Spectral Analysis of the Boxer Codex

boxer-pigment-analysis_00005During the first week of May, Ms. Ellen Hsieh, an Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship recipient, and Dr. Christian Fischer, from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program at UCLA, visited the Lilly Library to study the images of the Boxer Codex, one of the most important manuscripts in the Library’s collection.

The Boxer Codex was supposedly made in Manila at the end of the sixteenth century during the early Spanish colonial period. It contains Spanish-language text and 95 pages of illustrations which are not influenced, apparently, by contemporary European artistic styles. The objective of the research was to analyze the coloring materials used in the different sections of the codex in order to study the nature and provenance of raw materials as well as the production process of the codex.

Scientific analysis was conducted using portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) and fiber optics reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) in the visible and near-infrared. FORS spectra were collected with two spectrometers, a USB2000+ (Ocean Optics) operating in the visible and a UV-Vis-NIR Fieldspec 3 (ASDI, Panalytical), while pXRF qualitative data were obtained with a Niton XL3t GOLDD+ XRF analyzer (Thermo Fisher Scientific). These non-invasive technologies provide complementary information particularly useful for the identification of pigments and dyes, and have been successfully used to study other manuscripts from Europe and the Americas.

Preliminary results show that the painter(s) of the Boxer Codex used both pigments and dyes such as azurite, cinnabar and indigo. However, precise identification of the whole palette and probable mixtures will require further in-depth analysis and interpretation of the collected data.

The researchers are thankful for the financial support provided by the Lilly Library and the warm welcome and assistance from the librarians, conservators, and staff during their visit.