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Tangled Manuscripts

Tangled Manuscripts

Rick writes:

I came across these gems while sorting through files of old pictures. 

About eight years ago, Maria and I were in western Massachusetts. These beautiful manuscripts were in a restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely dinner. I took these pictures with the intent to share them with you. Well, better late than never. (Or, maybe I already did and we all get to enjoy them again!)

I estimate that these manuscripts are from the 17th or 18th century. They are all hand-lettered on vellum, probably a sheepskin or a goatskin.

The pen strokes were beautiful, so fresh and crisp, you wonder if the ink was still wet. But take a look at the tangles embellishing the initial capital letters. 

Here's a closer look  . . .

Check out those aura lines holding delicious fragments . . . and that gently crenelated outer aura. What a hand!

And in this next close-up . . .

More auras surrounding some flux (or is it mooka?) with some tiny orbs in the interstices. And what is that in the middle of the Q? I haven't seen that before. That has great potential for a new border tangle.

Check out the background in that angled pattern. It's not a solid color. It's a tight cross-hatching. What care and affection went into this creation! Perhaps in some dimension, the scribes' hearts are basking in the appreciation of thousands of readers admiring these precious jewels. 

Here's a beautiful large illuminated C with marginalia:

I love that positive/negative medallion in the margin with the vinings echoing sampson or is that icanthis? Look at that wonderful adaptation of hollis inside the letter. What a great idea to use hollis to totally fill a section as it curves and grows within itself. 

When I interrupted Maria that quiet Saturday back in 2003, she was embellishing a gilded letter with simple patterns in the spirit of these manuscripts. If you've heard our story, that was the seed inspiration for this grand Zentangle adventure. I think that is one reason we were so drawn to these manuscripts.

Here are a couple more examples of some of the smaller initial caps using mooka, hollis, and, of course, lots of auraing.

Here's one more . . .

Notice the triangular fragment to the right of the "S." It looks like fragment F12 in Zentangle Primer Vol 1. What's old is new again. Or, what's new is old again!

See how the artist uses aura in the above three letters to create a slight space between the interior tangle and the letter. That is a familiar technique in Zentangle compositions when a tangle is next to another shape.

And here is the other large capital with marginalia:

 The delicate hollis in the margin balances the more structured hollis inside the Q.

 In this last close-up we focus on that intertwining cable-like pattern:

I've started playing with different ways to deconstruct it to create a step-out. I think it might be enjoyable to tangle.

This can be a fun exercise for you to explore deconstruction. 

Deconstruct ( dē′ • kən • strŭkt′ ) - To reduce a pattern to its elemental strokes so that a user of the Zentangle Method can recreate it as a tangle, by repeating those strokes one at a time in a simple, structured sequence.

If you'd like to play along, send a picture of your step-out to and I'll share some of them in my next blog post. I look forward to seeing possible different ways to approach this pattern in a Zentangle way.

(This may already be a tangle out in the Zentangle universe. If it is, let me know. But even if it is, you might try creating your own step-out first.)

Have fun with all this!




If you're new to the Zentangle blog, the words in italic are names of patterns that we call tangles. A good way to see what tangles look like is to download the Zentangle Mosaic app. It works on iOS and Android. You can search the contents for free. You can subscribe if you want to post and comment.


Rick Roberts


  • “There is nothing new under the sun…”

    is what my HS art teacher always said. I’ve been a calligrapher since HS art class 60 yrs ago. The Book of Kells and the Gospels of Lindisfarne, as well as Islamic, Hebrew, and other historic “Illuminated” manuscripts, were used as examples in HS art classes, not to mention the Speedball Handbook and other graphic arts manuals. Subsequent calligraphy instructors Steven and Sharon Schwartz, (Ohio) taught ornamental patterns and illuminated decoration of our calligraphy pieces using “fragments and reticula” and also taught us deconstruction techniques for many of the Celtic patterns, borders, etc. Maria’s exquisite calligraphy, is what drew me to the Zentangle art form, after seeing your lecture at the NMAI in Newport, RI, in the Summer of 2018. I immediately signed up for a Zentangle class at my local senior center back in CT. The CZT thought I had studied Zentangle before because it came so easily to me. I told her no, it came from my calligraphy background, as well as my HS and college art history classes. Thanks for sharing the “origins” story again. Love your beautiful images of the “inspirational” manuscripts that started it all. I learn a lot from all your trips down memory lane…please keep ’em coming for those of us who were not here when you first started your journey!

    Jessica Dykes (aka, Jake) on

  • WOW! That is very inspiring. Looks like I’ll be digging out some of the old papers (mostly inherited…not quite that old) to take a look at! Thank you for sharing.

    Dianne Riva Cambrin on

  • Thank you so much for sharing. They are beautiful pictures and great blog. Since there is no “artist’s name” to identify them, I can’t help but wonder if they were done by scribes who were monks and did them to enlighten people with hymns and scriptures done for the glory of God. Wouldn’t they be in awe of photographs and computers!

    Francene l. Smith on

  • This is so fantastic. Thank You for sharing !! :D ….

    CeCe Bushinsky on

  • Patterns are everywhere! We open our eyes and gaze with wonderment at the same things we have seen everyday, but all of the sudden we see them in a new light or angle.

    Ginger White CZT34 on

  • This blog was a lovely way to start my day. When I went to CZT training in 2018 we had a wonderful docent led tour of the downtown and RISD which opened my eyes to seeing the patterns/Zentangles everywhere in the environment. I credit this and Zentangle with the initial flowering of my artist self. Thank you for all you (collectively and individually) bring to our world.

    Deb Murray CZT30 on

  • I recently saw a quilt with flowers. Inside each petal it had a different zentangle design. It was beautiful.

    Elaine Novak on

  • Such a great blog and wonderful photos that are very engaging :) I love seeing tangles “out in the wild” and spend lots of time photographing and deconstructing patterns I also come across. I joke I am a deconstruction worker :)

    That tangle was published in The Great Zentangle® Book under the name SWEDA, by Maria Vennekens (p. 98). I just used it in a tile last week which is why I could pull this out of my head hahaha

    Jenn Brayton CZT36 on

  • What wonderful eye candy.

    Chrissie Frampton on

  • LOVE this blog. How cool to see these beautiful pieces, knowing that we are continuing to create with similar strokes centuries later. That intertwining cable like pattern will be fun to try to deconstruct though reminds me of the curvier chainging and punzel tangles. Thanks for another inspirational view to the world around us, Rick

    PamS on

  • Holy cow! What a find!

    Kathy Y. on

  • So inspiring – I appreciate hearing the originating attractions and thoughts that are at the foundation of Zentangle – great tid-bits to share during classes. So grateful! Karen

    Karen K Keefe on

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