THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

23 posts categorized "Imaging Science"

24 July 2017

Do more together than we can ourselves: The unique partnership between curator and conservator

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Zoë Miller and Peter Toth

curator, n. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g. gallery, museum, library, or archive) is a content specialist charged with an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.

conservator, n. A person employed in the conservation of artefacts or sites of archaeological, historical, or cultural significance. Cf. conservation n. 1f.

The British Library is the custodian of thousands of manuscript treasures and it is a shared duty of its curators and conservators to care for and interpret them. I’m inviting you to share this meeting of minds and how it brings our collection to life through the rediscovery of a unique fourteenth century manuscript; Egerton MS 2516.

Once part of the library of bibliophile friar Leonardo Mansueti of Perugia (d.1480), this fragile selection of writings from Cicero and the famous African magician and philosopher Apuleius was brought to our conservation studio by curator Peter Toth for assessment and treatment advice.  

Ownership note

Ownership note by Leonardo Mansueti in Egerton MS 2516, f. 162r.

The volume had been rebound in the nineteenth century in a style and design typical of the collection of Francis Henry Egerton. The very small script was written in iron gall ink on thin parchment to save money, and decoration was kept to a minimum. This book was destined to be a scholarly study text and it is an early and important manuscript of the works of the second-century Apuleius.

Original spineTight opening

Original spine and tight opening in Egerton MS 2516.

Peter is able to read and interpret the ancient text and marginalia and to provide this crucial contextual and historical narrative. When he presented us with this book we could immediately see the problem. Its materials had aged so much that it couldn’t be opened beyond forty five degrees! It was so tight that we could not see the text in the gutter. The pages were fragmented, mutilated and corroded by the chemical action typical of this ink. Like leaf skeletons they were incredibly fragile and impossible to turn.

Damaged foliosCut marks

Damaged folios and cut marks in Egerton MS 2516.

As conservators, our first sight and handling of an object can play like a movie of its life. We experience the ageing character and material signs of use and damage known so well of leather, parchment, threads and paper. Even the smells and stains, the cuts, marks and tears of a hundred scholars thumbing the pages are brought to life as we hold it in our hands. There were mysterious cuts to the tail of many folios, which suggested a purposeful extraction. Could this have been to remove mould, mistakes or secret text? Perhaps the parchment was stolen for love notes by a fifteenth century student? 

The existing book boards with a gold crest and inscriptions are part of the unique provenance of this object, and yet the re-binding destroyed evidence of the manuscript’s original shape and sewing. Peter explained that its hard work as an academic ‘set text’ contributed to the patterns of deterioration we see today. We therefore tailored our treatments to preserve evidence of this damage and limit our repairs and intervention to safeguard the narrative. We created a new binding from calfskin replicating the Egerton tradition to respect this significant part of its history.

Removing sewing

Removing sewing from Egerton MS 2516.

The old leather, glues and overcast sewing threads were painstakingly removed by parchment specialist intern Camille Thuet. Once the delicate folios had been released, medieval manuscript cataloguer Laure Miolo was able to access and identify hidden marginal notes. She found fifteenth and sixteenth century comments and a Greek quotation from Euripides which had been added by early readers of the text and reveal how it was used and interpreted. 

Quotation

Quotation from Euripides in the lower margin of Egerton MS 2516, f. 123v.

With the help of conservation imaging scientist Christina Duffy, Camille analysed dark stains across areas of script which were speculated to be early attempts at revealing hidden text. Multi-spectral imaging was also useful in enhancing faded marginalia.

Chemical damage

Historical chemical damage on Egerton MS 2516 f. 4r in an attempt to improve legibility of corroded iron gall ink.

Multi-spectral imaging

Multi-spectral imaging of Egerton MS 2516, f. 116r.

The treatment proposal had two clear aims: 

Enabling access and digitisation through repair of the delicate and damaged folios to ensure they continue to exist for future generations

Preserving and protecting historical evidence so that as much of the past is accessible to the future reader.

A new guard book structure means that the original parchment text block is protected from adhesive and the necessary mechanics of the binding’s spine. This allows every part of it to be viewed, and no part to be constricted. Parchment likes to breathe!

New guard structure

New guard structure.

New flat opening

New flat opening.

New binding

New binding.

Gold finishing

Gold finishing on Egerton MS 2516.

