“Imaging Aids in the British Library” (December 1993)

September 5, 2016 in Seminars on Manuscript Evidence

Cover for Preliminary Report of the January 1994 Workshop on 'Image Processing and Manuscript Studies'A Visit
to the British Library
by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence

15 December 1993

In preparation for the Workshop
on Image-Processing and Manuscript Studies”
at the Parker Library on 15 January 1994

in the Series of
Research Group Seminars on ‘The Evidence of Manuscripts’

The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

[First published on our website on 5 September 2016]

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r. Frontispiece with Gregory the Great enthroned in a niche and reverent monks at his feet. Reproduced by permission

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r. Reproduced by permission

A 1-day visit to the British Library in December 1993 prepared for the Research Group’s January 1994 workshop on optical imaging techniques as aids for manuscript studies.

Organised by Mildred Budny and Tony Parker and held at the Parker Library, that approaching workshop on Image-Processing for Manuscript Studies” aimed to consider developments in imaging through photographic and computerised methods, as a means of gathering information and feedback about techniques of image processing, both existing and planned, with a view toward applications, capabilities, limitations, desiderata, and future potential.

Participants at the workshop would include experts in manuscript studies, conservation, photography, imaging aids, computing, radio astronomy, engineering, forensics and medical imaging.  The speakers would come from the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, the University of Cambridge, the British Library, the University of Kentucky, the Questioned Documents Section of the Metropolitan Police Forensics Laboratory, Ipswich Hospital, and Keith & Pelling Ltd.  The other participants would come from both near and far.

Meanwhile, there were elements of information to gather and materials to prepare.

Fact-Finding, Demonstrations, and Explorations

Postcard with frontal view of The British Museum.

Viewing the Front of The British Museum via Postcard.

The Visit took place in the Manuscripts Conservation Studio of the Collection and Preservation Directorate of The British Library.  At the time, remember, The British Library (created on 1 July 1972 as a result of the British Library Act 1973) still remained in its “old” building, before the move in 1999 to the new building, specially built for the purpose, on the Euston Road, Number 96. That is, the British Library remained in the same building as The British Museum, out of which it had emerged as an entity of its own.  The Department of Western Manuscripts remained in its domicile, in the East Wing of the building (designed in Greek Revival Style by Sir Robert Smirke and completed in 1852), facing Great Russell Street and the Front Entrance.  The Manuscripts Conservation Studio occupied quarters in the Basement below.

During the years of her long-term research on manuscripts at The British Library for the Ph.D. (London 1984), Mildred Budny (a founder member and by now Director of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence) had been a frequent visitor to the Manuscripts Conservation Studio, at Tony Parker’s invitation, to learn about new equipment, new techniques, and new discoveries as part of the conservation work on many forms of materials, manuscript and other. As a result both of such visits and meetings elsewhere, conferences included, it was “natural” to learn, for example, about the Beowulf Digitisation Project (1992–) already as it was beginning to take shape and form.

Here, thanks to that Project (and other developments), you may see, right now, here and now, how the sole surviving medieval copy (partly burnt) of Beowulf begins:

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 132r. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 132r. Reproduced by permission.

On the day, we could inspect the Real Thing, viewed with the relevant equipment, and guided by a founder of the Beowulf Digitisation Project in a formative period.  At the January Workshop on “Image-Processing for Manuscript Studies”, Kevin Kiernan also joined the presentations, although that time not in the presence of the manuscript itself, but represented by proxy, and moreover by computer transmission of images via the University of Kentucky to Cambridge. (You may take such representation for granted, nowadays, but we report an earlier stage in the worldwide transformation of the transmission of images of manuscripts, etc . . . )

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 140r. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 140r. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 163v. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 163v. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 139r. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 139r. Reproduced by permission.

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Report of the Visit, Now with Illustrations

'Imaging Aids' on 15 December 1993. Photography © Mildred Budny

‘Imaging Aids’ on 15 December 1993. Photography © Mildred Budny.

Front cover of the assembled booklet with the Profile of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the full set of 5 Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust, which funded the 5-year major Research ProjectA report of this December Visit appears as an Appendix to the “Preliminary Report” of the 15 January Workshop, printed and circulated as a Booklet after its event.  A similar Report for the December Visit to the British Library appears in the Fifth, and Final, Annual Report to the Leverhulme Trust (1993–4) on the 5-year Research Project at The Parker Library on “The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts” (Leverhulme Trust ref. F665).  On the series of Annual Reports, see our Publications.

We now transcribe the Report here, for you to see both on our website and in our Research Group font Bembino — our own copyright font, designed over more recent years by one of the participants of this Visit.  (You may download this font for FREE here.) You may also view the Appendix on its original page in the downloadable Booklet.  Here, we add some links and, by permission from The British Library, several images from the relevant manuscripts examined during the Visit.

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The “Appendix”

© The British Library Board, Cotton MS Vitellius A. XV, folio 147r. From the epic poem 'Beowulf', setting the stage impressively for the sole surviving copy of this major monument of Old English language and literature. Reproduced by permission

© The British Library Board, Cotton MS Vitellius A. XV, folio 147r. Reproduced by permission.

“Organised by Dr Budny and Mr Parker, a Research Group visit to the British Library took place in December, in preparation for the workshop at the Parker Library in January.  The meeting was attended by Dr French, Dr S.L. Keefer (Trent University, Ontario) and Mr R.M.Keefer (consultant specialist to the Alcan corporation, Canada).

