Editors learn about paper, quills, and ink for closer reading

Traherne paper folding_1_blog

Members of the editorial board of the Oxford edition of Thomas Traherne’s (c. 1637-1674) works took part in a one-day workshop at the Weston Library, studying the ink and handwriting in manuscripts associated with Traherne’s works, including handwritten corrections in printed editions. They were guided by Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at the MIT Libraries, and a Sassoon Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian this month.

The first part of the workshop, hosted at the Bodleian Conservation studios by Andrew Honey, involved making iron gall ink (which has a dramatic colour change) and copper gall inks.

Participants had a chance to write with goose quills and steel nib pens on handmade paper, using chancery paper from the University of Iowa Center for the Book , with the help of papermaker Timothy Barrett.

Traherne quills_blogpost

Andrew and Jana talked about the western hand paper making process, ink making, quill shaping, and showed examples of other writing tools and materials (handmade sealing wax, stamps, paper making mould, pounce pots, etc.)

Participants all received a locked letter and later, in a seminar session, looked at three examples of folding techniques used by Thomas’s brother Philip Traherne (1635-1686), in letters preserved in Bodleian collections. Examination of major Traherne items from the collections, and additional material kindly lent by college libraries of Balliol, Brasenose, and Queen’s Colleges, formed the second part of the day. Balliol and Brasenose college library staff participated in the day with the Traherne editors.

The Oxford Bibliographical Society provided the funding for this workshop for the Oxford Traherne team.
The Oxford Traherne edition website: http://oxfordtraherne.org

Bodleian Fellows Research, Summer 2016

Some of the Bodleian Visiting Fellows awarded grants for research visits in 2016-17 have started arriving at the Weston Library.

Jana Dambrogio (Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator, MIT Libraries), Sassoon Fellow, is examining ‘locked letters’ in Bodleian collections. [See an earlier blogpost here] Her first challenge is to discover the material, by looking through collections of letters from the 16th and 17th centuries. She consulted Mike Webb, curator of early modern manuscripts, and they started looking at volumes of letters in which Dambrogio identified  distinctive styles of folding and sealing, the kind of usage which her research will examine in detail.

Mike Webb and Jana Dambrogio

On August 9, the Bodleian Fellows Seminar heard from Laura Estill (Texas A&M), the Renaissance Society of America-Bodleian Visiting Fellow. Dr Estill has been working on the Edmond Malone collection, and she compared Malone’s collecting of Elizabethan plays to the collection of John Phillip Kemble, which is now held in the Huntington Library, and spoke about the significance of collections like these, made from the second half of the 18th century onwards, in shaping the canon of early modern plays.

 

Shall I compare thee to a sans-serif?

The Shakespeare sonnets collected in 2016 contain an astoundingly broad range of printed versions, coming from a wide range of printers from around the world. I recently looked through some of these and was fascinated to discover the many differences between the different editions, which caused me to ponder whether to write Shakespeare using a different typeface, orthography or other presentational choice is to reproduce precisely the same essential message.

Take, for example, the difference between two different editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare” etc) which were presented side-by-side to one another. One, taken from Shakespeare’s 1609 First Folio, is written with Shakespeare’s original spelling and orthography, now fairly antiquated in its use of such archaisms as “u” in lieu of “v”, or the “long s” (“ſ”). In contrast, the second version, taken directly from Wikipedia, not only uses a modern sans serif typeface, but also a modern and standardised form of spelling throughout.

For the modern reader, this functions as something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it could be argued that placing Shakespeare in a modern typeface and orthography causes him to appear more directly relevant to an audience more familiar with that more contemporary style. But it could also be seen to appear strangely synthetic and divested of its original meaning. It could be seen to lose something of its “authenticity”. A rather vague term, this could be here seen to refer to a certain consistency between the physical appearance of a work and the cultural context in which it originated. To take an Elizabethan poem and write it down in a modern style could be seen by some as deeply jarring in its inconsistency.