The books in our rich collection inspire both for the intellectual information they carry and as artefacts of craft. We were able to make complex conservation decisions to preserve this manuscript through collaboration with curators. We must together protect what our collection will represent in the future where respect for such treasured objects only grows in this changing digital age.

Thanks to Camille Thuet for her observant eye and parchment knowledge, and to Peter Toth, Andrea Clarke, and Laure Miolo for their historical expertise. The manuscript has now been restored and completely digitised and is available at the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site here.

24 November 2016

Applications of Image Processing Software to Archival Material

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Images of archival material are useful to both conservators for monitoring changes, and to researchers for detailed analysis and permanent access to collection items. Image processing allows historical documents and other collection items to be studied without the risk of damage to the primary source. The increase in digitisation projects is generating large volumes of image files that can be processed to enhance the understanding of our collections without physically handling fragile material.

ImageJ is a powerful public domain Java-based image processing package. The nature of open source software allows for the constant update and availability of new plugins and recordable macros designed for specific tasks. ImageJ’s built-in editor and a Java compiler allow for the development of custom acquisition, analysis and processing plugins. In April 2013 I presented a poster at the ICOM Graphics Documents Working Group Interim Meeting in Vienna, outlining the applications of image processing software to archival material . The full poster can be downloaded as a PDF here.

C-DUFFY-poster

While several improvements have been made to the functionality of ImageJ since 2013, I hope this poster provides useful information to those less familiar with image processing techniques.

ImageJ was originally designed for the purpose of medical imaging by the National Institutes for Health by Wayne Rasband, but has since found applications in many fields. It can be run on any computer with a Java 5 or later virtual machine, as an online applet or as a downloadable application (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Mac OSX, Linux, Sharp Zaurus PDA). ImageJ offers features similar to commercially available image processing software packages such as brightness/contrast adjustment, frequency domain filtering, binarisation and particle analysis.

Christina Duffy

22 August 2016

Hidden horoscopes and puzzling predictions in Papyrus 98

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Why would certain passages from an ancient horoscope and related predictions be smudged and partially erased? This is what researchers are currently trying to determine using multi-spectral images recently captured of Papyrus 98.

Glass enclosure of Papyrus 98

Papyrus 98 (British Library Pap. XCVIII).

The British Library holds over 3000 papyri, along with several thousand unframed fragments. Western Heritage Collections cares for our Greek and Latin papyri, while papyri in other languages are found in our Asian and African Collections. The papyri collections are sequentially numbered running from Papyrus 1 – Papyrus 3136 with a separate sequence of 37 items forming the Egerton Papyri collection.

Papyrus 98 underwent multi-spectral imaging to improve legibility on some partially erased and smudged passages. Papyrus 98 is housed in a glass enclosure with inscriptions visible on both the recto and verso. The original collector was most interested in the Funeral Oration of Hyperides over Leosthenes and his comrades in the Lamian war [BC 323] which was placed in the recto position at the front of the glass frame. This partially imperfect Greek text is thought to date to the 1st century BC with the greater portion of the oration in fourteen columns. However, it has since been discovered that it is on the verso of the current housing where the oldest and first text was inscribed on the papyrus.

MSI of Papyrus 98

Above: Due to the long profile, multi-spectral imaging of Papyrus 98 was achieved by imaging the manuscript in sections and digitally stitching the images together.

On this 'verso' side is an astrological treatise consisting of three and three-quarter columns of a Greek language horoscope partially in small uncial characters similar to those of Hyperides. This is followed by an Egyptian language set of predictions relating to the horoscope written in cursive handwriting in what is referred to as 'the Old Coptic Script'. The Papyrus 98 manuscript showcases the earliest example of this Old Coptic Script.

The overall majority of the Greek text in this manuscript is in excellent condition, with the exception of the partially erased sections at the bottom of column III and IV which precede the lines in which the Egyptian language section begins. Other areas of faded or partially rubbed out sections were also identified and hoped to be recovered with multi-spectral imaging.

MSI images

Top: Infra-red image of Papyrus 98 showing uncial Greek in the left column and cursive Egyptian (Old Coptic Script) in the right column. Bottom: A composite colour ultra-violet image of Papyrus 98.

Researchers are still going through the results trying to figure out why these particular passages were erased and what was, or is, the significance of the obscured text. While the raw images have provided some clarity in certain areas, there are several algorithms which will be run on the data set to isolate and enhance the blurred regions. This is just one of many projects that our conservation team are working on to aid scholarly research and enable further access through digital means.

