Focus on papyrus

Ranging in date from 1800 BC to AD 800, the Chester Beatty Library’s collection of papyrus includes rolls, codices and individual documents from Ancient, Roman, and Coptic Egypt. It includes many works of outstanding importance, with unique documents and, in some cases, the earliest known copies of particular texts. At the end of last week Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of Western Collections) and I attended the third Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation meeting which was hosted by Cambridge University Library (29-30 June). It provides a unique forum for conservators, curators and researchers to meet and discuss the challenges they face around access and preservation of their papyrus collections. I won’t go into detail about each lecture, but the full programme is available here.

2017-06-29 11.48.40-2

Looking at papyrus in the Conservation & Preservation Department at Cambridge University Library.

The first day started with a fascinating series of talks from colleagues Catherine Ansorge, Anna Johnson, Yasmin Faghihi and Amélie Deblauwe introducing the participants to the papyrus collection at Cambridge University Library. Catherine outlined the formation of the collection, Anna discussed building a papyrus conservation programme from scratch; Yasmin reported on the cataloguing of the Michaelides collection of Arabic papyri and Amélie the way in which digitisation is carried out at the Library.

2017-06-29 12.16.36.jpg

Dr Ben Outhwaite introducing the exhibition Discarded History.

We then had a chance to see selected highlights from the collection in a special display after coffee. This was followed by a visit to the Library’s conservation studio where Anna demonstrated the challenges she’s faces conserving the papyrus collections as well as the successes. Dr Ben Outhwaite (Head of the Genizah Research Unit) then gave us a guided tour of the Discarded History exhibition. Ben presented the Chester Beatty annual lecture on the Genizah collection in 2015 and it was fascinating to have an opportunity to see some of the wonderful artefacts he has uncovered on display. Full details on the exhibition are available here, it is well worth a visit.

The afternoon focused on lessons learnt digitising and housing papyrus collections with papers from the British Library, London and Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin. These were particularly useful, as the CBL is about to start in-house digitisation and the papyrus will be a key priority. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London presented a case study with some imaginative initiatives and very successful outcomes on promoting understanding, access and care of its papyrus collection.

2017-06-29 16.25.55.jpg

A rare opportunity to look at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book of the Dead of Ramose.

The day finished with a walk to the Fitzwilliam Museum where Head of Conservation, Julie Dawson, presented a two-year research project on the conservation and mounting of The Book of the Dead of Ramose. This fine example of painted and gilded papyrus from the Dynasty 19 (1290-1275BC) was excavated in a thousand pieces in 1922. The group was lucky enough to have a private viewing of the conserved sheets, which due to the sensitive nature of the pigment hasn’t been on display for ten years. It really was the perfect way to end the first day.

CBL Pma 5

CBL Pma 5, an unconserved section of the Manichean papyri.

The group was initiated by Ilona Regulski, Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum in 2015 and one of the agreed aims of the meetings has been to draw up a ‘papyrus handbook’, focusing on cataloguing papyri. The second day started with a very useful group discussion chaired by Ilona on shared terminology, best practice and as it transpired the variances used in different collections, which was fascinating.

The strength of this meeting is having an opportunity to share current projects and challenges with experts; with this in mind, Jill and I presented a paper entitled The Trouble with Mani. The Library’s remarkable Manichean papyrus codices have a complicated history. Written in Coptic and dated to the fourth century, they include unique sacred texts of a lost religion. They survived the almost total destruction of Manicheanism as well as World War II and the chaos of its aftermath. The poorly preserved papyrus was discovered in 1930 and painstakingly conserved by Dr Hugo Ibscher and his son Rolf. However it remains a complex puzzle for both researchers and conservators due to the challenges of folios in sellotape-sealed Perspex frames and the significant sections that remain unconserved. It will be the topic of a dedicated post in the future.

jill.jpg

Dr Jill Unkel presenting The Trouble with Mani.

