The Chester Beatty’s magnificent 890-page Qur’an by Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘I al-Shirazi (CBL Is 1558), forms the centrepiece for the Library’s next temporary exhibition, Lapis and Gold: the story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an. Over the past few years this incredible sixteenth century Persian manuscript has been subject to an extensive program of conservation and study, which has yielded a wealth of information about how it was produced. The exhibition presents many of these intriguing findings through the display of more than fifty of the currently disbound manuscript folios.
The manuscript was disbound in 2012 by book conservator Rachel Sawicki, to allow for its full conservation. She then carried out extensive paper repair, and former conservation intern Fiona McLees worked on the delicate task of pigment consolidation. The manuscript is now in good condition, and curator of the Islamic collections Dr Elaine Wright has taken the opportunity to have a number of the disbound folios mounted and framed for this beautiful exhibition.
This presented an interesting challenge for the conservation team. As the folios will only be mounted temporarily for this exhibition, and won’t remain in their frames long-term, we needed to design an adaptable mounting system that would allow them to be easily removed when the exhibition is over. To minimise the introduction of moisture on the highly burnished and water sensitive Persian paper, we decided to mount the objects using Melinex V hinges from Secol. These were added on all edges of each opening, and offer a more temporary mounting system than our usual technique of Japanese paper hinges and wheat starch paste.
However, as these objects are folios from a book, our mounting system also needed to support up to three thicknesses of paper (one fully open bifolio and one closed bifolio on top of it, forming a full opening). How to secure the closed bifolio on three sides, whilst eliminating the risk of movement and bulk along the gutter (spine) edge of the folded bifolio was quite a challenge.
In order to do so we created a mount prototype which introduced a 25 mm wide strip of polyethylene strap from Benchmark . By positioning the strap inside the folded bifolio and gently pulling it through slots in the mount board at the top and bottom of the folio, we could secure the bifolio with just a little gentle pressure.
To mark the position of the slots for the strapping we made small pencil marks about 1mm away from the edge of each bifolio at top and bottom. We then removed the object from the mount, and cut a slot between the pencil marks at a slight angle. When the object was returned to the mount, the strapping secured the folded bifolio in place on the mount board, and reduced any unwanted movement of the object. The angled slot provided sufficient friction to secure the strapping without the need for adhesive.
This method was used to mount all of the manuscript openings which included folded bifolios as well. Once the strapping and folios were in place, Melinex V hinges were added around each opening to hold then in place. By staggering the position of the v hinges, we hope to have reduced the chances of the delicate paper cockling.
This simple and yet unusual method of mounting the folios of the Ruzbihan Qur’an has proved very effective. It successfully provides the folded and otherwise precariously supported bifolios with an extra level of support which will keep them safe for the duration of the exhibition.
Mounting and framing these incredibly beautiful objects has been a real pleasure and we hope you will have a chance to see the exhibition when it opens.
Lapis and Gold: The Story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an, runs in the Chester Beatty Library temporary gallery from 15th of April to the 28th of August, 2016.
Lapis and Gold in the Irish Times, 14th April 2016.
Kristine will give a lunchtime lecture titled ‘Lapis and Gold: exploring Ruzbihan’s palette,’ on Thursday 28th April at 1.10pm in the Chester Beatty Lecture Theatre.