Friends of the Glasgow University Library present ‘Shining Light on Medieval Manuscripts’, 7pm, Tuesday 27th March 2018

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Professor Andy Beeby (Department of Chemistry, University of Durham) offers the following introduction to his talk ‘Shining Light on Medieval Manuscripts’ to be given in the Talk Lab on Level 3 of the University Library on Tuesday, 27th March, at 7 p.m. All are very welcome to attend this event, which will be followed by refreshments and is hosted by the Friends of the Library (FGUL) .


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Pigment Spectroscopic Analysis of Medieval Ink Pigments: Look but don’t touch!

Anyone looking at an illuminated medieval manuscript does so in awe of the skills and creativity of the scribes and illuminators. Team-Pigment uses Raman and reflectance spectroscopies and hyperspectral imaging to identify the pigments used on a page. These techniques, which involve shining light on the page and looking at the reflected light, are non-contact and non-damaging. Alongside codicological and palaeographical information, this information can transform our understanding of manuscripts as indicators of cultural exchange and societal change.

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Close-up of Raman spectroscopy in action – viewing Durham University Library, MS Cosin V.ii.6, Symeon of Durham, Historia Ecclesiae Dunelmensis (English, 12th c.).

Since 2013, the Durham-based research group Team-Pigment – comprising Professor Andrew Beeby (chemist), Professor Richard Gameson (historian) and Dr Kate Nicholson (chemist) – have conducted detailed, definitive scientific studies of over 200 books ranging from the 5th to the 15th centuries, revealing new information about the methods used for their production (see references 1-3 below). For example, a study of some fifteen manuscripts produced in Canterbury between 950 and 1150 has provided evidence for the staggered introduction of lapis lazuli and Vermilion from the continent, as well as throwing up the first example of a British manuscript containing Egyptian Blue (reference 4).


Central to this work was the creation of high performance, portable spectroscopic instrumentation allowing the team to study books in their host institutions (reference 5).  Our equipment has been designed to match the sensitivity of the best laboratory-based instrumentation, yet it can be transported in small suitcases and assembled ready for use in less than an hour within the host library. Team-Pigment’s innovative technology has had a significant impact across the sector, affording historians across the UK the opportunity to see manuscripts literally in a new light. New tools are being developed continually, such as a modified iPhone which can identify pigments on the page of a manuscript displayed in a glass case.


With the support of a major grant from the AHRC, and in collaboration with colleagues at Northumbria and Cambridge, the team is currently undertaking the first ever systematic scientific survey of British illuminators’ pigments as a whole.

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Professors Beeby (left) and Gameson (right) examine the St Augustine Gospels at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 286 (Italian, 6th c.).



1Beeby, A. R. Duckworth, R. G. Gameson, C. E. Nicholson, R. J. H. Clark, B. Meehan and A. W. Parker, ‘Pigments of the Earliest Northumbrian manuscripts’, Scriptorium, 69 (2015), 33-59.

2. Beeby, R. G. Gameson, C. E. Nicholson and A. W. Parker, ‘Aldred’s Red Gloss’, in The Lindisfarne Gospels: New Perspectives, ed. Richard Gameson, Leiden: Brill, 2017, pp. 200-205.

3. Andrew Beeby, Richard Gameson and Catherine Nicholson ‘Illuminators’ Pigments in Lancastrian England’, Manuscripta, 60 (2016), 143-64.

4. Andrew Beeby, Richard Gameson and Catherine Nicholson, ‘Colour at Canterbury: the Pigments of Canterbury Illuminators from the Tenth to the Twelfth Centuries’, in Manuscripts in the Making: Art and Science: I, Western European Manuscripts, Turnhout: Brepols, 2018, pp. 23-37.

5. Andrew Beeby, Richard Gameson and Catherine Nicholson, ‘Shedding light on medieval manuscripts’, Spectroscopy Europe, 28 (2016), 6-8.

Categories: Library

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