This then raises the important question of whether, as Ben Jonson said, “[Shakespeare] was not of an age, but for all time” or whether there is some specific temporal quality to his work that necessitates it being placed into its original cultural context. This is the same debate which tends to come into play, for example, when it is debated whether Shakespeare should be staged in modern or period costume. Several of the sonnets printed for this project gesture  towards “authenticity”, with Sonnet 105 (“To me, fair friend” etc), from earlier this year, while at first appearing mock-Elizabethan through its antiquated typeface and use of illustration, nonetheless, upon closer inspection, also making use of modern orthography. The implication may be then that a balance must be preserved, so that Shakespeare’s message may retain more or less its original meaning, but also be capable of altering that meaning in subtle ways in order better to fit a contemporary cultural context.

For modern readers, there is a certain value both in understanding Shakespeare’s work as it originally would have been and as it is now and therefore a certain value in comprehending how the way in which Shakespeare is written could be seen to affect what it means.

from Benjamin Maier, Intern at the Bodleian Libraries

Isocrates Programme visits the Weston Library

Isocrates students debate

On July 19, Year 9s from Walthamstow Academy in London visited the Bodleian’s exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’ as part of the Isocrates Wider Reading Programme.

During this day-long programme, the group visited the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of the History of Science and the Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition at the Weston Library.

Three groups studied the following courses with leaders from the Isocrates Programme, who are university students from Oxford and a range of other universities:

Shakespeare and Hiphop
Postcolonial Histories
STEM and Ethics

Ending the day at the Weston Library, students gave presentations outlining what they had learned, talking about the ethics of medical research, colonialism and its effects on the UK today, and performing a hip-hop version of the fight scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Responding to the experience, 84% of the students said that it had made them more likely to apply to university, and comments from students included
“Enjoyed it and it will help me for GCSE”
“I really enjoyed it and I found it very interesting and useful and I also learned a lot.”
“I really wish to have an opportunity to do this again”

Woodblock printing: history, art, and science

On Friday 17th June 2016, the Centre for the Study of the Book hosted a workshop on the history, science and art of woodblock printing. Organized by Dr. Giles Bergel under a Katharine Pantzer Fellowship from the Bibliographical Society of America, the workshop focussed on English woodcutting and wood-engraving with particular reference to the so-called Charnley-Dodd collection of original wooden printers’ blocks assembled in Newcastle in the mid nineteenth century, used by several generations of Newcastle printers to print illustrations for ballads and chapbooks.

Science of woodblocks workshop 17 June 2016

Left to right: Nigel Tattersfield, Barry McKay, Graham Williams, Martin Kochany, Pip Wilcox, Joon Son Chung, Andrew Zisserman, Blair Hedges, Andrew Honey, Judith Siefring, Richard Lawrence, Elizabeth Savage, Martin Andrews, Paul Nash, Melanie Wood, May Sung. Not shown: Alexandra Franklin, Ben Higgins, Giles Bergel

Opening the proceedings, Dr. Bergel offered a brief history of the printers and their blocks, offprints of which can be seen in an 1858 catalogue  produced by Newcastle printer Emerson Charnley, and in an 1862 catalogue of the same set of blocks, with additions, issued by William Dodd.  The workshop was fortunate to have to hand the Bodleian’s copy of the Charnley catalogue, and even an original woodblock employed in the 1862 Dodd group in the possession of Graham Williams.

Charnley-Dodd woodblocks are also to be found in McGill University Library ; the British Museum ; and the Huntington Library. Dr. Mei-Ying Sung  next spoke on her work on cataloguing the large Armstrong Collection of woodblocks in the Huntington, including Charnley-Dodd blocks. A theme of the day, expressed also by Dr. Elizabeth Savage, Judith Siefring, Dr. Melanie Wood and others, was the necessity for collection histories and cataloguing standards for these printing materials, held in libraries, museums, working collections and elsewhere, that pose particular challenges for researchers and curators.

