From Dublin to LA: Bringing two Indian Miniatures to the Getty Museum

One of the many advantages of working as a conservator in a small museum is that we get to act as courier for objects approved for loan. Curators and conservators share the task of accompanying objects to and from borrowing institutions.

Whilst it is a pleasure to get to visit exhibitions in different countries, much responsibility comes with being a courier. The objects must be handled safely in transit, delivered securely and installed following best practices, all as set out in the loan agreement made between the Chester Beatty Library and the borrowing institution.

The Library recently lent two Indian miniatures from the Islamic collection to The Getty Museum in Los Angeles. These two items are part of the exhibition Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India (13 March – 24 June, 2018). They are Awrangzib as a Young Prince, c.1640-45 (CBL In 41.3) and Jujhar Singh Bundela Kneels in Submission to Shah Jahan, c.1630 (CBL In 07.16).


Jujhar Singh Bundela Kneels in Submission to Shah Jahan, c.1630 (CBL In 07.16) (Left); and Awrangzib as a Young Prince, c.1640-45 (CBL In 41.3) (Right)

To facilitate this loan, the conservation team carried out an initial condition check on the pieces. Once the loan was approved by the Trustees, the conservation team began work preparing the objects for travel. We checked the paint layer under magnification for pigment losses and fragile areas which could require consolidation prior to travelling. Thankfully, the two Indian miniatures were in good condition so no conservation was required.

CBL In 07A.16 a, detail

Detail of Shah Jahan, c.1630 (CBL In 07.16)

After this the registrars, curators and conservators of both institutions discussed the mounting of the folios. It was agreed that the Getty conservation team would provide us with two frames and mount boards to remount and frame our miniatures.

When this was ready we created a thorough condition report for each object, detailing the present condition of the artwork including the support and paint layer. These reports are an essential part of the lending process as they will stay with the objects throughout the borrowing period. High quality photographs accompany the condition reports. This documentation helps with checking for any changes in the condition of the objects during transportation, exhibition and finally on return to the Chester Beatty Library at the end of the loan period.

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Travelling crate and objects packed with plastazote to reduce vibration during transport

Packing the objects in a protective crate is essential before travel. We have a number of crates of different sizes that we use for loans. They are lined with thick layers of plastazote foam and the framed objects are securely packed on trays made of the same material. We pack the objects in a logical manner and photograph each layer individually. It is essential to record the packing process as it makes the repacking of the object on de-installation much faster and easier for the courier and the art handlers.

A few days before I travelled, the registrar and I double checked that I had all the required documentation. On the day, the best advice I can give is to wear comfortable and warm clothing. It is always a long day, most of which is spent in transit. With the Getty loan I was met by the art handlers at 9.30am in the conservation studio. They moved and secured our packed crate to their climate-controlled art-transport truck, designed to protect artworks from vibrations on the journey.

We then drove to the cargo area at the airport when we met our trusted agent to oversee the palletisation of the crate. The cargo area is a large warehouse busy with workers and forklifts. The crate is weighed and X-rayed before it is moved onto a large aluminium aircraft pallet where staff from the cargo area strap it securely into place and cover it with polyethylene sheeting.

As the courier, it is my responsibility to ensure the crate is locked in place and not sharing a pallet with freight that could be hazardous in nature. I recorded the pallet number and on this occasion I asked the staff to apply extra polyethylene sheeting as the pallet would be waiting on the tarmac for some length of time, and Irish weather can be unpredictable.


The crate securely strapped in place on the aircraft pallet by the cargo area staff

Once palletisation was complete, I then proceeded through check in, security and U.S. customs.  The agent stayed on the ground with the crate until it was loaded on the plane. I did not board the plane until it was confirmed that the crate was on-board by our agent. By the middle of that afternoon both myself and the crate were on route to L.A.

11 hours later, the plane landed and I was met at the arrival gate by the American transportation agent who took me to the cargo area. Access to such restricted areas has been tightly controlled since the early 2000’s, so at this time another agent was present on the tarmac to oversee the moment the pallet is removed from the plane.

