I was asked to keep this project quiet until all was complete, but now I am very happy to share that I’ve been honoured to receive a very special commission from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. My work was presented to the Queen, and Prince Charles! Earlier this year, the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace hosted an exhibition of Mughal art from the Royal Collection, entitled ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent’. To commemorate the event, they commissioned Imtiaz Dharker to compose a series of poems in response to the exhibition, which were printed, then hand-bound at the Royal Bindery in Windsor Castle. I was thrilled to receive an email from the Royal Library commissioning me to create four illuminated frontispieces – one to open each volume of poetry! I was even more delighted to learn that one of the books would be gifted to the Queen, and one to Prince Charles! The other two volumes are now in the Royal Library, and with the poet, Imtiaz Dharker.
Here are some photos of the commission and completed books:
I created two original designs for the commission – a classically illuminated frontispiece using tiny gilded and coloured flowers on a blue background (see the first design in this post), and a fantastical floral pattern in gold with birds gracing the leaves and branches (see above and below). The designs were inspired by Imtiaz’s beautiful poems and the artwork in the exhibition. For the paintings above and below, I wove the imagery of rose gardens, gilded pages, and coloured birds mentioned in the poetry with traditional techniques from Islamic manuscript illumination, and Persian and Indian miniature painting. The fantastical gilded rose garden above is home to a flock of Indian birds. One of the things I love about this technique is the subtlety of the background. The flowers only fully reveal themselves as you turn the page and the design catches the light. I tried to capture this in the photograph below. I also made a short video of the process, which you can see here.
The frontispiece above formed the opening to the volume gifted to Prince Charles. The gilded floral pattern in the background is identical to the previous design, but here I have painted tiny birds native to Balmoral adorning the leaves and branches! I had a lot of fun doing this, but I’ll admit it was also a little stressful! There’s not much room for mistakes when painting coloured birds on top of your carefully illuminated flowers. Fortunately it all worked out ok in the end!
Here is another of the completed frontispieces:
And a few details of the finished books:
One of the most exciting things about the whole commission was having the opportunity to visit the Royal Bindery at Windsor Castle and discuss papers and techniques with the bookbinders. I am a total art geek, I know!