Mirror of the World Part II – Conserving and rebinding an early printed copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa

The conservation of the Cihan-numa (Mirror of the World) by Haci Halife formed the main project during my Heritage Council internship in Conservation. The project was generously supported by the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF), and has enabled the volume to be rebound in a sympathetic Islamic style binding that will allow the book to be safely handled and displayed.

Printed by Ibrahim Muteferrika in Constantinople in 1732, this book is one of the first books printed in Turkish in Turkey. The book first came into the lab in 2016 because an image of one of the maps was needed for inclusion in ‘The Director’s Choice’ publication. However as the book was housed in an unsympathetic rebinding, in-situ digitisation was not possible. The decision was made to separate the print from the textblock in order to facilitate digitisation. In case you missed the first part of my journey with this object please follow this link, if you’d like, before continuing reading below.

After fully disbinding the textblock, as described in my previous post on this object, the next step was to carry out paper repair of the folios. The repair necessary was quite substantial due to the sawn in recesses along the spine and unsuitable previous repairs. The paper repairs were done on a lightbox with Japanese paper and very dry wheat starch paste to prevent water staining; coloured areas and those with copper corrosion were repaired with remoistenable tissue.

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Tracing the shape of the repair onto the Japanese paper and placing the repair along the fold of the folio.

After finishing the paper repairs on the Cihan-numa, the few quires that were not single bifolios were tacketed with a sewing thread at head and tail to prevent the inner folios from slipping out of the quires.

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Tacketing the textblock (left), and the textblock with all tackets in place (right).

After tacketing, the spinefolds of the folios were pressed locally to reduce the swell added in this area by the paper repairs. Two narrow pieces of strong Tschudi Eterno board were cut and sanded to remove hard edges. The board strips were then attached to wooden boards, allowing pressure to be applied in this narrow area.

The localised pressing considerably reduced the swell caused by the paper repairs. However, when putting the quires back together to form a textblock, it became clear that the swell needed to be reduced even further. The quires needed time and localised weight in order to settle. After about a week of sitting under a board and being weighed-down along the back of the textblock, the quires had settled enough to start the process of sewing. The textblock was resewn with a link-stitch on four stations, located at points identified during the repair and documentation process.

To accommodate the bulk added to the back of the textblock through the paper repairs, the sewing was carried out ‘two-on.’ This means that the sewing thread does not pass through every quire evenly, but that the sewing passes between two quires as it moves from one end of the spine to the other. The first and last two quires are sewn throughout—or ‘all-along’—because although the two-on sewing reduces the amount of swell added by the thread, it is also not quite as strong as sewing all along. The addition of a spine lining and endbands further strengthens the two-on sewing structure.

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Sewing the textblock (left), and consolidating the sewn quires with a bone folder (right).

Due to the heavily rounded-and-backed previous binding style, the paper textblock had a strong physical memory of a substantially rounded spine profile. This is not a feature that is typical for an Islamic binding, which usually has either a flat or slightly rounded spine. Once the sewing was finished the tackets were removed. A light application of wheat starch paste was added to the spine to stabilise the textblock. The application of the wheat starch paste is the first step toward setting the profile of the spine in a more appropriate shape.

The rest of the binding was informed by my colleague, Kristine Rose-Beers’ research with Ana Beny on the historic Andalucían binding, as an inspiration for the conservation of historic Islamic material. This binding style is characterised by an underlying textile and paper spine lining, which forms the fundamental attachment between boards and the textblock. The spine lining used for the rebinding of the Cihan-numa is a modified version of the historic examples seen in Andalucían Islamic bindings. It was constructed in the following way:

First, a woven linen textile was lined with Japanese paper. It was cut to size extending in length about 2 cm above the head and tail of the textblock and in width 5 cm on either side of the spine. The textile and paper lining was then attached to the textblock by sewing it through the last quire, with the textile facing the spine.

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Attaching the card to the spine lining (left), and sewing the spine lining to the first quire (right).

After this, a thin piece of card was adhered inside the textile lining. The card was cut to the precise dimensions of the spine and attached to the textile side of the spine lining. It was rubbed down first by hand and then with a bone folder to ensure a good attachment to the textile, and to ensure the spine lining is formed precisely to the spine profile.  The lining was then completely attached to the textblock by sewing it in place through the first quire, and left to dry shaped around the spine.

