Collection Care blog

17 posts categorized "Parchment"

06 July 2015

Under the Microscope with Magna Carta

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 Carta manuscripts dating to 15 June 1215. Enjoy!

Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy examines the Magna Carta with a digital microscope. The manuscript rests on a copy stand.

Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy operating a digital microscope at the British Library.

A full view of Magna Carta 1215. It is a rectangular pieces of parchment with small text.

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 initials.

A close up of the bottom left of Magna Carta 1215.

Magna Carta 1215 detail.

20x magnification showing an uppercase letter that has been half filled in, with dotted lines going down the centre.

Iron gall ink at 20 times magnification.

An even closer image of the O - some cracks are visible.

Iron gall ink at 30 times magnification.

An even closer shot, showing loss of ink on the parchment surface.

Iron gall ink at 150 times magnification.

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.

A closeup of the text along the right hand side of the Magna Carta. Text runs in horizontal lines across the image.

Magna Carta 1215 detail right side.

A close up of some of the text, showing a variety of letter forms. Some loss of ink is visible.

Ink loss at 30 times magnification.

100 times magnification showing ink loss.

Ink loss at 100 times magnification.

200 times magnification shows incredible detail of ink loss.

Ink loss at 200 times magnification.

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.

A close up of text in the centre of the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta detail at the centre of the manuscript.

A closer look at the text showing some damage to the parchment.

Damage at 30 times magnification.

50 times magnification of this damaged section of parchment.

Damage at 50 times magnification.

150 times magnification of this damaged region. At this resolution the skin is quite textured.

Damage at 150 times magnification.

 

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

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

07 May 2015

Public event - Magna Carta: Under the Microscope

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.

A set of four images. Top left: A conservation scientist cuts white foam on a green cutting board. Top right: A customer inspects the frame which lays on a table. Bottom left: A conservator uses a knife to prise open two layers of a mount board with the Magna Carta inside. Bottom right: An imaging scientist inspects the Magna Carta under magnification. The Magna Carta rests on a flat surface with a microscope above it; the magnified image appears on a computer screen.
Join our project team of conservators and scientists on 26 June 2015.

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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.

The item rests on a soft surface while Gavin inspects it. The charter is house in cream mount board.
Conservator Gavin Moorhead works on the 1215 Articles of the Barons (Additional MS 4838).

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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.

A pile of folded red and blue textiles rests on a table.
Mounting materials were tested before incorporation into the new frames. Join us to find out what the blue and red colours indicate.

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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.

A up-close shot of the Magna Carta under a magnifier. Part of the charter is visible in the image along the wax seal.
What does 800-year-old ink look like at 200 times magnification? 

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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.

The Magna Carta in its frame sits in a displace case in the exhibition.
The British Library's London Magna Carta at our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

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

Christina Duffy

09 October 2014

Burnt Cotton Collection survey enables digitisation prioritisation

With the recent multispectral imaging of the burnt Magna Carta hitting the headlines following our blog post on the 800 year old Magna Carta revealing its secrets, there has been a lot of interest in the conservation work required to protect such items. The so-called “burnt” Magna Carta (Cotton charter xiii 31a) suffered fire damage in Ashburnham House in Westminster on 23 October 1731. This 1215 exemplification formed part of an exquisite library assembled by English antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton during his lifetime (1571-1631). Cotton’s library forms the basis of our collections at the British Library today, and a recent conservation survey of the burnt material has allowed us to categorise items based on their relative condition, enabling us to immediately identify items suitable for digitisation. This has vastly improved our workflow allowing digital access to a wider audience in a shorter time. 

This piece includes material from an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Journal of the Institute of Conservation on 29 November 2013, available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455224.2013.815122#.VFDzZvmsWtB.

You can see the Magna Carta is suffering from fire damage--the parchment is burnt, discoloured, and the text appears unreadable. You can see the seal hanging from the bottom of the parchment.

A close-up of the disfigured wax seal. The seal rests in a mount which is cut just bigger than its shape--this keeps it in place and secure.
The burnt 1215 Magna Carta suffered fire damage and subsequent interventive treatment. The vulnerable wax seal of the charter melted and distorted in the intense heat. 

