Pigment-Analysis of Corpus Manuscripts (March 1994)

September 10, 2016 in Manuscript Studies, Reports, Seminars on Manuscript Evidence, Uncategorized

Cover for Preliminary Report of the January 1994 Workshop on 'Image Processing and Manuscript Studies'A Workshop/Visit
by the Pigment-Analysis Project
at University College London

At the Parker Library, 4 March 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 9 September 2016]

In our Series on “The Evidence of Manuscripts”, this Workshop (also called a Visit) followed our larger Workshop or Seminar on “Image-Processing and Manuscript Studies” on 15 January, but it resulted from its own set of extended preparations by another Project, likewise funded by The Leverhulme Trust. For this purpose, members of that project, based at University College London, brought some portable scientific equipment for close observation of selected details involving red pigment in a few Insular and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

'The London University' as viewed by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (published in 1827/280), via Wikipedia Commons.

‘The London University’ (now University College London) as viewed by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (published in 1827/280), via Wikipedia Commons.

The subject of the Visit to the Parker Library: Non-destructive analysis of “Pigments in Selected Corpus Manuscripts” by UltraViolet-visible spectroscopy.

The Pigment-Analysis Project at U.C.L.

Entitled “Non-Destructive Pigment Analysis of Medieval Manuscripts by Ramen-Spectroscopy,” that 3-year project (December 1991–4) was based at University College London (founded in 1826) and headed by Prof. Stephen P. Best of the Chemistry Department. The project was designed to incorporate the use of laser Raman Spectroscopy for the analysis of pigments in medieval manuscripts. Now unavailable, its website formerly resided at: www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/resources/raman/speclib.html.

Information about the project, its methodology, and its results appears, for example, in:

  • Stephen Best, Robin Clark, Marcus Daniels and Robert Withnall, “A bible laid open”, Chemistry in Britain (February 1993), 118–122
  • Stephen P. Best, Robin J.H. Clark and Robert Withnall, “Non-destructive pigment analysis of artefacts by Raman microscopy”, Endeavour, New Series, Volume 16, No. 2 (1992), 66–73

The Preparation

Invitation to 'Imaging Aids for Manuscript Studies' Workshop Invitation, Page 1

Invitation Letter Page 1 for 15 January 1994

As with only a few other events in, or related to, our Series on ‘The Evidence of Manuscripts’, this meeting did not receive or require a formal Invitation Letter in the evolving standard form, comprising 1 or 2 pages setting out the plan and citing the manuscripts for consideration — plus RSVP form or detachable slip — circulated to a list (or an expanding list) of invitees.

The exceptions to the Formal Letter comprise the First Seminar on 20 May 1989, the set of Meetings in Japan in November and December 1992, and the Workshops or Visits to the British Library by Research Group members in December 1993 and to the Parker Library by the U.C.L. team in March 1994 (You Are Here). For the First Seminar, the invitations were extended individually; our hosts issued the invitations or directions to the events in Japan; and for the 2 Workshop/Visits combining the expertise of 2 teams (“Home” and “Away”), the arrangements were made with a letter or two to explore and confirm the date and time. The teams in those cases resided in Cambridge and in London, respectively at the Parker Library, the British library and University College London.

This March meeting involved a set of principals directed to a specific research task requiring specialised equipment to approach the manuscript pages themselves, with a Raman-microscopic examination of selected passages upon those pages. Unlike some other investigations, including some also undertaken by that London Project (for example with manuscripts brought there from elsewhere in the University of Cambridge), the manuscripts could not move to the equipment; in this case and place, the equipment (anyway however much of it could be portable) had to come to the manuscripts.

The Event

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 brief Report of the event appears in our Fifth Annual Report to the Leverhulme Trust (composed principally, as usual, by Mildred Budny, who composes this updated Report). On these Reports, see our Publications.

We quote:

Organised by Dr Budny and Dr S.P. Best (University College London), a workshop at the Parker Library on Friday, 4 March 1994, focused upon pigments in selected Corpus manuscripts. It formed a joint project between the Research Group and the Pigment-Analysis project at University College London. It carried out the investigation proposed last year by Dr Best, and approved by Corpus, following an exploratory visit by his team to the Library.

