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The medieval court, Llys Llywelyn, has finally opened its doors. The hall transports us back to a day in the 13th century when Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd is in residence and about to hold court. The recreated sumptuous decoration, furnishing and ornament reflects both his wealth and status, most of the portable items travelled with him as he progressed around his kingdom so were only present when the prince was in residence.

One way to reflect your wealth and status in the medieval period was through the use of colour. There were a wide range of artist's pigments available from which paint could be make, some were natural minerals like the bright red vermilion and others where man-made such as Verdigris, a green-blue colour created by suspending copper plates over vinegar or the waste from the wine making process.

Our mission, along with the painters from the Historic Buildings Unit and volunteers from our Preventive Conservation Group, was to recreate the painted interior of the 13th century court. All was to be authentic including the pigments and paint medium we used. The wooden columns and arches were still drying out so whatever we applied had to be breathable, but also robust enough to cope with the thousands of visitors we welcome each year.

Paint is made up of two elements, a coloured pigment and a glue referred to as the paint medium. There were a variety of traditional mediums we could use such as gelatin, extracted by boiling up scraps of parchment made from the skin of sheep, calves or goat. Other options included egg and also casein derived from milk.

As you can see the options available were very 'organic' and certainly not familiar. Our only guides were the few remaining texts on the subject and analytical evidence from surviving paintwork.

Which paint mediums did we choose in the end?

Egg was an option, but it would have taken an awfully large number of eggs and been a bit smelly while the egg off-gassed sulphur during the paint setting process!  We therefore started to trial gelatin in combination with the white pigment calcium carbonate for the background and red ochre pigment for the chevrons. This proved very successful for the white background but less so for the red chevrons. The next option was casein, this produced a much more robust finish and therefore was chosen in combination with the red ochre pigment for the chevrons.

One thing we learnt during this process was that our work had to be slow and methodical, traditional materials can't be rushed. We developed a huge respect for the medieval painter and the skill required when using these tricky materials to create decoration or works of art.

Finally I wish to thank all our volunteers for their help to deliver this project. We could not have done it without them and yes we spent a lot of time watching paint dry, praying it wouldn't flake off!

Penny Hill

Preventive Conservator, Historic Buildings

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