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Chemistry

The artist must have been a skilled chemist. Using a handful of local materials he developed an extensive colour palette including:

  • Purples, crimsons and blues from plant extracts such as woad, lichens and folium (turnsole)
  • Yellow from orpiment (trisulphide of arsenic)
  • Red/orange from toasted lead
  • Green from verdigris, made by suspending copper over vinegar, or by a blue-yellow mix (vergaut)
  • White from chalk, crushed seashell or eggshell
  • Black from carbon.

Pigments were mixed with adhesive beaten egg-white (glair). Ink was made from oak-galls and iron salts to an extremely good recipe. Some fine details were added in gold-leaf and powdered gold ink.

The Lindisfarne Gospels uses surprisingly few materials, making its technical achievement all the more remarkable.

 

Detail of the painting and gliding at the head of the Luke incipit page of the Lindisfarne Gospels
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