Helen Sharp (British Museum) then presented a paper on the recently acquired de Vaucelles papyrus; following removal from old linings and housing she was able to piece the scroll back together in the correct order which was extraordinary. Excellent presentations followed from conservators and curators at the Palau Ribes Collection, Barcelona; Stanford University Libraries, California and John Rylands Library, Manchester. Marieka Kaye (University of Michigan Library) has been exploring new glass technology developed for phone and touch screens and presented her research on how this strong flexible material might be adapted for glazing papyri. Myriam Krutzsch (Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin) concluded the meeting by presenting a list of common damage caused by well-intentioned but poorly judged repairs to papyrus and their effects on the preservation of the texts.

I would like to thank the Cambridge University Library for organising such a fascinating two-day papyrus meeting, chaired by Yasmin Faghihi. It was a great opportunity to meet curators and conservators to discuss the common problems we all face in caring for this incredible material and I’m already looking forward to attending next year’s meeting.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation

 

Advertisements

Two for the price of one!

500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the doors of churches in Wittenberg, Germany. This act initiated the Protestant Reformation, the schism with the Catholic Church which profoundly changed Europe.

martin-luther-9389283-1-402

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach, from Wikimedia Commons.

To mark the anniversary of Reformation Day, the curator of the Western Collections and the Reference Librarian selected a number of printed books and prints on the subject of the Reformation for display in our Sacred Gallery.

One of the prints chosen from the collection (Wep 2182) is an etching entitled Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk), a broadsheet printed on a single piece of paper. It depicts the oppression of the Huguenots in France between 1685 and 1699, with a central scene of King William and Queen Mary welcoming the refugees into the Netherlands in 1686.

Wep 2182_BT_Recto (1).JPG

CBL Wep 2182, Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk).

The print is attributed to the Leiden base printmaker, Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708), and was produced in the last decade of the 17th Century.

The Chester Beatty copy of this print is missing the accompanying text which should run under the image. The text can be seen in this copy of the print held by the Getty Research Institute.

romeyn-de-hooghe-tirannien-tegen-de-gereformeerden-in-vrankryk-1689

Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk), by Romeyn de Hooghe. Courtesy Getty Trust Open Content Program.

However, if one zooms into the left hand corner of the Getty’s print, just above the decorated letter D, one can see the overlap of two pieces of paper and the difference in size of the two sheets. It seems that the text and image were printed as two separate parts, on separate pieces of paper, which were then joined together. The absence of any evidence of a join on the CBL impression may suggest that it was never actually attached to its text counterpart.

What our print was attached to is an altogether different story! When looking at the engraving closely, it was clear that the print had been lined with a slightly larger piece of handmade paper of a similar colour. A number of black lines could be seen from the verso, which did not match the print on the recto. With transmitted light, the secret of the print was revealed. It showed very clearly that the print was lined with a map of Brazil. Using a lightbox we could see the typical nautical frame around the map, as well as a lovely compass rose indicating north. The outline of the borders of Brazil were clearly defined but it was difficult to make out any of the information relating to the printer.

Wep 2182_BT_Recto Transmitted light (1)

The Chester Beatty print(s) seen in transmitted light.

Unsurprisingly, the curator was keen to separate the two prints, and so were we. As there were no writing inks or fugitive pigments on either of the prints, separating them using water seemed possible. The adhesive used to attach the prints which we believe to be starch-based was first tested and reacted very well to moisture. Both prints were printed on lovely high-quality 17thcentury European paper, which was determined to be strong enough to tolerate washing with water.

The print was lightly humidified using a fine spray before it was float washed in a bath of luke warm water. The adhesive started to swell rapidly and it was quickly possible to separate the two layers of paper using a spatula. The excess adhesive remaining on the paper surface of both prints was brushed off in the water with a soft flat brush.

Slide2

The two prints during treatment, and once separated in the water bath.

So we find ourselves with two prints; one a Dutch etching about the Reformation and the second a beautiful map of Brazil, printed in Amsterdam by the prolific Dutch cartographer and publisher Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664). The faint residue of a paper guard at the centre of the verso of the map of Brazil tells us that this print was once folded and inserted in a bound volume, possibly an atlas of maps. Janssonius’ maps are similar in style and date to those of the famous Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu (1571-1638).