The workshop was attended by Dr Best, Dr Daniels, Dr D. Ciomartin and Dr Porter from U.C.L., and Prof. Page, Dr Budny, Mr Graham, Dr French and Dr Wilkins from the Research Group. Dr Best first gave a description of the applications and limitations of UV-visible spectroscopy. Then his team provided a demonstration of this method, using equipment which they brought for the purpose, enabling non-destructive pigment analysis of selected manuscripts at Corpus, all from our Research Project list: MSS 197B, 23, 198 and 144. Following the workshop the U.C.L. team provided a detailed report, part of which will be included in the monograph study of The Cambridge–London Gospels, to which MS 197B belongs.


  • Research Group: R.I. Page, Mildred Budny, Tim Graham, Leslie French, Nigel Wilkins
  • University College London: Stephen Best, Marcus Daniels, D. Ciomartin, Cheryl Porter

The Plan

The Research Group Archives preserve a copy of the proposal for the investigation. The 6-page proposal has the title:

In situ non-destructive pigment analysis using spectroscopic techniques: Proposal to conduct UV-Vis spectroscopic analysis of the red pigment found in manuscripts in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Laying the groundwork, its text states that

Following discussions with Prof. R.I. Page and Dr. M.O. Budney [sic] at the Parker Library at the beginning of April [i.e. 1992] it is apparent that there are a number of cases already identified where pigment identification may lead to significant insights into key manuscripts currently under study in the Parker library collection.

And so, permission having been granted, we set to work on a bright, sunny day. A few photographs by Mildred Budny record the people, equipment, and processes of examination, discovery, and discussion.

The Record

The Research Group Archives contain some of the correspondence, reports, and notes relating to the event, its preparations, and its follow-up.

They include Stephen Best’s signed covering letter of 10 March and the copy “for your files” of the set of “plotted . . . spectra which were collected in the course of the day” by Marcus Daniels, as a first follow-up, while “we have yet to analyse these results in detail”, so “will reserve comment until that time”.

There is a copy, plus Stephen’s handwritten covering slip on UCL Chemistry Department letterhead, of the 5-page “Proposal to conduct UV/Vis spectroscopic analysis of the red pigments found in manuscripts in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge”, with the heading summarising its approach: “In situ non-destructive pigment analysis using spectroscopic techniques”, from May 1993.

A set of 5 pages of Mildred Budny’s unsigned handwritten pencil notes, plus the 1-page handout, records the contents and the conversation of Cheryl Porter’s presentation about the project in November 1992.

Two unsigned sets of notes by Mildred Budny on the day record elements of the work for the Research Group files and Archives. One page of notes records parts of the consultation, with a set of questions-and-answers posed between members of the teams. Grouped by manuscript, brief notes on a set of pages identify the specific passages on the chosen manuscript pages — mostly by circles, lines, and/or arrows on photocopies of full-page photographs, and sometimes by simple sketches with annotations — and record numerically the spectra readings for each as the work progressed.

The Specimens

For the record, the pages selected and examined on the day of the Workshop/Visit were more than those mentioned in the Fifth Annual Report, which concentrated upon the manuscripts which had been selected and designated for the Leverhulme Research Project itself. The Research Group Archives preserve a copy of that application, drafted by Mildred Budny and R.I. Page, in consultation with others including Leslie French, and submitted to the Leverhulme Trust in February 1989 by R.I. Page as the Parker Librarian and the Elrington & Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon. Although not mentioning pigment-analysis as such, the application makes it clear that the aim was “to exploit an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon the gathered expertise of the Library staff and outside specialists” in many fields in the arts and sciences. The plates added to the application from photographs of MS 23 include the page (Plates IV–V) selected for examination at the Workshop/Visit.

The set of notes which Mildred Budny made on the day of the workshop records the individual pages and the specific areas examined upon them, along with the numbers of their readings according to the investigative equipment, as the manuscripts were brought forth in turn, the pages were found, the specific areas were indicated, and the readings were announced out loud. The swift, efficient notes show the selected areas by sketches, by arrows, or by circles upon photocopies of photographs of the pages under investigation, along with the numbers of the corresponding readings. The notes provide a form of handy “map” for the non-destructive observational “visits” to the manuscript pages themselves.

