Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Powers of Peat

I want to make a psalter. I started ruminating on this quite a few years ago B.C. (Before Children.) I had been doing medieval calligraphy for quite a few years and wanted to branch out into a medieval, yet more personal, effort. Psalters - a collection of the psalms - were one of the few types of books which were common in the Middle Ages. Yes, this would be if you were wealthy to start off with. There are some doozies out there. The stupendously wealthy would have them custom made, in lieu of a Mazeratti to show off wealth. One of the most spectacular examples is from Jean Duc de Berry. I used to have a copy of excerpts. It is the most impressive example of late medieval illumination I've ever seen. The calligraphy I posted a few days ago was based upon this.

There are extant examples dating back to the 7th Century (in Ireland) from across Europe. The earlier stuff - Merovingian, Carolingian & early Irish - are really appealing to me. Convenient, since they are light on the illumination. A companion skill I never developed much beyond a rudimentary level. I worked with several skilled illuminators, so I didn't see any point in pursuing something I didn't really care for.

A couple years ago, a bulldozer operator in the middle of Ireland discovered a psalter while excavating peat in a bog. It is estimated to be from ~750 AD, apparently based upon the one visible page. As the director of the National Museum in Ireland stated, it is utterly astonishing that this thing managed to survive 1000 years or more. I can't wait to see what it looks like. The museum has a page about it here.

It's intriguing the limitations they have for conservation & restoration:
can't freeze it, or it will destroy the parchment;
can't use bio-cides or it will ruin the paints or inks;
don't want too much oxygen or it will actually start decomposing ...

The problem is that, having sat in a peat bog for 1000 years, the book is rather ... well .. rather wet. How to dry it out without destroying it? There will likely be quite a few dissertations addressing the many facets of this.

This link goes to a page, at the bottom of which is a .pdf file providing a summary of the conservation project. As both a scientist and an avid interest in the specific type of object, I was utterly enchanted. p. 9 has a before / after photograph of one of the first pages they've treated. Holy cow!

This is just soooooooooo coooooolll

3 comments:

Peter T said...

> It's intriguing the limitations they have for conservation & restoration:
> can't freeze it, or it will destroy the parchment;
> can't use bio-cides or it will ruin the paints or inks;
> don't want too much oxygen or it will actually start decomposing ...

I haven't checked out their pages, but at first thought this doesn't seem too difficult: Keep it under nitrogen or, if possible, under CO2, which is a biocide, and dry it very slowly (rel.hum. maybe 80-90%). CO2 would make it slightly acidic, but that wouldn't be something completely new as peat is already acidic.

Do they have a realistic expectation of reading more than the one page at some time?

ccyager said...

I don't think I've ever seen a modern Psalter. An interesting idea. Does one include the entire book of Psalms or only those chosen by the person commissioning it?

Gopher MPH said...

The psalter can be either all or some of the psalms. As I understand, it was often all of the psalms, with the additional prayers being more personalized.

I admit I was cheating during Mass making notes when I was struck by inspiration. Well, I suppose that's the point of going to Mass anyway - inspiration to pursue the Joys of the Holy.

Admittedly, the inspiration was from the Beatitudes, and not the psalm. I saw the text run in a simple curved pattern, like a labyrinth, with the paired words parallel to each other, so that the beatitude is across from the consequence of it. I.e., Poor would be across the 'path' from Inherit, with all of the pattern leading to the single word 'blessed'. Not sure how to actually do it, but then again, the seed of inspiration isn't the tree, it's just the seed.

I have considered whether to add the common daily prayers. If I do, I think it will be the original medieval Latin, done in a medieval script. I see it balancing the modern English language and modern artistic style with the old. To harken back to the older history of the church.