Experiments with image matching of illustrations on early ballad broadsides

Bodleian Library 4o Rawl. 566(11)
Woodcut illustration highlighted for matching.

Supported by the John Fell Fund, the project “Engaging with early modern print culture online” has been developing innovative techniques for searching and comparing woodcut-printed images in early English broadside ballads. An experiment with image matching software was conducted as part of this project.

Link to the Project Page

The Bodleian Libraries hold over 25,000 ballad sheets which are accessible online through the Bodleian Broadside Ballads database. Over 1,600 of these are from the 16th and 17th centuries and typically feature a single song accompanied by several woodcut images. As with any hand-printed material, the letters of the type and the woodcut images are physical clues to the origins of this often undated, unattributed material. Some woodcut blocks were reused again and again until they wore out. Images were copied with varying degrees of exactness. Book historians use the presence of the same woodcut image across different printed texts to explore visual traditions and to identify the business relationships between printers who might inherit or share woodblocks.

Within this project, technology developed by the Visual Geometry Group at the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science has been applied to a sample of almost 1000 early printed ballads. The image-matching tool works by comparing a subpart of an image with all others in a database; finding regions that are common to both; and returning a sequence of images in order of similarity with the selected image. It can find images printed from the same wooden printing-block with a high degree of accuracy, even when the block has undergone considerable wear and tear. It can also identify copies made by tracing or by freehand imitation, even when the copy is a mirror-image.

For researchers, this technology offers a promising means of grouping the woodcuts to explore their bibliographic history or compositional similarities. It can assist cataloguers in determining if images are derived from the same block, or if they are looser copies. More casual browsers will find the technology an engaging way of browsing collections without prior knowledge of their contents. For all users, it is potentially a new way of exploring the rich visual traditions of early-modern print culture.

This work has been carried out by Andrew Zisserman and Relja Arandjelovic of the the Visual Geometry Group,University of Oxford.

Engaging with popular print online

The project “Engaging with early modern popular print online,” funded by the John Fell OUP Research Fund is investigating new ways of making the content of the Bodleian’s broadside ballads collections available to users. At present the black and white scans of ballad sheets are linked to a searchable database at: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ballads/

The first of two workshops scheduled in the project was held in June 25, 2011, at Merton College. The task of this workshop was to gather expertise in the crowdsourcing of transcriptions and user-generated content, and to comment on how the broadside ballads in the Bodleian’s online database might be enhanced by user-created transcriptions.

Organized by Dr. Giles Bergel, JPR Lyell Research Fellow in the History of the Book, the day was attended by 20 academics, librarians and IT and research staff.
The questions Dr. Bergel posed to the workshop were:

1) Whether, if one outsources a particular area of intellectual enquiry, one also outsources responsibility for the outcome of that enquiry.
2) The issue of how contributors behave in the context of a crowd-sourcing project.

Presentations to the workshop were made with reference to projects that currently solicit crowdsourced descriptions: the Galaxy Zoo and Old Weather projects (via a podcast by Dr Arfon Smith of Zooniverse) and the What’s the ScoreBodleian Library, Douce Ballads 2 f. 241v project to describe digitized musical scored at the Bodleian Library, with a presentation by the project manager, David Tomkins.

Saving Oxford Medicine

from Chrissie Webb, Project Archivist

Saving Oxford Medicine, a project to discover, survey and catalogue archives relating to medicine at Oxford, is under way.

As well as preserving and making archive material available via the Bodleian Library, we want to disseminate information about related archives of key importance held elsewhere. We have begun by looking at the papers of the Regius Professors of Medicine of the 20th century. Some of these are at the Wellcome Library in London, including those of Sir George Pickering, Regius Professor from 1956 to 1968, who, in the opinion of Dr Bent Juel-Jensen, Medical Officer to the University from 1976-90 and benefactor of the Bodleian Library (whose personal papers are also held here), did more than anyone else for the improvement of medical education at Oxford. Another distinction, by the way – was Pickering the only Regius Professor to have a University boat funded in his memory and named after him?

Find out more about the project on our project page..

and in our presentation at:

The Walter and Julia Bodmer archives project

Sir Walter Bodmer

In March the Bodleian Library initiated a project to sort, arrange and boxlist the papers of the distinguished geneticists Sir Walter Bodmer (b 1936) and Julia, Lady Bodmer (1934-2001). The work is supported by the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources in Medical History programme.