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Cutting and folding the spine lining (left), and adding the leather core.

The spine lining, which extends over the head and tail of the textblock, was folded down to form a core for the endband. An additional traditional leather core was added to further stabilise this structure.

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Sewing the primary endband (left), and the finished primary endband (right).

The primary endbands were sewn through the spine lining, further securing the attachment to the textblock Due to the large number of quires in the Cihan-numa, the primary endband was only tied down at every fourth quire of the volume.

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Sewing the secondary endband (left), and the finished chevron-patterned secondary endband.

On top of the primary endband, a secondary endband with a chevron pattern was added. The secondary endband usually consists of two colours. I chose a light green as my leading colour, because I found a little thread remnant in a light green in one of the original endband holes. The second rose colour complemented the green nicely.

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Opening of the textblock without…                 …and with the endband!

Because endbands often look so pretty, it is sometimes forgotten that they have a very important structural role in the physics of a binding. They play an important part in supporting the sewing structure and change the opening characteristics of the textblock dramatically.

Once the endbands were sewn, the new Tschudi Eterno boards were attached to the textblock using the extended spine lining. Localised pressing of the boards in a standing press ensured that the attachment was secure.

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Positioning the spine lining inside the split boards and attaching the boards in the standing press.

At this stage, the book was ready for covering. I edge-pared a maroon coloured goatskin in preparation. The leather was humidified before any wheat starch paste was applied. This humidification increases the working time when covering, and makes the leather suppler while working it around the shape of the book.

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Covering the volume in maroon goatskin leather.

Although the previous binding of the Cihan-numa did not have an envelope flap, they are often a feature of 18th century Turkish Islamic bindings. For this reason, and in order to further protect the textblock and balance out its slight wedge-shape, the decision was made to add an envelope flap to its new binding.

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AA306 after conservation.

The conservation of this volume was very interesting to me, as it was my first encounter with Islamic material. The research was very exciting, albeit difficult due to the lack of information available on the subject of early Turkish printed books. Though not particularly challenging in itself, the sheer volume of the paper repairs was also quite daunting!

AA306_03_002_final (7)The most interesting bit of the conservation was definitely the sewing technique and the endbands, which are both so fundamentally important to the structure and the functionality of the book. It was beautiful to see the book come together again in the end, and to be able to see the difference my conservation treatment has made to the book’s opening characteristics.

Working on such a wonderful collection has many perks, and due to my work on this interesting object, I was invited by Pádraig Ó Macháin, Professor of modern Irish at University College Cork, to give a talk about my internship project as part of an afternoon seminar titled “Beyond the text: the functionality and materiality of the book”. The other speakers were John Gillis from Trinity College Dublin, Agata Dierick from the City Archive of Leuven and Daniela Iacopino and Pádraig Ó Macháin from UCC. It was a wonderful experience to be invited and to have the chance to discuss my research with a professional audience at UCC.

My internship at the Chester Beatty Library has been enriching, insightful and simply wonderful all around. I have learned so much through working together with incredibly kind and knowledgeable colleagues. A new area of objects, their preservation and conservation were opened to me and the opportunities the Library has given me throughout the year to continue my professional development have truly been exceptional.

Dorothea Müller, Former Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Dorothea is now working at the Bibliotheca Augusta in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Stamp of approval

When Sir Alfred Chester Beatty died on 19 January 1968 he bequeathed his world-famous collection of rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts to the Irish people.

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of his death and his extraordinary gift to the nation, a special twelve month programme of events was launched by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D. on 19 January 2018.

CBL Archive:

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. (c) The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

The Library also unveiled a series of four commemorative postage stamps from An Post featuring works from across the Collections. It was a real pleasure to be involved in the project, so I thought I’d write a short piece on how it came about and share some details on the artworks pictured.

The call for suggestions for 2018 commemorative stamps was issued by An Post at the beginning of 2016 and the Library submitted a proposal to the Philatelic Advisory Committee (PAC) that March. This independent committee assesses all proposals received for special and commemorative stamps and recommends the subjects for inclusion in each annual programme.

