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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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