The spring 2013 trip to the Archivio Capitolare in Vercelli, Italy, turned up a trove of fascinating palimpsests and manuscripts damaged in a variety of ways. We began the recovery process auspisciously, setting up side-by-side imaging stations in a suite of rooms formerly used by Pope John Paul II.
In one room, we imaged the Vercelli Book, the oldest manuscript of Old English in existence. Defaced by a German scholar in the 18th century using a chemical reagent, the otherwise pristine 10th century manuscript is marred by dark brown blots where the reagent was applied to the text. The conjunction of transmissive lights from below, multispectral lights from above, raking lights at a 30 degree angle, and multiple filters, has enabled us to produce images that that have improved legibility. We are currently developing Bayesian statistical techniques for further closing the lacunae.
Room two was dedicated to the recovery of the 13th century Vercelli mappamundi. Imaged multispectrally and transmissively, the Vercelli map had suffered serious fading aggravated in a 1970s era attempt to restore it. At nearly a meter square, we were obliged to image in a series of tiles that we later stitched in processing. The combination of the transmissive and UV block filter proved particularly effective, restoring most of the map to complete legibility. We are currently working with curator Timoty Leonardi to produce a multispectral digital facsimile that will allow vistiors to the Archivio Capitolare to navigate not only multispectral layers, transcribed and multilinguallly translated text, but a GIS georectified alternative version.
We returned to Vercelli in summer of 2014 to continue photographing these documents.