We were delighted to hear that our request had been initially recommended by the Committee and that Zinc Design had been appointed to work with us on developing four €1 stamps. The challenge then began: with over 27,000 objects to choose from, trying to select just four images that best represented the Collection and that might suit the diminutive format of a stamp seemed an impossible task. However after a series of meetings with the Curators and Director we shortlisted twelve images that we felt best represented the life of Chester Beatty and our three main collections – East Asian, Islamic and Western.

In December 2016, the Director and I met with the designer and An Post’s Philatelic Manager to review possible designs. After much discussion we all agreed on a final winning selection.

The next step was to take high resolution photographs of the collection items, and the final stamp proofs were then sent to the Board of An Post for ratification. The Library was under strict instructions not to share the exciting news of the stamps until they were finally approved by Government at the end of 2017 and the anticipation within the museum was keen.

Chester Beatty was an avid stamp collector from an early age and this is often cited as the start of his great passion for collecting. It was therefore a most appropriate tribute to be able to launch the stamps on the 50th anniversary of his death on the 19 January 2018.

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Left to right: Jessica Baldwin, Minister Madigan T.D., David McRedmond, Dr Catherine Day (Chair of the Board of Trustees), Fionnuala Croke (Director)

The four new €1 stamps feature a portrait photograph of Alfred Chester Beatty (c.1911) and detail images from the collections: Birth of the Virgin (Simon Bening c.1530, Belgium); Shah Jahan (Bichitr c.1630, India) and Allusions to the Seven Lucky Gods: Daikoku (Yashima Gakutei c.1825, Japan). Despite only measuring 52 x 30mm, this cohesive set of stamps beautifully illustrates the collections.

Speaking at the launch, David McRedmond, Group CEO of An Post said: “We think of stamps as ambassadors for Ireland as they travel across the globe, telling the story of Irish life, heritage and culture. With these stamps, Ireland celebrates the vision and generosity of Chester Beatty and the ongoing success and vibrancy of this wonderful museum as it continues to delight and inform Irish and international visitors.” I couldn’t say it better myself, it seems the perfect way to thank Chester for his incredible gift, considered the greatest ever given to the nation.

The four stamps, along with a specially designed First Day Cover envelope, are available to purchase in the Chester Beatty Shop as well as main post offices, Dublin’s GPO or online.

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The four new €1 stamps feature a portrait photograph of Alfred Chester Beatty (c.1911) and images from the collections: Birth of the Virgin (detail) (Simon Bening c.1530, Belgium); Shah Jahan (detail) (Bichitr c.1630, India) and Allusions to the Seven Lucky Gods: Daikoku (detail) (Yashima Gakutei c.1825, Japan). The first day cover shows an oriental figural snuff-bottle from the collections (c.1790-1830, Jingdezhen, China).

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections

Mirror of the World: Disbinding an early printed copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa

In current conservation practice, where minimal intervention is favoured, it is unusual to decide to disbind a book entirely. However, in the case of the Chester Beatty Library’s rare complete copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa (Mirror of the World, CBL AA 306) it was decided that this was the best option in order to carry out a comprehensive conservation treatment of the damaged text block. The Cihan-numa was printed by Ibrahim Müteferrika in Constantinople in 1732, and summarised Ottoman geographical knowledge of the time. It was one of the first texts to be published by Müteferrika, founder of the first official Ottoman printing house in Turkey.

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CBL AA 306 before conservation: the spine, upper board, and opening characteristics of the bound volume.

The book first came to the attention of the conservation department in 2016 when an image of a double folio map was requested for inclusion in the Director’s Choice publication. Due to the restrictive 19th century binding and modern European sewing structure, the opening of the text block was extremely restricted. The text block was already detached from the case binding, and digitisation of the printed map was not possible in situ. In order to facilitate digitisation, the map was removed from the damaged text block so that it could be fully repaired by previous Heritage Council Intern Cécilia Duminuco before digitisation.

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Removing f.196 in 2016, and the conserved map of present-day Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan after repair.

