In the last decade some research has been done on the constitution of pigments found in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Before 1998 “nothing had been published on Anglo-Saxon manuscript pigments that is not questionable” (Clarke 231). As manuscripts hold an abundance of evidence for medieval historians, the study of their composition is important. Studying the materials of ancient manuscripts gives us insight into artistic styles, materials, social changes, wealth and status, trade and commerce (Brown, Society 430). The artist-scribe would have had to have been a skilled chemist in order to create the palette of colour needed some elaborate manuscripts. Purples, blues and crimsons were made by changing the pH of plant extracts such as woad and lichens; green was made from suspending copper over vinegar; crushed shells or eggshells were used for white pigment; a trisulfide of arsenic created yellow (Brown, Labyrinth 35). The pigments were mixed with a beaten egg white to form an adhesive. Ink was made from oak galls and iron salts, which contributes greatly to the preservation of manuscripts as this type of ink does not fade. Exotic pigments were also used such as ultramarine made from lapis lazuli, a rare semi-precious stone that would have been sourced from Persia. The presence of lazurite is evidence of the trade routes, such as those between England and Afghanistan. Examination of pigments is also vital in order to determine the correct conservation strategy, and can help in establishing the origin of a manuscript. Methods used for the analysis of manuscript pigments include micro-Raman spectroscopy, X-ray fluoresecnce and near-IR imaging.
Brown, Michelle P. Painted Labyrinth: the World of the Lindisfarne Gospels. London: British Library, 2003. Print.
—. The Lindisfarne Gospels Society, Spirituality and the Scribe. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003. Print.
Clarke, Mark. “Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Pigments.” Studies in Conservation 49.4 (2004): 231-44. JSTOR. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.