The workshop next heard from Barry McKay on the woodcutter only known by the initials ’RM’ on Charnley and other blocks employed to print chapbooks in Cumbria and elsewhere, some copied from stock blocks used over two centuries previously: the presentation testified to the power of combining bibliographical analysis of impressions, together with external evidence taken from book trade history.

There was a joint presentation from two members of Oxford’s Visual Geometry Group . Professor Andrew Zisserman explained the methods behind the ImageMatch tool , implemented by Visual Geometry alumnus Relja Arandjelovic in Bodleian Ballads Online. Joon Son Chung presented his award-winning ImageBrowse tool , the sorted output of ImageMatch clustered by block and under semantic ICONCLASS  keywords (the work of Dr. Alexandra Franklin for the original Bodleian Ballads Database). ImageBrowse provides powerful visualisations of woodblock degradation over time  as well as tools for comparing common, similar and neighbouring block-impressions. The work of Visual Geometry met with acclaim from all participants, as it has done throughout the bibliographical community.

Martin Kochany  from Hot Bed Press, Salford, presented a diagrammatic overview of the processes, objects and relationships under discussion, paying particular attention to methods of how blocks can be copied (in some cases, very accurately: see for example, the Bodleian’s early ballad collections ).

Woodcut diagram Kochany_sm

click on diagram to enlarge

Martin argued that printers will always find pragmatic solutions to the problem at hand, whether by ad-hoc block-repair, block copying or touching-up printed sheets by hand: ‘bodging’ is the norm. The matter of bodging engaged many of the other practitioners present, including Paul Nash, who presented a ‘dabbed’ type-metal cast of a woodblock made by him and Giles Bergel ; Richard Lawrence , Martin Andrews and Graham Williams, who presented some American woodblock-repair plugs (plugged holes can be seen in several Charnley blocks). Martin Kochany cautioned researchers trying to sequence apparently unique woodblocks to be aware of printers’ panoply of bodges, and to look for the contradictory or marginal cases that might define the norm.

The workshop briefly touched on the relationship between woodcut and wood-engraving. There was discussion of the tolerances of a woodblock used over a long working life, and how the development of wood-engraving was both a more robust and a more refined process, Nigel Tattersfield bringing his immense knowledge of the career and work of Thomas Bewick  to bear on the subject. Melanie Wood’s account of three linked collections at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library (the White , Burman-Alnwick  and Crawhall collections) also opened the discussion out from the Charnley-Dodd collection to a broader history of woodcutting and illustration design.

The workshop then concluded, but was immediately followed by a public lecture from workshop participant Professor Blair Hedges , who presented his work on the science of woodblock illustrations, with particular reference to species of woodworm  and to the cracking of blocks, or of carved lines, in relation to the woodgrain or to the thickness of the line. A response was given by Reading University lecturer  Martin Andrews : an appreciative and lively discussion chaired by Giles Bergel then ensued, engaging an audience of bibliographers, printing practitioners, book and print historians. The quality of the discussion vindicated the approach of the workshop in bringing together scientists, practitioners and historians, and testified in particular to the importance of Blair’s research. A drinks reception was held, fittingly, at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press.

Research continues, in the form of ongoing and new collaborations – in particular around dabbing and other block-reproduction methods, the application of Computer Vision technology to the study of printing, and the history of technique, materials and style in wood-engraving.

The workshop was funded by the Bibliographical Society of America and the English Physical Science and Research Council as part of the SEEBIBYTE project . It was supported by the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book.

from Giles Bergel

Woodblocks reception 18 June enh

‘The Last Invasion of England’ : Napoleon’s audacious plan

from Adrian Kerrison, Rare Books

On the night of 22 February 1797, 1,400 French soldiers under the command of Irish-American Colonel William Tate disembarked from their ships and landed on the shores of Carregwastad Head in Pembrokeshire. This bold and audacious invasion was actually intended as a diversion to draw British forces away from a much larger planned French landing in Ireland in support of the Society of United Irishmen. It was also hoped that it would cause an uprising against the British government amongst the Welsh population.

