The Leman Album

Research and Conservation explore an 18th-century collection of Europe's earliest dated silk designs

About the Project

The 97 astonishingly vibrant 18th-century drawings on paper by James Leman of Spitalfields are too delicate to ever be put on permanent display. Our interdisciplinary team aim to create a digital facsimile prototype of the designs, giving worldwide access to the rich information held within.

Context

This is one of the V&A's greatest textile treasures. An early 18th-century album of 97 astonishingly vibrant designs on paper for woven silk fabric, many on fold-out pages and in colours that look as fresh as the day they were produced. They are Europe's earliest dated silk designs, created by Huguenot master weaver and designer James Leman (1688-1745), a prominent member of the Spitalfields silk industry in London's East End. Yet the album is fragile; vulnerable to handling and to light; containing some poisonous pigments – and currently cannot be viewed by the public.

Aim

The designs, which were bound in an album, form together an object of great interest to researchers of all kinds. We are reconstructing Leman's visual sources, recovering the relationship between the designs and the textiles that were woven from them, using instrumental analysis of the colours to draw out lessons for the display and preservation of light-sensitive dyes, and examining our institutional archives to explain the story of how the album ended up in our collection. This scientific and historical research will form the backbone content of a future digital interactive resource.

Outcomes

Museums tend to show objects as singular examples of one thing, but they are of course many things at the same time and become different things as they move through time. Our aim is to enable enhanced access to both the Leman Album and its many meanings, showing how multiple perspectives on a single object can animate something both static and fragile for scholars, students and the general public alike. It is a prime example of an object that embodies the potential for using digital technology and multiple forms of expertise to unlock the stories preserved in our collections.

Project updates
30 May 2018
Dye analysis of the psychedelic Leman silk
As promised in my previous blog, it’s time to show you what very sophisticated scientific analysis techniques (and the even more sophisticated brains of the scientists using them) can reveal about our Leman objects. The...
Read more...
16 May 2018
The psychedelic Leman silk
  Serendipity is a wonderful concept: it applies very clearly to the Leman Album, which has been discussed before in many other blog entries. We had already started our multidisciplinary investigation of the Album, when...
Read more...
22 November 2017
‘PULLING’ THE LEMAN ALBUM
Should a preconceived format dictate an outcome? I have always been a strong advocate of retaining albums in their original format and strongly oppose pulling them (the act of breaking down a bound format to...
Read more...
The Team
Dr Victoria Button
Senior Paper Conservator, V&A

Victoria joined the V&A Conservation Department in 1992 and has been a Senior Paper Conservator since 1999. Her doctorate was awarded in 2013 and explored the function and use of Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait drawings through his choice of mater ... see more

Lead V&A Fellows
Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner
- Senior Curator, Design, Architecture & Digital
Clare Browne
- Senior Curator, Furniture, Textiles & Fashion
Jane Rutherston
- Senior Book Conservator
Dr Lucia Burgio
- Senior Scientist (Conservation Science)