The process of digitising Mathew Paris’s ‘Book of St Albans’

TCD MS 177 f37v-f38r the martyrdom of St Alban, Matthew Paris, the Book of St Albans

The digitisation of the Book of St Albans manuscript by Matthew Paris was quite possibly the most anticipated step within the Medieval manuscript digitisation project currently being conducted within the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This high value manuscript was first photographed as black and white collotype prints for the M.R. James Facsimile edition in 1924 and in the 1980s a selection of images from the manuscript were captured on colour transparency film and scanned. The colour transparency slides show the pastel green hues well. Furthermore, considering a comparison between the resolution of fine grain film and high-resolution digital imaging is still contestable, I do not believe I can immediately say the resolution of the digital surrogate images taken on a medium format digital back camera is well and truly above what can be captured with fine grain film in terms of image resolution. However, the high dynamic range, colour accuracy and ease of use and speed of a medium format digital back camera makes the true hues and gold highlights seen within the miniatures throughout the Book of St Albans manuscript much easier to render correctly.

Digitising a high value manuscript such as the Book of St Albans involves slightly more planning than other medieval manuscripts as multiple people need to be involved throughout the process to ensure the safety and security of the manuscript. My role first off was to calculate how long I anticipated the digitisation to take place and whether there was a possibility to be able to also capture extra images of a selected number of illustrations using raking light to show the texture within the illustrations. Considering multiple expertise needed to be involved throughout the process and the manuscript is permanently stored in high security, I had a limited amount of time to complete all the digitisation. Although, the fact that this manuscript only has 77 folios made the planning slightly easier. Overall, the most difficult part of the digitisation process was creating the correct lighting to accurately show the course gold highlights which are seen within many of the illustrations, whilst not washing out the pastel green colourisation.

Lighting set up for pastel colours and gold

For most of the photography conducted within our Digital Collection studios we use a standard twin lighting set up with one flash head placed on either side of the subject positioned 90 cm above the subject and placed at a 35-degree angle towards the subject plane. The standard lighting set up was used for the lighting set up whilst digitising the Book of St Albans manuscript. In addition, a large silver reflector was placed over the top of the camera and over the top of the two flash heads and directly above the subject plane. The large silver reflector covered the entire diameter of the subject area and lighting circumference. The large reflector was kept in place directly above the subject throughout the entire shoot. Whilst shooting the miniatures with gold illumination an extra light was placed in front of the subject and pointed directly upwards towards the large silver reflector, this light was also set to the lowest setting. The purpose of using the extra light whilst photographing the miniatures with the gold illuminations was to help bring out the gold highlights which are often hard to capture with the standard lighting set up alone. The large reflector was kept in the same position throughout the shoot to avoid image exposure and the white balance changing too much once the extra lighting was temporarily added. The extra light was kept on the lowest setting also for this reason and to avoid flattening the green pastel colourisation seen throughout the manuscript.

TCD MS 177 f57r, example of gold illustration

The raking light set up

There are some distinct features in the illustrations in the Book of St Albans that are not easily seen by the unaided eye and are not obvious on the collotype facsimile. These hidden features are the modeling of the surface of parts of the uncoloured vellum. This effect can be seen on the folds of draped clothing, the necks, and haunches of the horses (fol. 49r, Figure 3b.3) as well as the brick work of the abbey church (fol. 60r, Figure 3b.4) and on the laths of the boat (fol. 62r). These effects that were created by Matthew Paris can only be seen by casting a raking light across the illustrations. (Wogan-Browne & Fenster, 2010).

From left, raking light image of folio 60r and close-up of the hidden texturing in the brick work, which can only be seen when using raking light.

The idea behind the raking light set up was to show the hidden texture and detailing in the tinted illustrations which have hidden modelling effects that cannot otherwise be seen with standard lighting. When using the raking light set up the raised parts of the parchment and detailing in the illustrations facing the light are illuminated whilst the parts facing away from the light are shadowed. This allows one to see how rough and rigid parts of the illustrations are, which can give researchers a better insight into the techniques used to create parts of the detailing in the illustrations.

Senior Digital Photographer Caroline Harding with raking light set up and with TCD MS 177 the Book of St Albans on the motorised cradle,

At the very end of the shoot where I was using the original lighting set up, I still had a small bit of time with the manuscript to capture a selected number of folios with a raking light set up. Alison Ray, the Archivist/Project Manager on the Carnegie Medieval Manuscript digitisation project created a list of the selected folios with illustrations showing the unique surface modelling, which I referred to. To capture the raking lighting images the manuscript was positioned on the motorised conservation cradle in the exact same way as it was in the previous set up, whilst only one flash head was used with the diffusing soft box removed. The flash head was positioned to one side of the manuscript 15 cm (about 5.91 in) above the surface of the manuscript. The raking light was pointed downwards slightly, for the light to be skimming across the page. To carry out a raking light shoot it is ideally best to have a light set up on either side of the manuscript and take a shot with each light individually. The two shots would then be comparable in what extra detail and texture they show. Unfortunately, we were quite limited in our lighting set-up and extremely limited on time with the manuscript, therefore we did not have the flexibility of using an extra raking light at a different angle. However, in future this would be our raking light set up of choice. In addition to having two flash heads set up on either side of the manuscript with extra time I would like to experiment with capturing raking light images with the flash heads set up at slightly different angles and distances from the subject to determine which set up produces the most ideal results.

