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Subject: Gessoed parchment

Gessoed parchment

From: Frank Mowery <fmowery>
Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Peter Geraty <pgeraty [at] praxisbindery__com> writes

>We are about to produce a facsimile of a sketch book to be used in
>an exhibition on Rembrandt.  These books, called tafelet, were
>usually made with vellum pages prepared with gesso.  The books were
>pocket-sized, bound into leather and had clasps or fore edge flaps
>fastened with a metal stylus which was used for scribing the
>prepared surface of the vellum.

The books mentioned are writing tables not tafelets. Writing tables
were very common during the Renaissance and were produced in mass
but only a relatively few still exist. At the Folger Shakespeare
Library they were first "discovered" by Peter Stallybrass, professor
at University of Penn when he was studying Hamlet, trying to
understand what was meant by "Yea, from the table of my memory, Ile
wipe away all trivial fond records".

It turns out that we have a number of examples of these Table books
"similar in many ways to almanacs" small volumes with printed
material but these have in the center blank leaves upon which there
was writing or visible evidence of someone writing on them.  Some of
the books have vellum leaves that have a gesso coating on them
interleaved with paper, in some of the books, the leaves coated are
of paper coated with gesso. They could have been written on with ink
(which could be wiped away, as in Hamlet), but imagine, with only
two hands, how did one hold the book, a pot of ink and write with a
pen?  It turns out that the gesso coated leaves could also be
written on with a metal stylus, like a silver point drawing, that
would leave a dark line when marked across the page. These too can
be wiped away. Some of our books still have the metal stylus built
into the binding.

There is a description of sorts in Cennini of a 15th century
Bavarian recipe

   "white parchment tablets are made this way, take calf parchment
    and put it on a stretcher... dry it in the sun... take
    thouroughly powdered white-lead and mix it with linseed oil
    until it comes out thin, while still preserving the white
    color... paint the parchment... dry it in the sun, do this nine
    times... you can writ on them with lead, tin, copper or silver
    style or even ink... and erase the letters with saliva and write

I have made a couple of examples of these books and experimented
with surface coatings, I added calcined bone and gelatin to this
mixture to get a good coating.  A detailed article will appear in
the not too distant future in the Shakespeare Quarterly, entitled
"Hamlet's Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance
England" by Roger Chartier, Frank Mowery, Peter Stallybrass and
Heather Wolf.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:26
                Distributed: Tuesday, September 2, 2003
                       Message Id: cdl-17-26-001
Received on Wednesday, 27 August, 2003

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