July 2011 issue of The Saint John's Bible eNewsletter. Are images missing? View the online version.
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We’re in the age of the multi-tasker. We check email, research a project, and grab a meal, all at the same time! There’s often no space left in our lives for work that is thoughtful, deliberative, even contemplative. Though it’s true for most of us, almost all of us would agree that we’re worse off because of it.

This fact makes the little essay below all the more worthwhile. It offers a window into the process of creating the remarkable illuminations found in The Saint John’s Bible. It is a process that is at once artistic, theological, and spiritual in nature. Imagine the scholars and artists involved going through each of the steps described here to produce an illumination, and you will be inspired. Imagine it happening for every one of the 160 illuminations in The Saint John’s Bible, and you may be left in awe.

Planning the Illuminations

Each illumination begins at Saint John’s with a written brief prepared by a group of theologians, scholars, artists and art historians known as the Committee on Illumination and Text or CIT. Through scripture study and reflection of the passages identified for illumination, this group prepares the briefs for the artists. These exegetical (an explanation or critical interpretation of the text) and theological briefs are narratives that vary in length. Through the briefs, Donald Jackson and the other artists are provided with suggested verses, scriptural cross-references, free association about the text, imagery brainstorms, and local association/references to existing works of artistic interpretation. These help to provide Donald Jackson with a full background on each passage.

Donald Jackson works with the briefs and the scripture passages in his Scriptorium in Wales. His process is similar to the monastic practice of Lectio Divina which is a careful mulling over of the text. He carefully reads and studies the passage to be illuminated. Donald looks at the details while thinking, meditating and letting the meaning sink in. Jackson’s sacred reading has a practical aim: to spark visual ideas.

Concept Sketch for the “Joshua Anthology” from Books. Donald Jackson often creates a collage-style “rough draft” of each major illumination for discussion by the CIT. The collage nature of his planning drafts allow Donald to draw inspiration from a variety of visual resources such as historical works, research texts, ancient and contemporary arts, textiles and previous illuminations. Image courtesy of Donald Jackson’s Scriptorium, Wales.



Once inspired, Donald creates a full-size rough draft sketch for each major illumination in the Bible. The planning sketch for the “Joshua Anthology” from Historical Books is shown here. These sketches are intended to share Donald’s visual ideas with the CIT. The sketches are then digitized and e-mailed to Saint John’s. After careful review and study, the CIT prepares a written response which provides Donald with reactions and specific feedback. The process continues until both sides of the Atlantic agree that the artwork is both theologically and artistically sound. The final illumination is then completed on a page of vellum.

Donald Jackson working in his studio on the concept sketch for the Joshua Anthology. Image courtesy of Donald Jackson’s Scriptorium, Wales.



This process has been repeated for each of the 160 illuminations in
The Saint John’s Bible.

The final version of the Joshua Anthology. Take time to compare the concept sketches with the completed work. The changes between the two are the result of the Donald’s artistic decisions and the discussions between the artist and the Committee on Illumination and Text at Saint John’s Abbey and University. ©Joshua Anthology, Donald Jackson 2010. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota



In This Issue

• Planning the Illuminations

• Upcoming Exhibitions & Events


See the Bible

Print Exhibitions

St. Andrew United Methodist Church
Highlands Ranch, CO
May 24 - July 28, 2011

Museum of Biblical History
Collierville, TN
May 31 - July 30, 2011

Benet Hill Monastery &
Colorado College

Colorado Springs, CO
Sept. 26 - November 7, 2011


Find a gallery near you >



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