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Pigments in Jain manuscript art

Optical microscopy and photography

A scientist examines a folio with a stereo microscope to see the painted surface in great detail.

Using a stereo microscope
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Each folio was initially examined with a stereo microscope, which uses visible – or normal – light and powerful lenses to look at the item. This enabled the microscopic details of the painted surface to be observed.

The team recorded information about the appearance of pigments and other materials used in the manuscript.

Then a digital camera photographed the pigments, inks and decorated surfaces in extreme close up.

The information about pigments and materials, and the photographs provided extensive documentation for each folio.

Raman microscopy

Pigments and dyes on the surface of each folio were subsequently analysed by Raman microscopy. This cutting-edge spectroscopic technique provides a characteristic spectrum that reflects the molecular composition of the material under study. This allows the material to be clearly identified through its 'Raman fingerprint'.

Raman is particularly suited to the study of pigments of works of art because it:

  • does not require a sample of the artefact to be taken
  • is non-destructive
  • takes measurements typically within a few seconds to a few minutes.

X-ray fluorescence

An example of the XRF spectrum obtained by analysing a spot in a blue lapis lazuli area of a folio. The chemical elements are labelled with their chemical symbols.

Results of x-ray fluorescence analysis
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The manuscripts were also studied using X-ray fluorescence (XRF). This technique detects and identifies most chemical elements in the objects being studied.

Knowing the composition of a material used in a painting helps to identify what pigment was used.

XRF is a very useful tool in cultural heritage thanks to its non-invasiveness and rapid results.



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