Fall AS LI (2016)
Volume XXII, Issue 1 (#82)

From the Nachalnik

I was recently asked how long I planned to continue putting out Slovo . There is no denying that it has grown harder and harder to find material for each issue (of course, you could change that!). Still, producing it takes fairly little overhead (my lady wife loyally copyedits for me and most of the subscribers are now on-line) so it is likely I will continue as long as there is enough to print.

At the start of our twenty-second year, the Slavic Interest Group itself is alive and well. Social media, as I have noted previously, has largely overtaken our listserv on Yahoo! Groups, which itself in turn long ago overtook this formal newsletter. And on Facebook, I notice new submissions at least every week, so I think the Group is doing fine. I simply remain attached to the quaint antique notion of a published newsletter. As long as I can find enough writers who remained attached in the same way, I imagine Slovo will be around.


Maunche Scroll for Katrusha Skomorokh

By Lada

I had the honor to create an award scroll for the Order of the Maunche, an East Kingdom Grant level award for Arts and Sciences. The scroll was created upon the occasion of the induction of Katrusha Skomorokh into the Order of the Maunche. I usually create scrolls as assigned to me by the Signet office in service to the Crown, however with this assignment I put in the request for this scroll. I greatly admire Katrusha's passion, skill, and the amount of research she puts into her skomorokh (medieval Russian entertainer) persona. I wanted to create a special piece for Katrusha, and tried to make it as authentic and as personal as I could. I wanted to go for a document style scroll. Upon researching Russian documents I have discovered that for the most part the documents were text only. Very seldom are examples of anything with illumination.

Grant of Ivan III of Russia (1440-1505). Kept in the Rylskiy Monastery, Bulgaria

Each scroll we create in the SCA is a work of art, and I felt it appropriate and necessary to include a bit of illumination into the project. I chose artwork based on 14 th century Novgorod Psalter. It is a floral motif heavily reminiscent of the Byzantine ornamental traditions of big flowers with repeating patterns.

1372 award grant with illumination



The scribal tradition of Russia developed from Byzantine manuscript traditions. The first manuscripts to come to Russia were religious texts from Byzantium that came with the Russian conversion to Christian Orthodoxy in the 9 th century. As those manuscripts were copied Russia developed its own manuscript making traditions. But the Byzantine influence is seen in the artwork for centuries to come, even after the fall of Byzantium.

In period the manuscripts were done on parchment with ground pigments using binders. A binder is a substance added to the ground pigment to help it better attach to the surface it is being painted on. There was a variety of different binders used in period. Recommendations for binders are found in various medieval treaties and through analyzing mediaeval manuscripts via modern scientific methods. The “Treaties of Theophilus” dating to about 1125 (the author of which is not one hundred percent established), as well as the fourteenth century Italian Naples manuscript “De Arte Illuminandi [On the Art of Illumination]” discuss Greek book illumination and recommend using gum and egg white as binder for pigments. Anonymus Bernesis in “De clarea” recommends glair (binder made of egg white), as well as egg yolk. When tested, Byzantine manuscripts show a wide variety of binders in used in various combinations. The use of so many different binding agents that reacted differently with each other, the pigments, and the parchment, can be held responsible to the deterioration of the manuscript as we see it today.

Charter issued by Grand Prince Ivan Vasil'evich of Moscow (Ivan the Terrible) 16th century, kept in the National Library of Russia


The pigments that were used are:

Red: Vermillion or Cinnabar, mercuric sulphide was identified in all manuscripts. Its color varies from bright red to orange, similar to red lead. Red Ochres also commonly found. Red Organic Pigment derived from various plants has been found. It varies in shade from bright red to a dark violet depending on plant of origin.

Purple: The famous purple pigment used for dyeing parchment, Emperor's clothes and for special royal ink is derived from shellfish Murex Brandaris. Because pink/purples hues were particularly important in the color scheme of Greek manuscripts, Red Organic Pigment was often used instead of the shellfish derived color.

