New research published today in Science Advances uncovers evidence of ultramarine in the dental plaque of a woman found buried next to a medieval monastery in Germany. The presence of blue pigment in her teeth suggests she, and possibly her female peers, contributed to the preparation and/or production of colored medieval manuscripts, also known as illuminated texts. It’s an important discovery because women were previously thought to have minimal involvement in this industry. The unexpected discovery of ultramarine in the dental tartar, or dental calculus, of an 11th century woman in rural Germany is shedding new light on this poorly understood time and the roles played by women during the production of illuminated texts.
Among the sources of blue pigment during medieval times, ultramarine was easily the most expensive, “reserved along with gold and silver for the most luxurious manuscripts” according to the authors of the new study. Consequently, the use of ultramarine in illuminated works was limited to “luxury books of high value and importance,“ and only scribes of “exceptional skill would have been entrusted with its use.” But historians have found it difficult to identify the contributions of women.
As to how the pigment got into her mouth, the researchers speculate that she licked the end of the brush while painting. “We think she was likely using her lips to shape the brush to a fine point, this is a common technique used by painters and was even described in medieval artist manuals.”
Contact our office to schedule your next appointment.