We arrived at the cargo area at around 7.30pm and at this point it was my job to wait (courier duties aren’t all glamourous). At about 8pm, something happened that is absolutely unheard off in L.A.: it started raining heavily. This was somewhat upsetting having just landed from Dublin! But I was glad I had asked for the extra polyethylene sheeting as my crate was now in need of all the protection it could get.


Arrival of the crate at L.A. airport (Left); and loading and strapping of the crate onto the truck (Right)

The pallet arrived at 9pm and I was accompanied to the cargo warehouse to oversee the crate being taken off the pallet and loaded onto the truck where it was strapped in place under my supervision. We finally drove through the city to the Getty museum where I was met by a registrar. The crate was carefully transported from the truck to the exhibition gallery and left in this secure location to acclimatise to its new environment for the next 24 hours.

By the time we signed the necessary paperwork and I got a lift to my hotel it was nearing 11pm local time, and I had been working and travelling for 22 hours.

On a courier trip, there is a certain amount of down time while the objects acclimatise before installation when you should take the opportunity to do some sight-seeing and explore the city. That is certainly one of the perks of being a courier and I took full advantage of it.  L.A. has a lot to offer, from amazing museums, great weather, succulent plants growing wild, to great street food, and I tried to make the most of my free time, fighting the jetlag to take it all in.

On installation day I met with the registrar for the exhibition who had also been my point of contact for any emergencies during transportation. She took me to the exhibition gallery where a large table covered with Tyvek and two large standing lamps were set up in the centre of the room for condition checking the objects. Two art handlers were at the ready to open the crate. The glazed frames were placed on the table and thoroughly checked by myself on behalf of Chester Beatty Library and also the manuscript conservator for the Getty Museum. We found no changes had taken place during transport and signed all the relevant paperwork.


The condition checking process of In 07A.16 with paper documentation (Left) and visual checks using raking light (Right)

The art handlers secured both frames to the wall and they looked incredible in their gilded frames. They were covered with a sheet of brown paper to protect them from light until the LUX levels were adjusted. The crate was then packed, locked and moved to acclimatised storage for the length of the exhibition. The Getty staff were extremely professional and efficient and it was a pleasure working with them.


CBL In 07.16 installed in the exhibition gallery (Left); and covered with paper until light levels were adjusted (Right)

Once the installation of the two objects was complete I was delighted to get a chance to be shown the book and paper conservation studio. This was a privilege for me and I was very grateful that the conservators took some of their precious time to show me their space and talk about upcoming projects. I finished the day wandering around the superb Getty Museum, looking primarily at manuscript material but enjoying other exhibits and the scenery as well. What a wonderful view over Los Angeles from there!


The Getty Museum and beautiful views of L.A.

If you are in Los Angeles or nearby in the U.S., go and see Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India at the Getty Museum, from March 13 to June 24, 2018. It’s well worth it!

Julia Poirier – Book and Paper Conservator

Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours

The conservation team have been busy preparing 144 exquisite illuminated miniatures from a manuscript dating to c. 1443, for our next temporary exhibition ‘Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours’.

The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082) was made for the renowned book collector, Prigent de Coëtivy (1400-1450), who was Admiral of France at the time. The book was specifically commissioned to commemorate his marriage to Marie de Rais in Paris in 1444. Nearly 500 years later, the book was given to Chester Beatty by his wife, Edith, on the occasion of their wedding anniversary in 1919.

Fig. 1. The Coëtivy Book of Hours (left) and miniatures housed between glass (right), before conservation.

The tiny manuscript (14.2 x 11.3 x 4.2 cm) is bound in an intricately tooled early nineteenth-century binding. The 364 folios are skilfully painted, with highly decorative borders throughout the manuscript.  However, 144 of the 148 three-quarter page miniatures were removed from the book by Beatty soon after it came into his collection, as he wanted people to be able to ‘look at them as closely as they want and study them properly’. They were therefore stored between glass to aid their preservation and display.

Although the book itself did not require conservation treatment, it was decided that the miniatures should be removed from the glass in order to facilitate their digitisation and enable safe handling by researchers in the future. When the glass sandwiches were opened, it became clear that each folio had been attached to the glass at the top and bottom of the spine edge with pressure-sensitive tape. Thankfully, the carrier of the tape was easily removed with a metal spatula. The rubber-based adhesive left dark residual staining, but it was decided that this would not be removed as in some cases the staining was in contact with the original media and solvent treatment would be too risky.

