Women in the Margins: Eadburg and Bodleian Library, MS. Selden Supra 30

by Jessica Hodgkinson and John Barrett

A series of exciting inscriptions, almost invisible to the naked eye, have been discovered in the margins of an important eighth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library, MS Selden Supra 30. Revealed through state-of-the-art 3D recording technology by the ARCHiOx project, these marginal annotations provide tantalising new insights into this manuscript’s history and its links to women, in particular, to a woman called Eadburg.

Introducing Bodleian Library, MS Selden Supra 30

Bodleian Library, MS. Selden Supra 30 is a copy of the Acts of the Apostles, a book of the New Testament, written in Latin. It is a small volume, measuring only 229 x 176 mm (only slightly bigger than an A5 piece of paper).

Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30 open at pp. 18-19
Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30 open at pp. 18-19

Like most surviving manuscripts from this period, MS. Selden Supra 30 does not contain a formal colophon or scribal note recording when, where, and by whom it was made.

However, certain features of this manuscript, including the style of uncial script used to copy the text, demonstrate that it was produced in England, most likely somewhere in the kingdom of Kent, probably in the first half of the eighth century (i.e., between c. 700 and c. 750 AD).

MS. Selden Supra 30 was certainly in Kent by the fourteenth century when a shelf mark was added to p. 1 showing that it was then in the library of the monastery of St Augustine’s in Canterbury.

The opening page of MS. Selden Supra 30 (p. 1) which has suffered damage and is now significantly discoloured. The shelf mark from St Augustine’s, Canterbury (Di. I. G. III) is visible in the upper margin. 
The opening page of MS. Selden Supra 30 (p. 1) which has suffered damage and is now significantly discoloured. The shelf mark from St Augustine’s, Canterbury (Di. I. G. III) is visible in the upper margin.

Prayers added to p. 70, which was originally left blank, suggest, however, that very early in its history MS. Selden Supra 30 was owned and used by a woman.

These prayers were copied in the same type of script as the rest of the manuscript but by a different scribe to the two responsible for copying its main text.

The first prayer is a petition to God made by an anonymous woman, described as God’s “unworthy servant” (indignam famulam).

This strongly suggests that, at the time the prayer was added, MS. Selden Supra 30 was being used by a woman, or a group of women. The prayer may have been copied into the manuscript by a female scribe.

The formula of this prayer is unique and does not survive in any other manuscript. It could have been composed by the petitioner herself.

In 1935, in the first edition of Vol. 2 of Codices Latini Antiquiores, Elias Avery Lowe, then a Reader in Palaeography at the University of Oxford, suggested that another addition made to MS. Selden Supra 30 could provide further evidence of its links to women.

Lowe recorded, for the first time in print, that the letters EADB and +E+ had been incised into the lower margin of p. 47. He noticed that the letters had been cut into the parchment with force, apparently using a knife, slicing through the upper surface of the membrane.

ARCHiOx recordings of the letters inscribed at the bottom of p. 47.
ARCHiOx recordings of the letters inscribed at the bottom of p. 47.

Lowe suggested that these letters were abbreviated forms of the female name Eadburh/Eadburg.

Discovering Eadburg

Studying MS. Selden Supra 30 in the Weston Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room in 2022, Jessica Hodgkinson, a PhD student at the University of Leicester, funded by the AHRC Midlands4Cities consortium, spotted another inscription in the lower margin of p. 18. This inscription had never been noticed before. It was very small and almost invisible to the naked eye but appeared to contain Eadburg’s name written in full.

State-of-the-art technology has now not only confirmed this new inscription, but revealed several other instances of Eadburg’s name, alongside many more early marginal additions, incised into the parchment of MS Selden Supra 30. These discoveries provide new and exciting insights into the use of this book by a woman called Eadburg in eighth-century England.

Recording the inscriptions
by John Barrett

Scratched markings on the surface of a page are usually photographed using a single light positioned at a low angle. This simple principle is termed raking light.  However, through recordings made for ARCHiOx, it has been demonstrated that scratched markings may be far more effectively recorded using a technique called photometric stereo.

A description of ARCHiOx and an explanation of the technology and processes in use can be read in this blogpost:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

 The photometric stereo workflow adopted for ARCHiOx uses 2D images to record and store 3D information. These images map the direction and height of the original’s surface, and are processed into renders showing only the relief of the original with the tone and colour removed.

Renders produced using a photometric stereo workflow are superior to raked light images in three ways:

A 3D render lacks the excessive contrast of a raked light image making markings easier to discern. Through the use of software, it is possible to re-light renders virtually, giving complete control over the intensity of the shadow and highlight over the recorded relief of the original.

The ability to filter for different textural frequencies makes it possible to separate the scratched markings from the texture of material on which the markings have been made.

Renders can be re-lit virtually from any direction or height making it possible to reveal markings made along any angle.

In addition, the depth of a marking can be measured by examining a cross-section through it. The profile may also provide clues regarding the mark-making tool, in this case a drypoint stylus.

A cross-section through the lower horizontal line of the letter ‘E’. The depth of the drypoint inscription through this line measures around 18 microns (0.018mm).
A cross-section through the lower horizontal line of the letter ‘E’. The depth of the drypoint inscription through this line measures around 18 microns (0.018mm).

A photometric stereo recording of the near-invisible inscription on p. 18 was captured in May 2022.

The Selene, a prototype imaging system designed and built by the Factum Foundation, project partner for ARCHiOx, was used for the recording.

Multiple images were captured from the inscription before being processed, filtered, and enhanced. The resulting high-resolution shaded render shows only the three-dimensional surface of the page.  Through this new image, the drypoint inscription has been recorded successfully for the first time.

 Top to bottom: An unedited render of the 3D surface of the bottom of page 18 with the inscription now visible.  An enhanced version made through tonal remapping.  A digitally annotated version.  The digital annotation with the render removed.