Blues: Ultramarine, derived from lapis lazuli chiefly used in the creating of the headpieces of manuscripts, mixed with lead white to achieve the lighter tones. Also used: Azurite (mineral pigment), Smalt (only one instance of use found in the depiction of clothing in the miniatures of “Akathistos to Virgin” Syn. gr. 429, where it is mixed with other blues), Indigo (used as under painting and to achieve green by mixing with yellow pigments)

Green: Glauconite is a basic green widely used by medieval artists. Also used Green copper pigments (but appear to be used rarely)

Yellow: Orpiment is a natural yellow arsenic found practically in every manuscript. Ochre, a yellow iron of varying hues, also commonly found in manuscripts. Also used: Tin-lead yellow.

Lots of gold was used to decorate the illuminated pages. The gold was attached to the pages with a thin layer binding gluing agent. A variety of glues are described to have been used: egg white, fish glue, animal glue, and even egg yolk. Calligraphy written with a quill using iron based ink turned brown over time. Multiple ink recipes have been found, but most are fero-gallic with additions of salts of copper and ferrous sulfate in variable proportions.


The Project

I used goat skin parchment to create the scroll, as this is what was available and within my budget. I did not know how this parchment was initially prepared or how well it was stretched. Also, I have seen parchment scrolls go out in court that are buckled and I wanted to ensure that once I started working on the scroll it wasn't going to go anywhere. I cut out a piece a bit bigger than what I would need and wetted it down in its entirety. Then I used a flat piece of wood to lay the parchment flat on and nailed it down around the edge, while stretching the parchment as much as possible to eliminate any future buckling. I left it to dry overnight. When the parchment completely dried I used a pencil to lightly sketch out the design.

For the gilding portion of the piece, I did the gilding first, because gold will stick to literally everything including any ink or paint laid down on the page. I used fish glue, and base 23kt gold leaf for the gilding. I usually leave my fish glue to dry for about 24 hours and then re-moisturize it just a tad, by breathing heavily on it. This is a technique used by a several scribes and has proved to be effective. It is also cited by Cennini in his “Il Libro dell' Arte.” When applied in a thin coat, fish glue will hold up really nicely to flat gilding. If applied too thick it will crack and those cracks will be showing right through the gold leaf (see example below). After the gold leaf was applied I used a dog tooth agate burnisher to polish the leaf through some glassine paper.


Liturgy of St Barlaam of Khutyn (late 12th -early 13th century). Kept at the Historical Museum of Moscow

I used a Mitchell 4 metal nib for the calligraphy. Originally the calligraphy would have been written with a quill pen made from a feather of a goose or a swan. While I've taken a class on quill cutting, I have not been successful at this point to cut one that I would be happy with. I am still working on bettering my skill to where I can cut a quill I can use on a scroll. In the meantime I can always count on my Mitchel nibs to be consistent and deliver good results. The ink is McCaffery's Penman's Ink oak gall ink. This ink was one of the first steps I took towards a more period scribal kit. When I shopped around this ink was cheaper and still had good reviews. Since I was on a tight budget I went with it.

I used the less fancy Russian script as seen in the 14th and 15th century examples. The strokes of the nib are flat, and the serifs are minimal and thick. The letters measure in height 3-4 pen widths.

The words for the scroll were written by Baron Yehuda ben Moshe inspired by Charter # 3, p. 142 – 1328-1341, Inheritance Charter of Knyaz Andrei Ivanovich. Yehuda and I worked together to make sure that the time period for the text and the illumination sources matched. The original did not have illumination to go with it. The choice to add illumination was mine to personalize the scroll for the recipient.

The paints I used are the Rublev Colours: Historical Pigment Sampler and lead white which was not part of the kit. I received the pigment kit as a gift and this scroll presented the perfect opportunity to use it.

Blue: Lazurite (Lapis Lazuli) sourced from Afghanistan

Green: Verona Green Earth, this is the green that was part of the kit and most closely visually resembled the green I was trying to match.

Red: Red Ochre – in period cinnabar would have been used as well, and while I have cinnabar, working out of a studio apartment and having a cat, I did not feel confident that I can use cinnabar safely.