Colour space analysis

Left: Original image showing fragmented sections of Papyrus 98. Right: Colour space analysis showing the same region in pseudo-colour.

A small number of British Library papyri have been digitised in full and can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts. Further information about published papyri can be found on the Trismegistos database. More about this collection item can be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts resource, while further information about our Greek and Latin papyri collections can be found here.

Dr Christina Duffy

 

28 April 2016

Much Ado About…Possibly Something

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Conservator Flavio Marzo reports on his fascinating findings during the conservation of one of the books bearing the presumed signature of William Shakespeare.

As it is now the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the British Library has unveiled a major exhibition about the Bard of Avon, I thought it was a good time to share the conservation work I carried out on one of the items currently on exhibition. In 2005 I was given the opportunity to work on an item here at the British Library bearing one of the few surviving (possible) signatures of the poet. The book, possibly part of Shakespeare’s personal library, is a copy of “The Essayes of Morall, Politike and Militaire Discourses” written by Michaell Montaigne and published in London in 1603. The volume was sent to the conservation studio to be treated before being sent out on a loan and presented some very interesting and unusual features.

The Examination

The cover and the book block were detached and the main task was to secure them together ensuring that any treatment was clearly visible and unobtrusive.

Front cover

Left: Front cover. Right: Cover and book block detached.

The sewing of the body of the book, most likely the result of a quite recent restoration campaign, was made on five narrow strips of tanned brown leather. Probably at the same time new end leaves were added and secured to the first and last sections through an over-casted stitching. There was no evidence of spine lining or glue applied to the spine. When the cover was removed the original sewing supports remained laced through the boards and the page with Shakespeare’s presumed signature was attached on the inside of the left board.

Detached cover

The inside of the detached cover with the signature page and the original supports laced with the cover.

The original sewing supports were made of strips of alum tawed leather with a second layer of tanned brown leather added to give thickness to the raised bands ensuring their visibility on the spine of the book.

Leather strips
Left (viewing from the inside): A strip of alum tawed leather with clear distortions due to the original passages of the thread of the original sewing. Right (viewing from the outside): One of the trimmed tanned leather strips used to create the raised effect on the spine cover.

Areas of the leather cover were missing at the head and tail. After a thorough examination of the cover I realised that the page bearing the signature, adhered onto the inside of the left board, was not originally attached as a paste down, and in fact was never originally placed at the beginning of the book. Careful visual examination revealed that a raised oval was showing through the page.

Signature page

An image of the page taken with raking light clearly showing an oval shaped imprint from the recto of the page.

Since the page was adhered to the board along the edges only, it was possible to insert a light sheet between the page and the board. Under transmitted light it was possible to capture an image of what became clearly identifiable as a British Museum stamp - proving that this sheet was, until quite recently, still detached. Under transmitted light it was also possible to locate and record the watermark present on this page.

Transmitted light
Left: British Museum stamp imaged with transmitted light. Right: Watermark of the page with the signature.

This watermark was subsequently compared with others found on the pages within the book block. Although no perfect match was found between the watermarks, there was a very strong similarity between them.

Watermarks
Other watermarks found within the book block.

Another detail that immediately caught my attention was the observation that the damages along the edges of this sheet did not match the losses and tears present along the edges of the first page of the book.

Damage comparison
Mapping of the stains and damages show how different and inconsistent they are along the edges of the two sheets.

Remarkably, these damaged areas matched almost perfectly to the last restored original end leaf of the book-block proving that this sheet was originally placed at the back of the book and not at the beginning.

Damage comparison
Matching damaged areas between the signature sheet and the last right end leaf.

The Repairs

The conservation of the volume involved the removal of the leather strip supports. These supports were failing and becoming brittle due to the acidic nature of the tanned leather. The strips were mechanically removed from the sewing thread passages and replaced with new linen tapes so that the book did not have to be re-sewn.

Leather strip removal
Removal of the leather strips (left) and their replacement with new linen tapes (right).

The leather of the cover was reinforced and in-filled with dyed Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

Leather cover
Japanese paper and wheat starch paste are used because of their strength and reversibility.

A new spine lining made of light cotton fabric was adhered to the spine of the book-block to further secure the sewing. The extensions of this spine lining with the frayed linen supports were then inserted between the leather and the boards and adhered to the boards to secure the book-block back with its cover.

