Friday, July 11, 2014

Preparing for Pigment Consolidation part 2

Consolidation doesn’t attempt to restore the losses in the illumination, but instead focuses on finding areas where the pigment is actively deteriorating and then readhering the loose pigment to the surface of the parchment. Successful consolidation requires accurate identification of active damage and loss to the pigment.

Using magnification, in this case a Leica M80 microscope, it is possible to look at the paint layers very closely. The three-dimensional and high resolution quality of this magnification, which is not fully represented in the photos produced, makes identifying pigment problems much more accurate.
Under extreme magnification, everything can look problematic, but in many cases it can be a product of factors that are not damaging the fragments. Examples of this can be seen in the image below.

The orange arrow points to an area where the white paint was thickly applied, causing it not to adhere evenly. The smooth edges show that it isn’t cracking or flaking, and that the unevenness is original.
The red arrow points to an area of cracking paint. This can be from when the pigment dried after application and separated slightly. It is not actively moving, however, and so is not a problem.
The yellow arrow shows a spot of loss. This could be from particularly heavy application of paint that came off at some point, or if the fragment was mechanically damaged at some point in its past. However, since it doesn’t show signs of deterioration around the edge of the loss it is of lower concern.

There are several identifiers for active cracking and flaking. The pigment will often suffer from fragmentation of the surface, there may be shadows under cracks and crevasses between cracks, or cracks may appear very wide.

When I notice these indicators I zoom in to look more closely at the damage. The shadow the arrow points to indicates that the edge of the pigment is lifting, and when tested carefully the pigment did not appear to be firmly attached.

The other area of damage I look for under magnification is powdering. Powdering is the active crumbling or thinning of pigment leading to loss. Powdering of pigments is not as simple to identify without testing; however, there are visual indicators that point to potentially active loss of the pigment.
Two different examples of powdering pigment are presented in the photos below.

 Loss of the surface layer of blue in the blue initial is clearly evident. Enough pigment has been lost so the parchment underneath is clearly visible.

On the other hand, this yellow area didn’t appear to have any problems until viewed under strong magnification, where you can see how the pigment is thinning and how it’s surface is very pitted, indicating that loss may still be occurring.

Once I have identified problematic or active deterioration of pigment I will move on to consolidation, which I will explore in the next post.

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