Collection Care blog

08 May 2014

Microscopy of the Lindisfarne Gospels, folio 3r

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the most magnificent manuscripts of the early Middle Ages. It was written and decorated at the end of the 7th century by a monk named Eadfrith who would go on to become Bishop of Lindisfarne and serve from 698 until his death in 721. An Old English gloss between the lines translates the Latin text of the Gospel and is the earliest surviving example of the Gospel text in any form of the English language. This translation was a late (mid-10th century) addition by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street.

As one of the Treasures of the British Library the Lindisfarne Gospels undergoes strict condition assessments to ensure it is kept at ideal environmental conditions. Part of this assessment involves using microscopy to take a detailed look at the pigment behaviour. We posted some images in a previous post: Under the microscope with the Lindisfarne Gospels, and here we share some of the exceptional exuberance found on folio 3r.

A parchment page of illuminated text. The initial, in the upper left corner of the page, is the largest letter on the page, and extends down the left margin almost to the bottom of the page. It is decorated with swirling motifs, the heads of leopard-like animals, and interlocking birds. The main colours used for decoration are purple, light green, yellow, blue and black. There are two more letters on the first row, which are smaller than the initial but decorated in the same style. The rest of the text on the page, consisting of another five lines, is simpler and written in capitals in black ink. Some of the enclosed areas inside letters, such as A and B, are filled in with yellow, green and purple pigment. All these letters are surrounded by an outline of small red dots. A line of smaller, undecorated, red text runs along the top of each line, and an even smaller line of black text runs along the top of this
Folio 3r

CC zero Folio 3r of the Lindisfarne Gospels, Cotton MS Nero D IV. Examine in full detail here

The abstracted decoration found throughout the Lindisfarne Gospels is a spectacular example of Anglo-Saxon art. There are five major decorated openings in the manuscript, the first of which is found on ff. 2v – 3 and introduces the letter which St Jerome addressed to Pope Damasus. It was Pope Damasus who requested a revision of the Latin Bible text during the late 4th century. Folio 2v consists of an elaborate cross-carpet page and faces Jerome’s letter to Damasus in Latin with the opening Novum opus (New work). The intricate detail on this page has been interpreted as an act of personal spirituality and devotion. A few examples are shown below. Enjoy!

Top of folio 3r

A close-up of the second and third letters on the first line, showing their decoration of swirling knots and bird heads. The photo also shows the lines of red and black text running above them. There is a brown stain, caused by liquid, discolouring the parchment above the first letter.
Top of folio 3r
A close-up of two of the red letters (“p” and “I”) at 50x magnification. Under magnification the pigment appears yellow rather than red and both letters are covered with small cracks. The parchment background is grey-white and has a rough texture.
Folio 3r letter 50x
A close-up of a section of a red letter at 150x magnification. The cracks in the pigment are much larger in this photo and appear black in colour. The pigment again appears yellow rather than red.
Folio 3r 150x
A close-up of a spiral motif at 50x magnification. The spiral is drawn in black and its centre is coloured yellow. The yellow pigment is covered in cracks. There are red dots around the top and left sides of the spiral. The parchment background is grey-white and has a rough texture.
Folio 3r detail 50x

CC by Top: Upper section of folio 3r. Centre: Crackled pigment of lettering reading incipit prologus at 50x and 150x magnification. Bottom: Celtic-influenced spiral motif at 50x magnification

Centre of folio 3r

Tiny drops of red lead are also observed in early Irish manuscripts which heavily influenced the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Germanic zoomorphic style is evident with interlacing animal and bird patterns.

A close-up of the right side of the initial showing decorative animal heads which are purple with yellow noses and orange bodies. Sections of black text from the second and third rows are also shown. The black letters of the second row have areas filled in with purple and yellow pigment and are decorated with intertwining bird heads and necks. Around the initial decorative red dots are arranged in a diamond pattern; around the black letters red dots are arranged in straight lines.
Centre of folio 3r
A close-up of one of decorative animals on the initial at 20x magnification. The animal is drawn with strong black lines, and the orange pigment of its body is cracked. The parchment background is grey-white and has a rough texture.
Folio 3r 20x
The same area at 50x magnification. Cracks now show on an area of yellow pigment as well as on the orange. The purple pigment has an uneven, mottled texture.
Folio 3r pigment 50x
A close-up of the diamond pattern of red dots at 20x magnification. A single dot sits within each diamond. Under magnification the pigment appears yellow rather than red.
Folio 3r red lead 20x

 CC by Top: Central section of folio 3r from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts with creature detail at 20x and 50x magnification. Bottom: Drops of red lead in a geometric pattern at 20x magnification

Bottom of folio 3r

Decorated initials exhibit yellow pigment (orpiment) bordered with drops of red lead. Craquelure is a network of tiny cracks caused by pigment shrinking due to age. When the disruption consists of perpendicular lines it is referred to as crackling.

An area of the fourth and fifth lines of text, which are written in black while the enclosed areas inside the letters are filled with blue, purple, green and yellow pigment. There are areas of brown liquid staining on both lines of text.
Bottom of folio 3r
An area of an illuminated letter at 30x magnification. The left side of the photo shows yellow pigment covered in dark cracks and decorated with red spots. A line of black ink runs vertically down the centre of the photo; the ink has a rough texture and is more thickly applied in some areas than others. To the right of the black line are three vertical rows of red spots. These are not perfectly circular but rather splodgy and uneven.
Folio 3r 30x
An area of the same letter at 100x magnification. Small pieces of yellow pigment are detaching where the cracks in it intersect with each other. The black ink sits unevenly on the parchment surface, and areas of it are shiny where they catch the light. At this level of magnification the parchment is not a uniform shade and there are dark flecks in the grey-white surface, which is very rough and uneven in texture.
Folio 3r 100x
A close-up at 20x of a letter “B” written in black ink with an outline of red spots. The surface of the black ink is very uneven, with a gritty texture. The enclosed areas of the “B” are coloured with light green pigment. A large flake of the green pigment is missing, and purple-coloured lettering from the reverse of the page shows through the parchment underneath. The parchment surrounding the letter is grey and discoloured.
Folio 3r pigment loss 20x
An area of the same letter “B” at 50x magnification. The light green pigment is mottled, and there are cracks around the area of loss. The letters showing through from the reverse of the page are clearly defined and overlaid with white cracks on the surface of the parchment. A line of black ink runs down the left side of the photo. It has an rough, uneven texture.
Folio 3r 50x

CC by Top: Lower section of folio 3r. Detail of decorated initals at 30x and 100x magnification. Bottom: evidence of loss of green pigment (verdigris or vergaut) from a decorated initial at 20x and 50x magnification. Text from the reverse (f. 3v) is shown through the parchment

For more details on the pigments used in the Lindisfarne Gospels see our previous post. The entire manuscript is digitised and available online here.

Christina Duffy (Twitter: @DuffyChristina)

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