Characterisation of colourants on illuminated manuscripts by portable fibre optic UV-visible-NIR reflectance spectrophotometry
The use of ultraviolet and visible diffuse reflectance spectrophotometry as a preliminary technique in the investigation of illuminated manuscripts is discussed. Because ancient manuscripts are amongst the most fragile and precious artworks, characterisation of the materials used in their decoration should be performed using non-invasive analytical methods. Ultraviolet and visible reflectance spectrophotometry with optical fibres (FORS) allows non-invasive identification of several colourants used by ancient illuminators, causing no damage or mechanical stress to the artworks subjected to analysis. Identification is usually based on the comparison of analytical data with a spectral database built from painted areas on parchment, created by preparing paints according to ancient recipes as described in medieval technical treatises. Such database and the spectral features of the colourants analysed are discussed, along with the benefits of extending the spectral range of analysis into the shortwave infrared (to 2500 nm). FORS can be best appreciated as a rapid preliminary tool that offers an overview on the main colourants employed and guides the selection of painted areas of manuscripts on which more selective techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence or Raman spectroscopy, can be employed for a more complete and accurate identification.