Top to bottom: An unedited render of the 3D surface of the bottom of page 18 with the inscription now visible.  An enhanced version made through tonal remapping.  A digitally annotated version.  The digital annotation with the render removed.

Subsequent analysis and processing, overseen by Jorge Cano, designer of the Selene, led to a new set of renders which enhance the markings further. These new images were created by compiling renders, re-lit virtually from multiple directions, and using a process called principal component analysis, or PCA.

The clearest recording of the drypoint inscription to-date. The inscription has been enhanced using techniques including virtual relighting, image stacking and principal component analysis.
The clearest recording of the drypoint inscription to date. The inscription has been enhanced using techniques including virtual relighting, image stacking and principal component analysis.

The lines which form this inscription are incredibly shallow. Even the most prominent are only 15-20 microns in depth, perhaps equivalent to less than a fifth of the width of a human hair. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the inscription is simply absent from a conventionally-lit colour image of this page.

Top: The drypoint inscription is absent from this capture recorded using conventional lighting.  Bottom: The digital annotation is applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology.
Top: The drypoint inscription is absent from this capture recorded using conventional lighting.  Bottom: The digital annotation is applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology.

Processing the data using computational methods has revealed an astonishing amount but analogue (i.e., human) intervention has still been required to digitally annotate the image to clarify the reading. Despite attempts to filter specifically for the inscription, shading from the texture of the parchment and its many tiny creases have proved almost impossible to remove. This makes it difficult in some areas, to rule-in or rule-out the presence of lines. An objective and cautious approach has been taken with the digital annotation. This has involved multiple imaging colleagues working independently to contribute to a set of annotations which could then be compared. Finally, the renders and digitally annotated images were shared with the researchers, allowing them to make their own observations and annotations with the benefit of context.

Subsequent recordings made for ARCHiOx have revealed that Eadburg’s name is spelled out in full five times on five different pages of MS. Selden Supra 30 (pp. 1, 2, 3, 12, and 18). On some of these pages, and elsewhere in the book, other abbreviated forms of this name, including E, EAD, or EADB, are also present.

Reading the inscriptions

The discovery of Eadburg’s full name etched several times into the manuscript’s margins definitively confirms Lowe’s theory that the letters previously identified on p. 47 are, indeed, abbreviations of the same name.

Eadburg’s name was copied out using letterforms common to all the newly identified inscriptions. The form of the A (an oblique line with an oval bow on the left) and the angular U and G are distinctive. This suggests that the same scribe may have made all of these additions. If so, it is at least possible that the scribe was Eadburg herself.

Readers and owners of early medieval manuscripts, both men and women, sometimes added their names to books, usually in ink, but occasionally, as here, in drypoint. Another early eighth-century example is the ink inscription that records, in Old English, that Abbess Cuthswitha owned a copy of Jerome’s commentary on the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes (now Würzburg, Universitätsbibliothek, M. p. th. q. 2, fol. 1r).

Eadburg’s name could also be a mark of ownership or evidence of reading. Although small in scale, and faint, someone, perhaps Eadburg herself, was evidently keen to preserve her name in the pages of this book to be seen by subsequent readers. What is unusual about Eadburg’s name, however, is that it appears here, in full or in abbreviated forms, 15 times.

Eadburg’s name is written on the opening page of the manuscript (p. 1). It overlaps part of the top of the enlarged decorated initial P which begins the text. Here, her name is preceded by a cross (+).

A series of ARCHiOx recordings of p. 1 of MS. Selden Supra 30:

Capture using conventional lighting (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Capture using conventional lighting (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Detail of the unedited 3D render of the inscription (MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Detail of the unedited 3D render of the inscription (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Digital annotation of the inscription (MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Digital annotation of the inscription (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Image showing the digital annotation applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Image showing the digital annotation applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)

The decision to etch the name over the top of the first letter of the text must have been deliberate. It establishes Eadburg’s presence in the book from the outset and connects her name intimately with the biblical text it contains.

On p. 2, her name is framed by a cartouche.

Detail of the recording of the lower margin of p. 2 showing the name Eadburg surrounded by a rectangular border.
Detail of the recording of the lower margin of p. 2 showing the name Eadburg surrounded by a rectangular border. (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.2)

On p. 18, Eadburg’s name forms part of a multi-word inscription added to the lower margin. Here also, her name is preceded by a cross. Some of the following letters are easy to see, whilst others, especially those towards the end of the inscription, are difficult to make out, even with the benefit of the new visualisation techniques.

The most recent and clearest recording taken of the inscription, enhanced through virtual relighting, image stacking, and principal component analysis, appears to show, however, that, among the visible letters, there is a wynn (Ƿ), the Old English letter for W. This letter can be distinguished from the Rs in the inscription, including in the name Eadburg, by the form of the bow which is pointed and extends further down the vertical line of the letter than on R. The presence of a wynn shows that the inscription was written, not in Latin, but in the Old English vernacular language.

This inscription probably comprises three words. The name Eadburg is the subject of the statement, so we might reasonably expect the other letters to include a verb followed by the object.

A preliminary reading of the inscription is:


+ Eadburg bears [cw….n]

Most of the letters in what appears to be the third and final word are unclear, with only CW– at the beginning and -N at the end remaining legible.

One Old English noun that could fill this position is cwærtern, meaning ‘prison’. Interestingly, the inscription is positioned beneath the beginning of the text of Acts 5:18 which describes the imprisonment of the Apostles by the high priest of the Temple and his followers because they had continued to preach the Gospel (…et injecerunt manus in Apostolos et posuerunt eos in custodia publica). If cwærtern is the third word in the inscription on p. 18, perhaps Eadburg sought to mirror the text, associating herself with the Apostles in their imprisonment.

Deciphering the drawings

Alongside Eadburg’s name, several intriguing drypoint drawings have also been discovered. Some are clearly human figures, though further investigation is needed to establish exactly who or what they depict. All the figures are very small. Several seem to have been made by incising a line around a thumb or finger to form the outline of the figure.