Double

The Chester Beatty map of Brazil, and Janssonius.

The skills and craftsmanship used to produce this print are truly of high quality and the reason it was considered waste and used to line another print will remain unanswered for now!

Installation

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

Come and see the display of printed books and mounted prints commemorating the anniversary of Reformation Day in our Sacred Traditions gallery from the 1st of June.

Delving into Russia – Conservation for Digitisation

The Library is currently working with scholars from the Saint-Petersburg State University in Russia, on the production of a facsimile of our seventeenth century manuscript of The Life of Alexander Nevskij (CBL W 151).

The manuscript contains the Russian version of the mythical exploits of Alexander the Great written in Russian Church Slavonic. It is illuminated with 73 drawings in pen outline and colours. Alexander appears clean-shaven and is often seen riding a unicorn. On the pages, he battles fearsome creatures like the medusa, centaurs, hybrid dog-headed men and other fantastic beasts in far off lands. Another part of the manuscript, containing a copy of the Tale of the Rout of Mamai, is housed at the British Library in London (Yates Thompson ms 51).

w-151_f-39v-40r_after_conservation_edited

CBL W 151, f.39v-40r after conservation

The text and miniatures will be published as a volume in the series, “Written artifacts of Russian History and Culture, stored in foreign libraries and archives.”

To facilitate this work the complete manuscript has recently been digitised, but before that could happen, the manuscript required conservation.

slide1

The manuscript’s 20th century binding; f.12-13 before conservation showing the restricted opening characteristics.

The manuscript is bound in a modern brown calf binding, most likely added at the beginning of the 20th century. The binding was very tight and prevented the book from being opened fully, causing the folios to curve steeply, and leaving areas of each page obscured at the spine-edge.

In order to increase the opening of the manuscript, whilst still retaining its most recent binding, the book was gently eased open. This simple but careful treatment required the book to be opened slowly page-by-page from front to back. This was done three times to ease the binding sufficiently to facilitate digitisation of the inner most spine-edge margin.

2017_composite_images

Dorothea gently working through the manuscript to ease it open.

In addition some edge repair of the folios was necessary to make the digitisation process easier and safer. The paper textblock is very soft and many pages had tears along the edges. The manuscript had been extensively repaired in the past, with Western and Japanese paper. In some places these older repairs had partly detached, especially where close to the spine-edge.

slide3

f.117-118 before (left) and after conservation (right)

A decision was made to leave these old repairs in place and they were reattached where they were at risk of being lost entirely, especially along the spine fold. Edge repair was then carried out with acrylic-toned Japanese Kozo paper and wheat starch paste.

With the binding eased, and the textblock stabilised, the manuscript could be digitised. The book was put onto a cradle with an angle of approximately 110° and the camera lens was positioned parallel to the pages of the book.

slide4

Positioning the manuscript in the digitisation cradle. The folios are carefully leveled to align with the camera.

To further reduce handling, the book was digitised in two stages; firstly the recto pages were photographed, and then the verso. The pages of the book were held in place with polythene tape as necessary. When first assessed it was thought to be unlikely that the manuscript could be successfully digitised without extensive and interventive treatment. It was rewarding to see that the simple easing of the binding permitted the digitisation of the inner most spine-edge margin. The edge repairs prevented any further tears to the paper and safe handling by the photographic services team enabled us to digitise and eventually share this remarkable text. Slide5.JPG

Dorothea MüllerHeritage Council Intern in Conservation

Wishing everyone a very happy St Patrick’s Day from all at the Chester Beatty Library.

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.

slide1

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.

slide2

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

 

Goya on the Go: Lending The Disasters of War

A selection of forty prints from the Chester Beatty collection have just gone on display in Belfast as part of an in-focus exhibition, Francisco Goya: The Disasters of War, at the Ulster Museum.

In September I started work on the preparation of this iconic series of prints. The Chester Beatty holds a complete Second Edition of The Disasters of War (Los Desastres de la Guerra) by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). Formed of eighty aquatint prints, the series was first produced around 1820 and later printed in Madrid in 1892.