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In the Ashburnham House fire a quarter of the manuscripts were either damaged or destroyed in the blaze, and attempts to extinguish it exacerbated that damage. The documents suffered shrinkage and distortion, bindings were carbonised, ink was lost, soot and dirt was ingrained, tide marks formed on the leaves, and parchment (animal skin) gelatinised. Gelatine is the brownish end-product of a rapid degradation of parchment collagen. Remedial work caused further damage with many of the manuscripts broken up and rebound during salvage. Incorrect reassembly impacted on the codicological history of many of the manuscripts. The darkened gelatinous material which formed along the edge of the parchment was trimmed away from some manuscripts. Unidentified fragments were gathered and put into drawers.

The collection was untouched until the establishment of the British Museum in 1753, where over the coming years invasive treatments were recorded. To separate the leaves which had glued together by gelatinisation, about 40 manuscripts were immersed in a hot aqueous solution (likely to be ethanol in water). Incisions along the parchment edges were made to allow the leaves to dry flat under pressure. Despite the efforts, leaves remained brittle and fragile. Inlaying of parchment fragments into paper was completed in 1856, but a huge number of fragments remained loose and unidentified. While the edges of loose fragments were protected by this inlaying method, over time the degradation of materials caused further concern. The brittle fragments were susceptible to break with every page turn, and acidic paper in heavy volumes tended to cockle preventing the volumes from closing.

The volume rests open, with the left side being supported by a foam wedge and the pages held open with a snake weight on the left side. The burnt parchment pages have been adhered to a tan paper, and all pages rebound.
Cotton Tiberius A. XII. Parchment fragments were attached to paper in the nineteenth century and incisions were cut along the sides to allow the leaves to lay flat.

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Our conservators surveyed 243 items from the Cotton Collection, including 21 paper manuscripts. Items were graded on their physical, chemical and overall conditions based on an assessment of the state of the binding and parchment substrate, and thus rated for treatment priority.

A bar graph showing different characteristics (active mould, old repairs, staining, etc.) and the percentage of items with that characteristic.
Results of the survey of 243 Cotton Collection volumes. From Figure 2 and 5 in The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013
A pie chart showing different grades of damage, from Uniform Good Condition (A) to High Degree of Damage (E).
Pattern of damage where D (High degree of damage) accounts for 61% of the total items examined. From Figure 2 and 5 in The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013.

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The nineteenth century treatments have been fundamental to the preservation of the Cotton Collection, and many items thought to be lost have since been rediscovered. The condition survey enabled us to quantify the damage and develop a strategy for the long-term preservation of the burnt Cotton Collection. Items identified as being fragile were immediately withdrawn from library use, while research to determine the best methods of stabilising and housing the items was undertaken. The use of analytical techniques such as near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy for assessing the deterioration or parchment has enabled a better awareness of the nature and condition of these manuscripts. This information has helped to support the choice and realistic scope of conservation methods. In the case of the burnt Cotton Collection, the future project is now directed towards a preservation approach, including digitisiation and multispectral imaging, rather than an interventive conservation one.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina), Imaging Scientist

 

Further reading

The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection, Mariluz Beltran de Guevara and Paul Garside, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013. Vol. 36, No. 2, 145 –161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19455224.2013.815122

Collection Care fired up for BBC Four appearance, Christina Duffy: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/collectioncare/2013/08/collection-care-fired-up-for-bbc-four-appearance.html

Crisp as a Poppadom, Ann Tomalak: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/02/crisp-as-a-poppadom.html

‘Their Present Miserable State of Cremation' the Restoration of the Cotton Library, Andrew Prescott: http://www.uky.edu/~kiernan/eBeo_archives/articles90s/ajp-pms.htm

01 July 2014

Books depicted in art

After a glorious week of studying European Bookbinding (1450-1820) at the London Rare Books School with Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad,  it quickly became apparent that works of art have been one of the best methods of recording details of techniques used in bookbinding.

The majority of books throughout history are not the heavily decorated and spectacular versions we tend to hear most about, but instead are plain, and fairly ordinary book blocks (which some people still find quite exciting - author included!). For this reason, the techniques are perhaps not as well understood or documented. Luckily the keen eye of the artist has captured precise details when depicting books throughout history, showing sewing structures, stitch types, supports, covers and even how they were stored. In this post we will look at some examples of books depicted in art.

Storage

While we now consider spine outwards as ‘the right way around’ to display books, this was not always the case. In the oil on canvas painting ‘Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti’ by Guercino (1626- 28) we see doctor of laws Fracesco Righetti depicted in his library. His law books are tail-edge outwards showing endband detail with titles written on the volume.

