Universiteit Leiden

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2012 Science4Arts grant for Maarten Jansen

On January 12 the Steering Committee Science4Arts awarded the application of Prof.dr. Maarten Jansen entitled: "Shedding light on endangered mutual heritage. Developing non-invasive imaging techniques to uncover, understand and preserve ancient Mexican pictorial manuscripts".

The Steering Committee Science4Arts decided to award 6 grants of the total of 15 Science4Arts proposals submitted to the Councils for the Humanities and Chemical and Physical Sciences.

Project summary

This research project focuses on the materiality of ancient Mexican pictographic manuscripts - the few surviving remains of a unique pictorial writing system, now mainly preserved in European museums and libraries. Combining to that effect art-historical, archaeological and anthropological approaches with applied sciences, the project has three principal aims:

  1. The further development of non-destructive imaging techniques, by adding the new technique of Photothermal Tomography, which will allow the tracing of colored substances hidden by a lighter surface. This technique can be applied for the investigation and reconstruction of subsurface coloration in works of art far beyond the scope of the current research project.
  2. The application of this technique as well as of other, fully developed, spectroscopic techniques provided by the MOLAB (part of the EU project CHARISMA), to gain a better understanding of the physical composition (and deterioration process) of the ancient Mexican pictorial manuscripts. For a complete image, the outcome of these techniques will be complemented by specific new ethno-archaeological observations of the production and use of colors in indigenous or traditional communities in Mexico today.
  3. To uncover with these techniques the pictorial text of a Mexican codex, at present still unknown and invisible as it is hidden under the surface of Codex Selden 3135 (A.2), originally from the Mixtec town of Jaltepec (State of Oaxaca), Mexico, but now preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This is an absolutely unique case of a Mexican palimpsest. The underlying pre-colonial manuscript (of presumably 30 pages), once uncovered, would enrich significantly the small corpus of ancient Mexican pictorial literature and shed light on many questions concerning pre-colonial indigenous historiography.

New knowledge about the physical composition of these pictorial manuscripts will not only increase the understanding of their production process and contents, but also offer a better base for conservation strategies.

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