Art historical sources and symbolism:

This manuscript is based upon the very common format of author portraiture in European manuscripts. Such author portraits typically involved a self-portrait of the seated scribe (or illuminator) at his desk, working on the manuscript in which the image is contained. In many cases, the scribe was surrounded by an entire scribal building or even a city, which formed a highly foreshortened and flattened border around him. I have used this template for the basis of my Greek manuscript, drawing from two principal originals. The first is a Greek author portrait of Gregory of Nazianzus, found in The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai, which depicts the author of the text seated at his desk in the heart of a city, in the process of writing. Perspective is highly skewed to make more surface area visible in two-dimensional space, and objects are not sized in proportion to one another, but rather in proportion to importance in the image---clearly, Gregory is enormous in comparison with the size of the buildings around him, while plants and gardens are miniaturized to fit into the leftover spaces. Another common feature to be found here is the stylization of much of the artwork. Byzantine art was influenced more by Middle Eastern trends than the equivalents in Western Europe, and we see very little in the way of realism here. Details, for instance, are converted to eye-pleasing patterns, such as the tiles on the roof and the very arrangement of buildings. The more realistic painting of the scribe himself is flattened by association with a patterned halo and a smooth gold backdrop. From this portrait I drew the arrangement of the architectural frame, the color scheme (as near as possible), and the stylized patterning of the piece. 

I should point out the relationship of this author portrait with the Byzantine Orthodox tradition of icons (Greek, eikones), an artform that continues to this day. Such icons combined the naturalistic painting perfected by the Greeks, bound by proportion and physical comprehensibility, with the more abstract style that became increasingly popular with the wane of the Roman empire. This latter style distorted anatomy, imposed geometric order on its compositions, allowing nothing to appear casual or purposeless. It also preferred frontality for its figures, so that even side views presented a figure's full face, arresting their movement and making them seem aware of the viewer. Because icons were a venerated part of the church, they were made with precious materials, especially gold, which was used for the background of the figures. My images relate to the tradition of gospel icons. For comparison, an icon of St. Luke, who was also reportedly an artist who painted portraits of Mary and Jesus, shows him in his aspect as author of the Gospel of Luke.

The second model used in the making of my Greek manuscript, the Canterbury Psalter, contains a full-page author portrait of the scribe, Eadwine of Canterbury, at the end. This book was written about 1150 AD at Canterbury in England, and is an example of Romanesque illumination. I used the shape of this seated scribe for both of my human figures, adapting them as necessary for my message. For instance, I made a mirror image of the male scribe to create the female scribe, changing details so that it became my own author portrait. One scribe does the calligraphy, while the other does illuminations; a table centered between them contains art materials for each. The male scribe writes the words mousikos chroma on his otherwise blank page. These words come from Plato's Republic (601b), and refer specifically to poetic language; I consider it to be a fitting description of language that takes into account the visual and aural nature of language, both of which poets regularly tap into. These words also echo a Romanesque manuscript illumination called "Boethius, Pythagoras, Plato, and Nichomachus" from ca. 1130 (Cambridge, University Lib. Ii.3.12, fol. 61v). This miniature shows Plato holding an open book on which the word "musica" is written.

The female scribe's painting seems to come alive with plants. I have used quite a bit of plant imagery in this manuscript. In addition to the stylized plants and miniature gardens that appear around the edges of the main illumination, plants fill the central triangular panel, erupting from the book of the female scribe. This image comes partly from an illustration in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, which shows a sleeping girl with an open book on her chest, from which has begun to sprout a plant. The foliage sprouting from my scribe's book is also intertwined with musical staff lines, which support it; the plant's fruit doubles as musical notes along the staff lines. All of this is to uphold the idea that verbal and written language rely upon one another, and bear one another up. 

The base of the main illumination is fraught with the roots of plants. These begin as a stylization, fitting to the stylized plants to which they seem attached. However, as they pass beneath the miniature into the world of the written text, they become more natural in style, branching and winding about the large versal 'omega' that introduces the written text of the manuscript. Additionally, roots appear in the lower illumination of the cave. A passage from Plato's Phaedrus was in part the inspiration for this imagery: 

The gardens of letters he will, it seems, plant for amusement, and will write, when he writes, to treasure up reminders for himself, when he comes to the forgetfulness of old age, and for others who follow the same path, and he will be pleased when he sees them putting forth tender leaves. When others engage in other amusements, refreshing themselves with banquets and kindred entertainments, he will pass the time in such pleasures as I have suggested (276d). 

This passage compares the "living and breathing word of him who knows" with the written word—which "may justly be called the image" (276a)—in terms of a sensible husbandman versus one who seeks the temporary pleasure and beauty of a garden of Adonis. Such gardens were planted on the rooftops of Adonis' devotees—they planted fast-sprouting lettuce, barley, wheat and fennel in baskets and small pots when the sun was at its hottest. The plants quickly sent up shoots and just as quickly withered, lacking strong root systems to nourish them in the heat. Adonis gardens typically lasted only eight days, after which Adonis' worshipers threw the withering sprouts into the sea with great mourning. Saying the written word is like a garden of Adonis, Plato also claims that writing should only be used for temporary amusement and reminders, while the spoken word alone will bear fruit, having been planted by the original thinker directly into the minds of his followers. I disagreed with this sentiment, which ranks writing only slightly higher than drinking-parties, and consequently showed my manuscript to be deep-rooted and bearing the potential to last thousands of years, even as the text from Plato endured in writing to the present day. 

Letters are not the only inhabitants of the textblock in this manuscript. In addition to the naturalistic roots described above, there is a tunnel connecting the right side of the main, stylized miniature with a much smaller depiction of a subterranean cave. I should point out the tunnel's inhabitant, a tiny ferret, follows in the tradition of drolleries, often taking the shape of animals, that sometimes occupy the margins of illuminated manuscripts. A closer look reveals that the ferret, true to its mischievous nature, has stolen some of the illuminator's brushes and brought them to its stash. This ferret's coloring is based on that of my chocolate roan point girl, Pandora, but the deed is something more likely to be pulled off by her younger 'sister,' Loki. Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, and images of them have appeared in many medieval works of art, most commonly in hunting scenes. 

Finally, the textblock contains a naturalistic cave in its bottom right corner. Roots from the plants above seem to protrude through the roof of the cavern. Significant here is a detail that may not be visible to the casual viewer. The Greek letters of the word pharmakon—remedy, medicine, drug, poison—are hidden in the structure of the cave, in stones, stalagmites, and roots. This word appears on the sixth line of the left-hand column in my manuscript, where it refers to the colors of paint, and is an important word for understanding Plato's view of writing. For more background into pharmaka, please see my textual discussion for this manuscript. By hiding the letters inside this naturalistic artwork, I wished to imply the inseparable amalgam of image and language, illusion and reality, that make up the arts. Language is always just beneath the surface of visual art, as the pharmakon cave of my manuscript is beneath the stylized surface of the text.