On the left is a painting of a man holding a book. The man has curly hair, a moustache, and a goatee, and he is wearing a black top with a white collar and white cuffs. Behind the man is a shelf of books stacked on their boards (as opposed to shelved spine-out as we typically see books today). On the right is a close-up crop of the books on his shelf.

Figure 1:  Guercino’s ‘Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti’.

The engraved ‘Portrait of William Cartwright’ (from ‘Comedies, tragi-comedies, with other poems’) was printed in London for Humphrey Moseley in 1651. Cartwright is shown wearing a collar and gown leaning on an open book. The books on the wall behind him are shelved fore-edge out; a common practice in the 16th and early 17th century. Gilded-edge books stored spine away would gleam off the shelves quite spectacularly. Many medieval books have their title written in several places such as the spine, tail-edge or fore-edge as storage locations changed over time.

On the left a man sits at a desk with his elbow resting on an open book and his head resting on his hand. Above him sits two shelves on books on the wall. On the right is a closeup of those books.

Figure 2:  ‘Portrait of William Cartwright’. See the full engraving digitised on the British Museum's Image Gallery.

 

How binderies operated

Hendrik de Haas’s print ‘De Boekbinder’ (1806) shows a bookbinder's workshop. On the left is the beating stone where gatherings were pounded with a mallet for compaction. Second from the left a man is shown bent over a special shaving knife which is drawn along the text block to trim the pages. The shavings are shown on the floor. In the centre on a stool a binder is sewing the gatherings next to a young boy taking a book to a client. The master of the workshop (as determined by his smart attire and rather dashing wig) burnishes the leather by working and smoothing it. The finisher, working for the aristocracy, made more money than the binder – it is unusual to see him wearing Hessian boots. (With tassels? On a binder? The outrage!)

This engraving shows the goings-on at a bookbinding workshop. Five workers are present, doing various tasks related to bookbinding.

Figure 3: Bookbinder’s workshop in print by Hendrik de Haas, ‘De Boekbinder’, Dordrect, 1806.

A closeup of one of the workers who is beating part of a book on a pedastol.. A closeup of one of the workers who is using a tool that resembles a wooden vice with a sharp blade attached. A textblock rests in the vice and the blade is dragged over the edges of the textblock to shave them down to a uniform size.

Figure 4: Left: Beating the gatherings. Right: Shaving the book block.

Books are stacked in a wooden press which is leaning against a wall.

Figure 5: Pressing the books in Bookbinder’s workshop in print by Hendrik de Haas, ‘De Boekbinder’, Dordrect, 1806. 

Leaning against the shelving unit in the far right is a wooden book press where several books are packed tightly. It was possible to apply guilt edges to several books at a time when stored in this way.

Life and social status

Dutch painter Marinus van Reymerswale’s early 16th century oil on canvas painting ‘St Jerome in his Study’ shows St Jerome surrounded by curious objects which represent attributes referring to his life and status. St Jerome was famed for translating the Bible into Latin from Greek and Hebrew. The Vulgate, as his translation was known, became the official Latin version of the Holy Script in the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason he is nearly always depicted around books and in his study.

An expensively bound volume with clasps is shelved behind St Jerome, while on his table are several working copies with various sewing structures and tacketed bindings. A sewn book block is apparent which never had covers, adhesive, or a spine lining. The gatherings are visible with long stitch through separate supports rather than covering the whole spine. There is no adhesive used in long stitch bindings, making them very useful for music manuscripts as the book stays open easily and is very flexible. Long stitch was rare in England but common in the Low Countries as a cheap and quick way to produce almanacs. The variety of books in his study suggest St Jerome was highly-literate with a great depth of knowledge.

St Jerome sits at his desk with an illuminated manuscript open. In front of him rests a skull. Around him are things like other paperwork, a hat, a candle, etc.

Figure 6: Marinus van Reymerswale’s ‘St Jerome in his Study’, 16th century.

Left: A close up of a red book with clasps. This sits above the open illuminated manuscript and next to the candle. Right: A stack of textblocks which haven't been covered yet--the sewing structures are visible along the spine.

Figure 7: Left: Leather bound volume with metal clasps. Right: Visible sewing structures, long stitch and tacketed binding. 

