Saturday, January 12, 2019

Did Nuns Paint Medieval Illuminations?

Scivias, a 12th-century book written by the nun
Hildegard of Bingen and painted by two anonymous artists.
Who painted the illustrations on medieval manuscripts? According to new archaeological evidence, some of them may have been nuns rather than monks.

The evidence comes from deposits of ultramarine or lapis lazuli pigment in the tartar of the teeth of a female skeleton who was associated with the convent that produced medieval manuscripts.  

The suggestion is that she may have ingested some of the pigment into her mouth while licking her brush to give it a fine point, or perhaps she inhaled some of the pigment while grinding it.

Researcher Christina Warinner has "found everything from insect parts and the pollen of exotic ornamental flowers to opium, bits of wool, and milk proteins—all of which tell stories about what people ate and how they lived. The detritus of everyday life accumulates in the gunk that modern dentists are so vigilant about scrubbing off."


Robert Michael Walsh said...

A year or so ago I did a paining of Hildegard von Bingen, and just last night read an excellent biography by Fiona Maddocks ( There is much discussion there over Hildegard's role in the artwork in her books.

Peeved said...

Love the comment "modern dentists are so diligent about removing". That part of me so interested in archaeology chuckled.

drwart said...

Obviously they also had the bad habit of putting the paintbrush in their mouth to get a nice sharp point fit details

Unknown said...

very nice painting. spring4u

Cat165 said...

Or they were assisting the monks by preparing the pigments, hence the exposure.