Making Vellum

Making Vellum
Emma Katherine Hardiman BA Hons Art History
How does the exploration into the materiality of medieval
worship transform our understanding of medieval art and
1. Introduction.
Medieval Manuscripts have been studied visually
for decades and recent interest has fuelled fantastic projects in manuscript digitisation all over
the world. But what if the medieval person did
not favour sight so prominently over other sensory consumption of art?
This was a theory that sparked my research into
authentically making vellum, to see if the materiality of the vellum could reveal any hidden layers
of meaning. I documented my research on my
blog which you can access using the QR code below.
I began working with Dr Neher and her Art History in Schools Project, where I
took the work that the children had produced and created a digital manuscript
(the front cover of which is here). The idea of animation and life in a book was
what inspired the deer project.
Deer to vellum
Day 1
Day 7
7. Conclusions: An answer for all fears.
2. Aims
Life on earth was seen as a preparatory stage for eternal life in heaven.6 Manuscripts are known to have many powers which can be added to and expanded
upon when considering this research. A manuscript could:
• Act as a divine intercessor, allowing the reader to physically touch, kiss the
saint it represented.
• Become a personal artefact through assimilation of touch relics, additional
prays, pilgrimage badges and notes and marks.
• Allow the reader to become healthier physically, by balancing their humours through engagement with the object with all five senses.
• To provide what people needed to achieve their goal of salvation.
This project is in a relatively new area and therefore I drew on research and
approaches from historical, art historical and archaeological enquiry. I aimed
• Understand how and why the process of making vellum was seen as both
physical and spiritual.
• Eplore how this transformative process was viewed and valued (If vellum
was used through lack of alternative, or if it was imbued with certain qualities
that enrich it as a material).1
Owners mutilated their books through prolific engagements, such as kissing
and rubbing, and drawing into themselves the temperament of the manuscript through sensual and personal religious rituals.7 Their acts of private
devotion could miraculously manifest itself in the vellum as the greases from
their touch was absorbed in an object that contained within its pages both divinity and salvation.
My hypothesis was that there would be qualities of the vellum which were significant to the medieval user.
Day 21
8. About me and my future research.
The whole process took 52 days to complete, you can see this progress in the
central timeline.
• I began by washing the skin and fur
• Then I soaked the skin in a lime solution to chemically remove the hair.
• The skin was rewashed and the remaining flesh and subcutaneous layer removed.
• Then I began stretching the skin, starting relatively gently.
• The cords were tightened daily.
• I then covered the skin in chalk to dry it out.
The Black Death devastated Europe, creating an extraordinary context and attitude to self-expression.
• Illness had previously been seen as a reflection of the morality, impiety
lead to illness. However the plague killed indiscriminately on a mass scale, uprooting the foundation of religious and medical belief.
• The power of memory that manifested in material objects can’t be underestimated. But the idea of contamination meant that people’s belongings and
homes were deliberately destroyed.
• There was a relative increase in wealth and so people rebuilt society, physically in buildings and objects but also psychologically in belief.5
Day 19
3. Method: Making Vellum
6. Case Study: Implications seen in art post
the Black Death of 1348.
Day 31
I am a final year BA Hons Art History student of the University of Nottingham,
who wishes to continue in education at MA Level next year where I am hoping
to study more about medieval art and its materiality.
During university I have been a long-term volunteer at the Digital Humanities
Centre which has also fuelled my research.
The future of this work is that it will feed into my dissertation surrounding
women’s use of private devotional prayer books in the later middle ages, but
also we are planning a second experiment. We are hoping to make another
piece of vellum this summer, as well as continue through the production of
the vellum into a small manuscript.
4. Observations after the process:
A living book.
I would like to thank Dr Gabriele Neher and Dr Naomi Sykes from the University of Nottingham, for making this
project possible and helping me through this research. The skin came from Dr Sykes and the Fallow Deer Society (DAMA International) and Dr Neher worked with me very closely at each stage, helping me unravel the physical as well as academic problems that this project brought to light but also set up the Art History in Schools
The vellum itself reacts to the environment it is in: if it is in a warm or humid environment, the skin begins to curl. It can move quite dramatically even
when placed near boundaries such as a wall which it was able to push against.
The vellum has very different character on each side of the skin: one is very
clearly the flesh side while on the other the hair side, the follicles remain visible. The skin is also of varying thickness, some thin enough that you can see
shapes blurred behind it and others thicker like card which are hard to fold.
see N.J.Skyes, “Animals, the bones of medieval society”, in: R.Gilchrist, A.Reynolds eds. 50 Years of Medieval
Archaeology 1957-2007, Maney,2007, pp.349–50.
B.Rowland, Birds with human souls: a guide to bird symbolism, Tennessee Press, 1978, p.207.
T.Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, 1265-1274.
A.D,Fraser Jenkins, Cosimo Med’ichi’s Patronage of Architecture and the theory of Magnificence, Journal of
the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes,Vol. 33,1970,pp.164-168.
K.M. Rudy, Kissing Images, Unfurling Rolls, Measuring Wounds, Sewing Badges and Carrying Talismans: Considering Some Harley Manuscripts through the Physical Rituals they Reveal, Electronic British Library Journal,
2011 p.1-56-5. Also see M.Carruthers, The Manuscript of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture,
Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.38.
L.Marshal, Manipulating the Sacred: Image and Plague in Renaissance Italy, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol 47,
1995, p.487.
K.M.Rudy, Dirty manuscripts: quantifying patternsof use in medieval manuscripts using a densitometer,
Journal of historians of Netherlands art,Volume 2,Issue 1-2,2010,p.1.
Day 36
5. Context: Humoural Theory
Because this is a cultural experiment, I need to be aware of medieval belief
and context.
• Humoural Theory was conceived by Aristotle, providing the basis of medical understanding until the seventeenth century.
• It was believed that the body was a vessel containing four humours that
when unbalanced caused illness.
• This was sacralised during the medieval period determining spiritual and
moral wellbeing. 2
• All human senses were believed to act as portals to the soul,3 indicating the
importance of understanding how people interacted with vellum.4
Background Image curled Vellum, William Cowley, assessed 21/01/14.
Fig.1 E.K. Hardimnan, Art History In Schools Project, 2013 .
Fig.2 -14 Fig. 2-14 E.K. Hardiman, Deer to vellum
timeline (Presented in days elapsed), 2013.
Emma Kathrine Hardiman
Twitter: @EmHardiman
Day 52