In collaboration with the Hamilton Kerr Institute and the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam Museum has launched a new research project on the pigment analysis of illuminated manuscripts. St Luke’s secrets will run as a two-year trial project (October 2011-September 2013) thanks to the generosity of a private donor and the support of the Newton Trust.
The immediate objective is the non-invasive identification of artists’ pigments, binding media and techniques in Western European manuscripts produced between the 6th and the 16th century. The initial focus will be on manuscripts illuminated by the most talented artists, many of whom practiced also as panel/fresco painters, stained glass or tapestry designers, jewellers or print makers. While these manuscripts will inevitably contain the basic pigments shared by artists throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, they will also offer insights into the working methods and experiments of the great masters. Large monastic scriptoria, royal workshops, and highly accomplished artists would have been the most likely to test new materials and innovative techniques, especially if they practiced in different media, in order to meet or exceed the expectations of their demanding patrons. Starting with the materials and techniques favoured by the most skilled, imaginative and entrepreneurial artists in various periods and regions, we hope that the results of our project may inform future art historical enquiries, larger studies of different cultural, political, social and economic environments of manuscript production, contemporary intellectual and technological developments, trade routes, and the international mobility of artists, scholars, patrons, manuscripts and ideas.
The trial project expands the scope of the Cambridge Illuminations Research Project, which is publishing a catalogue series of the Western illuminated manuscripts preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges. The results of the pigment analysis will be published in forthcoming volumes of the catalogue series, as well as in academic journals, monographs, facsimile commentary volumes and exhibition catalogues.
The project team includes Dr Paola Ricciardi (Research Associate, Manuscript Pigment Analysis), Prof. Stephen Elliott (Chemical Physics Group, Department of Chemistry), Dr Spike Bucklow (Research Scientist, Hamilton Kerr Institute), Dr Stella Panayotova (Keeper of Manuscripts and Printed Books, Fitzwilliam Museum), Kristine Rose (Conservator of Manuscripts and Printed Books, Fitzwilliam Museum), and Dr Deirdre Jackson (Research Associate, Cambridge Illuminations Project). A wide consultation with colleagues across Cambridge and at other universities, libraries and museums is building long-term collaborations. While the analysis will start with Fitzwilliam manuscripts, we hope to secure sufficient funding for staff and equipment in due course so that we may extend the service to other libraries in Cambridge and beyond.
The systematic analysis of manuscript illumination is a complex and costly enterprise. Few places in the world combine rich and diverse manuscript collections with multi-disciplinary expertise. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University Library and the Colleges preserve one of the finest and largest resources of Western medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in existence, and important collections of African and Asian material, representing the history of manuscript production across three continents over four millennia (1350 BC-19th c. AD). Cambridge has an exceptional concentration of world-class art historians, historians, anthropologists, conservators, and scientists.
We are seeking funding to establish a unique research and teaching centre, MINIARE, for the inter-disciplinary study of illuminated manuscripts. Building on the results of the current trial project, MINIARE will undertake cutting-edge, non-invasive analysis of Western European, Byzantine, Slavonic, Coptic, Armenian, Persian, Mamluk, Mughal, Ottoman, Sanskrit and Tibetan illuminated manuscripts, and contemporary printed material. We hope to foster collaborations with research institutions world wide, and to offer MSc and PhD courses, training a new generation of scholars that will bridge the divide between the arts and the sciences. Making the most of Cambridge’s exceptional collections and multidisciplinary expertise, MINIARE will bring the sciences, arts and humanities together in unprecedented, exciting and lasting ways.