The prints were originally kept as a bound album. However, at some point in the past century the prints were removed from this format and mounted individually in window mounts for display. As the mounts were slightly too small for the prints, they had come in contact with the gummed linen tape used to assemble the mounts and in a number of cases the prints had adhered to the mount board, probably as a result of excess moisture applied during mounting. Apart from this, the paper support and media were in good condition, with only slight planar distortion in the printing plate area.

f1

Print before treatment: The mount is too small, and the object is in contact with the gummed hinge tape; During conservation: Lifting a print which was adhered to the gummed tape and the mount board.

Elisabeth Randell, a student in Paper Conservation at Camberwell College of Arts in London, started the conservation treatment of these objects during her summer placement with us. First, Elisabeth removed the prints from their unsuitable mounts, before gently surface cleaning them using chemical sponge and erasers as necessary. Old hinges were then removed using locally applied moisture. Edge tears were repaired as necessary using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.

I continued the preparation of the prints by adhering new Japanese paper hinges to the upper edge of the folios using wheat starch paste. New conservation-standard window mounts were then prepared, and the prints were carefully secured in the mounts using Japanese paper T-hinges. This allows the prints to be turned so that the verso can be viewed without incurring any damage.

figure-3

During conservation: Securing the conserved folio with new Japanese paper T-hinges

During my work on the prints, I was also assisted by Adam Macklin, a student in Book and Paper Conservation at the University of Amsterdam, who volunteered at the Chester Beatty Library for one week. Adam’s help was invaluable at each step of the mounting process, and ensured the work was completed on time.

am

After conservation: a conserved and mounted print, ready for exhibition. During conservation: Adam working on securing the prints in their new mount.

Finally, I assisted with the packing of the objects for travel. This included the preparation of six conservation-grade phase-boxes, the proper wrapping of the objects, and finally packing the crate for safe transport. The 40 prints to be exhibited were then transferred to the Ulster Museum, where they were framed by Conservator Gillian O’Neill and her team. Once framed, Julia Poirier and I travelled to Belfast to oversee the installation of the prints in the Ulster Museum’s print gallery.

crate

Loading the crate for travel; and packing the crate with the objects and protective foam.

figure-8

Installation at the Ulster Museum.

Thanks to this amazing project, I now have a much better understanding of the complete loan process in an institution. Working with different stakeholders was highly enriching, and taking part in the installation of the exhibition in at the Ulster Museum in Belfast was a great reward.

Cécilia Duminuco, Heritage Council Intern.

Francisco Goya: The Disasters of War will open on the 25th of November 2016 and will run until the 4th of June 2017.

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.

slide42

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.

slide43

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.

slide44

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

A short review of Samaritan binding practices

In this post I will look at some of the many questions raised during the conservation and re-binding of the large 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch I worked on as part of the recent project to conserve the Hebrew manuscript collection.

As I began work on this Pentateuch, it became apparent that the current scholarly understanding of Samaritan manuscript and binding production consists of just a few texts. This is probably due to the limited amount of Samaritan manuscript material that survives, and the lack of original binding evidence this material preserves. Even so, the existing literature gives the conservator a valuable starting point in understanding medieval Samaritan book production.

Heb 752 before conservation

CBL Heb 752 before conservation

When working on a manuscript the conservator attempts to understand its production characteristics, the circumstances of its production, and the binding of the manuscript in relation to a time and location. The presence or lack of a binding, as well as sewing evidence and other structural traces, inform our understanding of regional book production, and the object’s provenance.

Though European book production is well documented and Islamic book production is becoming better understood thanks to recent collaborations between conservators and scholars, Samaritan book production remains less researched. As mentioned, this is probably due to the small surviving corpus, the type of material, and the region in which these manuscripts were produced, all of which has led to a rather complicated history.

The Samaritans are a small community from around modern day Palestine and Syria. They are the descendants of Israelites who were not exiled by the Babylonians during the 6th century. Their scriptures consist only of the Pentateuch, i.e. the Five Books of Moses.