ARCHiOx recording of the lower margin of p. 9. Digital annotation applied in lower image showing two figures. The figure in the background has outstretched arms, and is reaching towards the figure at the front who appears to be holding up a hand to signal them to stop.
ARCHiOx recording of the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 9. Digital annotation applied in lower image showing two figures. The figure in the background has outstretched arms, and is reaching towards the figure at the front who appears to be holding up a hand to signal them to stop.

The scene added to the lower margin of p. 11, which features at least three figures, may also include two E‘s. There appears to be an E, preceded by a cross, to the left of the first figure, and a second E, followed by a wynn (Ƿ) between the second and third figures. Could Eadburg have drawn this scene in drypoint and signed her work with her initial, as found elsewhere in the manuscript?

Recording of the dry-point addition in the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 11.
Recording of the dry-point addition in the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 11.

Identifying Eadburg?

Eadburg’s name or initials are etched into several pages, sometimes next to contemporaneous dry-point drawings. But who was she? More work on the newly discovered additions may bring us closer to answering this question.

We know of nine women called Eadburg living in England at some point between the seventh and tenth centuries (for details see the online Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England). Other sources provide some tantalising clues that might help identify the Eadburg of MS. Selden Supra 30.

Charter evidence suggests that a woman called Eadburg was abbess of a female religious community at Minster-in-Thanet, in Kent from at least 733 until her death sometime between 748 and 761. As Lowe suggested in 1935, her dates and location correspond with the palaeographic assessment of the script of MS Selden Supra 30.

Abbess Eadburg of Minster-in-Thanet may also be the woman of the same name who corresponded with Boniface, the West Saxon missionary bishop and Church reformer. He became archbishop of Mainz in 732 and was martyred by pagans in Frisia in 754. Surviving letters show that Boniface held Eadburg in high esteem and that she sent books to him in Francia. He commissioned from her a deluxe copy of St Peter’s Epistles to be written in gold.

Boniface’s friend clearly had access to manuscripts and the means to make them. As such she is an especially strong candidate for the woman whose name was etched into the margins of MS. Selden Supra 30.

John Barrett is Bodleian Library’s Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead for the Bodleian.

Jessica Hodgkinson is a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester funded by the Midlands4Cities doctoral training partnership. Her research explores the participation of women in early medieval book culture in Western Europe through the analysis of surviving manuscripts commissioned, copied, owned and/or used by them.

 With special thanks to Jorge Cano, designer and engineer for Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation, for his work on enhancing the recording of p. 18, to Dr Philip A. Shaw, Teaching Fellow in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, for helping to decipher the Old English of this inscription, and to Professor Jo Story and Dr Erin T Dailey at the University of Leicester for their guidance and suggestions.

Logo of the Helen Hamlyn Trust Logo of the AHRC Logo of Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging

A photo-essay by the Bodleian’s Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead for the Bodleian, John Barrett  

From plate to print: Left to right, albedo, normal map, depth map, shaded render, composite and original print. A copper plate portrait of antiquarian, Anthony Wood, recorded as never before, captured using the latest in three-dimensional recording technology. Rawl. Copperplates e. 65.

Producing objectively accurate images from the books and manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collections to enrich our growing digital archive is the primary focus of the Imaging Services department.   On occasion, requests from curators or clients may require our photographers to use specialist imaging techniques such as recording originals using ultra-violet light or infrared cameras.  However, for the most part the aim is not to reveal hidden details, but to produce faithful digital reproductions.

In contrast, the aim of a new research and development project now underway in the Bodleian’s  Imaging Studio is to record items from the collections in three dimensions, using entirely new technology, in the expectation that discoveries will be made through recording surface detail at extremely high resolution.

Almost invisible when photographed conventionally, the fine etching on the reverse of Rawl. Copperplates g. 21 is revealed. This composite digital image combines a shaded render of the surface of the plate, layered with an albedo (colour) image. The image depicts Invidia (Envy). No extant print made using this side of the plate has yet been identified. The etched lines are extremely shallow, measuring 0.029mm in depth. The plate measures a little over 10cm.

ARCHiOx –Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Oxford–is a collaborative project, bringing together the Bodleian Libraries and the Factum Foundation.  Based in Madrid, the Factum Foundation specialise in high-resolution 3D imaging and have worked in cultural heritage institutions throughout the world, producing exceptional, three-dimensional facsimiles of artworks and artefacts.

During this one-year project, experts from the Factum Foundation will provide equipment and training in the use of new technologies and assist in exploring ways in which the output from the project can surfaced in Digital Bodleian.  As the project progresses it is hoped that through the collaboration between technicians at the Bodleian and the Factum Foundation, solutions to improve and streamline the technology will be identified.

With generous funding support from the Helen Hamlyn Trust, the ARCHiOx project will continue until January 2023.  Thereafter the technology will remain at the Bodleian making it possible to provide high-resolution 3D capture as an ongoing service.

Unlike perhaps more widely-known 3D capture techniques such as photogrammetry, the two state-of-the-art machines used for ARCHiOx use different principles for recording volume and are specifically designed for the capture of low-relief surface texture.  This makes them well suited to the recording of the primarily flat, but texturally rich originals from the Bodleian’s collections.  This high-resolution, low-relief capture has been termed ‘2.5D’ rather than 3D.

The 2.5D data produced during the project will serve two purposes.  Shaded renders make it possible to view the surface texture of an original while removing their visible tone and colour.  This allows for academic research from originals that contain textural details which are difficult to see and cannot be adequately recorded using traditional photographic techniques.  Alternatively, the data may be used to produce 3D facsimiles from items within our collections, allowing the material nature of the original to be reproduced.

An example of a shaded render. Without the colour and tone of the original, the shaded visualisation shows only the surface texture of the original. A section of an 18th-century copper printing plate, Rawl. Copperplates e. 59, featuring Archbishop William Laud.

