Use of Polarised Light Microscopy to Improve Conservation of Parchment

Vladimir Vilde, Marc Fourneau, Catherine Charles, Daniel Van Vlaender, Julie Bouhy, Yves Poumay, Olivier Deparis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The preservation state of parchment primarily depends on the structure of the collagen fibre network, which in turn is responsible for optical anisotropy, i.e. birefringence. Polarised light microscopy can therefore be used as a non-invasive technique that allows recording of birefringence distribution in the parchment, which directly relates to stress–strain distribution. Using samples from diverse sources (commercial parchment, parchment used by restorers for book binding, and parchment fabricated for the purpose of this study), we assessed the capability of polarised light microscopy for various diagnostics. We performed, for instance, identification of gelatinised regions, layered or fibrous regions in parchment cross section, qualitative analysis of parchment fat content (lipids), observation of stress-induced patterns resulting from tensile tests, and observation of water diffusion. These proof-of-principle experiments extend the capability of polarised light microscopy far beyond its common use and open the path to its deployment in conservation studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-297
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in Conservation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2019


  • accesible technology
  • conservation
  • lipids
  • mechanical stress
  • non-invasive
  • Parchment
  • polarised microscopy
  • water intake


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