Textblocks could be sold without significant covers, just held together with an "endless cover". Jean Antoinette Poisson (Madame de Pompadour) was the mistress of King Louis XV, as well as a prominent patron of Francois Boucher. In Francois Boucher’s 1756 oil on canvas portrait ‘Madame de Pompadour’ the lady is sumptuously dressed and surrounded by opulent things - apart from the book she holds in her hand. The book has a drawn-on cover – a piece of paper or parchment put around the book-block. It was a cheap and quick way to bind books and there are a lot of French books bound in this way. Madame de Pompadour is displaying a casual relationship with literature, in a sense saying to the viewer ‘Look at me, I read books because they are interesting. If I like it, I will keep it” (and pay more money for the binding!).

In this portrait, a woman in a lavish turqoise dress with peach-coloured roses lounges with a book in her hand. Behind her you can see other elements of the room including a bookcase and grand clock. Next to her is a small table with a candle on it. It's all very opulent!

Figure 8: Francois Boucher’s ‘Madame de Pompadour’, 1756, oil on canvas portrait.

A closeup of the book in the woman's hands--the book is open.

Figure 9: Francois Boucher’s ‘Madame de Pompadour’, 1756, oil on canvas portrait. The book has a drawn-on cover – a piece of paper or parchment put around the book-block.

 

Street vendors/book peddlers

'Bealux abc belles heures’ is part of the ‘le Cris de Paris’ genre illustrating Parisian street vendors. It is a woodcut engraving ca 1500 showing a moment in time when prayer books, once restricted to the wealthy aristocracy, became affordable to the bourgeois with the advent of the printing press. Thin, printed copies were sold on the streets. In the vendor’s right hand is a Book of Hours showing a limp cover. Underneath his left hand we can see detail of a leather binding.

A print of a man with a box of books wrapped around his shoulders and resting in front of him. He is shown walking on top of a small area of grass and with an open book in one hand. A man holds a basket of books in one hand and an open book out in the other.

Figure 6: Street vendors and book peddlers were often depicted in artworks. Left: Beaulx abc belles heures. Right: Tavolette, e Libri per li putti.
 

Similarly in Annibale Carracci’s 1646 print ‘Tavolette, e Libri per li putti’ a man is depicted selling books from a basket that he carries over his shoulder. The book in his right hand has a cover which follows the spine when open and is bound using long-stitch.

Evidence-based research

While written documentation of binding styles and techniques is not always available, we can gather a lot of information from paintings, prints, engravings and illuminations. Sometimes they can tell us more than current literature on a subject – for example in Lorenzo Lotto’s oil on canvas ‘Portrait of a Young Man in his Study’ (c. 1530), the sitter is more likely to be a merchant than a student as the volume he is perusing is bound with a fore-edge flap – this style was used for account books and book-keeping, not for great works of literature.

A man sits at a desk with an open book. He is wearing a black jacket with a white shirt just visible underneath. What appears to be a window showing an evening sky (setting sun) is behind him. In general this painting is very dark in colour. A closeup showing the man flipping through the open book.

Figure 7:  Lorenzo Lotto, ‘Portrait of a Young Man in his Study’ (c. 1530), oil on canvas.

Visual depictions can also be useful in filling in missing parts of our understanding. Folio 291v of the great 9th century illuminated gospel manuscript, the Book of Kells, shows Christ holding a red binding decorated with blind twilling. With the original binding of the manuscript now lost, it is possible that this is what it may have originally looked like.

On the left is the full illuminated page which shows Christ holding a red book. Around him is a geometric design. On the right is a closeup of the book in his hands.

Figure 8: The Book of Kells, f. 291v; a 9th century gospel manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text which St Jerome completed in 384AD. It has been fully digitised by Trinity College Dublin.

While bookbinding may be considered the Cinderella of the bibliographical trade (i.e. given little care or attention) it is a fascinating area of research, based on the logic of commerce – techniques and styles were not varied unless they needed to be. For more information on bookbindings see the British Library Database of Bookbindings or the Ligatus website.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

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)

16 February 2014

Sea Snails and Purple Parchment

Purple coloured pages of vellum are sometimes found in sacred texts adorned in gold or silver lettering. They can be seen in folios 2-5 of the recently digitised Cotton Titus C XV on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. Fragments of the Codex Purpureus Petrolpolitanus (a 6th century copy of the Four Gospels in Greek) demonstrate the use of purple as an indicator of wealth, power and kingship. Purple parchment was once only used for Roman or Byzantine Emperors, but later found use in Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts for the Emperors in Carolingian art and Ottonian art. The discovery of shell fragments in archaeological sites in Scotland and Ireland has pointed to the harvesting of sea snails for a gland which produces the purple colour. 