The Samaritans appear to have adopted the codex format in the 3rd of 4th century, allowing researchers to hypothesis that early Samaritan bindings had a strong link with the structure of other early bindings such as the Nag Hammadi bindings. The Samaritan codex is part of the Mediterranean binding tradition, and the remnants of later bindings that survive feature both Coptic and Byzantine elements. Nonetheless no Samaritan binding structures earlier than the 12th century have survived intact, so it is difficult to ascertain a binding style unique to the Samaritans.

The idea that the Samaritan scribe was also the binder seems to have been readily accepted amongst Samaritan codicologists. This means that there was no group of people whose craft was to bind books only[1]. It appears that the Samaritan people used bindings for the sole function of keeping their Holy word safe.

Slide1

Left: Drawings of Byzantine sewn on board attachment by Konstantinos Houlis[2]; Right: Nag Hammadi book model by Cécilia Dumenico, CBL intern

The corpus of manuscripts from the 12th century onwards is more substantial, and allows for better interpretations. Alan D. Crown, an expert in Samaritan Studies, refers to the Pentateuch manuscripts from the 12th to the 14th century as being ‘not bound’. The Middle Eastern custom of wrapping[3] bindings was used by the Samaritans to protect the unbound codex in cloth. Extra protection from storing the manuscripts in wooden boxes appears to have also been common. This might have been an extension of the custom of wrapping books or might have developed independently.

In contradiction to Crown’s statement, it appears that the two large Pentateuch manuscripts (CBL Heb 751 and CBL Heb 752) in the Chester Beatty collection have been sewn with each quire attached to the next using a length of thread and a link-stitch at each sewing station. It would seem that they were sewn at a very early stage of production. Given the size of these manuscripts (280 folios, H: 32cm x W: 25cm), had the text block not been sewn, the manuscript would be extremely difficult to open and close without constant movement of the parchment bifolios and singletons, and risk of damage and loss. In the case of CBL Heb 752 the use of singletons hooked around quires throughout the manuscript can be seen.

What Crown likely means is that there is no evidence of protective bindings on the manuscripts i.e. no sewn on boards and no casing. The sections of the manuscripts were probably sewn together as a textblock before being protected by fabric wrapping and boxing. The spine was probably kept flat, i.e. square to the textblock. The common lack of protective boards explains the condition of the first and last quires of these manuscripts: the quires themselves acted as covers and were damaged as a result. Parchment repairs were often needed on these manuscripts, and over the years some of them were rebound to protect them from further damage.

Heb 751

CBL Heb 751 – First four quires before conservation

The Samaritans, like the Jewish people, safely disposed of their sacred texts in genizah; the Samaritan term is matmarah. These depositories of old sacred texts are fantastic sources of information. A number of discarded fragments from these matmarah have already found their way into international collections and been rebound, which has sadly resulted in the loss of valuable information on previous structures which could have helped the book conservator.

James Fraser[4] links a large number of fragmentary and composite 12th to 14th century Pentateuch manuscripts to the Damascus matmarah. He gathers that a certain amount of items from the repository were removed to be sold to Western collectors in 1628. The documents from the matmarah were probably sold both as individual fragments and as bound volumes. Some are in Islamic style bindings, whilst others have been re-bound as composite volumes in Western bindings by the buyers. As interest grew in the West for Samaritan material, from the later 16th century, the repositories were opened and items were either repaired, rebound locally by Muslim craftsmen or Samaritan scribes, and finally sold on to the West, sometimes to be rebound once again on entering these collections.Slide2

Left: Example of a Pentateuch bound in an Islamic style binding – Rylands Sam Ms.28; Right: Example of a 12th century Samaritan manuscript rebound in a Western style binding – Cambridge MS Add.1846.