Walter Bodmer was born in 1936 in Germany, coming to Britain with his family at a young age. At Cambridge he studied mathematics, becoming particularly interested in genetics, taught by R.A. Fisher as part of the course. After postgraduate research with Fisher on population genetics, in 1961 Bodmer went to work with Joshua Lederberg at Stanford University. He returned to the UK in 1970 as Professor of Genetics at Oxford University (1970-1979). He was then successively Director of Research (1979-1991) and Director-General (1991-1996) of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (later part of Cancer Research UK). On retirement from the ICRF he returned to Oxford as Principal of Hertford College. He is now Head of the Cancer and Immunogenetics Laboratory in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford.

Julia Bodmer, his wife, was a distinguished researcher in her own right as well as an important research collaborator with her husband, contributing in particular to the discovery and definition of the HLA system of inherited differences between individuals.
Chris Fletcher, Head of Western Manuscripts, leads the project and the work is being undertaken by two archivists with considerable experience in contemporary scientific and biomedical records, Tim Powell and Adrian Nardone.

Physically the archive is huge, filling 60 filing cabinets, 10 metal cupboards and over 450 boxes and boxfiles, stored on the upper floor of a warehouse in Cowley.

In the warehouse

All of Sir Walter’s career is represented in the papers, from his undergraduate days onwards. Well represented aspects include correspondence and papers relating to his periods as Director of Research and Director-General of the ICRF, a voluminous scientific correspondence; material relating to his publications, teaching and public lectures, documentation of the many societies and organisations with which he was associated and conference material. The archive includes, as a significant part of the whole, correspondence, papers and research notebooks of Julia Bodmer, and notebooks of other researchers at the ICRF’s Tissue Antigen Laboratory which Julia Bodmer headed.

The archive is of great importance for the history of genetics and the history of medicine more generally, but its interest will be enhanced by the many connections that can be made with other archives of human and medical geneticists recently processed, including Bodmer’s successor as Professor of Genetics at Oxford, John Hilton Edwards.

This project will thus contribute significantly towards the ongoing documentation of a crucial field of scientific endeavour that has emerged since the 1950s and to which British researchers have made great contributions.

Selden Map of China – conservation news and colloquium

– from Marinita Stiglitz and Robert Minte, Conservation & Collection Care, Bodleian Library.

Since making our first blogpost on the Selden Map of China the conservation treatment continues to reveal some interesting aspects of the Map’s previous restoration.

After removal of the early 20th century textile lining and application of a temporary facing, the map was secured face down onto a perspex table to keep it flat during the removal of old paper patches from the back. This also allows constant assessment of the map’s condition with transmitted light.

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The task of releasing the many paper patches applied during past restorations to protect fragile or missing areas proved to be challenging due to the very tenacious adhesive used for their application and the thin and fragmentary paper support in these patched areas. A few different techniques were used. Some patches were carefully separated from the map by sliding a bamboo spatula in between; others were released only after the adhesive had been softened by humidifying through sympatex (a permeable membrane). Often after this delicate process the exposed map support presented loose fragments that had to be secured back to the temporary facing with funori.

During many hours spent removing the old patches and therefore closely examining the verso, a few unexpected details came to light regarding past restoration. The discovery of weave pattern imprints on the verso and fragments of an earlier textile lining have revealed that in the past the map underwent at least two separate linings. Also the patches, differing in their shape and paper type, suggest that the map was repaired more than once. The verso of the map in general presents an overall surface dirt under the adhesive layer indicating that it was kept without any lining for some time.

Fragments of the paper support, paper patches and textile linings as well as samples of adhesive from different areas have been collected to scientifically identify their origin and therefore expand further our knowledge of the map.

The collaboration with Mark Barnard (formerly of the British Library) and Keisuke Sugiyama (British Museum) continues to be extremely beneficial; most recently planning for the dying of Chinese paper to be used to infill the many losses.

Funding for the conservation work has been generously provided by The Pilgrim Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, Sir Robert Horton, The Mercers’ Company and Merton College.

The Selden Map will be the subject of a one-day colloquium at the Bodleian Library on 15 September, 2011.
See details here.

Many uses of a piece of parchment

Bodleian Library Broxb. 97.40
Bodleian Library Broxb. 97.40, a frisket made from a recycled manuscript leaf.

The Conservation Section is currently devising a new mount for a parchment frisket cover from the Broxbourne collection. A frisket is the part of a printing press that holds the paper in place during printing. Often covered with parchment, a frisket also acted as a mask to keep inky parts of the press bed from marking the printed paper.

The frisket cover (Broxb. 97.40), which is made from a recycled manuscript leaf, was framed behind glass when it came to the library and only one side could be seen. The library’s Rare Books curators asked whether it could be unframed and mounted so that both sides could be seen, and to make it more readily available for study. Once the Broxbourne frisket was released from its frame far more information about its early use and subsequent history could be seen.