Having successfully landed and taken up defensive positions, Colonel Tate and his force now faced John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor, and about 600 men from the local militias and yeomanry. Cawdor set up headquarters at the town of Fishguard with intentions to eventually attack the French. Despite outnumbering Cawdor’s forces by over two to one, French indiscipline resulted in the desertion of a large portion of the invasion force, and Tate believed that Cawdor had more men than he actually did. This may have been due to sightings of large groups of women in Welsh national dress, which from a distance could resemble the red uniforms of British soldiers.

In the course of these events one local woman became a Welsh folk hero. Jemima Nicholas, a local cobbler, is alleged to have approached twelve French soldiers armed only with a pitchfork, forcing them to surrender and marching them to Fishguard. While there is little contemporary evidence to support this, her deeds were recorded on her tombstone and she was referred to as ‘Jemima the Great’ in her burial record.

With his situation quickly deteriorating, Colonel Tate quickly attempted to negotiate terms for surrender ‘upon the principles of humanity’. Cawdor replied that due to the ‘superiority of the forces under [his] command which is hourly increasing’, he would only accept a full, unconditional surrender. Unaware that Cawdor was actually bluffing, Tate accepted on 24 February and was taken prisoner with his remaining troops.

‘The Battle of Fishguard’ as it came to be known, never really materialised to be a battle at all, and casualties were very light on both sides. The landings in Ireland were called off due to bad weather and the hope of a Welsh uprising proved to be unfounded. 22 February 1797 was to be the last time that mainland Britain was invaded.

The letters and print below come from the Lord Curzon collection of Napoleonic ephemera.

Bodleian Curzon b.16(239-40), a letter written by Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford and MP for Pembrokeshire, informing Home Secretary William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, that the French invasion forces at Fishguard have capitulated. Dated 26 February 1797.

Bodleian Curzon b.16(239-40), a letter written by Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford and MP for Pembrokeshire, informing Home Secretary William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, that the French invasion forces at Fishguard have capitulated. Dated 26 February 1797.

Sonnets in 2016, update

The Bodleian Library invited hand-press printers to send examples of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (printed by any form of relief printing in 2016) and the collection of 154 is taking shape. Sonnets arrive daily and reports of printing successes (and disasters) are also circulating.  Juan Pascoe’s Sonnet 54 has arrived from Mexico, Ivan Gulkov has set Sonnet 85 in Russian at the Pillowface Press, California https://thebeautyofletterpress.com/printer/pillowface-press/,
Gordon Chesterman has sent Sonnet 128 with an ornate linocut border, Annette Disslin has shown an elegant design on grey, and, as an ‘extra,’ University College students printed a sonnet in college colours, under the supervision of expert letterpress printer and University College librarian, Liz Adams.

Arie Koelewyn, from The Paper Airplane Press, delivered sonnets 18 and 43 in person, from East Lansing, Michigan, and also visited the wooden common press in the Weston Library.

 

Shakespeare in 2016: podcasts of lectures in the Weston Library

Walter Colman, La danse machabre, or death's duell (1633) Bodleian Mal. 404

Four hundred years after his death, these talks by specialists revisit Shakespeare’s works, life, and times in the light of current research, as part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 festival and in connection with the Bodleian Libraries exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’.

Bart van Es, 1594: Shakespeare’s most important year

In the summer of 1594 William Shakespeare decided to invest around £50 to become a shareholder in a newly formed acting company: the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This lecture examines the consequences of this decision, unique in English theatrical history.

By examining the early modern theatrical marketplace and the artistic development of Shakespeare’s writing before and after this moment, it is hoped that this talk shows why 1594 was, by some measure, Shakespeare’s most important year.

Jonathan Bate, The Magic of Shakespeare

This lecture will celebrate Shakespeare’s immortality on the exact 400th anniversary of his burial. It will begin from Theseus’ famous speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the magical, transformative power of poetry.