 

The history of Samaritan bindings has never been firmly established, and appears to have been very flexible. The constant changes these manuscripts went through during their lifetimes makes studying their original bindings and looking for precious evidence very difficult. Nonetheless it is a fascinating story, which has allowed me to undertake the conservation of the Library’s beautiful 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch (CBL Heb 752) with a better understanding of Samaritan binding history.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

[1] A. Crown, Samaritan Scribes and Manuscript, p.328-329

[2] Konstantinos Houlis (1993), “A Research on Structural Elements of Byzantine Bookbindings”, in Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques: Erice, 18-25 September 1992, edited by Marilena Maniaci and Paola F Munafò, vol. II, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, pp. 239–268.

[3] A. Crown, Studies in Samaritan Scribal Practices and Manuscript History: V, p.451

[4] J. Fraser, 1971, ‘Documents from a Samaritan Genizah in Damascus’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, p.85-92.

 

Conserving the past, whilst training for the future

The Conservation team were delighted to start the New Year by offering a student placement (4th– 22nd January 2016) to Laura O’Farrell. Laura is originally from Dublin, and currently a student at West Dean College, University of Sussex. She has spent the past three weeks with us as part of her post-graduate diploma work placement, and we’re happy to share this post from her.

CBL Archive:

The Sacred Traditions gallery (c) The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

When at university in Dublin, between too many cups of coffee and too few hours spent in the library, a number of us would bail out on actual work and come up the road to the Chester Beatty Library instead. One of our first year courses was an Introduction to Early Christianity which explored many of the textual sources of the New Testament, but no amount of reading through any textbook compared with standing in front of the cases in the Sacred Traditions gallery and looking at the papyri there.

That fragments of anything so delicate could survive that long seemed magical to me. Even now, despite understanding more about cellulose and how it deteriorates, it still does. I’m not even sure I knew much about what conservation was then, but it seized my imagination, and in the years that followed, when I thought about potential careers, it was the thing I returned to again and again.

Nonetheless, it did take me thirteen years to get back to the Chester Beatty Library, (although some of those years were spent in Glasnevin Cemetery, where Chester Beatty himself is now one of the beloved permanent residents). I am currently studying for an MA in the Conservation of Books & Library Materials at West Dean College, in the UK. As part of our studies, all students are required to undertake a work placement. Jessica and the conservation department at the Chester Beatty Library very kindly offered to have me for three weeks, and so, unlike my peers who had to scatter across the UK or further afield, I got to stay at home, immensely privileged to be working with the very precious objects that lived right where I did.

Most of my time here has been spent working on two objects from the Hebrew manuscript collection which are part of an ongoing project to conserve the entire collection.

Slide2

Heb 779, before and after conservation.

The first was a single folio fragment that was in a rather poor condition and in definite need of some tlc. The paper itself was extremely fragile, with a number of tears and losses, and a significant amount of surface dirt and discoloration. The manuscript appears to have been written in iron gall ink, an ink which, when fresh, can be an intense blue-black in colour but as it ages, turns to a brown and can be notoriously corrosive.

The first step was to support each of the tears and weaknesses with some very thin Japanese tissue, adhering it to the repair site with wheat starch paste. It was important to limit the amount of moisture used, so as not to risk the appearance of tidelines on the object or any general darkening or colour change on the areas of repair, and also to avoid accelerating the corrosion of this ink. Larger losses were then in-filled with a heavier Japanese tissue in a sympathetic colour to provide additional support. After the repairs had been trimmed, the object was then inlaid into some beautiful handmade paper from Griffin Mill, and a mount cut for it. The inlay provides extra support for the object when it’s handled, and the mount means it can be exhibited easily when required.

Although I had done repairs such as this before, the process of inlaying and mounting was completely new to me but I was patiently guided by Kristine at each step, and am now hopeful that this object should have a longer and happier life ahead of it.

Slide1

Tear repair and infills on Heb 776.

The other object I had the opportunity of working on was a 19th century parchment Torah scroll. Because of the way it is manufactured and dried under tension, parchment can become quite hard and unwieldy as it ages. Working with parchment account scrolls has been described by some conservators as akin to ‘wrestling an octopus’ and can require a rather fantastical construction of weights to keep everything in the correct position. Thankfully, this scroll had none of those problems. The parchment was of a very good quality and in very good condition, and might not have required any treatment but for some sort of rodent having feasted on its edges at some point in its life.

