Medieval manuscripts blog

22 March 2011

Taking images of medieval seals

The British Library recently hosted a visit by a team from the University of Southampton, who specialise in polynomial texture mapping. In simple terms, the team takes multiple images of a single object, to gather the reflectance properties of its surface. The images can then be meshed together, allowing you to illuminate the object as if a torch was being shone upon it.

This technique has multiple applications. The Southampton team has already used it to capture images of cuneiform tablets, and of graffiti from Pompeii. At the British Library, we experimented by taking images of collection items which can be notoriously difficult to photograph, and are often hard to decipher, such as medieval wax seals and early modern bookbindings.

In this video clip, Hembo Pagi demonstrates how the technology can be used to view a seal of David II, king of Scots (1329-1371). The seal in question formed part of the library of Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), one of the foundation collections of the British Museum (and hence the British Library).

  

This technology is currently being showcased at the British Library's Growing Knowledge exhibition. More information on polynomial texture mapping is available on the University of Southampton's website.

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