By Caroline Harding

Senior Digital Photographer Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project

The work of the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project has been supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation New York.

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/

References

Wogan Browne, J., Fenster, T. S., (2010), The Life of St Alban by Matthew Paris, Vol 2.

Eileen C. Booth, Cuala Press artist.

Billy Shortall.

In 1927 an English newspaper referred to the “Cuala group of artists”, these were artists mainly women who provided designs for Cuala Industries, primarily for prints published by the Press. 1 Of the nearly forty artists in this group over two-thirds were female. A number of these artists have faded from Irish art historiography and the visual history of Cuala Press is often only discussed in terms of the Yeats family members, Elizabeth the Press’s founder, her sister and Cuala embroideress Lily, artist brother Jack who provided designs, and William the Press’s literary editor.

One of the most prolific designers for Cuala during the 1930s was Eileen Constance Booth (nee Peet) (1906-2000) who created more than twenty illustrations for reproduction on cards and for individual prints. Born into a Quaker family in Dalkey, Co. Dublin in 1906 she studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, and for a short period at the renowned Slade School of Art in Britain’s capital, and most interestingly from a Cuala Press point of view as a printmaker specifically in photo-engraving, the method of reproduction used by the Press for its prints. The Cuala Press Business archive holds Booth’s student card associated with the “London County Council School of Photo-Engraving & Lithography” for 1931/2 (TCD MS 11535/9/11/4). The card records that she won first prize for a landscape design in a student exhibition. Traditional Irish rural scenes would become a mainstay in her work and was her preferred subject matter for the Press. It is likely the Eileen first came to Cuala’s attention when she won first prize at the 1926 National Art Competition in ‘Illustration in colour’.

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‘The most lamentable burning of the cittie of Corke’: a view on Irish history from a Dutch Collection

On the morning of 31st May 1622, exactly four hundred years ago, a terrible fire struck Cork city. It was sparked by an early summer thunderstorm. Many of the tightly packed dwellings within the city walls were built of timber or clay and had thatched roofs, and when lightning struck they quickly went up in flames. Between 11 o’clock and noon the fire tore through all parts of the city, leaving a trail of devastation.

One of the reasons we know about this fire is because it was the subject of a news pamphlet, A relation of the most lamentable burning of the cittie of Corke, in the west of Ireland, in the province of Monster, by thunder and lightning, which was printed in London on 20th June, barely three weeks later. It is a scarce work, with only three copies recorded in the English Short Title Catalogue. But a Dutch translation was printed in The Hague by Aert Meuris in 1622, and this translation is held in the Library of Trinity College Dublin among the 5,200 pamphlets in the Fagel Collection.

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John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, TCD MS 503

TCD MS 503 is principally comprised of John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, a text which describes itself as having been derived from the more celebrated and much more elaborate Worcester Chronica chronicarum, a twelfth-century chronicle, the authorship of which has been attributed variously to Florence and/or John, both Worcester monks. As the diminutive form of its Latin title suggests, the Chronicula itself is of diminutive size, perhaps designed to be easily portable. Its text has never been printed before and those interested in its contents have previously been obliged either to order a microfilm copy or to visit the archives attached to the magnificent Long Room of Trinity College, Dublin (not a hardship!). The manuscript has now been digitised and made available online https://doi.org/10.48495/000004234.   Sixteenth-century annotations in the manuscript, as shown in the image below, record that in 1573 the manuscript was sold to the antiquary William Lambard and then, in 1594, Lambard gave the manuscript to another English antiquary, William Howard. Both men were connected to a circle of antiquaries who had various interests in the literature of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods, including such figures as William Camden, Laurence Nowell, Henry Spelman and Robert Cotton. William Howard had, in 1592, published an edition of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum,which presumably indicates why he was also interested in TCD MS 503.

TCD MS 503 1r showing sixteenth-century marks of ownership

Although we do not know the exact date of the Chronicula’s composition, the late 1130s has recently been suggested. For the most part the work is derivative of the main Chronica chronicarum, a text which, itself depending on a range of sources, gives in annalistic form a history of the world to the year 1140. In deriving its information from the Chronica chronicarum, the Chronicula heavily summarises and abbreviates events and omits much detail. The Chronica chronicarum is set out in annalistic form, whereas the Chronicula is arranged according to the reigns of the Roman emperors and the year in which they came to power (reckoned according to a system developed by Marianus Scotus in his Chronicon who sought to re-date the Dionysian system by 22 years, a chronicle which itself provides an important model for the Chronica chronicarum). Information that can be found in separate annals in the Chronica chronicarum can therefore seem lumped together in the Chronicula.