It was at this point that I was given the project to work on. One of the most significant factors contributing to the decision to take the text block apart into quires was to allow for complete repair. In particular, the green colour used to paint the frame lines around many of the printed maps had gradually burnt through the paper causing most of the folios to split along this line. Resewing the folios in a more sympathetic style would release the strain on the heavily burnished paper of the text block and reduce the risk of any additional breakage in the areas that were decorated with this copper-containing pigment. Using a traditional Islamic sewing style would also be less restrictive than the heavily glued-up 19th century structure, increasing the opening of the text block and allowing the folios to be viewed right into the gutter edge.

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The recto (left) and verso (right) of f.86 showing the extent of breaks caused by copper corrosion.

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Detail of f. 297 before conservation.

While taking apart the text block every detail that could provide information about the original sewing structure was recorded. In the middle of most quires remnants of a pink or red sewing thread and previous sewing stations could be recorded.

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Evidence of original sewing stations on f.126r- 125v (left); and a detail of the preserved pink sewing threads in the gutter of f.125v (right).

It was also apparent that the text block had not been completely resewn, as previously thought. Instead the back of the text block was sawn into at nine stations and cords were embedded inside these recesses over the previous sewing structure. After which a generous amount of glue was applied before gauze and paper linings were added by the 19th century binder. This treatment ensured the quires would stay together, but also restricted the movement of either the sewing threads, or the heavily burnished paper.

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Removing the paper and gauze spine linings from the paper text block (left); manually removing the heavy glue accretions (top and middle right); and the spine after glue removal (bottom right).

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Detail of the nine sawn-in stations and cords.

The gauze and paper backings and the proteinaceous glue were removed manually with a scalpel in order to avoid distorting the highly water sensitive paper with moisture from a poultice. After removing the glue, the quires were separated from each other. Although there was no glue holding the quires together anymore, they did not separate very easily- especially where the paper was sawn into. Great care was necessary to avoid further damage to the paper in those areas. While separating the quires a collation map was prepared in order to chronicle the sewing structure, but which was also used to record any common traits or unusual details found during the process of disbinding. The collation map includes notes of the folios with hand coloured maps, the location of annotations made by someone studying the text in the past, as well as specific damages such as old repairs, damage by insects and copper corrosion.

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Separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

After separating the folios they were put into tissue folders and placed in temporary storage boxes to await their paper repairs. The paper repairs are now well underway and will be the focus of a future blog post towards the end of the year.

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Dorothea separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

Dorothea Müller, Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Dorothea will give a talk about this project as part of Heritage Week in August 2017. Her presentation will take place in the Lecture Room at the Chester Beatty Library, at 1.10pm on Thursday 24th August.

We don’t mind Mondays!

As regular visitors to the Library will know, the museum is not open to the public on Mondays during the winter months (November – February). However you may be surprised to hear that Closed Mondays are often the busiest days of the year, especially for the conservation team.

There is a small but dedicated staff at the Library and we all work onsite so are used to the general background noise and buzz of our wonderful visitors (over 370,000 people last year). So on that first Monday in November the museum always seems eerily quiet, but not for long.

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Cleaning larger collection objects around the Library.

An essential part of disaster prevention is the Library’s very busy annual maintenance programme which ranges from clearing gutters and checking roof tiles to servicing the lifts and running fire drills. Phased improvements and repairs to the fabric and decoration of the building are planned to coincide with closed Mondays, so that they have minimum impact on our visitors.

For conservation it offers an opportunity to carry out essential maintenance in the galleries. Display cases are opened and the interior glass cleaned, artsorb used to maintain a stable relative humidity levels is changed and our environmental monitoring system is annually calibrated. The collection includes some beautiful Chinese vases and furniture which are on open display, so these are carefully cleaned using soft brushes and microfiber cloths.

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Changing the scroll displays in the Arts of the Book gallery.

We have two permanent galleries-Arts of the Book and Sacred Traditions– the key themes within these exhibitions remain the same however the collections on display change annually. The curatorial staff work with the conservation team to carry out phased rotations across the collections.

From March, the Library re-opens seven days a week and today we are open to the public. However our work doesn’t stop there as we will now start planning our next maintenance programme over a very welcome cup of coffee from the Silk Road Café.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation

 

Pondering on placements

Over the summer, the Conservation team were delighted to offer a student placement (20th July- 16th September 2016) to Elisabeth Randell. Elisabeth is currently a student on the MA Conservation course at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, and we’re happy to share this post from her.

As I have experienced in the last few years as an emerging conservator, there truly is no equivalent for learning from practicing professionals in a working studio. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to return to the Chester Beatty Library for an eight-week summer placement.

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Removing an old mount with pressure sensitive tape & adhesive residue left on the verso of the object.

The Chester Beatty is a hub for international scholars with the diversity and quality of collection allowing for a wide range of research. It is a wonderful environment to be immersed in as the team, visiting scholars and conservators alike are not only incredibly knowledgeable in their field of specialism, but are also keen to share their knowledge. This exchange of ideas, practices, and considerations for the collection has helped further my development and understanding of current standards on practical treatments and collection care respectively. This institution dedicated to the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage, further demonstrates its commitment through its strong programme of engagement with the public and promotion of the profession.

During my placement I carried out several projects, including contributing to the ongoing project to conserve the Indian miniature collection; assisting in the conservation and preparation to lend 40 aquatint prints from Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War series; de-installation of the temporary Lapis and Gold exhibition; as well as assisting with day to day activities within the lab.

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Left: The text panel has failed and fallen out due to copper corrosion from the media used on the border. Right: Repairing and reinforcing the text panel with remoistenable tissue.

In 2013 I had an opportunity to assist with the digitisation of the biblical papyri and during that time I discovered my passion for the conservation of papyrus, and was drawn to learning more about the material and its accompanying conservation methods. The Library’s papyri collection ranges in date from 1800 B.C. to 800 A.D. and includes many works of outstanding importance. The time spent involved with this digitisation project, assessing, observing, and learning about issues surrounding the care of papyrus and various treatment protocols under the guidance of Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation, was a validating experience.

So I was thrilled to return to the lab with the opportunity to carry out a survey of the Islamic and part of the Coptic papyri collections. As the conservation of papyrus is where my passion lies, and is the proposed subject of my MA dissertation, this was a wonderful and rare opportunity to examine and observe this material up close.

The aim of the project was to assess the condition and identify high risk objects, with the main goal of approaching the collection holistically in regards to safe housing and easy handling. As the collection is mounted between glass plates and sealed with varying water-soluble tapes, in conjunction with the papyri itself generally in a good condition, the goals of the project then concerned its accessibility and long-term storage.

The housing of the collection left room for improvement in the way of unified and standard boxing, as well as interleaving which acts as both a support for the object during handling, provides a buffer within the storage boxes, as well as provides a protective interface between the glass plates.

As I am interested in the manufacture and historical method of production, and historic treatments of papyri collections, it was invaluable to have this time and access to such a precious material. This collection offered an extra dimension of intrigue as it is comprised of the Library’s Islamic papyrus, which is quite a rare material to find within collections. I have observed many papyri fragments and folios written in Hebrew and Greek, but it was interesting to see most of the Arabic papyri written in kufic. Kufic is a beautiful and decorative alphabet originating from Kūfah in Iraq.

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Surveying the Islamic papyri collection.

In addition to the chance to study the materiality of the collection, this project was a fantastic exercise in collection care and management. There are many considerations that go into the rehousing of a collection such as bearing in mind storage constraints, whilst maintaining a pragmatic and economical approach.

Leaving the CBL lab I feel reinvigorated with a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm heading back to complete my MA at Camberwell College of Arts. I wish to extend my greatest appreciation and thanks to the Conservation team for welcoming me back into the studio, and for their encouragement and support. It has been inspiring to be invited into such lab whose strives to maintain the highest of standards carrying out numerous practical projects, whilst emphasizing the sharing of knowledge and techniques.

Elisabeth Randell, Student Conservator

Exploring Ruzbihan’s palette: Gold

It’s hard to believe that our current exhibition Lapis and Gold: The story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an will close on Sunday 28th August, however we are delighted that over 103,000 visitors have had a chance to see it so far.

We hope to encourage you to come and visit the exhibition before it closes with this post on gold – the second most abundant colour on the pages of this spectacular 16th century Persian manuscript.

Precious metals such as gold and silver are used frequently in manuscript illumination. They are applied as thinly beaten metallic leaf or finely ground to form powdered shell colours that can be used as paint. Shell gold is named after the mollusc shells that this precious paint was frequently stored in during the medieval period.

As we discovered with ultramarine (see our previous post here), gold has been used on every page of the Ruzbihan Qur’an. It has been applied exclusively as a powdered gold paint. The gold has been applied directly to the paper with no evidence of a preparatory ground layer as is often the case in the European manuscript tradition. It has been burnished selectively to highlight scrolling motifs, and pricked with a sharp point to create further visual interest.

Gold is almost always the first colour to be applied to each page of the manuscript, but it is also applied over other colours, including ultramarine.

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f.185a, a wealth of gold techniques.

Gold is routinely painted over in the Ruzbihan Qur’an. These painted details have not always adhered to the surface of the unburnished gold paint successfully, and the illumination has sometimes fractured and flaked away from the surface of the gold, particularly where the details are painted using red and white lead containing mixtures.

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Flaking lead white on gold f.3a and f.443a.

The gold sprinkled grounds seen behind the panels of large-scale script throughout the textblock are also applied as powdered gold paint, and the characteristic round droplet shape is clear under magnification. These sprinkles have been used alone, over lines of small-scale black naskh script, or layered with a translucent pink—most probably safflower.

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Gold and pink sprinkled grounds on folios f.79a and f.20b.

Towards the end of the manuscript, the use of two shades of gold further enhances the lustre of the folios. Although only pure gold was identified in the Ruzbihan Qur’an, the use of gold alloys and different carats of gold for visual affect has been identified in studies of 16th century Islamic miniature painting.

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

Lapis and Gold: The story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an is on display until Sunday 28th August at the Chester Beatty Library. We do hope you will come and explore Ruzbihan’s palette for yourself.

Exploring Ruzbihan’s palette: Ultramarine

This is the first of a number of posts which will explore the palette of the Ruzbihan Qur’an, the spectacular 16th century Persian manuscript currently at the centre of our exhibition Lapis and Gold: The story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an.

In late 2013 and early 2014, two rounds of non-invasive scientific analysis helped to identify the pigments used by calligrapher Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘i al-Shirazi and his team of artists. The pigment analysis was part of a larger research project to increase our knowledge of mid-16th century Shirazi artists’ materials and techniques, contributing to a fuller understanding of the working methodologies of Islamic book artists at this time.

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Examining folios from the Ruzbihan Qur’an (CBL Is 1558) with scientists from MOLAB® (left) and curator Dr Elaine Wright (right) in the conservation lab.

The European Commission funded MOLAB® Transnational Access Service, sponsored two teams of dedicated scientists, who travelled to Dublin from Italy and France. Working with our curator and conservators, using analytical techniques such as X-ray fluorescence, FT-IR reflectance and Raman spectroscopy, the expert teams were able to scientifically identify the pigments used on this manuscript.

As expected, this confirmed that the colours used in the Ruzbihan Qur’an are made from both organic and inorganic materials. Gold is used liberally throughout the manuscript, but in spite of its lavish use the predominant colour of the Ruzbihan Qur’an’s palette is Ultramarine, the precious blue pigment derived from the naturally occurring mineral Lapis lazuli.

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Lapis lazuli and the pigment Ultramarine (left); the location of the Lapis lazuli mines (right).

The semi-precious stone, Lapis lazuli, has been mined at Sar-e-sang in northern Afghanistan since antiquity. Its rarity and lustrous colour meant it was particularly valued for jewellery and sculpture, but the deep blue pigment yielded by the stone was also a highly sought-after product. Ultramarine, the blue pigment obtained from Lapis lazuli, was difficult both to extract from the stone, and to paint with. It was an extremely expensive product, frequently costing the medieval artist considerably more than its weight in gold.

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A wealth of blues, all painted with Ultramarine, are used throughout the Ruzbihan Qur’an.

Part of this high cost was due to the fact that when Lapis lazuli is crushed and ground down, it can yield an uninspiring grey-blue powder due to the presence of numerous impurities such as calcite and iron pyrites. The ground stone must be carefully processed in order to extract the precious colouring material, lazurite (a sulphur containing aluminosilicate mineral). The precise method of production remains shrouded in mystery, and added to the desirability of this pigment known in Europe only as ‘from across the sea.’

