In 1998, the Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned world-renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, Senior Illuminator to the Crown office of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to produce a handwritten, hand-illuminated Bible -- the first to have been commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press, more than 500 years ago. Described by Smithsonian magazine as “one of the extraordinary undertakings of our time,” The Saint John's Bible was completed in May 2011, and contains calligraphy developed by Jackson himself, as well as lavishly illustrated pages.
While there is only one original of The Saint John’s Bible, several hundred copies of a heritage edition were published and are widely recognized as “the highest quality reproduction ever made.” One of these was acquired by Vassar and resides in the college’s extensive Bible Collection, thanks to the generosity of alumna Lucy Rosenberry Jones ’63. She is the great-niece of William Bancroft Hill, who began teaching at Vassar in 1899 and originally developed the college’s Bible collection.
In the lecture "Word and Image, Making Letters Speak: The Story of The Saint John’s Bible" on Saturday, April 20, Donald Jackson will discuss the influences and ancient techniques that informed his project, and how its making provided insights into the work of the past. This event is free and open to the public and will take place at 5:00pm in Taylor Hall room 102. This Curtis Lecture is sponsored by the Vassar College Libraries and is made possible through the generous support of John and Julia Blodgett Curtis ’62.
The Saint John’s Bible and the Vassar Bible Collection
William Bancroft Hill was the first professor of the newly formed Bible Study Department in 1899, which ultimately became the Religion Department in 1927. After Hill’s tenure, the collection continued to grow through gifts from alumnae/i as well as purchases, and today it includes medieval manuscript Bible leaves, Bible leaves and Bibles printed in the age of incunabula (materials printed before 1501), Reformation Bibles, English Bibles of the 17th and 18th centuries, and modern fine press Bibles, including the 1903 Doves Press Bible and 1935 Bruce Rogers’s Oxford Lectern Bible.
About Donald Jackson
Donald Jackson was the Artistic Director and principal illuminator of The Saint John’s Bible from 1998 through its completion in May 2011. From his scriptorium in Wales, he oversaw scribes, artists, and craftsmen who worked with him on the handwriting and illumination of this seven-volume, 1,150-page book. His studio/workshop remains the only calligraphy atelier in the United Kingdom where artist calligraphers are still regularly employed, maintaining the highest traditions of this ancient art in a modern context.
Jackson was awarded a scholarship to Art College at age 13, and by the age of 20, as a graduate student, he was appointed visiting lecturer (professor) at the Camberwell College of Art, London. Within six years, he became the youngest artist calligrapher chosen to take part in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s first International Calligraphy Show after the war and appointed a scribe to the Crown Office at the House of Lords. As Senior Illuminator to the Crown office of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, he is responsible for the creation of official state documents. In conjunction with a wide range of other calligraphic projects, he executes Historic Royal documents, including Letters Patent under The Great Seal and Royal Charters. In 1985, he was decorated by the Queen with the Medal of The Royal Victorian Order (MVO), which is awarded for personal services to the Sovereign.
Jackson is an elected Fellow and past Chairman of the prestigious Society of Scribes and Illuminators and, in 1997, was named Master of 600-year-old Guild of Scriveners of the city of London. His personally innovative work and inspirational teaching, together with books, a film series, and exhibitions in Europe, North America, Puerto Rico, Australia, and China have led to his being widely acknowledged as a seminal influence on the growth of Western calligraphy over the past 40 years.
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