Virtual Vellum


Virtual Vellum produced a prototype image viewer making possible the retrieval, manipulation and annotation/hotspotting of very-high-resolution image datasets.

Project Status:



Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Jisc


University of Sheffield
Besançon Public Library
Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, Cambridge
Humanities Research Institute (University of California at Irvine, and UoC San Diego)
Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds and London
Stonyhurst College Library, Lancashire
Toulouse Public Library
Université de Provence at Aix-Marseille
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Liverpool
White Rose “Medieval Book” research network at Sheffield, York and Leeds
Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) “Reading the Medieval Book” research consortium


French studies, images, large datasets, manuscripts, medieval period, software development


high resolution imaging, Java, JPEG2000

Project Website

Project Description

Virtual Vellum was an e-Science demonstrator project with the aim of promoting and demonstrating the use of technology within arts and humanities research. It investigated technologies that facilitate the retrieval, manipulation and annotation/hotspotting of very high resolution image datasets (typically greater than 8k x 6k pixels). Each dataset may consist of many hundred images, such as those from digitised manuscripts. The Froissart Manuscript Project provided the initial collection of images for the development process, however the viewing environment provided a generic viewing tool for researchers and is able to handle arbitrary image collections.

Flexibility in terms of accessing image datasets has been given by including the ability to retrieve data from a local hard drive, over the internet, and via a Data Grid using Storage Resource Broker (this primarily made use of the White Rose Grid and the Worldwide Universities Network, WUN). Motivated by the potential bandwidth issues associated with retrieving large images over a network, the effectiveness of encoding the images as JPEG 2000 was assessed and implemented within the project.

Further benefits and features of the Virtual Vellum project include:

  • Entirely written in Java Version 1.2 (this includes the JPEG 2000 decoder and multiple view user interface)
  • Open source access to the viewing tool
  • Computer platform independence
  • Single and multiple views for comparing different images

Virtual Vellum therefore provides an ideal tool for collaborative Access Grid seminars and standalone conference presentations and lectures. VV was rolled out during a live medieval exhibition connecting the Royal Armouries at Leeds with its premises at the Tower of London and Louisville, Kentucky between April and June 2007. During the exhibition, the audience was invited to use the viewing tool to interact with the Froissart manuscript images, which would otherwise be inaccessible because of the rare and fragile state of the original manuscripts.

Duration: June 2006 – November 2006


We would like to thank the following institutions for allowing their manuscripts to be digitised:

  • Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon
  • Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er, Brussels
  • Stonyhurst College, Lancashire
  • Toulouse, Bibliotheque d’etude et du patrimoine
  • and Colin Dunn, Scriptura Ltd, who digitised all our images.

Project Team

  • Peter Ainsworth (PI – University of Sheffield)
  • Michael Meredith (TA – University of Sheffield)
  • Mike Griffiths (White Rose Grid Development Officer)
  • Colin Dunn (Consultant – Scriptura Ltd, Oxford)


  • Godfried Croenen (Associate Director – Froissart Project, University of Liverpool)
  • Anne D Hedeman (Prof. of Medieval Art History – Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Christiane Raynaud (Medieval Iconography – Université de Provence at Aix-Marseille)
  • Karen Watts (Senior Curator of Arms and Armour – Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds and London)
  • Jan Graffius (Curator – Stonyhurst College Library, Lancashire)
  • Karine Rebmeister (Curator and Conservator – Besançon Public Library)
  • Jocelyne Deschaux (Director, Curator and Conservator – Toulouse Public Library)
  • John Norman (Director – Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, Cambridge)

HRI Project Team

  • Dr Michael Meredith (Digital Humanities Developer & Post Doctoral Research Associate – University of Sheffield)