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The White Rat

Title Page: The White Rat
Title Page from The White Rat by Chandra Brooks. Kodachrome slide photographed by Cagdas Ogut.

The White Rat by Chandra Brooks. All images are artwork and copyrighted and produced by Chandra Brooks.

The White Rat is a visual representation of the peoples and cultures that contribute to the creation of English speaking culture in the United Kingdom minus Gallic influences. Gallic influences will be represented in adaptations specific to regions where it has been spoken throughout history. There will be some overlap between the Gauls and Scandinavian influences on the region. Medieval England was surprisingly international as historical fiction novels such as Pillars of the Earth have illustrated. As pagan culture became increasingly absorbed into Christianity, many other cultures and faiths were subtly assimilated. To encourage worship, crosses were erected next to pagan worship sites and architectural references which included gargoyles and the layout of the churches eaves morphed old beliefs into the new. The mathematics of Euclid as well as Fibonacci’s sacred geometry allowed higher, more heavenly elevations for church and cathedral building. The Islamic/Saracen influence is also seen within the ornamentation and calligraphy found in the holy books. The numbers we write today were a gift from Arabic culture. England was full of Christians, Muslims, Jews and pagans. All of these influences are seen in The White Rat.

Ornament by Chandra Brooks.  Based on Mira Calligraephia Monumenta.
Ornament by Chandra Brooks. Based on Mira Calligraephia Monumenta.

Fama seu virtutis nomen superset tantum, sed caetera universa mortis erunt
Only reputation survives, everything else belongs to death. (Georg Bocskay)

The illuminated version of Henri Pourrat’s La Rate Blanche showcases Carolingian Minuscule. Carolingian Minuscule could be nicknamed “the common hand” because it made it possible to read writing without scholarly knowledge of alphabets; making it possible for the common man to read clerical and liturgical documents – so long as the big assumption that more than a few were literate. At any rate, the intention was there when Charlemagne commissioned Alcuin of York to create a hand that didn’t require additional education to become legible. This inspired me to use Carolingian Minuscule as the point of departure for La Rate Blanche as an important symbol for this being “the people’s tale”. All the other alphabets I create always refer back to Carolingian Minuscule. For The White Rat, Carolingian is reinvented as three hands inspired by alphabets created by or mastered by Georg Bocskay.

Georg Bocskay was a scribe and preeminent calligrapher from Hungary (now Croatia). He was secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Other calligraphers such as Giambattista Palatino wrote manuals (Libro Nuovo D’imparare a Scrivere) which were meant to demystify the art and craft of the pen and make it more accessible. Bocskay had no intention of doing that, he didn’t create an instructional manual. When he penned the Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta, he created a work so legendary there was no need to bother with instructions. This was a virtuoso’ documentation, not an instructional. With or without instructions, few others could reproduce this work which has since become the last great European illuminated manuscript. This wondrous collaboration took place under the patronage of Ferdinand’s son Rudolf II’s Bohemian court in Prague, where his kunstkammer showcased an immense collection of botany which included, fossils, minerals, bones and scientific instruments. Despite numerous attempts to be overthrown by siblings in want of the throne, Rudolf II battled melancholy by supporting the arts and botanical studies. Joris Hoefnagel was a Flemish artist and naturalist who illuminated Bocskay’s calligraphy with plants, insects and his own personal fondness for bugs.

Alphabets inspired by three of Bocskay’s merged with Carolingian Minuscule to create three fonts for the written versions of the fairytale. Additionally, these fonts have been used for animation, theatre and print making. These fonts are a: Rotunda, Hollow Lettere, and Lettere Tagliate.

Hand inspired by Lettere Tagliate by Bocskay.
Hand inspired by Lettere Tagliate by Bocskay.

The decorative background and layout for the illustrations in The White Rat come from a grisaille found in Salisbury Cathedral (show original + details from how I used it).

The White Rat is presented as a polyptych based on The Ghent Alterpiece: Adoration of the Magi by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (another unintentional collaboration). A polyptych or multi-panelled painting’s were made famous in the 14th and 15th century. Today, this format is carried on in comic book layouts. (images of van Eyck + mine)