The Selene is an entirely new solution for capturing 2.5D data and is being used for the first time in the Bodleian.  Using computational methods to extract very detailed information about the surface of an object, the Selene records multiple 2D source images, each captured with meticulously positioned lighting.   The Selene was designed by Factum Foundation engineer, Jorge Cano and uses a principle called photometric stereo.  Captures generated with the Selene during the last two months have proved that the technology is capable of recording surface relief at an incredible 25 microns, or 0.025mm.  This is over three times the resolution of any technology previously used to capture cultural heritage material by the Factum Foundation.  

The Selene Photometric Scanner capturing one of the Lister copper printing plates in the Bodleian Library.

Taking two weeks to build and refine, the Selene was installed by designer Jorge Cano and engineer Matt Marshall in the Bodleian’s Imaging studio, in early February.  The Selene uses a high resolution camera and four custom flash units, which together can be moved horizontally over the surface of the original.  Multiple customised electronic modules synchronise the movement of the motorised guides with the triggering of each sequence of flashesThe Selene captures a series of image tiles at a resolution of 1040 pixels-per-inch.  The number of tiles, which is dependent on the size of the original can be programmed allowing for fast, automated capture.   

Man at a desk working on electronic components
Factum Foundation engineer and designer of the Selene, Jorge Cano, begins the assembly of the Selene Photometric Scanner in the Bodleian Imaging Studio.
Jorge Cano, testing and modifying the Selene Photometric Scanner, the only machine of its kind.

Unlike the laser recording system which has been used successfully for over a decade by the Factum Foundation, the Selene not only generates surface data, but can also capture colour.  This is hugely beneficial as not only does it make it unnecessary to capture the original twice but, due to being produced using the same source images, the shaded render showing surface texture and the colour image, known as the albedo, can be aligned perfectly to easily create a composite from the two.  We believe this composite image can be of great value to researchers, containing an exceptional level of detail and a real sense of the material nature of the original.   

A composite image, layering a shaded render of the texture with a shadowless colour image (albedo). This combination produces an image which shows every engraved line. (Lister Copperplates 858)

Created from multiple source images, each lit from different angles, the albedo is an exceptionally evenly illuminated and shadowless recording.  In some cases the albedo has a notable advantage over images produced using traditional lighting methods, which for 2D capture typically require just two primary light sources.  For originals with an uneven and highly reflective texture such as varnished paintings, creating an albedo may offer an effective solution for reducing unwanted highlights in reproductions. 

Factum Foundation engineer Matt Marshall installing custom flash units to the Selene.

Employing a very different principle to the Selene, the Lucida is a close-range, non-contact recording system that captures high-resolution surface texture data through the use of a laser and two tiny cameras.  This is a well-established solution for 2.5D capture, having been used by the Factum Foundation since 2011 during projects including the recording of the Tomb of Seti I, in Egypt.  The Lucida is capable of scanning taller originals, or those with greater vertical variation than the Selene and has been used extensively to produce data suitable for the manufacture of remarkably accurate 3D facsimiles.  Height data captured with the Lucida is incredibly accurate, though the resolution of the Lucida is significantly lower than the Selene in all three dimensions 

The Factum Foundation’s Lucida expert, Carlos Bayod Lucini (right), describes the technology behind the Lucida 3D Scanner to Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden (left) and PhD researcher Chiara Betti. Photograph: Nick Cistone

The Lucida was installed at the Bodleian’s imaging studio by Factum Foundation expert Carlos Bayod Lucini. The data generated from the Lucida has been vital in two ways.  Comparing data between the two technologies has made it possible to determine an accurate elevation factor, allowing height measurements to be correctly estimated and recorded for depth maps produced with the Selene.  Through combining the two data sets by overlaying the high frequency information generated with the Selene, and the more reliably recorded gentle, but taller gradients measured with the Lucida, it has also allowed for the production an incredibly accurate depth map, using the combined strengths of the two recording systems.  This technically ambitious process is an important achievement in 2.5D capture and will make it possible to create 3D reproductions at higher resolution and with more accuracy than previously achieved by the Factum Foundation. 

Factum Foundation technician Celeste Anstruther modifies and tests the Lucida 3D Scanner

A selection of 18thcentury copper printing plates are amongst the first of the Bodleian’s originals to be captured with the Selene and Lucida.  Primarily from the Rawlinson collection, the plates include portraits of antiquarian Anthony Wood and 17th century Archbishop William Laud, as well as scenes, architecture and antiquities.  Plates from the Lister and Gough collections, the latter featuring portraits made from drawings attributed to William Blake, have also been recorded for the project.  Perfect for 2.5D capture using photometric stereo technology, copper printing plates have relatively flat surfaces and very shallow, highly detailed engraved lines The notable plates chosen for capture were selected by Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of the Book, Dr Alexandra Franklin and Chiara Betti, a PhD student at the University of London specialising in the research of the Bodleian copper plate collections on a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, with advice from researchers who have worked on the Bodleian’s rare collections of copper plates and the associated publications.   As well as recording each plate’s text and illustrations, it is hoped that images produced during the project will reveal evidence of corrections, alterations, and degradation through use. 

A portrait of Edward III, from Gough Copperplates d. 107. The design is identified as the work of William Blake. These derivatives were processed using source images captured with the Selene. Left to right, shaded render, composite and albedo.

Notoriously difficult to capture using traditional photographic techniques, copper printing plates provide a number of challenges for the photographer hoping to record their surface.  There is little consistency in the material nature of the copper plates in our collections.  While some plates have been cleaned and are highly reflective with little change to their original colour and lustre, others, still bearing corrosion on their surfaces, reflect back virtually nothing and when reproduced, images may lack tonal variation and detail.

When photographing flat metal objects, the risk of capturing the reflections of the photographic equipment and the necessity to position the primary light source extremely close to the lens typically mean that a case-by-case approach is required.  This is a very different methodology when compared to the recording of paper and parchment originals, where a consistent workflow and continuous measurement is essential.