A page of a manuscript

Manuscript writing can be seen on this piece of parchment, which has been identified as a page of an Italian fourteenth-century Canon Law text.

A “mask” for printing in colour

Two centuries later, this discarded piece of parchment from a law manuscript was used to make the frisket. The frisket was used to print the red portion of an octavo-format book in the early sixteenth century, and offers early evidence of two-colour printing processes. Here, areas of parchment were cut away to allow the red-inked type to print initials and so on, while the remaining parchment masked off the text which was to be printed in black. The attached photograph shows the upper side of the frisket cover and a detail of one page in raking light, which clearly shows impressions of type.

A lining for a bookbinding

Now that the frisket cover is out of its frame it can be seen that it was subsequently used as a board lining for a large folio bookbinding.

The final question remains – what was it used to print?

– Andrew Honey, Conservation, Bodleian Libraries

Conserving 17th-century university records

Housed in the Tower of the Five Orders in the Old Schools Quad since the seventeenth century, the records of Oxford University Archives include papers from the Chancellor’s Court dating from the sixteenth century.

Over the past year a conservator has been working on the papers dating from 1634 to 1665. Amounting to just over 3000 items, these consist of single sheets and bifolia mostly on paper and occasionally parchment.

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One manuscript may consist of several pages pinned together or tied with a twist of parchment. Some feature wax seals which interestingly have leaf fragments pressed into the surfaces. (Fig. 1)

The condition of the papers was mixed. Dirt, mould damage, tears, dog-eared corners and brittle seals being the main concerns regarding safe handling. Each item has now been surface cleaned to remove dirt. (Fig. 2)

In the past the papers were probably subjected to a damp environment and high levels of relative humidity.

Mould thrives in these conditions and organic materials such as paper are a good food source for mould. The mould weakens the paper by drawing water and nutriments from it. (Fig. 3)

Fragile papers previously affected by mould were sized with a non-aqueous solution to strengthen them (Fig. 4)

Japanese papers, shaped using a water brush, were adhered to vulnerable areas to lend support. More Japanese paper was then shaped with a needle and pasted into place to fill loses. (Fig. 5 & 6)

To reduce handling, small groups of papers were re-housed together in labeled, archival quality paper folders before being returned to archival boxes. (Fig.7)

Conserving a 17th-century map of China’s trade routes

The ‘Selden Map of China’ arrived at the Bodleian Library in 1659 as part of John Selden’s bequest. It was long considered a rare curiosity until 2008, when an American scholar, Robert Batchelor of Georgia Southern University, noted that it records coastal trading routes linking the port of Quanzhou in Fujian Province with other parts of South East Asia. The map is now recognised not only as a beautiful and colourful representation of China and South East Asia, but also as a unique historical record of China’s trading activities in the early 17th century.

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Through this renewed interest, the map’s fragile condition was highlighted, initiating a detailed technical examination and major collaborative conservation and research project. The map’s vulnerable condition was already noted in conservation records from 1977, being described as “crudely mounted on paper and linen in 1919 as a hanging scroll, though not originally intended as such. The linen has stiffened, and is severely cracked in many places.”

At the time no treatment was attempted, but now circumstances allow this challenging conservation project to go ahead with the combined expertise of conservators Robert Minte and Marinita Stiglitz (Bodleian Library) Keisuke Sugiyama (British Museum) and Mark Barnard (British Library).

The extensive treatment of the 1m. x 1.5m map, using Western and Far Eastern techniques and materials, aims to stabilize the map’s paint layer and strengthen its thin Chinese paper support.

During the first stage, the map was gradually humidified by spraying purified water onto the surface from both sides using dahlia sprayers. This drew out discolouration, flattened distortions, and enabled the textile lining to be removed.

Next a temporary facing, consisting of several layers of rayon and sammoa paper, was applied on the front with funori, adhesive extracted from Japanese red seaweed, using noribake, Japanese paste brushes. The map was left to dry flat on a karibari, Japanese drying board, for a few days…

The facing protects the fragile surface whilst paper patches and adhesive layers are removed from the back. Loose fragments will be secured, missing areas infilled and new paper linings applied, restoring the map’s original flexibility and appearance.

This project will continue until next spring. Funding for the conservation work has been generously provided by The Pilgrim Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, Sir Robert Horton, The Mercers’ Company and Merton College.
History & image of the Selden Map.
For more information about John Selden’s collections, visit the Bodleian Library website.

