Monday, December 9, 2013

Preparing for pigment consolidation part 1

MS 201.4  © The Fitzwilliam Museum
A prevalent reason fragments were cut from manuscripts historically was so that illuminations could act as individual examples of medieval painting. The fragments were removed from their manuscript context and valued as art objects rather than as part of a text. While each fragment was highly valued for its imagery, removing it from the original context within a book can be very problematic for its physical survival. The artist painted on parchment which was meant to be stored within the controlled conditions of a book. Mounting systems for fragments do not recreate this environment and if not created carefully may cause damage. The pigments and their attachment to the parchment are threatened by this change in environment. Arguably, this compromises the integrity and aesthetics of the illuminations that made them appealing to cut out in the first place.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Delayed post

MS 2005-2.14 © The Fitzwilliam Museum 

The upcoming post about preparing for pigment consolidation will be delayed until Monday.

In the meantime, here is one of my personal favourite examples of marginalia present on the fragments.

This fragment is demonstrative of the extraneous nature of such decoration. The main illustration details a spiritual pilgrim's soul gazing on his dead body in a serious manner. In the margins a man in a pointed hat uses poor archery technique while fighting a timid-looking dragon.

MS 2-2005.14 detail © The Fitzwilliam Museum 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mounts:Survey and literature review

What is a mount?

Regarding parchment, paper or similar materials, the mount refers to the secure framing most commonly made of conservation-grade acid free museum board in a neutral colour, that the object is stored within. The mount protects the object from accidental damage and makes them much easier to store as a group, or display. Mounting also refers to the set-up and act of securing the object to the board.

Trolley with boxes containing different sized mounts and parchment fragments

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Delayed post

Apologies for the lack of update this past Friday- due to illness and travel the intended post on mounts will be postponed until this upcoming Friday the 15th of November.

In the meantime, you may be interested in viewing this post I wrote for the West Dean student conservation blog during my graduate studies. It covers how sellotape works, why it damages books, and some of my conservation treatment on a family bible.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Short Glossary

This post compiles some of the more general terms that will be frequently used during this project and defines them; it is in no way a comprehensive list but will hopefully act as a starting point or reminder about some exact definitions. More exact and precise glossaries will be compiled as the project and my own research progress- for example, as I begin working on pigments I will provide definitions for terms such as cracking or powdering. Next week's post about mounts will provide a glossary of mounting terms.

A small list of sources for further reading is provided at the end of the page.

About the manuscripts:

Grotesque: A hybrid and comic figure, often combining elements from various human and animal forms. Grotesques often bear no obvious relationship to the texts they embellish. (1)
Detail from MS 2-2005.6 © The Fitzwilliam Museum

Friday, October 25, 2013


MS Marlay Sp. 2 detail © The Fitzwilliam Museum

The initial stage of this project was to conduct a conservation survey on the 91 fragments that had been identified as high priority in an earlier curatorial survey. The survey will help to identify the conservation problems the collection and it will then be possible to give the most damaged or vulnerable fragments immediate treatment.

Conducting the survey is also beneficial in allowing me to familiarise myself with the variety and extent of the conservation needs of the fragments. Having taken the time to fill out survey forms about the mounts, substrate and pigments, I will be able to make more informed decisions about the entire collection and how to proceed with treatments.

Box with fragments © The Fitzwilliam Museum

Friday, October 18, 2013

Context of the project

MS 230 iii Fragment historically significant as
an early example of artist signature in lower
right medallion 'W. de Brailes me fecit'

© The Fitzwilliam Museum
About the collection

The Fitzwilliam Museum holds one of the largest and most important collections of fragments from medieval manuscripts in existence. It compromises 500 leaves, full page miniatures and cuttings dating from the 11th through the 16th century CE, and covers a geographical area stretching from Jerusalem to England and from Italy to the Netherlands. They represent devotional, lithurgical, scientific, and literary texts, and works by leading medieval and Renaissance artists. The material includes private collections formed in the 19th century as examples of 'lost art' (i.e. medieval painting).

An initial survey of the collection established that about half the collection need treatment, with 91 selected as requiring 'sustained interventive conservation'. During the project a more extensive survey will be carried out on the selected fragments followed by -as needed- conservation treatment of the parchment, and pigment consolidation. Full rehousing such as re-mounting and re-boxing will follow conservation to ensure the continued protection of the delicate fragments.