where I was when I started today.

The beginning of scene three

In the Story, Bellerophon meets with the king who wines and dines him as a guest. Later in the story, he goes to king Lobates who is Proetus' father-in-law, who feasts with him for another 9 days. Instead of doing two separate banquet scenes, this one stands in for both. This is a typical medieval practice of combining events of different places and times into a single scene.

Two hours later

The further I progress with this carving, the slower the work goes because I keep going back and working over previously "finished" areas. Such was the case today, so much so, that nearly two of the six hours I spent went into "cleaning up" previous work. After looking at the pictures taken for this post, I can see several areas that will require more work the next go-round as well. Sometimes one sees things in the photos that they did not notice in life.

Another hour gone by; the drapery is complete and the table has begun

About an hour after this picture, the sun came around the corner of the workshop and provided perfect lighting to show off the carving (and lots of areas that wanted fixing!)

Dramatic afternoon sunlight; perfect for carving, but it only lasted half an
hour before disappearing behind the trees

Though I am mainly using the Stuttgart Psalter as the model for this project, it does not serve completely, because there are no scenes of people feasting at a table in the manuscript. I find this quite odd considering that the Utrecht Psalter, (another of only four still existing 9th century examples) has at least 20 scenes with tables. In fact ,that was where I turned for a model of my table in this scene. Some people might find it shocking, given that we are constantly being told that "medieval tables were comprised of planks of wood set on trestles" (sometimes they were, but this is mostly a lot of rubbish) but early medieval tables continued to follow Roman forms, and thus, many tables had lion-formed legs and were of a round 'tripod' type as the one pictured below.

Into the first half of the Middle Ages, tables continued to follow Roman forms
this illustration comes from the 9th century Utrecht Psalter

In doing this project I have also been consulting actual ivory carvings from the 9th century to try to get a sense of the way an image would have been translated from a two-dimensional drawing to a three-dimensional relief carving. I found this image from a book cover in the Aachen Cathedral treasury quite useful.

A carving of people eating at a round table; Note that there are
no legs pictured on the table. This became a trend and is especially
prevalent in 10th through 12th century artwork, and very exasperating for
someone interested in medieval furniture.
(obviously the table had legs, it was just a fad to not bother picturing them)

As the sixth hour drew on, my neck began to tire and I made a couple of stupid (though minor) mistakes. I realised it was time to pack up for the day. Here is the panel as it stands at the moment. You can see I did a bit of borrowing from the ivory illustration for some of my figures.

The panel is a bit more than half finished now. I am in the midst of scene
three, but the final scene is shorted than the others so I have actually done
more than half of the length


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