Vellum – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Techniques and Materials Glossary

What is Vellum?

Vellum is a type of high-quality parchment made from the skin of calves, lambs, or goats. It has been used for centuries as a writing surface due to its smooth texture and durability. Vellum is known for its ability to retain ink and resist deterioration, making it a popular choice for important documents, manuscripts, and artwork.

History of Vellum

The use of vellum dates back to ancient times, with examples of vellum manuscripts found in civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. During the Middle Ages, vellum became the preferred material for scribes and artists due to its durability and longevity. Vellum was often used for religious texts, legal documents, and illuminated manuscripts.

In the Renaissance period, vellum continued to be a popular choice for artists and writers. Many famous works of art and literature were created on vellum, including the Gutenberg Bible and the Book of Kells. Vellum remained in use until the invention of paper in the 15th century, but it continued to be used for special documents and artwork.

Types of Vellum

There are several types of vellum available, each with its own unique characteristics. Calfskin vellum is the most common type and is known for its smooth texture and fine grain. Lambskin vellum is softer and more flexible, making it ideal for delicate artwork. Goatskin vellum is durable and has a slightly rougher texture, making it suitable for calligraphy and illumination.

Modern vellum is often treated with chemicals to improve its durability and prevent deterioration. Some vellum is also dyed or coated with a protective layer to enhance its appearance and longevity.

How Vellum is Made

The process of making vellum is a complex and time-consuming one. It begins with the skin of a young calf, lamb, or goat being soaked in a lime solution to remove hair and flesh. The skin is then stretched and dried on a frame, resulting in a smooth and thin sheet of vellum.

Traditional vellum-making techniques have been passed down through generations, with skilled craftsmen using hand tools and natural materials to create vellum of the highest quality. Modern vellum production often involves machinery and chemical treatments to speed up the process and improve consistency.

Uses of Vellum in Art

Vellum has been used in art for centuries, with artists and craftsmen creating intricate designs and illustrations on its smooth surface. Vellum is ideal for calligraphy, illumination, and miniature painting due to its ability to retain fine details and vibrant colors.

Many famous works of art have been created on vellum, including medieval manuscripts, botanical illustrations, and portrait miniatures. Vellum is also used in contemporary art and design, with artists experimenting with new techniques and materials to create unique and innovative pieces.

Care and Preservation of Vellum

Vellum is a delicate material that requires special care and attention to ensure its longevity. It should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture to prevent damage. Vellum should be handled with clean hands and stored flat to avoid creases and tears.

To clean vellum, a soft brush or cloth can be used to gently remove dust and dirt. Avoid using water or harsh chemicals on vellum, as this can cause damage to the surface. Vellum should be kept in protective sleeves or folders to prevent exposure to light and air.

In conclusion, vellum is a versatile and durable material that has been used for centuries in art and writing. Its smooth texture and longevity make it a popular choice for artists, scribes, and craftsmen. By understanding the history, types, and production of vellum, as well as how to care for and preserve it, we can continue to appreciate and enjoy this timeless material for generations to come.