The Project Approach

The project APPROACH (Authentication, Preservation and Production of Artistic Material for Cultural Heritage) initially relies on the results of a vast study conducted by Sylvie Neven on artistic treatises and recipe books produced from Antiquity across Europe.

The Colour ConText database facilitates the consultation and exploitation of a large corpus of written sources. To date, over 1000 texts have been assessed.

The core data consists not only of medieval and early modern manuscripts but also printed books produced from the modern era across Europe. 5500 recipes —some constituting only a few lines, others covering several folios— have been transcribed and are currently being recorded on the database. The database also includes a complete list of more than 800 different ingredients and (combined) substances mentioned in the recipes. Materials are indexed both by their current scientific name (‘Current name’) and by the original terms precisely as they are written in the source texts (‘Historical name’).

Sources and recipes are categorized by date, language, location, scribes or authors, artistic technique and materials involved. Thanks to the various filters integrated, the Colour ConText database can serve to identify the use of specific practices and materials and to delimit methods within a precisely delimited chronological and geographical framework. It also helps to assess how recipes were modified over time or by other external phenomena, through looking at factors such as frequency within the corpus, basic structure, and evolution. It is also possible to link the development of specific artistic procedures and technical traditions, and to correlate these with more widely diffused techniques.

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The Recipes

The database also makes the content of the recipe collections accessible at the level of the individual recipes. To date, more than 5500 recipes—some consisting of only a few lines, others covering several folios—have been transcribed. These instructions are recorded in another specific page (entitled 'Recipes'). The ‘Recipes' page allows users to consult the transcription of a particular recipe, and sometimes also provides a translation.Users can search for a specific technical instruction by source, date and geographical data. It is also possible to search for specific words that appear either in the transcription or the translation of the recipe. Moreover, the recipes are defined using keywords arranged in different thesauri (related to the artistic technique, the technical process and the main ingredients involved within the recipe process). Such subject classification enables queries to be made regarding specific recipes, methods or materials across time and region.

The Sources

More than 1000 sources (including manuscripts and printed texts) have been entered into the database, specifically located on the 'Sources' page. It provides details such as title, language, location, the provenance and the circulation of these manuscripts and books (place and date of origin/edition), scribes or authors, previous owners, and a description of their technical and/or general content. The left vertical bar allows the sources to be searched by title, place of conservation or edition, or by keywords related to the subject topics they deal with. These subjects concern technical fields and materials.

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The Glossaries

The database offers a complete list of the objects and materials mentioned in the recipes. Materials are indexed both by their current scientific name (‘Current name’) and by the original terms precisely as they are written in the source texts (‘Historical name’). Objects and materials are linked by relational tables that allow the retrieval of all the different historical names used for one particular material—detailing the historical written context—as well as enabling the user to see the various materials that may be related to a specific name. This layout makes it possible not only to observe the global frequency and recurrence for each ingredient or technical instruction, but also to deduce the availability of artistic material in a chronologically and geographically defined area. These lists also shed light on the diversity of colour names and the complexity of the varied colour terminology used in artisanal recipes.