Which green pigments were used in medieval manuscripts?

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  • Published: Jun 18, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: X-ray Spectrometry / Infrared Spectroscopy

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The green pigments used in manuscripts held in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK, have been characterised by a combination of spectroscopic methods. Dozens of recipes from medieval times for green pigments have survived and a research team from the museum and the University Cambridge wanted to see which ones were used over that period, as they discussed in Analytical Methods.

Near-infrared fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) was used to examine the organic components of the green areas of 149 folios in 34 bound manuscripts as well as 23 manuscript cuttings or single folios. The measurements were complemented in some cases by X-ray fluorescence studies of the inorganic components.

Most of the green pigments had been painted with malachite, with some blue-green areas comprising azurite. For a series of French manuscripts dating from the 13-16th centuries, verdigris was used until the 14th century, when malachite took over. Some manuscripts were also painted with indigo mixtures and other types of organic green pigments. Malachite was used when blue-green was required.

The non-invasive FORS technique will be useful for historians and can be used in situ with portable instruments to provide results with the minimum of disruption for the museum staff and the exhibits.

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