Masters’ Secrets Revealed: the art and science of medieval illuminated manuscriptsAbbey Museum
1-63 The Abbey Place, Caboolture, Queensland 4510 | tel: (07) 5495 1652
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Masters’ Secrets Revealed: the art and science of medieval illuminated manuscripts

September 14, 2019 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

$10.00 – $15.00

Have you ever looked at a beautiful medieval manuscript and wondered how the artist achieved the incredible rich and vibrant colours? Join Dr Paola Ricciardi, Senior Research Scientist, The Fitzwilliam Museum, as she discusses the science behind medieval manuscripts. Looking at the rich hue, delicate texture and palpable volume of the bishop’s blue robe in the Metz Pontifical (pictured)

  • How is the luminous, three-dimensional effect produced?
  • How many pigments did the artist use?
  • Did he mix them or apply them in separate layers?
  • Were the same materials used for the blues in the initial and border?
  • Were they painted at the same stage, by the same hand?
  • What do the pigments reveal about the artist’s skill or the patron’s taste and purse?
  • Are they typical or unusual for the time and place of production?

Scientific analysis may not answer all of these questions, but it divulges many a master’s secret. This talk will explore the way in which in-depth knowledge about material, technical and technological choices made by medieval and Renaissance illuminators informs and contextualises our understanding of their work. Such knowledge can only be gained by adding comprehensive scientific analysis to the range of methods used to study manuscripts. The close collaboration of art historians, scientists, conservators and manuscript scholars, each contributing their own specific expertise, can lead to new exciting discoveries and to the re-interpretation of centuries-old masterpieces.

Practical examples will be drawn from the research carried out during the past eight years by the MINIARE project (, led by the Department of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK. The technical analyses undertaken by the project have not only confirmed the widespread use of common materials and techniques across medieval and Renaissance Europe, but also revealed shifting preferences for some colourants and increasingly sophisticated use of others over time. They have identified a wider range of pigments and binders than previously found or suspected in illuminated manuscripts, some of which suggest links between illumination and other media, and point to specific artistic centres.


Afternoon tea included.


Speaker’s bio

Dr Paola Ricciardi is the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Senior Research Scientist. She is responsible for the scientific aspects of the MINIARE research project, which uses a cross-disciplinary approach to study medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts. She is also engaged in research on other types of objects such as medieval polychrome wood sculptures, early Modern portrait miniatures, and 18th century ceramics and glass. Dr Ricciardi holds a PhD in Cultural Heritage Science from the University of Florence (2008) and a Master’s Degree in Physics from the University of Rome (2003). Before joining the Fitzwilliam Museum in October 2011, she spent three years at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC as the Samuel H. Kress post-doctoral Fellow in Imaging Science. Her main research interests include the technical analysis of cultural heritage objects, particularly with non-invasive analytical methods; the study of artists’ materials and techniques; and the transfer of knowledge between artists and craftsmen working in different media.


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September 14, 2019
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
$10.00 – $15.00


Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology
1/63 The Abbey Place
Caboolture, Queensland 4510 Australia
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07 5495 1652