– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

conservation survey notes 6


Today’s image is a cheerful early 13th century author portrait of St Bernard of Clairvaux, to begin Balliol MS 150, a volume of his sermons – and we begin with a sermon ‘in adventu Dominica prima’, for the first Sunday in Advent, the church’s new year. The point to today is a photographic one, illustrating a very basic technique that makes a big difference to large photos of small things: if the camera is placed very close to the subject, among other issues there will be quite a lot of distortion (‘barrelling’) around the edges of the photo. A way round this is to zoom in, even a little bit – the photo below has much straighter edges, truer to the original. The lines in the manuscript aren’t straight, and any photo will also show the cockling on the page, but the zoomed photo is certainly better.


From a conservation point of view, this is a good illustration of effects of oxygen and/or humidity on pigments – the sequence of long triangles down the sides of the blue capital H used to be all the same shade of red, but parts have oxidised, turning the surface purple.

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