The St. Chad Gospels: Potentials for 3D in the study of manuscripts

 In this video, Bill Endres of the University of Kentucky talks about potentials for 3D in manuscript studies. He has scanned Lichfield Cathedral’s St. Chad Gospels, an 8th-century illuminated manuscript. For images of the complete manuscript, visit ‪http://lichfield.as.uky.edu
This video was made for the 2012 Digital Transformation Moot in London, sponsored by the Art and Humanities Research Council.

“Hello, I’m Bill Endres from the University of Kentucky. I want to demonstrate some potentials for 3D in the study of manuscripts. A challenge of digital versions of manuscripts is to offer scholars and viewers an encounter as dynamic as having the manuscript in their presence, one that can match on some level experiences like play of light on cracked pigments, or the feel of a pages stiffness as it resists being turned; experiences that lend themselves to knowing. At the same time, a digital version can never be the same as a physical artefact. Segolene Tarte calls digital versions ‘avatars’: they exist in a different reality, with different rules and potentials. They can offer unique and profound experiences of a manuscript.

One way to present a digital version of a manuscript in 3D is through video. Video flyovers offer a dynamic interaction by taking advantage of 3D techniques and the way that the eye sees. Motion or changing stimuli are necessary for clarity of sight. To see a 2D image clearly, the eye must make jitter movements to keep its photoreceptors active. This is not the case with a moving 3D image. These 3D flyovers are pages from the St. Chad Gospels, an illuminated manuscript made around 730CE that I imaged with the kind permission of the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral. 3D flyovers offer a more intimate experience than 2D images, giving viewers a feeling of the manuscript’s dynamic nature; perhaps even inspiring awe, as desired by the medieval artist who illuminated the St. Chad Gospels. More importantly for researchers, 3D reveals significant information about a pages contours and condition, along with the layout of its text, its decorative flow and artistic flourishes.

 A 3D image combines a mesh file, representing a page’s contours, with a texture file providing the appearance of a page’s surface. With 3D images, I can change their texture files; that is, the image that covers the mesh. For the St. Chad Gospels I took a set of at least 12 different spectral bands for each page, ranging from near ultraviolet to infrared. I can generate a multispectral visualization by stacking all the images in a set and calculating values across the stack for each pixel. These calculated values can be mathematically represented, and a colour map applied to highlight salient features.

The density of data in 3D meshes offers opportunities to generate further information. One of particular usefulness for manuscripts is taking accurate measurements. Holes, flaking pigments, and features of letters and decoration can be measured for conservation and scholarly purposes. A convenient format for 3D renderings is Adobe’s PDF. Adobe Reader includes a measurement tool.

I am currently working with our Director of Research Computation and Application Development, Noel Adler, to deliver 3D images of the St. Chad Gospels over the Web. With the release of Web GL, a Javascript API for rendering interactive 3D images, this has become viable.

John Berger tells us that the relationship between what we see, and what we know, is never settled. Use of 3D presents new potentials for seeing, and therefore new potentials for knowing. 3D can supply practical data like measurements, facilitate interaction and tap into native ways of seeing. It opens an intriguing future, an inspiring one; one worthy of the digital humanities.”

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