The analysis of the Book of Mulling has now been completed using the two techniques we have available in the Conservation Department, Raman spectroscopy and XRF. As posted before (see previous posts here and here) these are complementary techniques that together can help with the identification of pigments.
While analysing the manuscripts we have examined the parchment to look for evidence of the working methods employed by the artists and scribes. As previously described the tell-tale signs are difficult to find due to the great age of the manuscripts and the many interventions they have had since leaving the scriptorium. However we have been lucky to discover some marks which indicate working practice.
It was usual for the scribe to prepare the parchment with guidelines to ensure the script was evenly spaced across the page within left and right margins and kept parallel to the top and bottom edges. This was typically established by leaving small incisions in the left and right margin to locate the lines equal distance apart, and a guide line scored into the skin with a sharp tool, such as a metal stylus, for the scribe to follow. The wedge shaped marks of a scribes’ knife can be found in the margin of folio 38v in The Garland of Howth which establish the even distance of the lines.
The Book of Dimma still exhibits the line markings scored into back of the page decorated with the symbol of St John. Typically, although not always, the pages with the portraits and symbols of the evangelists are kept blank, possibly because the artists relied on the semi-transparency of the sheet to aid with the planning and preparation of elaborate design elements, and also to create a break between the ending on one Gospel and the beginning of a new Gospel.
Lines were also scored or drawn on the vertical plane to establish the position for columns of text or border designs.
Compasses were used to create accurate circular design elements. On page 103 of Dimma we can see that the halo surrounding the head of the eagle and the lines that mark the position of the borders for page 104 are evidence of this practice.
In the same manuscript the Portrait of St Mark has been placed on the back of a page of script. The markings for the ends of lines no longer exist and if the lines were scored the impression is no longer visible, however the slight unevenness in the placement of the script suggests they may not have been applied. The artist/scribe has been more particular with the symmetry of the illumination, clearly marking the centre line for the placement of the figure.
In the Book of Mulling on folio 73r a faint line can be found that marks the position of the right column of text.
Christopher de Hamel, Medieval Craftsmen. Scribes and Illuminator The British Museum Press 1992
Susie Bioletti, Keeper of Preservation and Conservation
The three pronged approach to the Early Irish Manuscript project has afforded us the opportunity to focus our attention on key modern disciplines in relation to manuscript study; conservation, research and digitization, all of which require close scrutiny of the material and content. In addition we have taken full advantage of the extended time period working with each of the manuscripts to search for clues of their past life and attempt to answer such questions as: where and when was it written; how was it used; and what did it look like when it was first bound (this is a familiar question for early medieval books, as less than a handful of insular manuscripts are still contained inside their original bindings)? There are quite often subtle and not so subtle clues to assist in answering these and other codicological questions if you know what you are looking for.
Sewing (fig. 1): How the quires of early medieval manuscripts were sewn together varied geographically and chronologically and even though the original sewing has likely long since been replaced, often more than once, evidence of its existence, such as holes in the backfolds of the quires or even ghost traces of impressions in the vellum can yield useful clues, such impressions might even inform us of the thickness and make-up of the thread. If you are really fortunate, original thread fragments may remain trapped under a later sewing.
The use of colour in Early Irish Manuscripts can give clues about the resources available during the creation of the manuscripts, the skills of the illuminators, and the traditions of the community.
As we continue with our pigment analysis we have now commenced X-Ray fluorescence analysis of the illuminations and elaborated initials in our four manuscripts. This technique like Raman spectroscopy (see previous post) can, with the right equipment, be used in-situ directly on a manuscript without risk of damage, and similarly has a long history of use for the identification of pigments.1
Last week, scholars and enthusiasts of Insular art and manuscripts gathered at the Trinity Long Room Hub for many stimulating papers and lively discussion at our conference – The Wandering Word: the travels of Insular manuscripts.
The event was off to an exciting start with papers from the Trinity College Dublin conservation team. Susie Bioletti, Allyson Smith (see previous post) and Marco Di Bella (see previous post) presented the work they have been doing on our project manuscripts. The application of scientific analysis to manuscripts continued in Bill Enders’ paper where he demonstrated the value of imaging manuscripts over time. Bernard Meehan discussed the bindings of the Book of Mulling (see previous post), and how recent technologies have brought greater clarity to the more damaged pages of the manuscript.
In the past weeks the Garland of Howth (MS 56) has returned to centre stage, this time for careful examination with Raman lasers. This is one of two non-invasive analytic techniques we have available in the conservation department; we will report on the second, x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), in the coming weeks.
We are using this type of analysis because it can be safely used in-situ to determine which pigments have been used in making the Garland of Howth. The procedure, called micro-Raman spectroscopy, uses lasers of specific wavelengths to excite the molecular bonds in the material. The energy returned to the detectors provides a fingerprint of the constituents under the beam.
Parchment is one of the oldest writing supports in history, and was already in use some centuries before the birth of Christ. Parchment generally refers to mammal skin, treated with lime, de-haired, scraped and dried under tension.
When the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) was received in the Conservation Department of Trinity College back in 1977, it was sporting a binding that had been carried out by the British Museum in the late 19th century. The style of binding was similar to that employed for Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) (see previous post) and involved the now individual vellum folios being glued around their edges and set into paper panels, before being gathered together and sewn into a leather binding.
After removal of this unsuitable structure, the Conservation Department carried out rebinding following extensive repairs to the leaves of the manuscript. Continue reading Conservation on the Book of Mulling
As we stressed in our previous post, the binding and mounting system adopted in the late 19th or early 20th century to accommodate the folio fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) proved unsuitable over time. The main problem was that the card in which the fragments had been pasted resisted the natural curling movement of the vellum, causing strain on the already fragile leaves.
The binding was thus removed and it was decided that each fragment should be released from its buckling card mount in order to be re-mounted in a manner which would improve its preservation. The following method was adopted. Continue reading Re-mounting Codex Usserianus Primus
The fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (see previous post for background) were, until a few years ago, kept in a late 19th- or early 20th-century binding (fig. 1). Unfortunately, we have no recorded description of how the manuscript was kept prior to this.
The binding, quite elaborate, was covered in a greenish -brown Morocco goatskin, Continue reading Usserianus Primus and its Modern Binding