It will argue that Shakespeare inherited from antiquity a fascination with the intimate association between erotic love, magic and the creative imagination, and that this is one of the keys to the enduring power of his plays.

Sir Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, is one of the world’s most renowned Shakespeare scholars, the author of, among many other works, Shakespeare and Ovid, The Genius of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age and (as co-editor) The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works. He co-curated Shakespeare Staging the World, the British Museum’s exhibition for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and he is the author of Being Shakespeare: A One-Man Play for Simon Callow, which has toured nationally and internationally and had three runs in the West End.

Steven Gunn, Everyday death in Shakespeare’s England

Coroners’ inquest reports into accidental deaths tell us about the hazards of everyday life in Shakespeare’s day. There were dangerous jobs, not just building, mining and farming, but also fetching water, and travel was perilous whether by cart, horse or boat. Even relaxation had its risks, from football and wrestling to maypole-dancing or a game of bowls on the frozen River Cherwell.

Peter McCullough, Donne to Death

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

Katherine Duncan Jones, Venus and Adonis

Professor Katherine Duncan Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Somerville College, gives a talk on Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis.

In 1592-93, with London playhouses closed because of plague, Shakespeare wrote his most technically perfect work. Venus and Adonis (1593) is a highly original ‘take’ on the ancient Greek myth of the doomed Adonis – presented here as a pubertal boy incapable of responding to the goddess’s amorous advances. It was a tearaway success with Elizabethan readers.

Emma Smith, Memorialising Shakespeare: the First Folio and other elegies

Ben Jonson wrote in 1623 that Shakespeare ‘art a Moniment, without a tombe/ And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live’: centuries later Jorge Luis Borges observed that ‘when writers die, they become books’, adding, ‘which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation’. This lecture considers Shakespeare’s First Folio as a literary memorial to Shakespeare, alongside other elegies, epitaphs, and responses to the playwright’s death.

Napoleonic ephemera in the Curzon Collection

This blog post comes to you from Adrian Kerrison, Senior Collections Support Assistant, who has been supervising the Weston Library re-ingest move since September 2014.

When I am not working on the Weston move I have been listing the contents of the Lord Curzon collection of Napoleonic ephemera, a fascinating project assigned to me by the Rare Books department. Among the hundreds of engravings, portraits and satirical prints is a treasure trove of numerous letters from figures of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. Notable figures include Letizia Ramolino (Napoleon’s mother), Pope Pius IV, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Maximilien Robespierre, Rouget de Lisle (author of the ‘La Marseillaise’, also known as the French national anthem), Henri Sanson (executioner of Marie Antoinette among many others) and Giuseppe Garibaldi (one of the founders of modern-day Italy).

Curzon b. 15(229)

Curzon b. 15(229)

And of course, there are a few letters from Mr. Bonaparte himself. Pictured is a military despatch written by a 25 year old Napoleon serving as Commander in Chief of Artillery for the Army of Italy, dated 14 October 1794 (the date in pencil is probably wrong). What is interesting about this document is not only that it was written by a young Napoleon early in his military career, but also that he does not omit the ‘u’ from his surname. Born Napoleone di Buonaparte to Corsican-Italian parents, he began to omit the ‘u’ from his surname sometime in the mid-1790’s to make it sound more French in an effort to propel himself in a country suspicious of foreigners.
If anyone would like to have a go at translating and transcribing his handwriting, please send me an email at adrian.kerrison@bodleian.ox.ac.uk and I will update this post!
More to come!

The delights of flower painting: making colours that survive the centuries

From Richard Mulholland

With the Chelsea flower show in full swing, it’s a good time to return to the subject of the great 18th century botanical painter, Ferdinand Bauer, his paintings for one of the most splendid illustrated Floras ever produced, and the mysterious colour code he used to produce his paintings. Bauer, along with his equally talented brother Franz, is considered to be amongst the greatest botanical painters, and his work for the Flora Graeca (published 1806-1840)  amongst the most impressive achievements in natural history painting.

