ARCHiOx, part 3: Patterns and paintings in a 17th-century Ragamala album

An essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer, Bodleian Libraries, about discoveries from the ARCHiOx imaging project, which has been funded by the generous support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. See also:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

An album of Ragamala paintings at the Bodleian Library (Bodleian MS. Laud Or. 149) is a beautifully painted manuscript, dating from the early 17th century. Not long after it was produced, the volume was donated to the Bodleian by Archbishop William Laud, at some point between 1635-41.

It has been proposed that that three recently discovered paper pouncing patterns may have been used in the production of paintings in the manuscript. The patterns, which have subsequently been loaned to the Bodleian, are skilfully made.  Tiny pin-pricks form the outline of illustrations which are clearly comparable with three of the paintings from the Ragamala Album.

Left: a paper pouncing pattern, photographed conventionally. Centre: an edited version of the previous image showing the position of the tiny pinholes. Right: A detail from fol. 8 of the Laud Ragamala Album. MS. Laud Or. 149.

Pouncing is a less obvious method of copying than pricking. Charcoal dust would have been transferred though the holes, duplicating the form of a design from pattern to page. Whether or not the three pouncing patterns were indeed the source of the paintings from the Bodleian’s 17th century volume remains somewhat of a mystery. In order to examine how closely the two align, the ARCHiOx team generated a set of renders from 3D recordings of the pouncing patterns and overlaid these with the colour images from the manuscript.

A layered image comprising of: Left: a painted page from the Laud Ragamala Album. Right: a mirrored heat-map render of the verso of the corresponding pouncing pattern. Centre: a composite of the left and right images. MS. Laud Or. 149.

Though some elements within the designs differ, there is a clear and extremely close correlation between the patterns and paintings.  3D imaging of the paintings themselves show no evidence of holes or depressions due to tracing, only the layers of pigment which have been applied to the paper.  Though the 3D recordings have not provided a definitive answer as to whether the patterns may be the origin of the paintings, it is hoped that they may serve as a template for similar analysis.

Download the full essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead (Bodleian Libraries)

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