JAIC 1989, Volume 28, Number 2, Article 1 (pp. 61 to 66)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1989, Volume 28, Number 2, Article 1 (pp. 61 to 66)

A BYZANTINE SCHOLAR'S LETTER ON THE PREPARATION OF MANUSCRIPT VELLUM

Jeffrey Abt, & Margaret A. Fusco



NOTES

1. By “fine,” Planudes appears to mean “thin.”

2. “Pot-bellied” may refer to the marked tendency of the vellum in some Byzantine manuscripts to cockle, resulting in an overall appearance that this language rather aptly describes (see plate 1).

Fig. 1. Barnabas Gospels, ca. 13th century (binding covers ca. 15th century), top view. University of Chicago Library, MS130

3. By “better-polished,” Planudes clearly means “well-finished.” However, this terminology does draw attention to the Byzantine preference for glossy, polished surfaces in works of art. One example of this preference is the frequency with which Byzantine vellum exhibits a far more shiny appearance than is usually found in Western manuscripts of the same period. See A. P. Laurie, The Pigments and Mediums of the Old Masters (London: Macmillan, 1914), 64; G. Z. Bykova, A. V. Ivanova, and I. P. Mokretzova, “Conservation Methods for Medieval Miniatures on Parchment,” ICOM Preprints (Madrid, 1972), 4–5; Jeffrey Abt, “The Deterioration Mechanism in Byzantine Manuscript llluminations of Greek Origin,” AIC Preprints (Washington, D.C., 1985), 3–4. For an assertion of the Byzantine preference for polished surfaces in artistic works generally, see David C. Winfiold, “Middle and Later Byzantine Wall Painting Methods: A Comparative Study,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 22 (1968): 74.

4. Note Planudes' insistence that the egg coating, not the parchment, was the source of the problem. The purpose of the egg coating is unknown; however, it may well have been to impart a shiny or polished look to the leaves. Cennini felt egg glair provided an excellent intermediary ground for secco mural painting. See Cennino de'Andrea Cennini, Il libro dell'arte, The Craftsman's Handbook, trans. D. V. Thompson (New York: Dover, 1933), 51. Much of Cennini's advice reflects Byzantine practices that came to Italy from Greece, as argued by Ernst Berger, Quellen und Technik der Fresko-, Oel-, und Tempera-Malerei des Mittelalters (Munich, 1897), 96–97, and G. Loumyer, Les traditions techniques de la peinture medievale(Brussels, 1914), 116ff.

5. Even without the presence of water, flaking script in Byzantine manuscripts, while not as common as flaking pigment, does occur. However, the phenomenon is often incorrectly though plausibly described as “faded ink” (see plates 2, 3).

Fig. 2. Scott Brown nwe Testament, ca. 1300, fol. 193r, leaf size 20.5 cm 15.5 cm; “faded ink” actually ink losses (see plate 3); darkened lettering estimated to be ca. late 14th–century restorations of text. University of Chicago Library, MS126
Fig. 3. Scott Brown New Testament, ca. 1300, Detail of fol. 193r, showing ink losses. University of Chicago Library, MS126

6. For a hypothesis concerning the Byzantine use of egg to coat vellum and the effects of this practice, see Abt, “Deterioration Mechanism in Byzantine Manuscript Illuminations of Greek Origin,” 1–14. For a recent confirmation of the use of egg as a medium in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, see Mary Virginia Orna et al., “Applications of Infrared Microspectroscopy to Art Historical Questions Regarding Medieval Manuscripts,” In Archaeological Chemistry IV, Advances in Chemistry Series 220, American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C., 1989.

7. As will be seen below, by “two measures” Planudes means two sizes of prepared parchment (see figures 1a, 1b).

Fig. 1a. Sample A (all figures are drawn to same scale)
Fig. 1b. Sample B

8. By “bifolium leaves,” Planudes means single sheets of vellum that have been folded to make double (bifolio) leaves (see figures 2a, 2b).

Fig. 2a. Single leaf of vellum used to make sample A
Fig. 2b. Single leaf of vellum in figure 2a folded to make sample A bifolio as described by Planudes

9. Apparently Planudes had the messenger carry with the letter a pair of sample bifolia to demonstrate the sizes he required.

10. Figures 2a, 2b.

11. Figures 3a–3d.

Fig. 3a. Leaf of vellum used to make sample B (with leaf for sample A to show relative size)
Fig. 3b. Leaf for sample B folded once to create bifolio
Fig. 3c. Bifolio in figure 3b folded again to make quarter folio
Fig. 3d. Quarter folio in Figure 3c trimmed along top edge and separated to make two bifolio leaves same size as sample B


Copyright 1989 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works