IMAGE 1

 

Bauer, as we discovered in the last post , was John Sibthorp’s chosen travelling artist on his expedition to Greece and the Levant in 1786. Sibthorp’s desire was to document the flora of the Eastern Mediterranean, following in the footsteps of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, and updating Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, the 1st century medical treatise that had been a standard text on the subject for over 1600 years.

When he came to Oxford in 1787, Bauer spent six years painting almost 1500 life-size watercolour paintings of plants and animals with astonishing colour accuracy – over 960 of these for the Flora Graeca. He did not paint in colour in the field, and reproduced his sketches in colour in his studio in Oxford using for reference only his memory, the dried specimens he and Sibthorp had collected, and a series of brief pencil sketches annotated with numerical colour codes that may have referred to a painted colour chart.

The Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy at the Bodleian has all of Bauer’s original watercolour paintings, most of his field sketches and most of the original herbaria specimens from the expedition. However, although there is evidence of a very early colour chart that may have been used by Bauer, if a colour chart ever existed for the Sibthorp paintings, it has been lost. The Bodleian’s Heritage Science department are working on a significant research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust that aims to unravel Bauer’s code by looking closely at the materials and methods he used and try to understand how he was able to achieve such veracity of colour in his work.

Painting in watercolour in the 18th century was not as it is today. Although by the 1780s, a painter might purchase boxes of ready-made watercolour cakes (George Reeves introduced portable ‘moist’ watercolour cakes in 1766 that were a vast improvement on ‘dry’ cakes used previously), most painters still bought dry colour pigments in powder form from artists’ colourmen, druggists and apothecary shops, grinding them with plant gums and water to create their paints. The end product was usually dried and stored in mussel or oyster shells,  and could be reactivated with water as needed over the following few days.

“Reeves watercolour box c. 1772 taken on The Resolution by Isaac Smith” Museum of London 74.343/50. © Museum of London

Reeves watercolour box c. 1772 taken on The Resolution by Isaac Smith. Museum of London 74.343/50. © Museum of London

The Museum of London has a Reeves watercolour box that was in the possession of British naval officer Isaac Smith, who accompanied Captain Cook on both of his expeditions. Although the box was not taken on Cook’s first voyage on The Endeavour, Smith appears to have used  it on board The Resolution during the second voyage (1772-75), where the creation of surveys and maps were amongst his duties. There little evidence that professional travelling artists in the 18th century used commercial ready-made moist watercolours on their voyages, although they were popular amongst amateurs and professionals alike in the nineteenth century. The likely explanation may be that artists working in the 1770s and 80s would have learnt the art of preparing their own colours during a traditional apprenticeship and preferred to maintain their own quality control. However, the colours in this early box by Reeves are useful, as they are clearly labelled and therefore give us an insight into the watercolour pigments that were popular at the end of the 18th century, and a clue toward what we might expect Bauer to have used in his work.

The late eighteenth century also brought increased status to watercolour painting. Previously water based paints were generally used for either ‘washing’ (the hand colouring of prints and maps) or ‘limning’(the painting of portrait miniatures) or to ‘stain’ drawings. At the Royal Academy for example, watercolour was not considered in the same category as painting, watercolourists were regarded as ‘draughtsmen’, could only show their work in the lower ‘drawings’ chambers and were ineligible for full membership. In fact the Royal Academy did not admit watercolour painters as full exhibiting members until 1810.

Watercolour painting, as we think of it today however, had already emerged as a medium in its own right by the 1760s, and its status as an art form was cemented by the formation of the Society of Painters in Watercolour (now the Royal Watercolour Society) in 1804. With its newfound popularity, (especially amongst amateur painters from the nobility) from the mid-eighteenth century, numerous instructional manuals on watercolour painting were published, often concentrating on landscapes and flowers, and often containing lists of pigments recommended by the author for specific tasks.

