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Illuminating the Carolingian era: new discoveries as a result of scientific analyses

Heritage Science. 2018;6(1):1-19 DOI 10.1186/s40494-018-0194-1


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Heritage Science

ISSN: 2050-7445 (Online)

Publisher: SpringerOpen

LCC Subject Category: Fine Arts | Science: Chemistry: Analytical chemistry

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML, ePUB



Charlotte Denoël (Bibliothèque national de France)

Patricia Roger Puyo (CNRS, UMR5060, IRAMAT Centre Ernest-Babelon-Université d’Orléans)

Anne-Marie Brunet

Nathalie Poulain Siloe


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 19 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Abstract Comparing information from the ancient texts about the illumination of the manuscripts to the analysis of the components used to create colour in illuminations sheds interesting light. Our research team studied several manuscripts from the Carolingian era issued from different sources including: the Gospels of St Riquier kept in the library of Abbeville (ms. 4), two Theodulphe’s Bibles, (Orléans-Fleury, BnF lat.11937 and BnF lat.9380), the Godescalc Evangelistary (BnF NAL 1203), the Gospels of St Denis (BnF lat.9387) and the Gospels of St Médard de Soissons (BnF lat.8850), the last three from the court of Charlemagne, and all preserved at the French National Library. These most luxurious manuscripts were written and illuminated between the late eighth century and the first quarter of the ninth century. Through non-destructive portable visual and spectrometric analysis, our research team was able to identify the palette of materials used in scripts and illuminations and especially highlighted the amazing use of Egyptian blue in a very specific part of the illumination in the Godescalc Evangelistary. Our team also found that some substitutes including folium had been used instead of Tyrian purple for the decoration and to dye the parchment. These manuscripts, produced at the initiative of various patrons during Charlemagne’s reign, reveal in the light of the material analysis and the reconstitutions’ experiments by professional illuminators their differences and, beyond, the artistic diversity of this very particular period called the Carolingian Renaissance.