Heb 776 (9)

The Torah scroll after conservation.

The tears and losses were in danger of creating more damage and so had to be stabilized. The repairs were done in the same manner as for the first object, with two weights of Japanese paper, but this time adhering them with isinglass. Isinglass is obtained from dried sturgeon swim bladders, and is particularly suited for repairing parchment as both materials are collagen-based. As isinglass can be used at a low temperature, it also helps when keeping additional moisture and heat to a minimum is essential. The paper chosen was a nice match in colour to the parchment, allowing the repairs to obtrude as little as possible on the appearance of the object.

Working on this scroll was a really nice introduction to treating parchment objects, as well as to the structure of the scroll, which is obviously very different to that of the codex but fascinating to look at and use.

Icon wall Installation 18 Jan 2016 (25)

Cécilia, Laura, and Julia with the new icon display in the Sacred Traditions Gallery.

During my time here I’ve also had the opportunity to see some of the many ways the Conservation department is involved in different aspects of the Library. I was able to assist in the installation of icons in the Sacred Traditions gallery, and had an up close and personal view of some extraordinary objects as they came through the studio.

As my placement here comes to an end, I will be both loath to leave and re-enter the real world, but also hugely appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given. Everyone here has been so kind, encouraging and supportive and, despite the intervening years, this place has remained as magical to me as it always was.

Board reattachment for a 12th century Syriac manuscript

In preparation for the rotation of the CBL’s permanent collections, I have been working on a large 12th century Syriac manuscript. This beautiful manuscript will shortly go on display in our Sacred Traditions gallery.

This large parchment volume was produced in the Monastery of Tella, near modern-day Aleppo, Syria. It is a copy of the Harklean Gospels written in Syriac. The text is a 7th century translation of the New Testament by Thomas of Harqel. The Syriac language and alphabet developed from Aramaic and has been used by the Syriac Orthodox Church for liturgical purposes from the 1st century AD to the present day.

Syc 703 Front board.JPG

The upper board of CBL Syc 703

It is most likely that the manuscript’s large, heavy binding is contemporary to the textblock it houses but the structure has been repaired and the spine rebacked with new leather. It is likely that these repairs were carried out in the early 20th century, when such a treatment was a very common practice.

The textile spine lining and endband tie-downs are no longer attached to the textblock due to the previous repairs. This has weakened the binding and placed extreme pressure on the sewing thread which forms the board attachment; resulting in the breakage of the thread joining the textblock to the front board, leaving a very loose board attachment and a number of loose quires. The absence of a functioning spine lining and endband tie-downs has left the text-block with very poor opening characteristics, and a weak and uneven spine profile, making it extremely vulnerable to further damage whenever handled.

Syc 703 weak attachment to the board

The extremely weak upper board attachment, and fragile textblock

In order to allow the manuscript to be opened safely for display, it was clear that repair would be necessary. However, it was preferable that any treatment be minimally interventive to avoid further disruption to the historic binding.

Fortunately, the exposed spine granted easy access to the original sewing. I used an unbleached Blake linen thread and a curved needle to repair the damaged, unsupported link stitch sewing between the first three quires following the existing sewing pattern. Continuing the link stitch sewing allowed me to strengthen the board attachment by wrapping new thread around the weakened existing attachments.

Slide23

Original threads and new sewing repairs side-by-side.

As the last folio of the first quire was fully detached and its conjoint folio was missing, I re-inserted it using Japanese paper tabs. The tabs were adhered to the spine edge of the loose folio and slipped between the historic sewing stations. The tabs acted as a comb guard and were further secured by the new sewing which has reinforced the existing broken threads as it passes through the centre of the gathering.

Slide22

Attaching the detached folio with Japanese paper tabs.

These small structural repairs to the sewing and board attachment have greatly improved the opening characteristics of this manuscript. It now opens comfortably on a book cushion, and can be handled by scholars without risk of further damage, or loss of the previously vulnerable detached folio.

