Examination of Wolsey Gospel Lectionary prior to digitisation

Jane Eagan, Head of Conservation, Oxford Conservation Consortium

Published on 11/05/2017 | Originally published 19 December 2016

Prior to agreeing to it being digitised, the Gospel Lectionary was examined in the Old Library at Magdalen by Oxford Conservation Consortium’s Head of Preservation and Conservation, Jane Eagan, on 19 Dec 2016, using a digital microscope at about 30x magnification.

In general, the major illuminations and borders are in fair to good condition. They have been damaged by handling, depending on where the painted areas are situated on the page. Where the paint is close to the lower right corner, there are handling creases, some stains and ingrained dirt caused by readers turning the leaves, resulting in pigment loss. The leaves are fairly heavy calfskin carefully prepared on both sides with a velvet-y surface, therefore they cling together slightly, and are harder to turn; as a result the writing support surface and pigments are abraded in areas. The resulting paint loss is usually minor, and the remaining paint appears stable. There were no signs of actively flaking pigment.

The damage caused by handling is worse at the start of the volume, and around the edges of the page. The main illuminations in the centre are obviously less affected by handling. Hopefully digitisation will reduce handling of this manuscript, preserving the pigments and painting. With careful handling and support on the digitisation cradle, and avoiding turning by the lower corners of leaves or touching the pigmented areas directly, digitisation will not result in further noticeable damage. A secondary benefit of digitisation is the provision of an accurate record of condition state and damage, which can be referred to in the future.

Examples of pigment loss/damage can be found in the following areas:

Fol. 3r, stable loss of pigment caused by handling, particularly in gold paint. Tarnished silver noted.
Fol. 3v, stable pigment loss caused by handling, more significant damage (due to readers touching the pigment layer directly?).
Fol. 7r, some pigment loss in border (butterfly wing), stable.
Fol. 10v, upper border, ink smear (in letters OR); handling creases in lower left corner with stable pigment loss.
Fol. 12r, stable pigment loss in border, green leaves.
Fol. 13v, lower left corner, creasing and stable pigment loss. Pigments with a large particle size, such as malachite, are more prone to flaking.   
Fol. 14v, lower left corner, creasing and stable pigment loss; tarnished silver noted; TW cipher, dark underdrawing visible through blue pigment.
Fol. 17r, stable pigment loss, butterfly wing white edge, border; crease in corner with loss of pinkish red pigment.
Fol. 19r, stable pigment loss, flower stem in border, sharp crease in upper corner and numerous creases in lower corner causing pigment loss.
Fol. 26v, small capital, gold paint.
Fol. 28v, lower left corner more damaged with pigment loss, creasing, etc., remaining pigments stable; white flower in border, stable loss; minor ink smudge wiped across illumination, stable; loss of shell gold particles.
Fol. 32v, lower left corner, stable pigment loss due to handling, i.e. in crossed keys, and border frame at bottom of page.
Fol. 36r, white pot in border, some loss, stable. Shell gold used in painting tankard.
Fol. 38r, loss in green leaves, stable; Saints Peter and Paul, liquid on Peter’s face wiped off toward left side, obscuring his face, not found on facing page, distracting but stable.
Fol. 39r, TW cipher, dark underdrawing visible through thinly applied white pigment.
Fol. 40v, main illumination, tarnished silver paint, stable.
Fol. 41v, note use of shell gold with no ground. All stable.
Fol. 43r, butterfly wing in border, stable pigment loss.
Fol. 46r, lower right corner stable pigment loss due to handling; in main illumination, show through of script on verso.


Detail from Magdalen College, ms Lat. 223 7r
Detail from Magdalen College, ms Lat. 223 12r
detail from Magdalen College, ms Lat. 223 19r
Detail from Magdalen College, ms Lat. 223 38r