45th Annual Meeting- BPG Session, May 31, “The Codex Eyckensis (8th century). Re-evaluation of the 20th century restoration & conservation treatments by Lieve Watteeuw

Professor Lieve Watteeuw introduces her presentation with a description of the Codex Eyckensis, the subject of her talk. The Codex is comprised of two distinct gospels bound as one, most likely made at the scriptorium of Echternach in Luxembourg in the 8th century. A study in 1994 showed that both of the gospel manuscripts were made in the same scriptorium, and most likely by the same scribe. The manuscripts were held in the treasury of the Abbey of Aldeneik until they were transferred to the treasury of St. Catherine’s church in Maaseik in 1571 during a period of religious unrest. In 1596, a pilgrimage feast was arranged to honor the pilgrimage of the Codex and the other treasures from the Abbey of Aldeneik. Every 7 years thereafter, in tandem with the holy feasts of Aachen, the Codex would be on view, processed to its former home at Aldeneik.  The manuscripts were turned over to private ownership in the years following the French Revolution, until they were returned to Maaseik in 1871. From that date, the manuscripts were again part of processions, but only every 25 years.

from http://www.codexeyckensis.be/codex-eyckensis-the-unique-codex-of-eyke

It was observed in 1957 that the manuscripts were in very poor condition, so an attempt was made to preserve them. At the time, bookbinder Karl Sievers of Dusseldorf laminated the pages of the manuscript with Mipofolie, a polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In the late 1980s, Professor Watteeuw noticed that the leaves had suffered from this treatment. The PVC had turned yellow and had hardened, and it was decided to remove this damaging material.

The conservation treatment spanned from 1989-93. The removal of the mipofolie was accomplished using a technique developed in Budapest, which involved suction and a light table. Once the mipofolie had been removed, losses in the leaves were filled with parchment pulp. In removing the plastic foil, some pigment was removed as well. All of the mipofolie sheets were kept that had been removed from the Codex Eyckensis with the idea that they might be able to be used one day. At the time of this intervention, the curators decided to rebind the two distinct manuscripts separately using glue free bindings with deer skin covers over oak boards. The manuscripts were put on permanent display.

from http://www.codexeyckensis.be/codex-eyckensis-the-unique-codex-of-eyke

After years on permanent display, Professor Watteeuw was asked to perform a condition report of the Codex in 2008, and in 2016-17 she began the process of analyzing the manuscripts. Her studies showed that there was still residue of the PVC within the pores of the parchment. With the Hirox 3D microscope, parchment fibers from the leafcasting treatment could be seen overlapping into the pigment on the leaves as could Japanese paper fibers from paper mends. MA-XRF (macro x-ray fluorescence ) analysis demonstrated the presence of Cu, Fe, Pb, and Iron Gall Ink, suggesting important similarities to the pigments used in the Book of Kells. The MA-XRF also showed that the same palette was used for both of the manuscripts of the Codex Eyckensis. Watteeuw used photometric stereo to document the thickness of the paint layers along with their texture. Using the pigments peeled away from the manuscript leaves on the mipofolie foils, Watteeuw could analyze the pigments using Raman, essentially making the best of a bad situation set in motion when the mipofolie was applied in 1957.

All of this analysis gives information on the possibly very close connections between the manuscripts of the Low Countries to Anglo Saxon lands. During this analysis,  Professor Watteeuw also played a crucial role in digitizing the Codex, which is now available online.

Questions from the floor following the talk:

Q1: Were you able to ID the green pigments? Can you see corrosion? A1: yes we were able to see corrosion, but undetermined green pigment, since some green not corroded.

Q2: Was there treatment strategy of stabilizing copper green? A2: no consolidation in the 90s, but parchment pulp might not have been the best choice of fill material (could have made worse?) Watteeuw notes she is afraid to turn the pages because she can hear the PVC within the leaves.

Q3: Any underdrawing? A1: yes, underdrawing or “mise en place” of canon tables is visible

Q4: Is it on permanent display? A4: yes, was on permanent display at fixed page. Now it’s in the lab, but will eventually be on permanent display again, for which we are developing lighting scenarios.

What a great, informative talk! Thanks to Professor Watteeuw, and I look forward to seeing what more they discover about these incredibly important manuscripts!