Fig. 2. Removing folio 291 from glass.

The parchment folios of the manuscript are very thin and have very few visible flaws, indicating that they were made from carefully selected and evenly prepared skins. Scientific analysis by the BioArCh team at the University of York revealed that both calf and goatskin were used in the Coëtivy Hours. Overall, the media was in excellent condition, and did not require consolidation. In some areas there were losses to the blue pigment and gold leaf, but the areas around these losses appeared to be stable and, when examined closely, there was no active flaking of the media.

After the folios were condition checked, the new Digital Department at the Chester Beatty Library took high quality images of every folio using a Phase One XF camera with an IQ380 attachment, capable of producing images with a resolution of 80 megapixels (look out for the new digitisation blog that is coming soon!). The opening of the nineteenth-century binding was somewhat restricted, allowing it to open to little more than 90 degrees, so the conservation team provided advice on handling and helped to ensure the manuscript was supported on a cradle throughout digitisation, whilst the pages were held in place with polyethylene straps from Benchmark.

Fig. 3
Fig. 3. Digitisation of the Coëtivy Book of Hours.

When devising a mounting system for the individual parchment folios, it was important to choose a system that would be strong enough to hold the folios safely in place during display and handling, but allow the parchment to move with natural fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. The mounting system also needed to take into account the unique contours of each folio. For this reason, a bespoke system of Japanese paper tabs was used to mount the folios within window mounts.

The majority of the folios were mounted in pairs, in a standard size mount made from acid-free, buffered Conservation Board (1650 micron), with a standardised aperture. Each folio was over mounted on the spine edge only, with the other three edges floated just a couple of millimetres inside the aperture. This partial float mounting system ensured that each folio was held in place securely, but also offered room for the parchment to expand and contract. Aesthetically, the mounting also reflects the character of the object and reminds the viewer that the miniatures are not only artworks in their own right, but are folios from a bound manuscript volume.

Two sizes of tabs were used on each folio – two 25mm tabs of Japanese sekishu paper were adhered to the spine edge and 3-5 smaller 15mm tabs of a lighter weight Japanese usumino paper were attached along the other three edges. For each tab, the edge in contact with the object was water-cut and then trimmed down with scissors.

Fig. 4. Tabs of Japanese paper, with trimmed water-cut edges, for hinging the folios to the mounts.

The tabs were attached to the folios, with an overlap of less than 2mm, using wheat starch paste and left to dry underneath Bondina, blotting paper and small bag weights.

Fig. 5. Attaching the Japanese paper tabs to the verso of each folio using wheat starch paste.

In terms of positioning, the two spine tabs were placed about 7mm from the bottom and top edges, to reduce the risk of the corners catching when the verso of each folio is viewed. In some cases, the position of these tabs needed to be shifted in order to avoid the red ruling lines.

The level of planar distortion varied from folio to folio, as the parchment not only had a memory of being in a bound volume but also the memory of being part of an animal skin! To account for this variation, the smaller tabs were positioned on a case-by-case basis, allowing each folio to lie as flat as possible whilst also allowing some movement. No more than 5 staggered paper tabs per folio were added, to reduce the risk of tensions arising and cockling.

2018_Composite_ImagesFig. 6. Folios 241 and 270 during treatment, showing the positions of the Japanese paper tabs.

Next, each pair of folios was positioned in their mount and the tabs on the spine edge were pasted to the back board of the mount. A Teflon folder was used to ensure a strong attachment.

Fig. 7. Attaching the tabbed folios to the mounts using wheat starch paste.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8. Folios 294 and 295 after mounting.

The final stage in preparing these folios for exhibition involved framing the mounted miniatures in bespoke gold frames and then hanging them in the midnight blue temporary gallery, so the beautiful illuminations sparkled.


Fig. 9. Framing the folios in the lab (left) and installing the exhibition (right).

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

The Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition is on display from 9 March until 2 September 2018. We do hope you’ll come along to see it!

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.