Using the Selene as an alternative to traditional photography has proven extremely successful, allowing us to record at a level of detail never previously achieved, and without having to navigate the complications previously associated with capturing metallic originals.

A tile image from Rawl. Copperplates e. 104. This composite was made by overlaying a shaded render and one of the colour, source images. The detailed engraving and colour would be extremely challenging, or perhaps impossible to reproduce using traditional photographic techniques.

Though capture of the source images using the Selene Photometric Scanner is relatively fast, currently the workflow required for processing the images is slow and reasonably complicated.  A number of software applications are required to generate the final derivative images, and one of the goals for ARCHiOx is to develop a more streamlined process.

Producing a normal map is the initial step in the process of creating useful derivatives such as shaded renders.  Normal maps are commonly used in CGI and computer game design.  Though the normal map is a 2D image, 3D information can be derived from the normal map because instead of simply recording a colour, each pixel represents a direction relative to the recorded surface of an original.   An entirely flat surface positioned parallel to the camera would be recorded on the normal map as a line, perpendicular to the original.  As the angle of the surface of the original changes, so too do the angles of the recorded lines, known as normal vectors.  Recording these normal vectors pixel-by-pixel makes it possible to map the surface of the original.  The direction of the normal vectors are defined by each pixel’s red, green and blue content.  Given that a copper printing plate is almost flat, the normal map represents the surface with an almost uniform purple colour.

A normal map produced with the images captured using the Selene. The starting point for producing useful derivatives, such as shaded renders.

Using the normal vectors from the normal map, a depth map can be generated.  This two-dimensional greyscale image uses tonal range to store elevation values.  It is processed at 16bits which allows for far more increments between tones to be recorded than in a standard 8bit imageThrough applying a Gaussian blur to the depth map, a derivative which records the gentle gradients over a wider area of an original can also be made.  In the workflow which has been established for the project, it is from the depth map that shaded renders can be created, using mapping software.   

Normal map to depth map integration. The angles of the normal vectors transform the flat profile of the normal map into a three dimensional surface. Diagram: Jorge Cano

In ordinary use, a geographic information system, or GIS application, can be used to create topographic maps and 3D visualisations of landscapes using aerial imagery.  By greatly increasing the scale factor, the same software can be used to map the tiny variations captured with the Selene and Lucida. The light direction and intensity can be configured, processing the depth map in to a highly detailed shaded view of the surface of the original. This shaded render can then be exported as a 2D image.

Though shaded renders provide an exceptional visualisation of the texture of an original, allowing researchers to virtually relight shaded renders for themselves is extremely useful as changes in the direction and height of the light can reveal details which may be hidden when recorded in a single shaded image.   In the case of the copper plates, engraved lines will either appear darker or lighter depending on the direction and height of the light.  As well as developing viewers capable of displaying and merging image layers produced during the project, Richard Allen, Andy Irving and Tim Dungate from the Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services hope to develop tools that will permit this virtual relighting from the derivatives created from the 2.5D recording systems.

Virtually relit. Four snapshots of a real-time application written in Java. Using a normal map file as the source, it is possible for researchers to define the position of a virtual light source by simply moving the mouse pointer over the image. A section of Rawl. Copperplates e. 104.

One of the most important elements in developing the Selene is to establish an accurate elevation scale factor.  Height measurements are estimated when recording an original using the photometric stereo principle, and an elevation scale factor must first be assigned to the resultant depth map in order for accurate measurements to be made from it.  Comparing data from the Selene against data generated with a high-accuracy measuring device like the Lucida, or from an optical profilometer, has been essential in determining the correct scale factor. 

John Barrett (left) and Jorge Cano analyse a depth map using mapping software at the Factum Arte workshop, Madrid. The depth of a single engraved line can be determined by generating a cross section and measuring the vertical difference between peak and trough. Assigning an accurate elevation scale factor is essential prior to this analysis. Photograph: Matt Marshall

In order to reveal details from originals with extremely shallow relief, it has been useful to increase the scale factor and in doing so, exaggerate differences in relative height.  For instance, it has only been possible to produce usable shaded renders from many of the mezzotint printing plates captured for the project by increasing the scale factor.   

An extremely difficult test for 2.5D capture. A small section of a beautiful mezzotint copper plate, Rawl. Copperplates c. 41. The Selene manages to record the incredibly fine surface texture, but the detail in the shaded render can only be discerned by exaggerating the elevation scale factor. Left to right, shaded render, albedo and composite.

Creating and sharing an archive of detailed shaded renders will no doubt be extremely useful for researchers, but given that the data recorded for ARCHiOx is truly three-dimensional, the exciting possibility of creating accurate 3D facsimiles from items within our collections is entirely feasible.

For over twenty years, the Bodleian have archived hundreds-of-thousands of digital images, captured from our collections.  Through the use of technologies like the Selene and Lucida, we now have the capability of reproducing items more accurately than ever, not just as a two-dimensional representations, but as tangible 3D recreations.

This next-level development in preservation is not only important for the conservation of the original. Faithfully reproduced, three-dimensional reproductions will allow students to have a less restrictive, more hands-on experience of some of the more delicate and difficult to access items in our collections.  3D facsimiles may also be used as a substitute for originals while temporarily unavailable due to being exhibited or undergoing conservation treatment.

Two renderings of the surface of the same copper plate in close-up, showing the engraved lines
Truly three-dimensional. Two 3D views of the recorded surface of Rawl. Copperplates e.65, generated using mapping software. The second example shows a layered view, using the albedo and a shaded render. The depth of each engraved line, measured at around 60 microns, can clearly be seen.

