THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 posts categorized "Parchment"

09 October 2014

Burnt Cotton Collection survey enables digitisation prioritisation

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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.

Burnt Magna Carta

Burnt Magna Carta seal

CC by 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. 

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.

Cotton Tiberius A XII

CC by Cotton Tiberius A. XII. Parchment fragments were attached to paper in the ninteenth century and incisions were cut along the sides to allow the leaves to lay flat.

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.

Grade

Condition

CC by From Figure 2 and 5 in The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013. Top: Results of the survey of 243 Cotton Collection volumes. Bottom: Pattern of damage where D (High degree of damage) accounts for 61% of the total items examined.

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

07 October 2014

800 year old Magna Carta manuscript reveals its secrets

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Ground-breaking multispectral imaging work of the British Library’s burnt copy of the 1215 Magna Carta has recovered text which has not been read in 250 years.

This work has been completed by British Library conservators and scientists in preparation for next year’s 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. The so-called ‘burnt’ copy of the Magna Carta is one of four original manuscripts from 1215 which survive. In February 2015, the four manuscripts will be brought together for the first time in history for a special 3-day event, which will allow further academic study of them side by side, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 1,215 people to view them together – you can enter our ballot to win your chance to be part of that event here.

Multispectral camera Colour image

Processed image

CC by Top left: The “Burnt Magna Carta” ready for multispectral imaging. Top right: A real colour image of a section of the charter. Bottom: A processed image of the charter enhanced to reveal text thought to be lost.

The British Library owns two of the original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts (the other two are held at Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals). The story of the ‘Burnt Magna Carta’ (Cotton charter xiii 31a) held in our collections is a truly remarkable one of survival against all the odds. In 1731 it was damaged in the Cotton Library fire, and subsequently staff at the British Museum Library used 19th century techniques to try to flatten and mount it, which has contributed to its current condition today rendering the text very difficult to see.

The multispectral imaging of the burnt Magna Carta was conducted as part of a major project involving the reframing and scientific analysis of all the Magna Carta charters held in our collections ahead of the 2015 anniversary. The Collection Care team provided an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. All original mounting materials in contact with the charters were tested using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests to determine their stability and compatibility with new materials. Once the charters were removed from the frames, near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy was used to investigate the condition of the ink and parchment as part of the overall condition assessment.

With the frames and glass removed there was a rare opportunity to employ the cutting-edge technique of multispectral imaging enabling us to virtually peel away the layers of damage currently affecting the manuscript.

Conservator Kumiko Matsuoka Conservation Scientist Dr Paul Garside

Conservator Gavin Moorhead Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy
CC by Clockwise from top: Temporary housing is prepared to store the charter when removed from the frame; the original wooden frames are removed to enable access to the charter; the charter is released from the mounting; once the charter is free from the frame it can undergo condition assessment.

Burnt Magna Carta  Ink loss

CC by Left: The “burnt” copy of the Magna Carta, Cotton charter xiii 31a, is one of the four original manuscripts from 1215 which survive. Right: Much of the ink has been lost with only a few remaining initials (shown here at 50x magnification).

Multispectral imaging is a non-destructive, non-invasive imaging technique using different colour lights, including ultra-violet and infrared, to recover faded and lost text. A high-resolution camera is securely mounted directly over the charter, which is then illuminated with LED lights ranging from the ultraviolet at a wavelength of 365 nm, through the visible region, and right up to a wavelength of 1050 nm in the infrared region. The chemical composition of the material in the charter is varied (ink, parchment, etc.), and so reacts differently to the lights. We are able to see, and capture, additional information undetectable by the human eye.

CC by  An animated gif comparing the original colour and processed images. 

Ultra-violet colour image

CC by A colour UV image reveals regions of text which are completely faded to the naked eye.

Using this technology and expertise available to us in the 21st century, we are able to preserve the Magna Carta for the next 800 years and present these iconic documents in the best possible condition for visitors who come to see them during the anniversary year.

Multispectral data is still being processed and will be published along with other scientific data collected after the British Library’s exhibition ‘Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy’ which runs from 13 March – 1 September 2015.

You can see this Magna Carta manuscript alongside the 3 other surviving copies at the British Library on 3 February 2015 – find out more details and enter for your chance to win a place on www.bl.uk/magna-carta

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina), Imaging Scientist

01 July 2014

Books depicted in art

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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.

Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti

CC zero 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.

Portrait of William Cartwright

CC by ‘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!)

De Boekbinder

Beating the gatherings Shaving the book block Wood press
CC by Bookbinder’s workshop in print by Hendrik de Haas, ‘De Boekbinder’, Dordrect, 1806. Lower left: Beating the gatherings. Lower centre: Shaving the book block. Lower right: Pressing the books.

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 in his Study

St Jerome

CC zero Marinus van Reymerswale’s ‘St Jerome in his Study’, 16th century. Lower left: Leather bound volume with metal clasps. Lower 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!).

Madame de Pompadour

Madame de Pompadour's book

CC zero Francois Boucher’s ‘Madame de Pompadour’, 1756, oil on canvas portrait.

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.

Beaulx abc belles heures Tavolette
CC by 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.

Portrait of a Young Man in his Study  Fore-edge flap
CC zero 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.

The Book of Kells

CC zero 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

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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.

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

Top of folio 3r

Folio 3r letter 50x

Folio 3r 150x

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.

Centre of folio 3r

Folio 3r 20x

Folio 3r pigment 50x

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.

Bottom of folio 3r

Folio 3r 30x

Folio 3r 100x

Folio 3r pigment loss 20x

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

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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. 

Purple parchment

CC zero 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.

Buccinum undatum

CC by 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.

Nucella lapillus

CC by 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.

Wulfila bibel

CC zero 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'.