“The Technical Examination of Old Master Drawings: a symposium in conservation science”, Clore Centre, British Museum, 20th May 2010

For about a year, I was looking forward to attending this symposium, which was organised by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This was an unprecedented effort to gather conservators, conservation scientists and curators to present and discuss one of the most fascinating aspects of our work: the understanding of materials and techniques used by artists. It brought an opportunity to discuss conservation-related issues and the curatorial implications raised by scientific studies. The results from the work presented at the conference can most definitely be applied in the library context, and thus I found this conference most relevant when one considers current and future collaborations between different departments in The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University and beyond.

The main subject of discussion were the extensive scientific studies of drawings from the British Museum and the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe at the Uffizi, Florence, carried out in preparation for the exhibition Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance drawings (22 April – 25 July 2010).

Most of the talks were tailored around a methodology of work often used collaboratively by curators, conservators and scientists to develop a conservation approach: 1. Historical understanding of the provenance of items or collections, 2. Visual examination and technical imaging, 3. Chemical analysis, and 4. Conservation treatment.

A wide range of fascinating and well presented papers on the examination and characterisation of master drawings’ materials helped the audience to learn about the latest imaging techniques, such as the recently developed near infra-red multi-band scanner (“NIR”), which is currently being used for the study of Caravaggio’s paintings at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratorio di Restauro Firenze. With regard to new imaging techniques, I particularly enjoyed Margaret Holben-Ellis talk “Reflecting Raphael: a closer look at the Morgan’s Agony in the Garden”, an enthralling presentation of the characterisation of the media used to depict the underdrawing in this cartoon. Visualising the morphology of the pricking in Raphael’s cartoon with the HIROX 3-D microscope was a compelling new experience for most of the audience. We were unanimously mesmerised by the wealth of information obtained with this imaging technique, which will contribute to a more comprehensive art historical understanding of Rafael’s cartoons.

I was intrigued by Lara Broeke’s current work on the translation into modern English of Cennino Cennini’s “Libro dell’Arte”, the 15th century “how to” book on Renaissance Art, which, amongst many others, includes techniques and recipes for underdrawing and miniatures for the illumination of manuscripts. Lara’s work is an update after Daniel V. Thompson’s translation, and includes the acknowledgements of ambiguities in Ceninni’s text, alongside with some corrections to Thompson’s translation. These corrections are based on empirical evidence after systematic reconstructions of the recipes, such as the preparation of ultramarine pigment and bistre ink, which are both used in the illumination of manuscripts as well as in master drawings. After this talk, I enjoyed the discussions on the use of bistre and iron gall ink by artists. Bistre was a common ink in the Renaissance, but with poorer flow properties than iron gall ink (used in Europe since the 12th century). Additionally, bistre is more transparent than iron gall, making it a better option to apply washes, rather than to produce lines fluently. Non-destructive instrumental analysis carried out on a large number of drawings suggests artists constantly used both inks in combination to achieve diverse effects in their drawings.

Well known, non-contact and non-invasive (non-destructive) analytical techniques were also highlighted by several talks during the day. I was impressed with the combined use of micro-Raman spectroscopy, micro-FTIR, XRF and vis-RF to study Andrea Mantegna paintings. This study involved the characterisation of iron gall ink and other materials used in works long attributed to this artist (“Madonna della Tenerezza” and “The Virgin Mary with a Child”), confirming that areas of the backgrounds were not painted by him.

Overall, this was an extremely useful and well attended symposium, which significantly contributed to acknowledge the need to continue pioneering the study of artists’ (and makers’) techniques in the museums, libraries and archives context.

Virginia M. Lladó-Buisán, Head of Book & Paper Conservation, Bodleian Libraries

Picture this….

The Bodleian Libraries have been actively engaged in the digitization of Special Collections materials for more than two decades. Much of this work has only been made possible by publicly-funded grant programmes or the vision and benevolence of particular individuals and organizations. The vast majority of such endeavours have involved the creation of high-quality digital images, which have subsequently been delivered by a variety of media: ranging from basic single-user, stand-alone CD-ROMs, through to the current generation of cutting-edge websites accessible to all. Yet as this wealth of material has continued to grow, it has not been possible to browse and search all these images from a single location – until now.

Over the past twelve months, we have begun the major task of migrating our digital image collections into a single virtual library, available at: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/allCollections

The best way to find out about this new site is simply to visit and explore…

At the moment, there are just under 34,000 images of manuscripts and early printed books available on the site – and more are being added every week. Users can create and share their own collections of images selected from across the material hosted on the site; in many cases images can be downloaded for use in private research or teaching, or users can link from their own webpage to the “master” image hosted by us.

Whilst we are pleased with the progress that has been made to-date, we are also very keen to receive feedback from anyone who has used this new interface. You are welcome to post comments and suggestions to odl-enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk