Conservation collective Copenhagen

The seventeenth seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts, was held at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark from 11th to 13th April 2018. This well-established seminar provides an international forum for discussion and exchange between conservators and specialists from related disciplines.

In November last year, both Julia Poirier and I were delighted to hear that our abstracts had been successful and that we had been invited to speak at this event.

My paper, ‘Exploring the materiality of the early Islamic book: preparing to conserve an early Qur’an manuscript in the collections of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty,’ presented the initial findings from my work to conserve CBL Is 1404. Comprised of 201 folios and measuring around 47 x 38 cm, current scholarship suggests that this large Qur’an manuscript is Umayyad—that is it was made before 750 AD under the courtly patronage of the Umayyad Dynasty. It was most likely written on the Arabian Peninsula, possibly in Sana’a, in Yemen.

Is 1404_Opening.jpg

CBL Is 1404

The manuscript has suffered extensive water damage and subsequent corrosion of the iron containing ink it was written with. It has in turn been subject to numerous layers of previous repairs, many of which are now failing, ineffective, and incurring damage to the manuscript. The weight and extent of the repairs was severely restricting the movement of the parchment folios, causing them to buckle and distort unevenly. This in turn was further aggravating the embrittled and ink-damaged parchment, causing it to fragment when flexed. Although the scale of the task was rather daunting, it was clear that these old repairs would need to be released if the manuscript was to be stabilised sufficiently to allow scholarly access or perhaps even display.

Stages

CBL Is 1404 f.13 before, during, and after conservation.

My presentation included details of my treatment methodologies as well as the first results of EQuIP (Early Qur’an Illumination on Parchment) material analysis undertaken in collaboration with the EU-funded MOLAB, and the Books and Beasts BioArCh project at the University of York.

KRB

Presenting my paper. Thank you Sam Foley for capturing the moment!

As well as presenting my own work and receiving feedback from fellow conservators, attending this well-respected conference in Copenhagen gave me the chance to develop relationships with colleagues internationally,  allowing me to expand my research on the materiality of early Qur’anic manuscripts. The chance to hear presentations from conservators working with diverse manuscript collections around the world was invaluable to my understanding of the latest developments in the conservation profession.

Jasdip

Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper on Sikh codices.

I was particularly interested to hear Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper, ‘Sikh codices with Islamicate bindings: The development of a conservation approach.’ Jasdip works at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and Pothi Seva, and presented his ground-breaking research on the multiple influences on the Sikh binding structure.

Another fascinating paper was presented by Andrew Honey from the Bodleian Library’s conservation team. Andrew’s reflections on working alongside the late Christopher Clarkson to conserve the Winchester Bible, and subsequently continuing with this treatment after Chris’ death, provided a nuanced and personal account of both the great man, and a great manuscript.

JjoZxv9M_400x400‘The biology of the book: Future prospects for biology as a handmaiden to conservation,’ introduced the Beasts to Craft Advanced ERC project team, and announced their recent award of €2.5 million from the European Research Council. The team members include Matthew Collins, Jiři Vnouček, Élodie Lévêque and Sarah Fiddyment, all of whom are working on the latest developments in parchment production, manuscript materiality and conservation. Their ERC funding ensures that this fascinating project can explore new areas of research relating to animal husbandry, parchment manufacture, and the microbiome of individual skins. The opportunity to discuss my own work on CBL Is 1404 with them was invaluable.

Julia’s paper on the history of Samaritan manuscript production was utterly fascinating, and there were audible gasps from the audience in the lecture theatre as she explained and illustrated the unique wooden spine stiffener binding type she has observed. Other excellent papers were given by Georgios Boudalis, Nikki Tomkins, and Nil Baydar amongst others. The standard of presentations was exceedingly high, and all of the speakers provided fascinating insights into their work.

JUlia

Julia Poirier presenting her research on Samaritan bindings.

As a practicing conservator, continuing professional development is an essential part of my duty to maintain professional standards at work. As such, I remain exceedingly grateful for the support of the Chester Beatty, ICRI  and the Heritage Council of Ireland , who facilitated my attendance at this event.

Care and Conservation 17 was directly relevant to my work on the conservation of illuminated manuscripts at the Chester Beatty. It was also particularly valuable to have the opportunity to renew relationships with colleagues working across Europe and the USA, and to share our enthusiasm about continuing projects.

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

After the conference, I took the opportunity to explore Copenhagen and visit the David Collection. This beautiful collection of Islamic art, contemporary Danish paintings, and decorative objects is often compared with the Chester Beatty, and provided a very pleasant venue for a morning of exploration. Their current exhibition offered an incredibly informative insight to an often misunderstood subject, The Human Figure in Islamic Art – Holy Men, Princes, and Commoners (November 24th 2017 to May 13th 2018).

 

Kristine Rose-Beers ACR, Senior Conservator

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Miniature Masterpiece: Repair Work Revealed

Earlier this year 144 fifteenth-century medieval miniatures from one of the Chester Beatty’s most treasured works, The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082), were re-mounted by the conservation team in preparation for the temporary exhibition, Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours (9th March – 2nd September 2018).

In general, the miniatures were in good condition and did not require any treatment prior to re-mounting, but one particular miniature, CBL W 082 f.295, required rather more care and attention.

An unsympathetic historic repair along the spine edge of the folio had caused the parchment to deteriorate and it was decided that conservation treatment would be beneficial, in order to improve the physical and chemical stability of the folio before it was mounted. For more information on the mounting process do take a look at our previous blog post here.

Fig 1

CBL W 082 f.295 before conservation.

Fig 2

CBL W 082 f.295 in transmitted light.

Four distinct areas of damage were visible along the spine edge of folio 295. It is likely that the losses may have occurred when the folio was removed from its binding, and could possibly correspond with the sewing stations of this previous structure.  Unfortunately, when the damaged areas were repaired, the infill paper that was used was thicker, more yellow and several shades lighter than the original parchment, immediately detracting from the delicate illumination. When viewing the folio in transmitted light, it could be seen that the repair paper overlapped the parchment on both the recto and verso by 1-5mm. This overlap was not only visually displeasing, but also increased the risk of tensions occurring if the folio were to expand and contract in response to changes in relative humidity. In addition, the parchment along the repair edge had darkened and become embrittled, possibly due to aging of the adhesive with which the repair was applied.

For these reasons, it was decided that the historic repair and any residual adhesive should be removed, in order to prevent any further deterioration of the parchment support. Since parchment is very sensitive to moisture, mechanical removal of the repair was attempted in the first instance, but this was not successful. Instead, a small damp brush was used to introduce just enough moisture to swell the adhesive so that the repairs and adhesive could be carefully removed with a small dental tool.

Fig 3

Removing the historic repairs from CBL W 082 f.295.

Fig 4

CBL W 082 f.259 after the historic repairs had been removed.

As often occurs during conservation treatments, there was a stage where the object looked a lot worse than before the treatment began! As well as revealing the true extent of loss to the spine edge, removing the old repair revealed two small tears in the parchment. These were repaired on the verso of the folio using RK2 remoistenable tissue, prepared using isinglass (a proteinaceous adhesive derived from the swim bladder of sturgeon fish). Isinglass was chosen for its excellent ageing properties as well as its strong adhesion at low concentrations. It is also a collagen-based material, just like parchment. The prepared remoistenable tissue was cut to the desired shape and peeled off its Melinex backing. Then the repair paper was carefully positioned over the tear, activated with a damp brush and left to dry under a small weight. When dry, the two tear repairs were trimmed down and the folio was ready to be infilled.

Fig 5

Details showing the torn areas on CBL W 082 f.295 before (left) and after (right) repairing with remoistenable tissue.

The paper chosen for the infills was a Japanese sekishu paper (20 gsm), dyed with yasha (click here for more information on how this was prepared). The paper was thinner and lighter than the parchment, to ensure that it would work in harmony with the folio and avoid incurring any tensions between the two materials.

Fig 6

Tools used for infilling.

Fig 7

Infilling losses using sekishu paper.

The folio was placed over a light box and a layer of Melinex was used as a barrier between the folio and the repair paper above. This allowed the shape of the first damaged area to be traced onto the repair paper with a water pen. A bamboo spatula was used to score along the same line and to tease away the remaining paper, revealing a feathered edge. Next, the edge of each infill was trimmed down with scissors and pasted with wheat starch paste. Over the light box, each infill was carefully positioned (with a 1mm overlap between the repair and the folio) and left to dry under light pressure. After treatment, the folio was mounted in the same way as the other miniatures and is currently on display in the Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition.

Fig 8

CBL W 082 f.295 after treatment.

As an intern, this small project was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about parchment conservation. Discussing treatment options with the conservation team here at the Chester Beatty Library was an invaluable experience and I look forward to applying what I have learnt to new parchment projects in the future.

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

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.