The scholars cat Pangur Ban, and a new outlook on Illuminated Art.

This year I have been looking at the skills of the Early Christian & Medieval illuminated manuscript makers.


These works of art are detailed almost beyond the available space, and their colours, which would be garish and harsh if one of us were to use them, seem to fit and work perfectly, even more so when seen in the way they were created. Imagine the monks, lit only by candlelight, creating these masterpieces with none of the advantages enjoyed by modern artists.

Many years ago, I discovered a poem. The story of a 9th-century scholar and his cat, Pangur Ban. The original poem in old Irish is in Reichenau Primer in the Lavanttal in Austria. Pangur Ban is also mentioned in The Secret of Kells. It is said he and the old monk fled Iona during Viking raids. The monks’ name is not known, but his cat carries his tale through history. The translation I found was by Robin Flower. Since reading this poem I have created many sketches and artworks of how I see Pangur Ban, before finally featuring him in illuminated artworks earlier this year.

Since then my interest in ancient manuscripts and pages has revived and I have tried to recreate my own. As an Agnostic, I have found it difficult in the past to recreate these works, the themes were too godly/saintly/iconic for me, but Pangur Ban has opened the door to a new, secular view of modern illumination for me. Since then I have strained eyes and patience, and discovered that ending up wearing gold leaf is easier to do than applying it to the artwork!

I these images I am using a gold ink to illuminate. I use brushes to apply this ink as the flow isn`t so good with a dip pen. Probably due to the suspended metals in the ink, compared to other pigment inks.