Looking past the curve. Digitising the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary

Fotolabo000217Every now and then, a true masterpiece enters the Imaging Lab at the University Library of the KU Leuven. Currently on the Conservation Copy Stand is an early sixteenth-century masterwork of Flemish Illumination in Ghent-Bruges style: the famous Mayer van den Bergh Breviary.The parchment is extremely thin, the book block substantial and the gold leaf impeccable. In other words: the manuscript raises a number of digitisation challenges.

Let’s focus on the book block and how to tackle the issue at hand: as the book block is thick, some illuminations go well into the binding while the opposite folio hinders a full view of the page.


The camera of choice is a Cambo Actus DB view camera fitted with a Schneider Apo Digitar 120 mm macro lens and electronic shutter. Mounted on the Conservation Copy Stand, it allows complete vibration-free capture and ensures optimal sharpness.

The Cambo Actus is fitted with a Phase One IQ180 digital back (80 million pixels) capturing the tiniest detail at a resolution of more than 900 DPI.

Shifting the digital back vertically allows to look, so to speak, past the page curve that partially blocks the view. That way we can image the illumination in full size and splendor.

To avoid curling of the parchment during photography, the folio is kept in place on the Conservation Copy Stand (developed by Manfred Mayer) through gentle underpressure. This avoids the need for “fingers” to keep the parchment flat, is visually more pleasing and removing the placeholders through retouching is not necessary.

Throughout the digitisation Metamorfoze Preservation Imaging Guideluines have been implemented

Later on, we will focus on some more technical questions.


The digitisation of the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary is part of a long-term collaboration between the Museum Mayer van den Bergh (Antwerp) and the KU Leuven. The ultimate goal is to digitise, investigate and conserve the collection of illuminated manuscripts of the museum. Earlier this year the codex of the follower of the Master of Sawalo was fully digitised and is now on display in the Museum.


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