Illuminating the Carolingian era: new discoveries as a result of scientifc analyses
By Charlotte Denoël, Patricia Roger Puyo, Anne‑Marie Brunet and Nathalie Poulain Siloe
Heritage Science, Vol.6 (2018)
Abstract: Comparing information from the ancient texts about the illumination of the manuscripts to the analysis of the components used to create colour in illuminations sheds interesting light. Our research team studied several manuscripts from the Carolingian era issued from diferent sources including: the Gospels of St Riquier kept in the library of Abbeville (ms. 4), two Theodulphe’s Bibles, (Orléans-Fleury, BnF lat.11937 and BnF lat.9380), the Godescalc Evangelistary (BnF NAL 1203), the Gospels of St Denis (BnF lat.9387) and the Gospels of St Médard de Soissons (BnF lat.8850), the last three from the court of Charlemagne, and all preserved at the French National Library.
These most luxurious manuscripts were written and illuminated between the late eighth century and the first quarter of the ninth century. Through non-destructive portable visual and spectrometric analysis, our research team was able to identify the palette of materials used in scripts and illuminations and especially highlighted the amazing use of Egyptian blue in a very specific part of the illumination in the Godescalc Evangelistary.
Our team also found that some substitutes including folium had been used instead of Tyrian purple for the decoration and to dye the parchment. These manuscripts, produced at the initiative of various patrons during Charlemagne’s reign, reveal in the light of the material analysis and the reconstitutions’ experiments by professional illuminators their differences and, beyond, the artistic diversity of this very particular period called the Carolingian Renaissance.
Top Image: Saint Matthews’ portrait, Saint Medard de Soissons’s Gospels, BnF, MS Latin 8850 fol.17v