Secured book-block
The strips of cotton fabric are adhered between the leather cover and the boards to secure the book-block with the cover.

Conclusions

It is hard to say why this page was tampered with. Possibly it was thought that by attaching this page to the front board it would become more difficult to steal. Sometimes conservation needs some forensic skills, but it always requires great attention to detail. Physical features when correctly interpreted can tell us a lot about the history of an item. It is extremely important when repairing items of historical value that conservators are careful not to inadvertently hide or remove features which may later prove to be significant.

This work, carried out a long time ago, is today still one of my most cherished projects. I am very pleased to be able to share it with you, especially during this year so significant in the history of the Great William Shakespeare.

Flavio Marzo

See this intriguing collection item for yourself at our exhibition: Shakespeare in Ten Acts open until Tuesday 6 September.

18 January 2016

Hidden figure in Leonardo da Vinci notebook revealed

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Multispectral imaging at the British Library has revealed a figure, in previously unseen detail, on a folio of a notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci expert Professor Martin Kemp believes the sketch may be part of a series of 'fugitive images' occasionally unearthed on da Vinci's work.

Fugitive figure

A comparison of the erasure as seen by the naked eye (left) and the revealed figure (right) after multispectral imaging.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was a prolific note-taker with over 7,000 pages of his thoughts surviving today. The British Library is custodian of a notebook known as Codex Arundel 263 after its English collector Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel. These notes and sketches come from different periods in da Vinci's life, though most date to 1508, and cover a range of topics including mechanics, astronomy, optics, architecture and the flight of birds.

Codex Arundel 263 was not originally a bound volume, but was put together after his death. The variation in folio type and size show how many of da Vinci's ideas, studies and inventions were observed outdoors as he went about his day. The notes are written in Italian showcasing his famous left-handed mirror writing. Folios 137v and 136r, housed together and currently on display in the British Library Treasures Gallery, were taken for multispectral imaging analysis to enhance and potentially reveal a hidden sketch in a small area of discolouration visible in the lower half of folio 137v.

Dr Christina Duffy with Codex Arundel 263

Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy with Codex Arundel 263.

The smudge measures no more than 6 x 3 cm and has been suspected by scholars to contain an elusive sketch of a figure by da Vinci - possibly erased by himself.

Folio 136r and 137v

Codex Arundel 263 folio 136r and 137v showing notes, calculations and diagrams including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums.

The analysis took place at the British Library Centre for Conservation where high resolution images of the folios and region of interest were captured. Multispectral imaging is one of the many tools our Conservation Science team use to non-invasively and non-destructively increase the body of knowledge on collection items for scholars, curators and conservators. The da Vinci sketch was placed underneath the monochrome sensor camera and exposed to light of various wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet at 365 nm to the near infrared at 1050 nm.

Multispectral Imaging at the British Library

The Multispectral Imaging system is based in the British Library Centre for Conservation. 

These wavelengths reside on what is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum - a wide spectrum encompassing radio and X-rays. The human eye can only detect light within the visible region of this spectrum limiting our ability to see potentially faded or invisible information. Multispectral imaging therefore enables the capture of detail which we cannot see with the naked eye.

The British Library imaging system acquired multiple images of the folio at several different wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

Filters placed underneath the camera's lens were also used in combination with the lights to capture images of fluorescence resulting in the generation of vivid images highlighting the fugitive figure on folio 137v. The images raise fascinating questions about why the figure was drawn here, and why great efforts were made to erase it.

UVCompositeR15G17B19

This pseudcolour image was generated by combining three monochrome multispectral images captured using ultraviolet light with a red, green and blue filter respectively.

Multispectral imaging is an incredibly exciting process and has revealed many secrets from our collections to date, including recovering once thought lost text from the 'Burnt Magna Carta' last year. It is an incredible privilege to work with some of the world's most valued treasures and subject experts. Everyday brings new discoveries to light (quite literally!) and the prospect of unlocking more secrets from the British Library's vast and varied collections is thrilling.

The da Vinci folio can be viewed for free in the Treasures Gallery until the end of March. The entire notebook has been digitised and is available to view online.

Dr Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

23 October 2015

Magna Carta Conservation Team at the ICON Awards

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The British Library conservation team that worked on the Magna Carta project attended a glamorous awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last night. The team were shortlisted for the Institute of Conservation (ICONAnna Plowden Trust Award for Research and Innovation, which went to Tate for their impressive Rothko Conservation Project. A huge congratulations to the Tate team and to the Imperial War Museum who were also in our category for their amazing space vacuums, air bazookas and duster drones project in the War Against Dust.

Magna Carta Conservation Team

Left to right: Cordelia Rogerson, Christina Duffy, Gavin Moorhead, Julian Harrison

The Magna Carta Project was a collaborative process of sophisticated research and innovation that enabled a pragmatic solution for rehousing and displaying an iconic document. Our biggest challenge was overcoming long held preconceptions and expectations that a high profile artefact required an expensive high-tech approach. You can read more about our work here.

ICON Awards 2015

It has been a great privilege to work with Magna Carta and the curatorial team in the build up to the British Library's most successful exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Many thanks to all colleagues across the British Library and other institutions who helped progress the project into something we are all very proud of. Thanks to ICON and their sponsors Beko for organising a terrific night celebrating an incredible range of conservation work going on around the UK.

Congratulations to all the entrants, shortlistees and winners!

Christina Duffy

06 July 2015

Under the Microscope with Magna Carta

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We recently held a very successful public event sharing our conservation work in preparation for the British Library Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition. The exhibition marks 800 glorious years of Magna Carta since it was granted by King John of England in 1215. The conservation project involved removing six manuscripts from their frames and rehousing them for display. While they were out of their frames, the manuscripts were examined using various scientific techniques. High-resolution digital microscopy enabled incredible magnification of the iron gall ink and parchment which make up the charters. Here is a selection of the images captured of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106, one of the British Library’s two original Magna Cartas dating to 15 June 1215. Enjoy!

Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy

Magna Carta 1215

Magna Carta 1215 (Cotton MS Augustus ii.106) – one of four surviving original 1215 copies.

Iron gall ink

Iron gall ink has been used since the middle-ages and is found on many of our most treasured collections including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Magna Carta. The main ingredients of iron gall ink include iron sulphate, tannins from oak galls and water. Overall the ink is in very good condition on this charter allowing us to appreciate the beauty in the detail of some of the intials.

Magna Carta 1215 detail  Iron gall ink at 20x

Iron gall ink at 30x

Iron gall ink at 150x

At high magnification we can see that some areas have experienced ink loss, but the Great Charter is still legible due to the remaining ink shadow left behind. Find out more about iron gall ink in a previous post here.

Magnca Carta 1215 detail right  Ink loss at 30x

Ink loss at 100x

Ink loss at 200x

Parchment

The parchment on which Magna Carta has been written is thought to be sheepskin. Parchment is an animal pelt which has had the hairs removed by liming or enzymatic action. It is then stretched and dried under tension creating a perfect writing surface with a thin opaque membrane. Below are some images showing damage to the  upper dermal layers of the parchment. Find out more about parchment here.

Magna Carta 1215 detail centre  Damage at 30x

Damage at 50x

Damage at 150x

CC by You can find out more about this charter on the British Library Magna Carta resource page.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

25 June 2015

A CT Scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel

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A CT scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book dating to the early eight century - has been published in a ground-breaking new book launched this week: The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin. Colleagues from Collection Care and Medieval Manuscripts took the pocket gospel to the Natural History Museum for CT analysis to understand the structure of the ancient gospel, which was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert in 1104.

CT Team

CC by The British Library project team at the Natural History Museum. From left to right: Claire Breay, Flavio Marzo and Christina Duffy.

X-ray computed tomography (CT) is a non-destructive technique which creates 2-D cross-sectional images from 3-D structures. The St Cuthbert Gospel was scanned using a Metris X-Tek HMX ST 225 CT scanner with an operating voltage of 225 kV at the Natural History Museum.

To protect the gospel during scanning it was placed inside a custom-made phase box and then secured upright in a bespoke piece of polyethylene foam.

Placing the Gospel in a phase box

CC by The St Cuthbert Gospel was placed in a phase box which was secured in a piece of foam.

A facsimile of the gospel produced by Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose was generously made available to the team during the CT scan. This enabled a direct comparison of materials known to be used in the facsimile with those unknown in the original St Cuthbert Gospel. Both volumes were placed inside the CT chamber on a precision rotation stage between an X-ray source and a detector.

Attaching the facsimile for CT scan

CC by The two copies were placed side-by-side in the CT chamber.

