Friday, November 25, 2011

A Carved Gospel Book Cover By Andrew Gould and Jonathan Pageau

Here is a gospel book cover. The relief carving in the central portion is by Jonathan Pageau a Canadian based in Quebec and the striking veneer frame is made by Andrew Gould who is based in South Carolina. Both are part of a group of liturgical artistans who call themselves New World Byzantine Studios. For the icon painters amongst you, they make gessoed icon boards with raised borders as well.

Andrew told me that the inspiration for the marquetry work came from both Christian and Islamic sources. I am interested especially in his reference to the crossover between the Christian and the Islamic in geometric pattern. We have seen it before in articles about Romanesque Sicily for example. Here, Andrew describes how he based his designs on Greek designs from the 17th century (when occupied by Turks) and also modern Islamic designs from north Africa. He wrote as follows:

"My design for the gospel cover has two sources. In the 12th-13th centuries, it was common for the western church to set an old Byzantine ivory icon in a gold frame as a gospel cover. Orthodox gospel covers are usually a little different. They either consist of one large icon covering the whole cover, or five small icons (evangelist around the crucifixion). The former is impractical for stone, and the latter too expensive. So I decided to go with the western style in order to accommodate one of Jonathan's carvings. The back cover bears a second icon, with the resurrection. In Orthodox practice, the gospel is placed on the altar with the back cover facing up during Paschatide, so this icon must be on the back.

The marquetry frame around the icons is a style that was very typical in Greek Orthodox art in the 17th century. There is still plenty of furniture on Mt Athos and other old Greek Monasteries that is covered with this sort of inlay. It is really an Islamic style of woodwork, still current on Moroccan and Egyptian imports. I find it highly flattering to relief icons, and it reads very well in the dim light of Orthodox churches, so I advocate reviving this sort of ornamentation for Orthdox liturgical use.

I used marquetry inlay banding (which is available for musical instrument makers) and salvaged ivory from pipe organ keys. There is no specific explanation for the pattern itself, except that I wanted it to convey the power and significance of the events depicted."

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