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Multispectral Imaging of Leonardo da Vinci Drawings

Cerys RJones16 June 2019

In the first year of my PhD, I was asked by Alan Donnithorne, the former head of conservation of prints for the Royal Collection Trust, whether I would be interested in capturing multispectral images of three Leonardo drawings for a book he was writing. Of course I eagerly agreed and in July 2016 Alan brought three beautiful studies by Leonardo to UCL ready for imaging.

The first drawing was the ‘Studies of horses and horses’ heads’ created circa 1481. This is a metalpoint drawing of the portrait of a horse’s head and another in side-profile. To create a metalpoint drawing, a metal-nibbed stylus is used to engrave lines onto paper that has been prepped with glue and ground animal bone, whilst also leaving a deposit of the metal. Although only two horses heads could be seen in visible light, when illuminated in ultraviolet light, two more horses and a dog appeared at the bottom of the page that were invisible to the human eye.

‘Studies of horses and horses’ heads’ illuminated under visible light (left) and after multispectral imaging (right). The two horses and dog at the bottom of the page cannot be seen using the human eye alone. (Image copyright: Queen Elizabeth II, Moral rights: Cerys Jones)

The second drawing was of ‘the anatomy of a bear’s foot’, circa 1488-90. Leonardo initially studied anatomy to inform his paintings;however,this eventually evolved into a plan to write a never-completed treatise on the subject. Martin Clayton, in his 2019 book Leonardo da Vinci: a life in drawing, explained how, at the time, human dissection was illegal and so Leonardo may have been interested in the bear’s foot due to the similarity in the way humans and bears walk. The multispectral imaging of this drawing enabled the different materials (metalpoint, pen and ink, and white heightening) to be separated and show how Leonardo built up his compositions.

The final drawing was a study for ‘the drapery of the Madonna’s arm’ (c. 1510-1515) created for ‘the Madonna and Child with St Anne and a lamb’, a painting currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The multispectral imaging revealed the outline of the arm under the drapery,implying that Leonardo first drew a template for the arm and then built the drapery on top of that . The images also enhanced the different materials, including black and red chalk, pen and ink, brush and ink, and white opaque watercolour.

Capturing the multispectral images of the study for ‘the drapery of the Madonna’s arm’. (Image: Cerys Jones)

The full results from this imaging are in Alan’s book Leonardo da Vinci: A Closer Look. This fascinating book investigates many of the Leonardo da Vinci drawings held in the collection at Windsor Library, using a variety of imaging techniques, including multispectral imaging, microscopy, X-Ray fluorescence, and more. He shows Leonardo’s drawings in a way never seen before—including these features invisible to the human eye—to present a detailed view of Leonardo’s musings and thoughtful mind.

The studies for ‘the anatomy of the bear foot’ and ‘the drapery of the Madonna’s arm’ are currently on display in the Queen’s gallery as part of the new exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: a life in drawing to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death. This exhibition displays over 200 drawings from Leonardo’s life, spanning a range of topics including anatomy, optics, engineering, botany, cartography and more. I was honoured to be invited to a private view of the exhibition before it was open to the public to celebrate Leonardo’s work and the release of the book. The exhibition is captivating and provides a fascinating insight into Leonardo’s mind, which you can see jumping across subjects on a single piece of paper. I encourage everyone to attend and be inspired by Leonardo’s inquisitive and ingenious mind.

If you’re interested in learning more about my work on the Leonardo drawings, check out my poster!

At the private view of the Leonardo da Vinci: a life in drawing exhibition at the Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace (Image: Cerys Jones)

‘Writing the Law’ Launches at Lambeth Palace Library

Arendse ILund12 June 2019

This week, I launched “Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection,” an exhibition of medieval legal manuscripts I curated for Lambeth Palace Library. The exhibition was supported by the London Arts & Humanities Partnership and stems from my research in the UCL English Department.

“Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection” is on display at Lambeth Palace Library (Image: Camille Koutoulakis)

Lambeth Palace was founded in the Middle Ages as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the many centuries since then, each Archbishop added to the library’s holdings, either through explicit collections and purchases of manuscripts and books, or by leaving their own books and papers for posterity. The manuscripts on display as part of the exhibition entered into the Lambeth Palace Library collection at different times and thanks to the collecting interest of different archbishops. But they all shed light on how law was produced, written down, and evolved throughout the Middle Ages.

Finishing up the exhibition installation in Lambeth’s Great Hall (Image: Arendse Lund)

This exhibition comes out of my doctoral research on medieval law — specifically how rulers used law as a type of propaganda to increase perceptions of their own authority. Lambeth has generously given me the space to explore this topic in their collections and I thought I’d take a few paragraphs to write about some of the perhaps less obvious manuscripts on display and what they tell us about medieval law.

When we think of law, we often think of things that we consider strictly legal documents: legal treatises, or wills, land grants, maybe writs forbidding someone to act in a certain way. There are certainly many of these types of manuscripts on display. One of the highlights is a 13th-century copy of Lombard law, listing the amount of compensation you’d need to pay if you injured someone. Another highlight is a 14th-century copy of the Magna Carta. But we also have to take into account the many documents that shed light on the social and cultural history behind legal change.

Two of Lambeth Palace Library’s early versions of Henry of Huntingdon’s ‘History of the English’ (Historia Anglorum) are on display. Henry of Huntington was a 12th-century historian and the archdeacon of Huntingdon. His greatest accomplishment was the writing of what was supposed to be a single book on the history of the English but which spiraled out into multiple volumes detailing the lives and reigns of the English kings. One of the Lambeth Palace Library versions contains heavy reader annotations and marginalia. These are in many ways entirely different from the more formal types of commentary provided by the glosses to the canon law displayed nearby; and yet, these sorts of reader interactions with the text give us modern historians an understanding of how law was interpreted by its contemporaries. 

This Year Book [Lambeth Palace Library MS 270, f. 313r] includes a genealogical chronicle as a way of emphasizing Henry V’s descent from both Anglo-Saxon and Norman royal dynasties, in addition to prominent Biblical figures (Image: Arendse Lund)


Since my research interests lie with royal propaganda, one of the stars on display is a royal family tree. It lists the genealogy of all the kings of England, which some inventive scribe has managed to connect altogether. The genealogy starts with Irad, the Biblical son of Cain, and winds its way through famous figures, eventually getting to the Anglo-Saxon kings, including Alfred the Great, and then continuing past the Conquest, ending with King Henry V. There are approximately 40 roll chronicles of this type that survive from the later Middle Ages, many held by the British Library. Royal descent, traced through these frequently-invented blood relationships, was a powerful tool used to legitimize the succession of power and promote dynastic identities. But, one of the first things you’ll notice looking at the genealogy that on display at Lambeth Palace Library, is that it is very much a hefty manuscript and not a roll. But we can tell that it was likely copied from one of these rolls because a confused scribe has turned the manuscript sideways to draw in the family tree, in an attempt to mimic the roll form and try to maximize space. So, in following the scribe’s efforts, I too have displayed the manuscript sideways.

Although I could happily go on to describe each manuscript on display, I better stop there. I would like to end by issuing a huge thank you to Lambeth Palace Library for being generous with their space, and in particular, Dr Rachel Cosgrave, Senior Archivist, and Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist, for their support.

You can go see “Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection” at Lambeth Palace Library this summer. Although generally closed to the public, you can view the exhibition during the Open Days; the next one is 5 July.