As the volumes rotated on the stage through 360⁰ a conical beam of X-rays took digital projections in 0.5⁰ increments. The CT image pixels are displayed in terms of their relative radiodensity allowing us to scroll through the image slices revealing the materials underneath the leather binding.

Checking the results onscreen

CC by The results were poured over in the lab. From left to right; Christina Duffy, Claire Breay, Nicholas Pickwoad and Dan Sykes.

The results were initally examined by the British Library team and Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, whose chapter in the new publication draws on the CT scan results and discusses how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a clay-like material, rather than gesso or cord as previously thought.

The St Cuthbert Gospel binding

CC by The St Cuthbert Gospel with raised plant-motif decoration examined under high magnification. 

Comparing the facsimileUnder the coverLeather cover

CT datasets contain vast amounts of information and samples can be visualised in many ways using various software tools. Drishti, which stands for vision or insight in Sanskrit, is an open source volume exploration and presentation tool. It allows volumetric data sets to be both explored and used for presentation of results.

Visualisation of the St Cuthbert Gospel

CC by A screen shot of the St Cuthbert Gospel as visualised in Drishti.

CT scanning can provide tremendous amounts of information on the condition and construction of books and their bindings. This level of detail is unavailable through visual examination and can often lead to speculation. More information about the project can be found over on the Medieval Manuscripts blog. The new publication, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, can be bought in the British Library shop or ordered online.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

07 May 2015

Public event - Magna Carta: Under the Microscope

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We’re delighted to announce that the conservation team behind the work done on the British Library collections in our latest exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will be speaking at a public event on Friday 26 June 2015 18:30 - 20:30 to share their findings. Speaking on the night in the British Library Centre for Conservation will be Head of Conservation Cordelia Rogerson, conservator Gavin Moorhead, conservation scientist Paul Garside and imaging scientist Christina Duffy. Book your place here.

Magna Carta Conservation Team

 CC by Join our project team of conservators and scientists on 26 June 2015.

The project spanned over three years in preparation for this year’s 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta and involved the reframing and scientific analysis of all of the Magna Carta charters held in our collections, including the two 1215 original versions.

Gavin Moorhead

CC by Conservator Gavin Moorhead works on the 1215 Articles of the Barons (Additional MS 4838).

The team undertook an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. At the event you’ll hear how probes were manually inserted into the frames to take samples of the air inside in order to determine what kind of micro-environment the charters were living in! The stability and compatibility of new materials, which would be used for mounting in the new frames, was ensured using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests.

Mounting colours

CC by Mounting materials were tested before incorporation into the new frames. Join us to find out what the blue and red colours indicate.

With the frames removed the team had a rare opportunity to investigate the condition of the manuscripts using near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy. Unpublished images of the ink and parchment at up to 200 times magnification will be shared with the audience.

Magna Carta Under the Microscope

CC by What does 800-year-old ink look like at 200 times magnification? 

You will also delve deep into the exciting world of multispectral imaging and see versions of the charters and their seals under ultraviolet and infrared light. The incredible results of the text recovery project on the damaged 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, from which much of the ink was lost, will be shared.

Once our tests were complete it was time to rehouse the charters – you’ll hear from our conservator Gavin Moorhead about the challenges and decisions required to mount for display one of the most recognised manuscripts in the world which would feature as the dramatic finale to the exhibition.

Magna Carta 1215

CC by The British Library's London Magna Carta at our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Don’t miss out on this great event and book your place now! We look forward to meeting you!

Christina Duffy

12 February 2015

Photographed by the Hand of a Sinner

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Senior Imaging Technician Kristin A. Phelps takes us behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. 

Click here for an Arabic translation of this article, as translated by the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation and Dar Al Kutub Manuscript Project.

Photographed by the Hand of a Sinner

Prior to the 14th Century, Byzantine artists who painted icons preferred to shun hubris and leave their works unsigned. Their work would be placed in churches to be seen and revered by thousands of the faithful over the centuries. Occasionally, an artist would sign their work with the phrase “Painted by the hand of a sinner.” This allowed the sacred value of the icon to remain unfettered by human presence.

Fast-forward to the modern world and a secular context: millions of digital images are accessed every day on websites of museums, libraries, archives and other collections. These images are taken by unseen photographers and are unsigned. The anonymity of the process allows for ‘pure’ and non-distracted understanding of the object by a viewer. But, who are these modern day artists who make invaluable works of art, faith and history accessible to all of us? How does their particular art form impact what we are able to view on our computer screens, tablets and smart phones?