The notes for the Workshop/Visit demonstrate that the examined passages were these, in this order:

  • MS 23, Part I, folio ii recto (original and subsequently added reds)
  • MS 197B, folios 1r, 2r (= page 247) and pages 253 (including the Parkerian red crayon page-number), 295, and 265
  • MS 144, folios 1r and 32r
  • MS 352, folio 44r
  • MS 389, folio 2r
  • MS 419, page ‘367’ (the ‘Parkerian’ red crayon inscription)
  • MS 198, folio ii *r (the saint at lower right) and pages 1, 218, 374, and 321

The selected passages include, for example, the altered Frontispiece Inscription in the 11th-century MS 23, showing 2 stints of red pigment, 1 metallic and 1 vegetal, rendered over time clearly visible to the unaided eye — and the educated eye — by their characteristically different forms of resistance or susceptibility to corrosion over time. Those factors we knew beforehand; now was the time to consider their composition, insofar as the applied form of spectrographic analysis permits. The selected pages from the 9th-century MS 197B include the Luke frontispiece (folio 1r), the Luke initial-page (folio 2r), and the ‘Parkerian’ red crayon (page 253) of the page-numbers entered by Matthew Parker, Elizabethan owner of all these manuscripts. Likewise, the selected passage in MS 419 carries the Parkerian red-crayon inscription (page ‘367’). The behavioural characteristics of the red pigment on the added frontispiece or endleaf sketch in the 11th-century MS 198 (folio ii *recto) hold interest for the standing of the leaf, whether it constitutes a Parkerian intrusion in the volume (as with some other homily collections owned by Parker) or forms an integral former part of Part III (folios 321–327 and 367–377).


Cover for "Selected Pages from Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A Palaeographical and Textual Handbook" by Mildred Budny, Leslie French et al.The Handbook’s Selected Pages

It is notable that some passages here belong to Pages — for example, MS 144, folio 32r and MS 352 — which had been selected as specimens for close study and for demonstration in The Palaeographical and Textual Handbook. To that subject an early Seminar in the Series on ‘The Evidence of Manuscripts’ had been devoted, with a preview of its scope and structure:

“Facsimiles, Diplomatic Texts and Editions”
Parker Library, 17 March 1990

An essay in the Old English Newsletter 26:6 (Spring 1993) surveying “Worcester Manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge:  A Report on Recent Research” (from our Seminar on that subject at Oxford in February 1993) contains a published description of “The Palaeographical and Textual Handbook” with reference to its 2 selected manuscripts from Worcester (Corpus MSS 12 and 178, Part I), at pages 24–25.

As that 1993 report demonstrates, work on the Handbook had continued since the 1990 Seminar. Moreover, the final year, months, and weeks of the Parker Library Research Project included a scrupulous attention to completing the photography — black-and-white, colour, and macro-photography included — of the Selected Pages and details thereof, in time for the planned move of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence to the United States directly following the completion of the Project. The institutional address for that relocation had already been contracted (in February 1994), shortly before the Workshop/Visit for Non-Destructive Pigment Analysis, and the plans for wrapping up the Research Project were adapting accordingly.

Such phases were reported, for example, in connection with the Research Group’s activities at the 1994 International Congress on Medieval Studies in May, including a Photographic Exhibition.

Changes soon after would change the course abruptly, and sharply disrupt work on the Handbook, along with other planned projects and publications. After a long process of regrouping, and with the upgraded version of the Research Group website, we can begin to report and record the character of that aim. (Starting here.)


For the Catalogue

All these manuscripts examined by UV-spectroscopy at the Workshop/Visit have descriptive entries and plates in the Illustrated Catalogue of Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Early Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (1997), which appeared in print in 2 volumes after the completion of the Parker Library Research Project and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence found a location in the United States.

Front Covers for Volumes I & II of 'Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge: An Illustrated Catalogue' by Mildred Budny, with the title of the publication and the gold-stamped logo of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, co-publisher of the volumes

The manuscripts have these assigned Entry Numbers and Names in the Illustrated Catalogue:

  • MS 23, Part I = Budny Number 24 (The Corpus Prudentius)
  • MS 144 = Budny Number 6 (The Corpus Glossary)
  • MS 197, Part B = Budny Number 3 (The Cambridge Portion of the Cambridge–London Gospels)
  • MS 198 = Budny Number 36 (Old English Homilies by Ælfric and Others, Supplemented Probably at Worcester)
  • MS 352 = Budny Number 20 (Boethius’ De Institutione Arithmetica)
  • MS 389 = Budny Number 23 (The Vitae of Sts. Paul and Guthlac by St. Jerome and Felix)
  • MS 419 + MS 421 = Budny Number 33 (Old English Homilies by Wulfstan, Ælfric and Others, Supplemented at Exeter)
Gold-stamped logo of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence on Red fabric ground on the Front Cover of Volume I (Text) of 'Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Early Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art at CorpusChristi College, Cambridge' by Mildred Budny

Research Logo in Gold on Red Ground

The entries include results and feedback from the series of Seminars, Workshops, and Visits devoted to “The Evidence of Manuscripts” (1989–1994), including this one. The selection of passages with red pigments for examination and analysis at this Workshop/Visit derived from the Parker Library Research Team’s detailed and integrated study of a broad group of manuscripts over a number of years.