It is probably the derivative and abbreviated nature of the Chronicula that means it has so far attracted relatively little attention. But there are important reasons why it deserves further notice. The first is that it seems to have been written, for the most part, in the hand of John of Worcester himself. Given John’s authorial role in the writing of at least parts of the Chronica chronicarum, we are therefore being given access to an associated work, a text that is less formal than, but nevertheless complementary to, the main chronicle. A second is that the Chronicula is not entirely derivative in form and actually contains unique information. Its main text opens with a geographical description of Britain, not found in the Chronica chronicarum and which is closely connected to a similar passage in the F manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It also invokes the work of Hugh of Fleury to a greater extent than the Chronica chronicarum, and, perhaps most strikingly of all, contains a range of poems that cannot be found elsewhere. Three poems in particular stand out: those that celebrate the deaths of Edward the Confessor in 1066, of Harold, son of Godwine, also in 1066, and of Bishop Wulfstan II in 1095, the very man who was credited in Worcester texts with initiating various historical projects. The poems are not accomplished in literary terms. But they are striking for their wistful attention to the Anglo-Saxon past and for a degree of anti-Norman sentiment. If they were composed by John himself, some 70 years after the Norman Conquest, they provide important evidence for the sort of nostalgia for the past and the sort of anti-Norman hostility that could continue to be voiced by at least one Worcester inhabitant. We are left to wonder why they were not included in the main Chronica chronicarum.    

TCD MS 503 95r showing the poem about Edward the Confessor

For whatever reason, John ceased writing his Chronicula once he reached the annal for 1123, on line 23 of fol. 113v. A new hand (one of four in total that have been identified as working on TCD MS 503) continues the story, copying annals down to 1141. Because the annals from 1123 to 1141 have material with a clear Gloucester focus, it is possible that the Chronicula had travelled to Gloucester where it was then updated. John’s motivations for writing the Chronicula remain elusive. At one point in the manuscript he says that anyone wanting to find out more details about a certain historical episode ‘will find them written in chronological order and more fully in the chronicle of chronicles [i.e. the Chronica chronicarum]’, suggesting that he anticipated that the Chronicula would reach at least some kind of audience. Was this an audience within Worcester itself? Or, given the later connection with Gloucester, was it designed to be sent there? We will probably never know John’s precise motivations, but the Chronicula is important as an extra example of this twelfth-century historian’s working methods. Scholars are at present re-doubling their efforts in connection with Worcester historiography. An edited volume on the cartularies and chronicles (and other texts) produced at Worcester in this period is forthcoming in May 2022, entitled Constructing History Across the Norman Conquest: Worcester, c.1050-c.1150. And the Chronicula itself is actively being edited for the Oxford Medieval Texts series. In the meantime it is an enormous boon for scholars around the world to have access to these high-quality images of TCD MS 503 so that they can engage directly with John’s work for themselves.

D. A. Woodman

Robinson College, Cambridge

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/

Transcontinental Threads

Adam MacKlin and Billy Shortall.

Lily (1866-1949) and Elizabeth Yeats (1868-1940), pictured above, originally moved to Dublin from London to join Evelyn Gleeson (1855-1944) in her newly established arts and crafts enterprise, Dun Emer Industries in 1902, where the printing of high-quality books and prints was overseen by Elizabeth and embroidery by Lily. The enterprise was named after the Irish mythological figure, Emer, who was renowned for her artistic and needlework skills, and Cúchulainn’s wife. However, after an acrimonious split with Gleeson, the sisters established Cuala Industries in 1908 taking their own areas of production with them. The ideology of both organisations was espoused in the original Dun Emer prospectus, which stated its desire to “make beautiful things” using honest and native materials in “the spirit and tradition of the country”. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in arts and crafts

The Press, the dominant part of Cuala’s business, published handcrafted books by leading members of the Irish literary revival including Nobel prize-winning sibling William (1865- 1939), and prints designed by Irish artists, chief among them another sibling Jack Yeats (1871-1957). Lily’s embroidery department was also notable, but its output was smaller and its legacy harder to track as many of the domestic embroidered items, such as, clothing, tablecloths and bedspreads are no longer extant. Framed embroidered art works such as those in the National Gallery of Ireland and in private collections indicate the artistry and technical quality of the embroidered work of Lily and her assistants. Before moving to Dublin, Lily had established herself as a skilled artistic embroiderer working for six years in the late 1800s with May Morris, daughter of William Morris, in their world-renowned Arts and Crafts scheme.

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