To answer these questions we are going behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. One project in particular, the Greek Manuscript Digitisation Project (GMDP), is working to digitise centuries old Greek manuscripts, some of which include illuminated portraits of the Evangelists executed by anonymous hands. The British Library’s third phase of the GMDP began in April 2014 and is scheduled to be completed March 2015 with a target of digitizing over 300 manuscripts, which is roughly equivalent to 120,000 images. The project has been funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Goff, the Sylvia Iannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust and the Friends of the British Library, among others.

British Library's Imaging Services

British Library's Imaging Services

The British Library’s Imaging Services currently employs eight full time photographers, or Senior Imaging Technicians, who represent approximately 110 years combined of photographic experience at the Library. While two of these photographers have been tasked with working on the GMDP, all of the photographers will work on the project at one point or another. 

The eight photographers come from a variety of backgrounds including more traditional photographic backgrounds as well as artists, a former school teacher, a former 3D graphic designer with a specialty in computer gaming and a former archaeologist.

Once a book is delivered to the Imaging Studio, the physical digitisation process can begin. Every manuscript is unique and its physical condition can vary widely. For this reason, a conservation assessment is being performed for each manuscript to be imaged for any of the digitisation projects. This written report guides the photographer responsible for the book to ensure that manuscript is returned in the same condition it was received.

 Once the assessment has been read and understood, the manuscript is set up for capture on a cradle. Many manuscripts can be photographed using an L-shaped cradle, designed by the Conservation Department, to allow photography without damage to the material. When the manuscript has been appropriately set up, it can be photographed in RAW format page by page utilising Phase One cameras with digital backs.

British Library's Imaging ServicesSenior Imaging Technician Neil McCowlenOnce the images are captured, they are reviewed and edited in Capture One (minor adjustments only including cropping, straightening and exposure adjustments).  

Finally, the RAW files are processed into both Tiff and Jpeg files before being passed back to the various digital project teams for online publication.

Does this process sound simple and straightforward? It rarely is. Often times, a manuscript needs to be carefully propped up to become level, or has a page which is not flat. The photographer is then responsible for manipulating the manuscript with a very gentle and cautious manner to make the resulting image provide the best view of a page. In addition, items may be housed in glass which cannot be removed for imaging. Senior Imaging Technician Tony GrantOr, objects may be large and unwieldy or extremely small. Lighting conditions may need to be changed if the manuscript contains significant amounts of gold leaf decoration. And, of course, there are always physical adjustments of the camera position and settings as well as employing a variety of lenses. Throughout the process the photographers have to use their judgment and experience in order to “do no harm” and yield images that represent faithfully the original material. After observing everything which must be considered to photograph a manuscript, the question arises: are these professionals artists or technicians? The Library photographers themselves are split when it comes to answering this question. Half of them consider their particular type of photography an art form whilst the rest view it as form of scientific imaging.

No matter what the answer to this question is, one thing is certain. These photographers deliver an impactful and important volume of work to the digital masses. Scholars from across the world have advanced their research without the need to physically visit the British Library. Thousands of people are able to connect with global cultural and religious heritage with a click of a button.

Of course, the GMDP project is just one example of a common wider trend of museums, libraries and archives digitising their holdings for online publication. In Europe alone as of 2014, 87% of cultural heritage institutions had digital collections. ENUMERATE’s 2014 survey found that the most important perceived reason for digital collections was academic research, which points to the growing field of Digital Humanities. With all the new material available online, a visual revolution of the democratisation of knowledge is happening. Now a scholar is no longer hindered by the inability to travel afar to libraries and museums to see objects; instant access to manuscripts and 3D objects is only a click away. Scholarship is becoming more diverse because open access to online collections allows those who wish to see something to be able to do just that. In fact, in its still young life, the third phase of the GMDP has already been the focus of scholarly research as well as being used and shared by a number of New Testament and Patristic blogs.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the diligent and specialised work of the photographers at institutions like the British Library. But if you asked one of the British Library Imaging Services’ photographers about their role in the process you receive humble responses, not dissimilar to what you would have expected from the original “sinners.”

Kristin A. Phelps, Senior Imaging Technician

Senior Imaging Technician Laurence Pordes