“Dr Prescott demonstrated developments in the new Digitisation Project at the British Library devoted to the Beowulf manuscript.  Mr Parker surveyed the history, development, range and uses of advanced viewing aids in the Manuscripts Conservation Studio of the Collection and Preservation Directorate of the British Library, notably as applied to the Western Manuscript collection since the early 1970s.  Mr Parker demonstrated uses of microscopy, borescopy, infrared and ultra-violet lighting, fibre-optic lighting and the Video Spectral Comparator (VSC), with examples from British Library materials.

“Mr Parker and Dr Budny then conducted a joint project between the British Library and the Research Group. It was devoted to a problematic page selected by Dr Budny in Cotton MS Claudius A. iii, a collection of pontifical and other fragments mainly from Christ Church, Canterbury. Portions of the page, containing inscriptions, decoration and illustration, were examined under the VSC screen and under microscopy, using both indirect and transmitted lighting with cold fibre optic lighting and a glow-panel. Mr Parker took photographs for display in the January workshop. Dr Budny and Dr French recorded the day’s proceedings with both still and video cameras.”

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Test Case:  Cotton MS Claudius A III

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r. Frontispiece with Gregory the Great enthroned in a niche and reverent monks at his feet. Reproduced by permission

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r. Frontispiece with Gregory the Great enthroned in a niche and reverent monks at his feet. Reproduced by permission

A specimen selected for forensic examination involved some questioned passages on the layered, and probably altered, frontispiece image within Cotton MS Claudius A.iii.  The quest had arisen through long-term work on manuscripts and images associated with Saint Dunstan (909–988 CE), successively Abbot of Glastonbury, Exile to Flanders, and Archbishop of Canterbury. Some earlier fruits of that work — which included forensic analysis at The British Library (with Tony Parker) in October 1984, just before the opening of the British Museum / British Library exhibition for which that Oxford treasure of a manuscript had come to London — had been published regarding the layered frontispiece in “Saint Dunstan’s ‘Classbook’ and Its Frontispiece: Dunstan’s Portrait and Autograph” (1992).  This one:

Frontispiece image, with the prostrate figure of Saint Dunstan beside Christ, in Saint Dunstan's Classbook, MS. Auct. F. 4. 32, folio 1r, tenth century. Photo: © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (2015)

Saint Dunstan’s Classbook, MS. Auct. F. 4. 32, folio 1r, tenth century. Photo: © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (2015).

As for this “specimen” page in Cotton MS Claudius A.iii, which depicts the full-length enthroned figure of Pope Gregory the Great (plus inspiring dove) with an ecclesiastic and 2 monks at his feet, and which includes a revised inscription naming Dunstan at the top in lighter ink and thinner strokes written with a different pen (and hand), there gather several questions regarding the layers and the pigments — not least, the thickly painted black habit of the lowermost monk.  Invading its space (like some other parts of the scene), he seems to overpower the polychrome inhabited scrolling foliage which fills the rectangular frame for the frontispiece.  Might he, or his black pigment, constitute an addition to the frontispiece?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time for an image which includes, or which an addition to the page asserts that it includes, a representation of Dunstan.  For such, as forensic analysis had already established, constitutes the complexly layered frontispiece of Saint Dunstan’s so-called Classbook, a chief treasure of the Bodleian Library. Except that in the Classbook Case, the inscription identifying as Dunstan (in the first person, no less) the “portrait” of a reverential monk facing an imposing figure (a monumental Appearing Christ) is apparently the work of Dunstan himself, along with a few added elements (retouches of sorts) for the frontispiece drawing in red pigment.

In that case, the “portrait” would be contemporary, whereas, in the Gregorian Case, it belongs to a later date and, it seems, to a center at which Dunstan came to hold sway as the culmination of his career. Perhaps the image copies or takes inspiration from an illustration dating to his own time, whether during his function as monk, as abbot, or as archbishop? Further research may illuminate the sequence of transmission. Meanwhile, the visit to the Manuscript Conservation Studio provided some forensic evidence regarding the frontispiece in Cotton MS Claudius A.iii itself.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, top. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, top. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, bottom. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, bottom. Reproduced by permission.

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© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, middle. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Claudius A III, folio 8r, middle. Reproduced by permission.

Participants

In sum:

  • Andrew Prescott
  • Tony Parker
  • Mildred Budny
  • Leslie French
  • Sarah L. Keefer
  • R.M. Keefer

All but Richard Keefer are members or Associates of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; he is married to one of them, and has participated in our conversations over several years about imaging issues as the Research Group was taking shape and form.

The visit to the Manuscripts Conservation Studio functioned both as a form of gathering and updating information about current techniques and their applications, in the sphere of manuscript studies and beyond, and as a way of preparing photographic materials and conducting research on selected passages for the January Workshop on “Image-Processing”.

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© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 142r. Reproduced by permission.

© The British Library Board. Cotton MS Vitellius A XV folio 142r. Reproduced by permission.

The next meeting in the Series on “The Evidence of Manuscripts” considered

Image-Processing for Manuscript Studies”
Parker Library, 15 January 1994

Most of the participants in the December Workshop gave presentations, including elements, techniques, and discoveries of that workshop.  Digital Beowulf included.

Soon after, there followed a Workshop/Visit similar to this “Imaging Aids” visit to the British Library in December.  In March, implementing a plan set into place over the course of the previous year, a team of specialists from the Chemistry Department of University College London brought expertise and equipment to examine closely:

“Pigment-Analysis of Selected Corpus Manuscripts”
Parker Library, 4 March 1994

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