Field of Science

All that glitters...may be tin


While medieval alchemists were searching for the secrets of turning base metals, such as lead and tin, into gold, medieval artists had already figured out how to do this. Gold was often applied to manuscripts in medieval Europe and the Middle East to “illuminate” them, an illuminated page would have the functional equivalent of little mirrors scattered across it, making the most of dim interior lighting. In addition to being reflective, gold does not corrode or oxidize, so gold will not discolor with time. There is a fine collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts at a library near me, and as you turn the pages of Book of Hours that is half a millenia old (wearing gloves, of course), the golden decorations wink at you as brightly as the day they were applied.

Gold is expensive, and hard to handle, particularly in the thin sheets necessitated by the cost. One alternative is to use a tin base, then brush on a saffron oil glaze. Polish it up and you might not notice. The glaze blocks out the oxygen and moisture in the air, preventing many of the chemical reactions which can cause the metal to discolor. The resulting preparation is called auripetrum - Peter’s gold. Peter had a good idea - whoever he was.

Does anyone know more about the source of this name? I'd love to know.

2 comments:

  1. Maybe the names comes from Peter of St. Audemar
    ("Petrus de S. Audemar")

    See this manuscript:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=GksEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA114&dq=auripetrum#v=onepage&q=auripetrum&f=false

    Cool trick!

    ReplyDelete


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