Cheryl Porter



The Role of Economics, Geography and Tradition in the Artist’s Choice of Colors for Manuscript Painting

The paper will address issues of the artist’s choice of coloring materials and suggest that, as for Western artists, this was based less on philosophical imperatives than on geography and economics. This in turn was greatly influenced by tradition. In particular, the paper will examine those colors used to paint the great Mamluk Qur’ans and identify unique features of those painted in Egypt. Scientific analysis of these manuscripts has shown that the unusual (and difficult) technique of making and painting red organic glazes (from locally-grown Carthamus tinctoria) over gold leaf, has been executed in exactly the manner described by Ibn Badis in his Book of the Staff of the Scribes, ca 1025. The identification of colors made from materials traditionally used only in Egypt provides convincing evidence of the origins of these books. The paper will also address the issue of color preference in manuscript painting, using the Blue Qur’an from Tunisia as an example. Understanding the technique of how parchment is colored, combined with the study of technical treatises and scientific analysis of historic “purple” parchments, it can be argued that the blue of this parchment was the artistic/philosophical preference of one who knew how and where to obtain the coloring materials and how to color the parchment in the Byzantine manner, but chose instead, the (indigo) blue.

CHERYL PORTER is the deputy director of the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation & Dar al-Kutub Manuscript Project in Cairo, Egypt. She is responsible for the drafting and implementation of preservation and conservation strategies, designing an ongoing program of visiting specialists and developing research programs, especially concerned with Islamic material culture. She was elected secretary of The Islamic Manuscript Association Conservation Sub-committee in 2007. Since 1988, as the director of the Montefiascone Project at the Seminario Barbarigo in Montefiascone, Italy, she co-ordinated an extensive international conservation program for scholars and students of the book. Her essays include “The Use of Alum in the Preparation of Tawed Skin for Book Covers in the 11th–15th Centuries: Advantages and Disadvantages for the Book Structure,” in L’Alun de Mediterranée (2005), “Pigments on Parchment – Flaking and Consolidation,” in Conservazione Dei Materiali Librari Archivistici e Grafici (1999), “You Can’t Tell a Pigment by its Colour,” in Making the Medieval Book: Techniques of Production (1995), and “Laser Raman Spectroscopy – a Tool for Non-destructive Pigment Analysis for Manuscripts,” in The Paper Conservator (1992).

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