Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ink Pots and the Book of Revelation

There is something alchemic about medieval ink: charcoal, tannic acids, copperas, Arabic gum, oak apples, fig sticks, and horns. The birth of ink itself almost touches on witchcraft. It is conditioned by the actions of a gall wasp that decides to deposit its larvae on this bud or on that leaf of an oak tree. A growth results. A cocoon secretly alive with metamorphic creatures feeding off its flesh. And when the creatures fly away, they leave behind rich deposits of tannic and gallic acids: the essentials of ink.

An Oak apple. Photo by Bob Embleton

 The oak apples, or gallnuts, are crushed and infused with rainwater. Sulphuric acid is poured over old nails and filtered with alcohol to make copperas. Copperas is added to the oak-apple potion and stirred with a fig stick. Arabic gum made from Egyptian dried-up acacia tree sap is added. Iron-gall ink is born. Shiny black, red, vermilion ink. Lose it and you're done. Especially if you are St. John.

Where is St John's ink? An all important question, for it is this ink that will reveal on paper the Revelations. Banished to the island of Patmos and deep in writing St John holds on to his ink pot, a pencil case dangling from it. Or is he? He is not. In the next painting the ink pot is held by an eagle - a godsend no doubt, which is just as well because by the Saint's foot rests a devil in waiting. And the devil eyes the ink pot for he knows that within in lie the potential of the Book of Revelations itself. With a grappling-hook he tries to whisk it away. But never succeeds. The ink pot remains. The Book of Revelation is written.

Travelling inkwell German Ink horn pennner 18th century
Photo by LessayCatus


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