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An amazing array of tones used by the artists of the Ruzbihan Qur’an.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the high cost of natural Ultramarine, it has not been saved and used sparingly across the pages of the Ruzbihan Qur’an. Instead, it can be seen on every page, in every tone, and in every possible combination. This is in keeping with other spectroscopic studies, which clearly demonstrate that Ultramarine was the most commonly used blue pigment in Islamic illuminations, but its abundance and beauty in the Ruzbihan Qur’an is truly unique.

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

Lapis and Gold: The story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an is on display until the 28th August at the Chester Beatty Library. We do hope you can come and explore Ruzbihan’s palette for yourself.

Lapis and Gold: Mounting folios of the Ruzbihan Qur’an

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.

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Positioning a folio in its bespoke window mount.

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.

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Cross section of a typical opening formed of two bifolios.

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.

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Left: Positioning a bifolio using polyester strapping; centre: the closed and secured bifolio; right: the polyester strapping pulled through the angled slot to the back of the mount board.

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.

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Placing the temporary Melinex V hinges

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.

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Julia putting the finishing touches to a mounted and framed bifolio in the temporary gallery.

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. 

 

 

Paper, Pigments & Pearls: Conserving a Collection of Indian Miniature Paintings

The collection of Indian miniature paintings at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) that forms CBL In 11A, contains 99 single folios from the Mughal era, dated from the late 16th to the mid-19th century. The folios include portraits of Mughal emperors, courtly scenes, natural history subjects and daily life. They are striking in their appearance due to the brilliance of the pigments used and the detailed nature of the paintings. The folios are often double-sided with both images and calligraphy, usually inset into highly decorative and pigmented borders. They were probably originally housed in bound albums, however, when sold at auction, they were often detached from their original bindings and sold as individual items.

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Seed pearls and (perhaps precious) stones adhered to In 11A.69, Women on a Rock Slide, c.1760.

Following a request for access to a number of folios from this collection from a reader, I carried out an initial condition assessment. The decision was taken to conserve the entire collection, most of which had not yet been treated. Approximately half of the folios in the collection were adhered to acidic mounts with a full hinge along the left-hand edge, whilst others were mounted between glass plates, and a number were found loose without any form of mount.

The folios were carefully removed from their unsuitable historic mounts and examined visually. The sheer quality of the pigments is one of the first observations I made when examining these paintings. This has led me to become interested in the chemical make-up of pigments, which I will further study at the Montefiascone Summer School later this month. Examination of the folios was carried out using an Inspex High Definition digital microscope from Ash Technologies Limited. This microscope provides magnification of the object directly onto a large screen for detailed image analysis. This allowed me to determine which conservation treatments were needed.

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Consolidating In 11A.67, A Dejected Mistress, 1755-1760, with localised brush application of Bermocoll.

The first step in conserving these paintings was the consolidaton of flaking pigments, which prevents further losses of the pigment layer. This is carried out using Bermocoll, which is a cellulose-based adhesive. A 1% solution was applied using a brush and a 0.5% solution was used in the nebuliser, which disperses the consolidant as a fine mist. Other additional, but infrequent treatments on these folios have included infilling areas of loss, and tape and/or adhesive removal.

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Pink pigment loss revealing under-drawing in In 11A.73, Ganesa and his Vehicle, 1800-1810.

Tears and other areas of damage have been repaired where necessary using a dry concentration of wheat starch paste and Japanese paper. The preservation of the In 11A folios is still underway, and the folios are currently in the process of being hinged into their new conservation standard mounts. This project is generously being supported by the Library’s members.

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Delamination of the paper support from In 11A.73, before, during, and after treatment.

During Heritage Week in August 2015, I will give a talk about this project. I will present a number of case studies and give more detail about the specific conservation challenges of these beautiful objects.

Puneeta Sharma, Heritage Council Intern in Paper Conservation

Puneeta’s presentation will take place in the Lecture Room at the Chester Beatty Library, at 1.10pm on Thursday 27th August.