The Nationalmuseum’s collection of illuminated manuscripts and fragments contains almost 70 items totaling nearly 4000 pages. This project’s aim is to preserve the manuscripts, open the whole collection digitally to the wider public, and extend our knowledge of these precious items.
The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is famous for its world-renowned collection of paintings, but it also contains an almost unknown collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts. These beautiful hand-painted books, written on animal skin known as parchment, are masterpieces of art in miniature painted in vivid colours with shining gold leaf, a testament to the artist’s skills who made these illuminations hundreds of years ago. The Illuminated Manuscripts Project works with these magnificent examples of medieval art in the Nationalmuseum’s collection.
This image is from a cutting from the Codex discissus an alchemical manuscript owned by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and was illuminated c.1460-1469 in Vienna by an artist known as the Lehrbüchermeister. Medieval alchemy was concerned with spiritual transformation and in the centre of the image is a hermaphroditic figure known as Mercurius noster. This figure of Mercury was seen as the active agent in alchemical transformation on both a philosophical and spiritual level. Inventory number: 1587.
This image is from a cutting from the manuscript known as the Hours of Albrecht of Brandenburg. and was illuminated in Bruges in the workshop of Simon Bening c.1522-1523. This manuscript was the private prayer book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, who was a great sponsor of the arts. The scene shows Christ standing before Pontius Pilate, with the background showing a typical Flemish city of the late Middle Ages. Inventory number: NMB 1699
This image is from a Book of Hours, a type of manuscript that was used for private prayers by people not in religious orders and was illuminated by the Attavante workshop in Florence during the period 1500-1525. The scene shown is the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary that she is pregnant with Christ. Below this scene are two angels who hold the coat of arms of the powerful Giraldi family who most likely owned the book. Inventory number: NMB 1960-014
The project is made possible by an anonymous donation to the museum.
The study of medieval manuscripts is essential as these rare objects can tell us so much about the past. The Nationalmuseum’s collection of illuminated manuscripts and fragments contains almost 70 items totaling nearly 4000 pages. These objects need conservation and only a limited number have been digitized or made accessible digitally to the public. The project’s aim is to preserve the manuscripts, open the whole collection digitally to the wider public, and extend our knowledge of these precious items.
About the project
The project is in four parts. The first part is conservation. The collection has been closed for some time. Therefore, work is needed to treat the manuscripts with 21st-century conservation methods and analysis.
The second part is digitization. All manuscripts will be digitized during the course of the project and will then be fully available for the public to view online.
The third part is updating the online catalogue with new research, this will then be able to be viewed with the newly digitized manuscripts.
The final part involves working with other institutions that own medieval manuscripts related to those in the Nationalmuseum’s collection. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many manuscripts were unfortunately cut up, and their valuable illuminations were then sold separately as small paintings. This means that parts of the same manuscript are today found in several institutions throughout the world. The project is therefore working in co-operation with other establishments that own related medieval manuscripts or have scholars working on material connected to that in the Nationalmuseum’s collection. Some of the institutions the project are currently working with are the Swedish National Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Gothenburg University, University College London, Stockholm University and the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
A close inspection and examination of the manuscripts using modern techniques can help to understand more about the origin and use of the materials used, such as the pigments and the animal skin parchment
Each manuscript requires close examination. The manuscript is then assessed to identify its conservation needs and if it requires treatment.
The most common problem is the deterioration of the binding material of the paint or gold leaf. When this deteriorates, it results in flaking or powdering of the gold and pigments.
Examination of the bindings of a bound manuscript. The project has found that the bindings of the bound manuscripts are generally in an overall stable condition.
For digitization a specialized book cradle is used to take high resolution photographs of the manuscripts.
To keep a consistent quality of color and luminescence on each page a special ring light is used.
The project aims to seek more funding to continue the work of conservation and research on the collection. This will involve co-operation with art history and conservation experts, with an eye to future conferences and exhibitions. Work will also continue to join the Nationalmuseum’s manuscript fragments with other related items in the Fragmentarium website.