Macbeth – The Witches Chant – illuminated manuscript page and the gruesome story behind the creation of this

Macbeth - the witches chant - william shakespeare - illuminated manuscript - fine art glicee print

During the mid-nineties I was an avid calligrapher. I created this piece at the age of 21 in late 1994. I had become fascinated with illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells which is likely the most famous example of illumination. The Book of Kells is four gospels from the New Testament.

This page began as a class assignment. I remember being utterly amazed when we as a class at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design travelled to the Harriett Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton to see first hand a fine reproduction of the Book of Kells. There were only 1,480 created from the original manuscript in the whole world. We had to wear white gloves while handling the book.

I also enjoyed reading stories by William Shakespeare and in particular, The Withes Chant from Macbeth.

About a half an hour before turning in this assignment I had it sitting on the giant class table beside my morning can of Pepsi. I accidentally knocked that full can of Pepsi, spilling it all over the assignment. I was mortified! The instructor nonchalantly laughed and says “Aw that’s too bad Jessica. I would have given you an A+ but you’ve wrecked your assignment now.” Hahhahahaha! Can I just say that I loathed her and the numerous incidents that took place between her and I were not very professional on her part. Swallowing my pride and choking back tears I requested a small extension until the following tomorrow morning so that I could fix up the page.

After arriving home from classes later that day in tears, I promptly and carefully began testing various white art supplies and thus decided on one and began painting in the light brown goo areas. White gouache with a tiny tiny tiny bit of sepia coloured ink seemed to match the texture and colour of the illustration board quite nicely.

I handed in the page the following day. She gave me an A-! What infuriated me is that she had already seen the final assignment before the Pepsi flowed and could have very well given the A+. I wanted to cast my own witches spell over her to make this woman disappear immediately.

In hindsight this instructor, while she did push my buttons more than any other, while at college, she may have been a driving force in getting me to think outside of the box and in the end doing much more than what was required for class assignments.

The Witches Chant
“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Harpier cries “‘Tis time, ’tis time.”

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

Last week I meticulously scanned the original and began touching up the colours in order for the final reproduction to look great. This is a limited edition fine art print run of 100 only. It measures 9.5 x 13 inches (24cm by 33cm) and is printed on beautiful Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper with archival pigment based inks.

Go and get one for yourself or for a friend or family member in the art shop. Thank you!

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2 thoughts on “Macbeth – The Witches Chant – illuminated manuscript page and the gruesome story behind the creation of this

  1. And what a lovely human being she sounds! I had one tutor who said I’d either be very famous or go to prison! Very encouraging at 15 years old!

    Anyway enough about ‘dem haterz’, I looooooove calligraphy. It’s one of those art forms which are highly underrated. So much of our culture and history has been defined and inspired by illuminated texts. The craftsmanship and love demonstrated is beyond luxury. I just wish there was some modern equivalent and much to my dismay the public only seem to be interested in the stuff when a) Ann Boyleyn touched it (ok- maybe a little cynical of me…) or wedding stationary.

    I want to rejuvenate exquisite handwriting and the art of illumination! Emails are so last decade don’t you think?

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