The only surviving Medieval codex of Galician-Portuguese secular poetry: tracing history through luxury pink colors

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The Ajuda Songbook is an exceptional illuminated manuscript being the only surviving codex of Galician-Portuguese secular poetry; it was produced in the end of the thirteenth century, beginning of the fourteenth century. The diversity of colors accentuated by the presence of lapis lazuli blue and brazilwood pink, demonstrates the desire to produce a sumptuous manuscript. Pink is, in this context, a luxury color and its identification attests to one of the earliest known occurrences of brazilwood in artworks. Scientific analysis showed, for the light pinks, a different formulation from that found in fifteenth-century books of hours and from all historical reconstructions of these colors prepared to date. This knowledge was used to further expand a database previously built in our laboratory and applied to the characterization of pink shades in the Ajuda Songbook. Thirteen brazilwood recipes were selected from seven Medieval treatises and reference materials were prepared based on such historical information. Three types of colors were achieved, defined as translucent rose, rose, and red. The translucent rose was obtained from recipes where egg white is used for extraction, and no other additives are present; rose from recipes with calcium carbonate; and red from a wider range of recipes, in which these ingredients are not mentioned. These colors were then prepared as paints, and analytical results were thus compared with data from the light pinks seen in the Ajuda Songbook’s architectural backgrounds. We were able to reproduce the pink very well using infrared spectroscopy, identifying its main ingredients: calcium carbonate as filler; lead white as the pigment that produces light pink; and the binder as a polysaccharide with a fingerprint similar to mesquite gum. For the chromophore color, the application of chemometrics approaches to molecular fluorescence spectra highlighted a high degree of similarity with the paint reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number37
Number of pages21
JournalHeritage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Ajuda Songbook
  • Brazilwood recipes
  • Molecular characterization
  • Paint formulations


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