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Tracey Chaplin
The Gutenberg Bibles: Analysis of the Illuminations and Inks Using Raman Spectroscopy

Journal article

Journal of Analytical Chemistry
Vol. 77
June 2005
ISSN: 0003-2700
pp. 3611-3622

co-authors: RJH Clark, D Jacobs, K Jensen, GD Smith

This article presents the first research into the identification of pigments used to decorate the illuminated pages of seven Gutenberg Bibles. These rare 15th century manuscripts (only 20 complete copies out of 180 survive) are considered to be the first books printed in the western world using moveable type and for this reason are of great cultural significance.

The research has allowed the illumination histories of these books to be determined and has increased current knowledge of how and where the printed books were decorated. Further, the knowledge of the pigments obtained will be used to guide future conservation strategies of these works.

The importance of this research was recently highlighted in high profile international journals such as New Scientist (Volume 186, p. 21, May 2005) and Nature (Volume 435, pp. 577-577, June 2005).

The research was also presented at the International Conference on Raman Spectroscopy, Budapest, 2002 and forms part of a wider collaborative Raman spectroscopy project involving the chemistry department at University College London and the British Library.

This project has to date investigated the decorative surface of a wide selection of western manuscripts, eastern manuscripts, painted bones, coated papers and philatelic materials. For example, see:
Chaplin, T.D.; Jorado-López, A.; Clark, R.J.H.; Beech, D.R.: Identification by Raman microscopy of pigments on early postage stamps: Distinction between original 1847 and 1858-1862, forged and reproduction stamps of Mauritius, Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 35 (2004), pp. 600-604 (ISSN: 0377-0486);
Chaplin, T.D.; Clark, R.J.H.; Beech, D.R.: Comparison of genuine (1851-1852 AD) and forged or reproduction Hawaiian Missionary stamps using Raman microscopy, Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 33 (2002), pp. 424-428 (ISSN: 0377-0486).

The research expands our knowledge of the use of historical pigments, the decorative histories of these incunabula and will be used to influence their conservation in future.

read the full paper:

The Gutenberg Bibles: Analysis of the Illuminations and Inks Using Raman Spectroscopy

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