When the manuscript goes on exhibition in the Sacred Traditions gallery it will be mounted in a bespoke Perspex cradle which will fit the spine profile exactly and give the manuscript the best possible support whilst it is open on display.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

The Chester Beatty Library Conservation team would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year!

A Hebrew Yemenite Pentateuch

As part of our ongoing project to conserve the Hebrew collection, I’ve just completed the conservation of 19 folios from a Hebrew Yemenite Pentateuch.

The Pentateuch is formed of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and is central to the Judaic religious tradition. This manuscript was copied in the Yemen, at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. There was once a large Jewish community in this region, although it is now a predominantly Muslim country.

CBL Heb 761 consists of 353 folios in total and was thought to have dated from the 13th century. However, Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library, thinks it’s actually more likely to be a 15th century object. Either way, this codex is the earliest manuscript on paper in the CBL Hebrew collection.

TB

The main body of the textblock H255mm x W195mm x D67mm

This robustly proportioned manuscript is in very poor condition, and cannot be handled, displayed or digitised. The paper -especially at the spine- has been extensively damaged, and the binding is missing entirely. A combination of water and insect damage has caused the spine area to block together making it extremely difficult to read the text without incurring further damage to the paper. An initial condition assessment estimated that full paper repair alone would take approximately 350 hours.

before

Folios 335-353 before treatment

However, the last few quires of the textblock were in marginally better condition and had been sewn together with crude modern stab sewing. For this reason it was proposed that this section of the manuscript would undergo treatment as a test case for the rest of the object. This would also allow part of the item to be displayed and undergo research.

Folios 335 to 353 had been over-sewn with a thin modern linen thread. A number of earlier sewing holes were clearly visible and the paper was stained in places, especially at the spine. Every edge had suffered tears and losses due to water, insect, and rodent damage.

insect_damage

An encyclopedia of pest damage: silverfish or book louse grazing; rodent teeth marks; and larvae holes

transmitted

A folio in transmitted light, showing the many raw fibre inclusions throughout the sheet.

In spite of the diverse damages to this manuscript, the paper revealed itself as a beautiful and high-quality material. It was made using a flexible mould screen, leaving little evidence of chain or laid lines, and had been prepared with a surface size and heavy burnishing. The characteristic glossy and hard burnished surface was still visible across the folios. On assessment with transmitted light, inclusions of unprocessed material were visible showing that the paper was not made using rags, but raw plant fibre stock. The sheet formation and preparation techniques are typical of the Arabian Peninsula region, and would usually be described as Islamic.

paper_prep

Evidence of paper preparation: striations from drying or polishing; and the smooth sheen of the finished burnished paper surface.

Once the modern stab sewing was fully documented, it was removed to allow treatment of the folios. Each of the 19 individual folios was assessed and any evidence of collation, such as sewing holes, remnants of threads, and fragmentary spine folds was recorded with a thorough collation map. The folios were then gently surface cleaned with a soft brush to remove any loose accretions, before localised application of a chemical sponge to remove heavier surface dirt. These gentle techniques are effective, whilst still preserving the sized and burnished surface of the paper. Finally the folios could be repaired using a combination of toned handmade Japanese papers and wheat starch paste.

Heb 761_trimming (3)

Finished paper repairs, ready for very careful trimming.

Repair was slow, taking almost one day per folio, but dramatically improved both the appearance and stability of the folios. Once complete, the folios were realigned and the repairs were trimmed. For further protection and ease of handling and display, the three fragmentary quires were resewn with a link stitch at two stations, and rehoused in a simple cotton-covered binding.Heb 761_After_Conservation_1.12.15  (9)This fascinating manuscript is truly a multicultural object. Written in Hebrew, it is a Jewish religious text produced in Yemen using local Islamic materials and techniques. It embodies the cultural and religious diversity of this period and the region, and its long-established history as a vibrant centre for trade.

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

More information about Kristine’s work, including her recent trip to Doha, can be found on her personal blog.