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Look but don’t touch


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Speaker: Kate Nicholson, Northumbria University Newcastle

Ever wondered how the chemistry behind the pigments influenced medieval illumination? What effects did the historical invasions have upon our writing culture? What is the connection between Egypt and 10th century Canterbury? 

This talk details some of the developments in the equipment used to analyse medieval manuscripts and showcases some of the surprising discoveries made over the past 4 years.

Investigation of the pigments used by medieval illuminators is often piecemeal and slow in progress, simply due to the logistics of uniting a medieval manuscript with a spectrometer.  Insurance and conservation issues prevent the transport of precious books to scientific facilities for analysis, and the moratorium on sampling results in the fact that only optical spectroscopy (or those using electromagnetic radiation in a non-contact, non-invasive manner) can be used. The techniques of choice are Raman and diffuse reflectance (also known as FORS) spectroscopies, multi-or hyper spectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence, XRF.  Moving bulky equipment to the manuscripts has also been a logistical challenge but recent developments in portable equipment have allowed this area to flourish.

About the Speaker:

Kate Nicholson studied Chemistry at Durham University, both as an undergraduate and PhD student, specialising in crystal growth theory development.  While there she became a leading light in spectroscopic analysis and transferred her skills and knowledge into “Team Pigment” where these were applied to the investigation of pigment use in Medieval Manuscripts.  After moving to Northumbria University so she could develop closer links to the Art Conservation community that trains there, she has continued to work on this project as her primary area of research.  She has appeared on BBC’s "Fake or Fortune" using this portable equipment to prove the authenticity of the famous ‘Dido Belle’ painting at Scone Palace.