Recreating an accurate and functional printing plate using data captured with the new photometric system is a demanding test for the Selene, but even more so for the elevated printing technology used to create the 3D facsimile.  While the Selene is able to record over 1000 pixels for every linear inch of original, Factum Arte’s state-of-the-art large-format 3D printer is limited to around half of this resolution.  Though this resolution has proved to be entirely adequate for the elevated printing of reproductions of artworks, the incredibly fine and often geometrically complex engraved details of copper plates are much harder to reproduce.

Commissioned by antiquarian Richard Rawlinson, Rawl. Copperplates e.65 is a copy of an earlier printing plate and features a wonderful portrait of local Oxford antiquarian Anthony Wood, whose manuscript and book collections are held at the Bodleian.  A print from the new plate, engraved in 1709 by Michael Burghers, appears in Rawlinson’s own copy of his work, ‘The Life of Mr. Anthony a Wood’.

So, not for the first time, though perhaps for the first time in 313 years, a new copy of the Anthony Wood plate would be remade, inked and pulled through a printing press.   This time however, the copy would be made using the very latest digital technology, in Factum Arte’s print room in Madrid.

A facsimile plate being 3D printed in the Factum Arte workshop, Madrid.

In order for the facsimile to be durable enough to be pulled through the printing press, it was initially necessary for the plate to be backed to a copper sheet.  Having prepared and inserted a base, the 3D files were then uploaded to the elevated printer.  The recently installed custom Canon Arizona printer deposits multiple layers of resin as the print head repeatedly travels over the base.  These incredibly fine layers, measuring between just 2 and 4μm are hardened using ultra-violet light.  Not only can the printer create texture, it can also reproduce the original’s colour.  The process is time consuming, taking several minutes to build even the shallow relief of the printing plate. 

The facsimile plate is made using an elevated printing process. Layers of resin are hardened using ultra-violet light.

With the elevated printing complete, the final challenge would be to print from the facsimile in order that comparisons could be made to the original prints from the Bodleians collectionsEager to produce the first prints, founder of the Factum Foundation, Adam Lowe used both a modern press and a replica Goya press to produce a preliminary batch of 2022 editions.  The prints are impressive, reproducing the incredibly fine cross hatching surrounding the central portrait.  This is an impressive achievement given that it is the first time that a printing plate has been produced using the new photometric stereo recording system.  It is likely that differences between the quality of the original prints and the reproductions can mostly be attributed to the limitations of the 3D printing technology rather than the 3D data generated by the Selene, but future developments in both technologies will no doubt lead to increased accuracy.

Founder of the Factum Foundation, Adam Lowe, prepares the facsimile plate for printing.
The inked facsimile.
Man operating a star-wheel rolling press to print an engraving.
The print is pulled through a replica Goya press.

Having now captured dozens of the Bodleian’s 18th-century copper printing plates for the ARCHiOx project, it has been a pleasure to show visitors to the Bodleian’s Imaging studio both the originals and the newly recorded digital renditions. The results from the Selene have generated a great deal of excitement from curators, conservators and researchers.  Coming at the same time as the doctoral research of Chiara Betti, and following publications by Anna Marie Roos, Jeremy Coote, and Mark Crosby, this project extends the library’s efforts to make these previously neglected relics of printing and book history accessible to researchers.

This technology has enormous potential for the capture of cultural heritage material and has greatly exceeded the expectations of all involved in the project.  But equal to the enthusiasm for the new technology and its output, visitors have universally expressed a greater appreciation of the skill and dedication of the engravers who made and printed from the original copper plates.  These items deserve to be recorded as perfectly as technology will allow.  In doing so these wonderful objects can be shared digitally for the research and enjoyment of everyone.

A composite of a Rembrandt portrait captured with the Selene for Agnews Gallery, London.

But recording a selection of the Bodleian’s copper printing plates is only the initial focus of ARCHiOx.    Now that the technology has been proven and refined, other collections which will benefit from 2.5D capture can be recorded.  From a Rembrandt portrait to a volume of Japanese Ukiyoe prints, and a mysterious collection of incised palm-leaf manuscripts, the Selene and Lucida will be used to reveal further exciting discoveries and record originals as never before.

Developments and output from the project will be recorded in a future post.

A Ukiyoe woodblock print from Nipponica 373. Albedo and shaded render.

Text and images (unless otherwise credited) by John Barrett, April 2022

With thanks for their assistance in writing this article:

Jorge Cano, designer and engineer for Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation.   Jorge is the designer of the Selene, has established the photometric stereo workflow used for ARCHiOx and has been responsible for my training with this exciting new technology.

Chiara Betti, researcher of the Rawlinson copper plate collection.  The working title of Chiara’s thesis is ‘The Rawlinson copper plates at the Bodleian Libraries’.  Readers with an interest in Chiara’s research are encouraged to contact her at chiara.betti@postgrad.sas.ac.uk. The research is funded by the AHRC through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership. See: https://www.glam.ox.ac.uk/early-modern-copper-plates-bodleian-libraries

The incredible work of the Factum Foundation is documented on their website www.factumfoundation.org

This exciting project has been made possible through the generous funding support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

Bodleian manuscripts on the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room

MS. Gr. bib. d. 6 (P) on NTVMR

We are delighted to announce that digital images of over a hundred key manuscripts for the New Testament in Greek at the Bodleian Library are now available through the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR), hosted by the University of Münster. The research team at the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) has scanned and transcribed archival microfilms and historic photographs of these collection items.

The NTVMR is an online open collaborative research environment focusing on the textual criticism and research of Greek New Testament manuscripts. The Institute for New Testament Textual Research conceived this platform and continues its development.

There are over 5,600 known Greek New Testament manuscripts. Approximately ninety per cent of these have images available on the NTVMR. The platform was initially designed for editing critical editions of the Greek New Testament, in particular the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). It is open access, which means that anyone with an email address can create an account and begin customizing their own workspace and creating their own projects.

