Soldiers, what finer worth is there upon this earth than the borderlands can show? Where in the time of Spring beautiful birds all sing setting our hearts all aglow – the fields have a fresh smell where dew from heaven fell, delighting us through and through!
Let the foe but appear – brave soldiers have no fear, their hearts are roused by battle. High-spirited they rise, and shouting their war-cries quickly they prove their mettle. Some fall, wounded or slain, but the foe flees again – our lads have suffered little.
Arabian steeds – dash, fly, heeding the trumpet-cry, then, those standing sentinel dismount, and with swords drawn, wait until the new dawn. When night on the battle fell, the soldiers, tired and spent, go to sleep in their tent for a brief refreshing spell.
For honour and good name, for manhood and for fame, they leave everything behind — they give up all they own nobly, and quite alone, staunch models of humankind — like hunting hawks they fly across the smoke-stained sky, of the wind they one remind!
Braves of the borderlands, noble and glorious band! Warriors of grand repute! Through the whole world your name has won honour and fame like rich orchards ripe with fruit.
With good luck and riches may God fill your britches – may God’s boon be absolute!
(Stanzas (1, 2, 4, 5, 9) from Balassi Balint’s most famous poem, “A Soldier’s Song”)
Calligraphy and Illumination by Lady Palotzi Marti
Persona: I’m Lady Palotzi Marti (that’s Martha from Palocz, a small town in northern Hungary). I’m a 15th century Hungarian who is now living in the East Kingdom, and the clothes are much more comfortable here.
Why did you choose this culture? I didn’t choose it, it chose me: I’m mundanely Hungarian, and I actually speak the language, so there really wasn’t much choosing to do.
What is the inspiration for your piece and why did it appeal to you? I get most of my inspiration from the Bibliotheca Corviniana, which was the library of King Matthias of Hungary (ruled 1458-1490). He purchased most of the books from Italy, but because he needed to employ artists to, at the very least, add his arms to the books he bought, sometimes he bought undecorated books and had his court scribes decorate them, and sometimes, his court scribes did the copying as well as the illumination. (Said court scribes were probably Italian, but let’s not get bogged down in details.) In those relatively rare cases where a book was produced entirely by Matthias’ scribes in Buda, they used this type of decoration – kind of like the poor cousin of Attavante’s Florentine style, but still quite pretty in its own right.
The text itself is a different story, set about a century later, which is quite anachronistic — in period, it was possible for a book to be decorated much later than it was written, but the other way around simply didn’t happen — but it was too perfect to not use: Balassi Balint (that’s Valentine of the Balassa family) was a nobleman, soldier, and poet during the 16th century Ottoman wars in Hungary, and “A Soldier’s Song” is arguably his most famous poem. None of his poetry was actually published during his short-but-adventurous life, but there’s evidence that his love poetry, especially, was passed around in manuscript copies. Unlike his contemporary bard, Tinodi Lantos Sebestyen (that’s Sebastian the lutenist from Tinod), whose idea of rhyming was to end every line in “-nak” or “vala”, Balassi used the Hungarian language to its fullest, to the point that there’s a rhyme scheme named for him. This poem uses that rhyme scheme, and the translation I chose does its best to follow it, too.
Materials used: Since the intent here was to make something that would reproduce well, I worked on Bristol board and used gold paint (Pearl Ex brilliant gold in gum arabic) instead of leaf. Every time I work on paper, I’m reminded why I don’t like working on paper…. The rest of the materials are what I usually use: oak gall ink, walnut ink, vermilion, madder rose, Verona green earth (green mud!), viridian, ultramarine, azurite, titanium white, lead white, bone black.
Other notes of interest about your piece: The coat of arms at the top is the Balassa family’s. The arms at the bottom are of the Arpad-house, the first ruling dynasty of Hungary. (Which is some more anachronism, since the Arpad-house died out in 1301, but the arms of the Kingdom of Hungary were in flux during the 15th and 16th centuries, so going back to the older version seemed a good compromise.)
What is a C&I technique that is challenging to you, or not your favorite? Let’s just say I Don’t Do Blackletter.