Yellow: Italian Yellow Earth - in period the yellow was likely orpiment, which contains arsenic and is poisonous. I do not have the proper conditions to use it safely in my apartment. This is closer to Ochre hues which were also used in period.

White: Lead white (this pigment was not part of the kit) same as would have been used in period

Purple: Violet Hematite, a non-period pigment, but this this is what was available to me. I used it specifically for the Maunche badge. In period a Red Organic Pigment or the shellfish derived pigment would have been used.

I tempered the pigments with egg yolk (creating egg tempera) and painted on with natural bristle brushes. To prepare the egg yolk, I cracked open the fresh egg and separated the yolk from the egg white, then I placed the yolk into a small dish and using tweezers I peeled off the membrane that held the yolk together.

On a flat piece of glass I prepared my dry pigments by mixing them with small quantities of water to create a thick muddy mixture. Then I would wet my brush, dip it into the egg yolk and then into the color I want to paint with. I used the brush to mix the yolk and the pigment a bit and then go directly to the parchment and paint on the design. The colors went on very smoothly with the coverage I got was great. Once the first paint layer dried, I went back and added the white and yellow highlights.

To finish off the scroll I attached an East Kingdom wax seal, to imitate the seals seen on period documents. The cord is silk thread created into a 5 loop square fingerloop braid done in the heraldic colors of the recipient. The seal is made of blue wax as provided to me by the East Kingdom Signet.



•  “Dukhovnye gramoty kniazei [Charters of Inheritances of the Princes]” from Istoricheskie zapiski 2 http://www.vostlit.info/Texts/Dokumenty/Russ/xvi.htm

•  National Library of Russia: Russian Autograph Documents collection http://www.nlr.ru/eng/coll/manuscripts/rus_archive.html

•  Popova, Olga. Russian Illuminated Manuscripts . New York: Thames & Hudson, 1984

•  Medieval Russian Ornament in Full Color: From Illuminated Manuscripts (Dover Pictorial Archive Series). New York: Dover Publications, 1994

•  “Holy Russia” exhibition catalogue for the exhibit “Holy Russia” Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

•  Mokretsova, I.P., M.M. Naumova, V.N. Kireyeva, E.N. Dobrynina, B.L Fonkitch “Materialy i tekhnika vizantisko rukopisno knigi [Materials and techniques of Byzanntine Manuscripts]”

•  Smirnova, Engelia. “Iskusstvo knigi v srednevekovo Rusi : litsevye rukopisi Velikogo Novgoroda XV [The Manuscript Illumination in Medieval Russia: The Illuminated Manuscripts of Novgorod the Great XV Centuty]”

•  Drevnerusskoe iskusstvo : iskusstvo rukopisnoi knigi: Vizantiia, Drevnaia rus' [Old Russian Art: The Art of the Manuscript: Byzantium and Ancient Rus]. Edited by E. N. Dobrynin.

•  “The Craftsman's Handbook/ ‘Il Libro dell' Arte'” in Ceninno d'Andrea Cennini , translated by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr.


Symbols in Rushnyki

By Vasyl Jula

In embroidered towels of the Podillan region, there are a number of symbols found that are depicted on their own or isolated. They can be geometric images, humans, or animals (although it is worth noting that the geometrical symbols are older in origin, while more realistic forms of people, animals, and birds are from later periods).

In Ukrainian embroidery, the eight-pointed star is created by laying an upright cross (a masculine symbol of beginning - the Sun) and a cross on its side (a feminine symbol of beginning - the Moon). The combination of these beginnings gives life to all. And thus this star becomes a symbol of nature as a whole. In addition to stars, we see usage of rhombuses in an “S”-motif framing, that is, rhombuses in a square formation with eight stars emerging from them.

In general, very few anthropomorphic symbols are still used in Ukrainian towels. This is blamed on the struggle of the church against old pre-Christian beliefs, world outlook, and ancestral concepts. That is why the usage of various gods, idols and their images (including those on towels) were mercilessly wiped out. But the ancient rushnyk culture was so strong in certain regions that it could not be completely overcome and the church finally acquiesced to the use of “pagan” towels in church ceremonies and rituals.

