Ella Sutherland


Guda, A Sinner, Wrote and Painted This Book

  • 2019
  • Woodcut
  • Purchased 2019
  • 350 x 252mm
  • 2019/018

As both an artist and graphic designer, Ella Sutherland traverses these disciplines, bringing a critical perspective to how language operates; how we read and navigate both the built environment and print media. This work, Guda, A Sinner, Wrote and Painted This Book (2019), came out of her time on residency in Paris and the opportunity to view medieval manuscripts in person. Sutherland has an ongoing interest in the relationship between the hand and machine, printing histories and systems of communication.

The illuminated initial that this woodcut references is one of the oldest signed self-portraits in western civilization, and certainly the oldest of a woman artist. It is from a homiliary (familiar explanations of the gospel) illuminated by Guda, a German nun from the late-twelfth century. Its inscription reads: Guda, sinful woman, wrote and painted this book. You’ll notice the particularly long fingers, which are raised in the gesture of a witness, reminding us of the lengthy task undertaken by the scribe.

Sutherland was particularly drawn to medieval manuscript initials, the enlarged decorative letters used to signal the beginning of a word, chapter, or paragraph, inhabited with imagery that isn’t necessarily related to the text. Being a scribe was a significant position within society, given that most people were illiterate, and these texts reveal historic cultural power and the role of publishing, in relation to class and the action of writing. Despite medieval manuscripts being mostly concerned with religion, they also gave agency to individual voices. Is this a medieval selfie?!

This work was purchased from the Ilam Campus Gallery limited edition artist prints for 2019.

(Melanie Oliver, April 2020)