Although the NTVMR hosts high-resolution colour images from many institutions, most of its images are from black and white microfilm resulting from photography expeditions undertaken by INTF staff in the 1960s through 1980s. The new Digital Bodleian image licensing terms waive the former requirement to apply for permission to reproduce Bodleian imagery for non-commercial purposes. This allows the NTVMR to display these images without restrictions under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) licence.

About 122 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek, or portions thereof, are housed at the Bodleian, many of which have microfilm available in the NTVMR. Digital Orientalist has published an overview of NTVMR. For questions about the NTVMR, contact Greg Paulson.

Open-access Bodleian publications on HathiTrust

Proposal for a suburban annex in ‘The Future of the Bodleian’: ‘Built of ferro-concrete, the building would be a striking, and perhaps not unsightly, feature in the Upper River landscape, and have a beauty like that of the grain-elevators at Fort William and Port Arthur on the Great Lakes in Canada.’

Bodleian Library Publishing are delighted to announce the release of 548 scans of historical publications from the Bodleian and other University of Oxford libraries on HathiTrust. HathiTrust is a partnership of university libraries to preserve digital scans of printed collections. Our release makes over 250 collection guides, catalogues, exhibition books, and histories to which the Bodleian Libraries are rights holders open-access throughout the world.

Highlights of the Bodleian collection

The Bodleian publications now available to read on HathiTrust are especially helpful for researching the manuscripts, archives, and rare books that now form the library’s special collections. While most of our catalogues are now accessed primarily in digital forms, many readers overlook introductory printed guides. You can now read The Bodleian Library: A Subject Guide to the Collections (2004) for an overview of the system, or R.W. Hunt’s introduction to the library’s intricate system of shelfmarks in the first volume of the Summary Catalogue (1953). For recreation, you might simply browse photos of the Bodleian in the early 1950s.

‘Rough sketch for a Book-store between the Bodleian and the Clarendon Building’, from ‘The Future of the Bodleian’

Bodleian history

Medieval and Byzantine manuscripts

Modern manuscripts and archives

Oriental manuscripts and rare books

Rare books


Commonwealth and African archives and manuscripts

We are grateful to everyone who made this project possible: Andrew Dunning, Samuel Fanous, Sarah Barkla, Ruth Mallalieu, Beth Gibbs, and Martin Kauffmann. We also thank our colleagues at Oxford University Press, who printed our books before the formation of Bodleian Library Publishing and supported this project.

Where did you get that hat?

from Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian) & Giles Bergel (Engineering)

re-blogged and updated from the Bodleian Ballads blog, 2012

2021: Updating the discovery of detachable woodblock hats in Bodleian broadside ballads, we’ve had a printing block made with the detachable hat, and a matching hat for the woman pictured on the same ballad sheet, ‘Unconstant Phillis’.

Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121), showing a man and woman with hats
Newly-made printing blocks reproduced from images on a 17th-century broadside ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121)

The idea of applying image-matching software to the illustrations within the broadside ballad collection occurred to Giles Bergel in 2011. Under a John Fell Foundation-funded pilot project in that year Dr Bergel, in partnership with the Bodleian Library, asked Professor Andrew Zisserman of the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford to test their pioneering technology on a sample of broadside ballads.

The hat — in “Unconstant Phillis”

The hat — in “The Noble Gallant”

The first step was to obtain high-quality images. A sample of 800 ballads dating from the seventeenth century was chosen: this was the period when ballads were most typically illustrated, with a combination of commissioned and stock images. Photography, carried-out by the Bodleian’s Imaging Services studio, was funded with a grant from the John Fell Fund. High-quality colour images (600 DPI, 24-bit) were the result: these are now mounted within the current Ballads database and replace some of the older, lower-quality bitonal images which the Bodleian is hoping to fully replace.
Relja Arandjelovic at the Visual Geometry Group processed the new images and built a test site to demonstrate the image matching. The results were impressive: the pilot proved that software can match woodcut images on multiple printings, in varying conditions. The software, still under development, will be migrated to a new Bodleian Broadside Ballads interface under the current JISC-funded project.

What does “image match” offer to researchers?

Researchers working with ballads quickly notice that the same or similar woodblock-printed illustrations appear on multiple broadsides. The same hand-holding couple appears time and again on ballads of love; the same ships decorate songs of naval battles; the same cityscape appears, surprisingly, in ballads about London and Troy. And sometimes the same illustrations appeared in early modern English books and pamphlets, too. (See A guide to English illustrated books, 1536-1603, by Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Ingram).

The repetition of generic illustrations in this way is often derided as evidence of ballads’ lowly status, but (as well as providing evidence for popular iconography), for early-modern bibliographic detectives, the re-use of woodblocks provides evidence for the date of a ballad’s printing: deterioration of  a woodblock might be a way to establish a timeline of broadsides that share the same illustration.

But there are other questions to be answered, sometimes questions we didn’t even know we needed to ask, which could be answered by selection portions of woodcut printed images: like, ‘Where DID you get that hat?’

An appointment with history: Theodor Mommsen finds Jerome’s Eusebius at Oxford

by David Ganz

Theodor Mommsen, one of the greatest classicists of the nineteenth century, visited Oxford in March 1889. Legend has it that Mommsen was so keen to work at the Bodleian Library that he stood at the entrance at 7 am, waiting for it to open.  He was eager to examine a manuscript of Cassidorus’s Variae (probably MS. Bodl. 96 ) when Edward Nicholson (Bodley’s Librarian 1849-1912) showed him an early composite manuscript that contained Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’s Chronicle, MS. Auct. T. 2. 26. The manuscript had been bought at the Meerman sale in 1824.

(Mommsen made time for modern reading too: he dined with W. Warde Fowler at Lincoln College, who records in an excellent memoir of Mommsen that he had been reading Jane Eyre on his way from Berlin, and spoke of it with enthusiasm. Mommsen was keen to find a copy of Wuthering Heights at an Oxford bookstore.)

