Like many conservators…..



Like many conservators, I like history of art technique, art technology and history of materials. Perhaps it is because I learned more about conservation – how to use it, how to change it for the better, and how to understand it.   Above all, the powerful and pleasurable pull of the past art technique awakened my passion for art conservation. I become fascinated with the old art technique, researching relation between present and past.


Pergamentherstellung im Kupferstich des 17. Jh. (Ledermuseum Offenbach)

Look­ing at old parchment with an USB microscope is revealing and with some expe­ri­ence can lead to their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.


Parchment making history is fascinating as well as a complex subject. I like to share in this post some basic hints.



What being thin and strong at the same time, calf parchment which is known as vellum from Latin “vitulus” calf is regarded as the finest kind of parchment. In the course of time velum began to define any kind of the quality parchment even that made from hide other than calf one. Parchment sheet may exhibit some differences which differ depending on the source of skin.


Parchment is a result of animals, its sex, age, the breeding condition, its health.


Through the history of mankind parchment was used primarily as writing materials,  although it was also applied to production of drums and other instruments, or  transparent  window membranes.


 It was used as a support by book illuminators, and paintings.

A Hedgehog, before 1584 Hans Hoffmann (German, ca. 1530–1591/92) Watercolor and gouache on parchment 7 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (20 x 29.8 cm) Purchase, Annette de la Renta Gift, 2005 (2005.347)

A Hedgehog, before 1584
Hans Hoffmann (German, ca. 1530–1591/92)
Watercolor and gouache on parchment
7 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (20 x 29.8 cm)
Purchase, Annette de la Renta Gift, 2005 (2005.347)

Mural drawings in cave of Spain (120000years ago) depict hunters with lether bound up legs for protection.


The methods of skin processing used in ancient times in Near East, are known today owing to descriptions supplies by Jewish rabbinical literature.  Probably ancient parchment used to be slightly tanned with gallnuts or other plant materials rich in tanning agents. In ancient rabbinical literature three kind of parchment are mentioned: Parchment made using the whole non-splitted hide was called” gewil” if the unhaired skin was split into two layers and both were treated with salt, farinaceous solution and tannins, then the layer which was close to the hair yielded a kind of parchment known as “kelaf”, and other layer was used to make a kind of parchment referred to as “ duxustus”. The Jewish tradition required that “gewil” and “ kelaf” were used  for Scroll of Moses Low, and the grain surface was to be written on. “ Duxustus was considered to be of interior quality in comparison with other kinds of parchment.

It was  in the second century BC in Pergamon (now Bergama Turkey) that the methods of parchment manufacture  were improved but………………… I knew that I would have a story  to tell you in my next time- travel post.


About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s