Images of women were the most widespread and were typical of the cult of Mother Earth (Mother Nature). This is also attributed to the location of Ukraine, which is, in astrological terms, found under the constellation of Taurus, where matriarchy was very strong. This matriarchal control was never deposed until the present time. Women in Ukraine play a big role in families and community life. The Great Goddess (the Foremother of all) was considered the Protectress of each family, and she was venerated, celebrated in rituals, and showered with prayers. Thus, towels were embroidered with her image. More of these towels were kept by our northern Slav neighbors—Byelorussians, Russians—but in smaller numbers they could be found in the Podillia, Polissia, and Naddniprianshchyna regions. In the contemporary era, the Bohynia-Berehynia [Goddess-Protectress] is widely used by artists. This goddess is often depicted with her hands elevated in a prayer pose, or hands hanging down at her sides. Scholars associate the former with vernal towels, when the Goddess calls the Sky to lend a hand sowing a cornfield or conceiving a new life on earth. The latter is typical for the second half of summer and autumn when the Goddess blesses the earth for the harvest, to bear fruits, to bring gifts.

On one Podillian towel, the Goddess is pictured holding the reins of a horse. She is embroidered in red threads symbolizing an active, spiritual force and the horse is embroidered in blue threads personifying the elemental forces of nature. Also there are towels where the Goddess is symmetrically encircled with birds of different sizes. The birds symbolize, as was mentioned, high spirits. These are the demiurge (creator) birds, which stand ready to carry out the will of the Goddess.

An interesting case involves the images of women figures found on towels from the village of Sabadash in the Zhashkiv district (Cherkassy region) and currently housed in the collection of the Ukrainian center of popular culture, at the Ivan Honchar Museum. Feminine silhouettes are embroidered on the background of the Tree that is also partly anthropomorphous. The women hold a sapling in their hands, a symbol of Roda [family], and represent the mythical Rozhanytsias [birth goddess] accompanying Roda . Another towel from this village depicts only one figure, but also with a sapling.

Masculine images are also present. In the collection of the Odessa Regional Studies Museum, there is a towel with riders on horses and figures of dogs between them. This towel is classified by scholars as skotarskyj [pastoral] or yuriivskyj . In the Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyj regional historical state reserve-museum, there is a towel from the Poltava region on which human figures are embroidered on both sides of the Tree. On towels from Western Podillia, they often embroidered as both male and female figures. They are, as a rule, symmetrical. Feminine figures are shown holding little trees.

Obydeni towels deserve separate attention. These are often embroidered with rows of women (or girls) holding hands, creating a continuous uninterrupted row. The semantics of this motif is obvious: repel calamity through a strong unity of people. However, the main reason for embroidering feminine figures was that priestesses were believed to have unique access to a variety of cosmic information and only they were allowed to manipulate this energy.

Domesticated animal motifs are found mainly on towels from eastern and southern Podillia. Their subjects are probably a remnant of ancient hunting or nomadic cults. There are several towels on which winged or celestial horses are embroidered. For the most part, we find symbolic images of animals in the embroidered towels. Many images of four-legged animals are impossible to identify. For what rituals most of these towels were used and how remains a question for the researchers. After all, a majority of towels embroidered a hundred or more years ago are mute witnesses to history, guardians of deep secrets still to be deciphered. But in a simple geometric design we could recognize the silhouette of goat in a towel for honoring the New Year's cycle.

Among the living creatures embroidered on towels in all regions, the most popular are the birds. The oldest samples also contain symbolic, simple images of little birds, not transmitting any specific meaning. But there is a category of birds that were correctly embroidered. To this group belong the eagle, peahen, dove, and rooster.

The eagle, in particular, is a symbol of the Almighty, a symbol of the Creator, the personification of Wisdom, according to mythology and different occult teachings. This appears to be universal, as it is noted in the cultures of vastly different people around the world. In Ukraine we find towels embroidered with two-headed eagles bearing a crown—a symbol of the Trinity. The eagles represent the Byzantine Empire, but the tradition of embroidering this bird is much older. The Novhorod-Siverian principality had an eagle on its coat of arms and there are quite a few towels and tablecloths embroidered with an eagle.


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