A close-up of single folio lays on a dark grey surface. The parchment folio is a warm caramel colour, mottled with darker and lighter areas. There are some subtle patches of purple colour, leaving evidence of its original colour. There are two columns of very organised, neat silver-grey text, with very bold and graphic letters. In some areas, letters are visible between the lines of text, showing through from the other side. The texture of the parchment shows itself through small wrinkles and a grain pattern. The right edge shows evidence of previous sewing holes with semi-circular losses. The left edge shows small losses and wrinkles along the edge, and a small loss no the bottom corner.

Figure 1: Fragment of the Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, 6th century, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 4v. Read more about this codex on the BL Medieval blog: A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment. 

In 1992 marine shell remains were recovered from caves in Sutherland County in Scotland. Archaeologists used sieves to isolate shells of the whelk known scientifically as Buccinum undatum. These whelks survive in shallow water (down to about 100m) and are found in sand and mud. Their usual capture occurs using baskets or baited pots. The fragmented state of the shells dispersed around the site suggested that they had been purposely collected and broken.

A close up of two sea snail shells on a black background, which share a similar shape to an ice cream cone, if the ice-cream scoops got smaller and smaller. One sea shell faces down, while the other is faced up, showing the cavity for which I sea snail would inhabit. They are both varied colours of sand and warm caramel and pinkie colours. There are small horizontal lines cutting through the shells like a shallow engraving, with larger smooth vertical waves flowing length wise down the shell.

Figure 2:  The sea snail Buccinum undatum.

Another type of whelk mollusc, known as Nucella lapillus (dogwhelk or Purpura lapillus) was found at the Scottish site in Wetweather Cave. Nucella lapillus are found in crevices around rocky shores and estuarine conditions. They are a species of predatory sea snail found around the coasts of Europe and in the north west Atlantic coast of North America where they feed on barnacles and mussels. The deliberately broken shells indicated to researchers that the whelks, which are not edible and were not being used as fishing bait, were being gathered for the production of purple dye.

 About 18 white, grey, black, brown and yellow coloured sea shells, same shape as described above.  They lie on top of a rough grey stone background with evidence of barnacles from their honeycomb like structures attached to the rocks in a single layer sporadically laid out. These seashells are alive with sea snails inside – not visible in this image – and they are feasting on the barnacles.

Figure 3: Nucella lapillus feeding on barnacles. 

Nucella lapillus was also found in Connemara in the West of Ireland in 1919 by J. Wilfred Jackson. Heaps of shells (referred to as Purpura-mounds) had previously been found in 1895, but Jackson noted that the shells had deliberately broken apical whorls (a whorl being a turn of the whelk's spiral shell), but the lower whorl with the mouth had been left intact. The shells were smashed in such a way as to retain the cumella allowing the beast to be removed easily. It was clearly a serious business with one of the Irish Purpura-mounds measuring about 50 by 14 m  - over 200 whelks were found in a single square foot!

The dye is comprised of a mucous secretion from the sea snail's hypobranchial gland and is an organic compound of bromine. The secreted fluid is released by the sea snail as a defence mechanism when agitated. The secretion can be collected by "milking" the sea snails, however this is a very labour intensive process and more often than not the snails are crushed instead. It can take thousands of snails to produce a single gram of pure dye. After salting, boiling and sitting for a few days the gland fluid begins to turn from a pale cream to a purple colour. This process is accelerated by sun exposure. After about 10 days the dye is ready for use.

A single page from a manuscript, with a dark purple background and white and yellow writing. The writing is very nest and organised and quite square and graphic in appearance.  There are two white graphic elaborations on the left-hand side one above the other with some space in between. On the bottom of the page are four arches painted in white with yellow and white initials placed inside of each arch. The condition of the folio is in very good condition, with a small loss in the bottom right corner, and a larger but still minor loss on the top left corner.

Figure 4: A purple parchment page of the 6th century Codex Argenteus with gold and silver lettering. 

Christina Duffy  (@DuffyChristina)

 

Further reading

Pollard, Tony (2005) 'The excavation of four caves in the Geodha Smoo near Durness, Sutherland'. Scottish Archaeology Internet Report 18

Jackson, J.W. (1917) 'Shells as Evidence of the Migrations of Early Culture'

Henderson, George, Vision and Image in Early Christian England, Cambridge University Press, 1999, paperback edition 2010, Chapter 3, pp.122-135, 'The Colour Purple: A Late Antique Phenomenon and its Anglo-Saxon Reflexes'.

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