Jerome’s translation and expansion of Eusebius’ Chronicle
The composite manuscript proved to be quite extraordinary. Hiding behind a 15th-century addition, it contained an early copy of Jerome’s Latin translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle (Eusebius’ compilation was made in the early 4th century with Jerome’s translation and additions done by c. 380). On fols. 33-145 Mommsen discovered a mid-5th century copy of the text. Without any delay, Mommsen published an article about the discovery of the Oxford manuscript in Hermes 24 (1889) 393-401. Henry Nettleship (Corpus Christi Professor of Latin 1878-1893) had transcribed portions for him.

Page from Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle shows the parallell reckoning of various regnal years. Here we can observe that the 6th Olypiad saw Ahaz ruling in Judah, Hoshea over the Israelite Kingdom of Israel, and Alcmaeon and then Charops ruling in Athens. Right at the beginning of the 7th Olypiad we find a note about the foundation of Rome. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Auct. 2. 26, fol. 66v (mid-5th century (after 435 or 442), Italian?).
[click on image to examine] Page from Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle shows the parallel reckoning of various regnal years. Here we can observe that the 6th Olympiad saw Ahaz ruling in Judah, Hoshea over the Israelite Kingdom of Israel, and Alcmaeon and then Charops ruling in Athens. Right at the beginning of the 7th Olympiad we find a note about the foundation of Rome. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Auct. T. 2. 26, fol. 66v (mid-5th century (after 435 or 442), Italian?).

Marcellinus Comes, Chronicle
The manuscript yielded also another discovery: on fols. 146-178 there is the earliest known text of the Chronicle of Marcellinus Comes (d. c. 534), copied in the second half of the 6th century. Mommsen went on to edit Marcellinus’ Chronicle in 1894.

The beginning of Marcellinus’ Chronicle. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Auct. 2. 26, fol. 146r (6th century (after 548), Italian?).
[click on image to examine] The beginning of Marcellinus’ Chronicle. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Auct. T. 2. 26, fol. 146r (6th century (after 548), Italian?).
The manuscript was correctly dated by the eminent palaeographer and latinist Ludwig Traube, and was reproduced in facsimile by another editor, the distinguished classicist and astronomer John Knight Fotheringham in 1905.

Importance of colour of the text
When Jerome translated Eusebius’s Chronicle into Latin, and brought it up to date, he wrote a preface in which he instructed scribes how to copy the complicated series of parallel columns which enabled readers to date biblical events by reference to events in the history of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

He wrote ‘the history is multiplex, possessing barbarian names, matters unknown to the Latin-speaking peoples, inexplicable numbers, and columns equally interwoven with events and numbers, so that it is almost more difficult to discern the order in which things must be read, than to arrive at an understanding of the meaning.’

‘The variety of colours should also be preserved; lest someone suppose that so great an effort has been attempted for a meaningless pleasure of the eyes, and, when he flees from the tedium of writing, inserts a labyrinth of error. For this has been devised so that the strips of the kingdoms, which had almost been mixed together because of their excessive proximity on the page, might be separated by the distinct indication of bright red, and so that the same hue of colour which earlier parchment pages had used for a kingdom, would also be kept on later ones.’

The work was important not only because of its chronology, enabling readers to date the fall of Troy, the rape of Lucretia, and the birth of Christ, but also because it provided dates for the lives of Greek and Latin authors. The Oxford manuscript is one of the four late antique copies to survive, and though the opening leaves are missing, the other copies are fragments or a palimpsest.* The Oxford manuscript is written in uncial script and has some contemporary slanting marginal annotations.

In 1902, to celebrate the Bodleian tercentenary, Ludwig Traube presented the library with his publication of a facsimile of the fragments of a similar manuscript of the Chronicle which had survived as binding fragments in Leiden, Paris and the Vatican. In his Latin preface he stressed the importance of photography for the study of manuscripts.  Traube saw the importance of the age of photography, as he named it, for the study of manuscripts, and hoped for the publication of more full photographic facsimiles of manuscripts. He would have delighted in the number and the quality of digital facsimiles. There is another fairly early copy of Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’s Chronicle in Merton College MS. 315 . This 9th century German manuscript is the oldest book at Merton College and likewise accessible on Digital.Bodleian .


* The surviving 5th-century witnesses are:

  1. Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T. 2. 26[https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/551]
  2. The Fleury manuscript as constructed by Traube that survives now in 4 different locations, all are former binding fragments [https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/129and https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/153 and https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/923]:
  • Paris (14 leaves in BnF Lat. 6400B)
  • Vatican (2 leaves in Vat. Reg. Lat. 1709B)
  • Leiden (6 leaves in Voss. Lat. Quarto 110A)
  • Orléans  (not actual fragments, but offsets in both front cover and back cover in Orléans France Médiathèque 306 (260))
  1. British Library Harley MS. 3941 (19 leaves as palimpsest under a 9th century Isidore text) [https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/2007]
  2. Wrocław Poland University Library Rehdigeranus 1 (1 leaf) [https://elmss.nuigalway.ie/catalogue/1540]

Further reading:
W. Warde Fowler, ‘Theodor Mommsen, His Life and Work,’ History Vol. 2, No. 3 (July-September, 1913), pp. 129-142.
W. Warde Fowler, Reminiscences (1912).

Reaching out (digitally) with medieval manuscripts

A screenshot from the webinar, Blogging with Manuscripts, July 2020What do you get when you put together an excited group of medieval manuscript specialists and ask them to discuss blogging and teaching with digitized manuscripts? The answer: trumpets, drapes, marginal animal appearances, fake back-drops, cries of agony, laughter and lots of good advice.

A worldwide audience (from California to New Zealand!) gathered in three online sessions that were organized as additional evening events for the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds, 6–9 July 2020. The organisers were very pleased to see that each session had well over 100 participants. Our speakers shared their experiences on using digitized medieval manuscripts for teaching, and for reaching out to various audiences via social media, mainly through blogging and tweeting.