The catalogue entries describe the characteristics which led us to choose those manuscripts, and those passages, as appropriate subjects for non-destructive analysis of red pigments. In other words, our curiosity was guided specifically by detailed knowledge of the group of manuscripts, their challenges, many of their features, and the broader range of their evidence. The Illustrated Catalogue can tell you why and how.

(By the Way: With a change in direction by its co-publisher, the distribution of this catalogue has been transferred to the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence. You might like the special Promotional Offer.)

The entries for these manuscripts in the Illustrated Catalogue describe their specific complexities, which revealed some issues — problems or challenges — deserving of pigment-analysis, where feasible, as an aid to understanding or interpreting the complex nature of their evidence. Have a look at their entries, and you might draw up a Wish-List, too!


The Integration of Expertise

© 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.

The Research Group Workshop/Visit to the Manuscript Conservation Studio at the British Library in December 1993 likewise applied non-destructive scientific viewing aids to the examination of questioned passages of inks and pigments upon a selected page in situ. In that case, among other demonstrated techniques, notably for the Beowulf Digitisation Project, Tony Parker took readings with the Video-Spectral Comparator from portions of the frontispiece painting, partly altered, in Cotton MS Claudius A. III, corresponding with Mildred Budny’s request based upon long-term scholarly research on manuscripts associated with Saint Dunstan. This fresh analysis formed part of the preparations for the January Workshop at the Parker Library on “Image-Processing for Manuscript Studies”.

Here, too, it was possible to combine expertise as well as viewing techniques in the sciences and the humanities for increased understanding of the complexities of the materials and their conditions of manufacture, use, and transmission across centuries. Such was a main aim of the Parker Library Research Project throughout its span, and such continues to be a central goal of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence.

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

© 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


Invitation Letter for Seminar on 'King Alfred and His Legacy' at the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford 20 April 1994

Invitation Letter for 20 April 1994

Invitation Letter for Workshop at the Parker Library on "Corpus Christi College, MSS 23 and 223" on 5 June 1992

Invitation Letter for 5 June 1992

The next Seminar in the Series on “The Evidence of Manuscripts” took place in Oxford:

“King Alfred and His Legacy”
Faculty of English, University of Oxford
29 April 1994

The 2 previous meetings of the Seminar in Oxford had taken place at Pembroke College (June 1992 and March 1993); this time it met in the English Faculty of the University.

The next Seminar held at the Parker Library considered:

Marginalia in Manuscripts
Parker Library, 24 June 1994


Close Up

One of the Seminars in the Series centered upon Corpus MS 23 (along with MS 223, another collection of works by Prudentius).

“Corpus Christi College MSS 23 and 223
Parker Library, 5 June 1992

Corpus MSS 144, 197B, 352, and 389 appeared in several Seminars in the Series as well. For example:

MS 352 received a dedicated report in the Seminar on

“Technical Literature and Its Form and Layout in Early Medieval Manuscripts”
Parker Library, 13 July 1991

MS 389 came into consideration at the first Seminar and several others, as with these:

“Manuscript Illustrations as Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Life”
The Parker Library, 20 May 1989

“Anglo-Saxon Writing Materials and Practices”
The Parker Library, 11 January 1992

“British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius A.iii”
The British Library, 9 August 1993

See the full set of events in the Series.


The last Seminar in the Series, which took place after the completion of the Leverhulme Trust Research Project at the Parker Library, and after the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence had moved its principal base to the United States, returned to the same subject, and brought one of the participants, which the Workshop Visit had explored — albeit without the transported UV-spectroscopic equipment. In connection with that Seminar, there was also a special exhibition at the Parker Library, to which Cheryl Porter contributed.

“Colour and Pigments in Manuscript Illumination”
Parker Library, 5 June 1995


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