‘The Delights of Flower Painting’ by John June, published in 1756 for example, contains a list of pigments, and instructions on how they should be prepared and used for painting flowers. With a few exceptions, most of these pigments are also contained in Isaac Smith’s watercolour box.

John June (1756) ‘The delights of flower-painting. In which is laid down the fundamental principles of that delightful art…’ D. Voisin, London. © British Library.

John June (1756) ‘The delights of flower-painting. In which is laid down the fundamental principles of that delightful art…’ D. Voisin, London. © British Library.

Such a selection of pigments would have been very familiar to Bauer, painting thirty years later, as there were few new pigments introduced to artists between the 1750s and the beginning of the 19th century. Using a number of analytical techniques, we are able to positively identify many pigments that Bauer used in his Flora Graeca paintings, and match them with his colour codes in order to ascertain whether certain numbers referred to specific pigments. The results show that Bauer’s code is certainly systematic, but also that he used a fairly traditional palette, considerably more like that of a 17th century miniaturist painter perhaps than a late 18th century watercolourist. Perhaps more surprisingly, he appears to have represented the myriad of colour seen across the Levant using only a small number of pigments in his palette.

We can pinpoint pigments by using very sensitive techniques such as Raman spectroscopy and XRF (X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy), but using another technique – hyperspectral imaging – we are also able to ‘map’ Bauer’s pigments across an entire painting. The following example is from Bauer’s little-known Fauna Graeca paintings, equally impressive as his paintings of flowers. The false colour hyperspectral image composite highlights certain areas of the painting where he has used blue pigments. In this case, the areas that show as red indicate areas where indigo was used and areas that show as purple indicate those where a copper-based blue such as azurite was used..

Original image (below), and Hyperspectral false colour composite image (above) of Naucratus Ductor (MS. Sherard 239: Pisces, F43) showing areas of indigo (red) and copper blue (purple)” © Bodleian Libraries.

Original image (below), and Hyperspectral false colour composite image (above) of Naucratus Ductor (MS. Sherard 239: Pisces, F43) showing areas of indigo (red) and copper blue (purple)” © Bodleian Libraries.

Identifying the ‘what’ of course is very useful, but it doesn’t tell us everything about how Bauer worked, and in particular why he chose to use certain pigments and not others. One way to address this question is through historical reproduction – the recreation of facsimile paintings using materials and methods close to those Bauer would have used. Although Bauer is unlikely to have made his own pigments, the dry pigments we can purchase today are ground and prepared using modern techniques and are often prepared differently from those that were available in the 18th century.

Grinding vermillion pigment with a glass muller

Grinding vermillion pigment with a glass muller

We can get around this in many cases by manufacturing our own pigments using 18th century recipes. We know through our analysis that Bauer made extensive use of a copper-based green in his paintings of plants. In the case below, we created a batch of the copper green pigment Verdigris by exposing copper sheeting to wine vinegar over a period of time. The acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the copper and forms an encrustation of green on the surface. This is scraped off regularly and then carefully ground into paint using a glass muller.

 

Making Verdigris pigment at the Bodleian

Making Verdigris pigment at the Bodleian

We know almost nothing about Ferdinand Bauer. There is no known portrait of him, very few letters, and almost no descriptions relating to his working procedures. However, this approach to art historical research provides an opportunity to gain an insight into his working life and perhaps a glimpse of his particular genius in creating these astonishing works of art.

 

Further information:

 

The Bodleian’s Head of Heritage Science David Howell will be speaking at a one-day conference on multispectral and hyperspectral imaging on 30 June. For more information and registration, visit: https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/digital/2016/05/05/seaha-special-seminar-in-multispectral-and-hyperspectral-imaging/

 

On Saturday 25 June, members of the public can learn more about hyperspectral imaging by visiting the Bodleian’s Weston Library, where there will be demonstrations of this technique and Raman spectroscopy in Blackwell Hall. For more information, visit: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whats-on/upcoming-events/2016/jun/scientific-research