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

 

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In with the new: gallery rotations

In preparation for our current temporary exhibition Hong Ling: A retrospective, curator of the East Asian collection, Dr Mary Redfern, selected a number of objects from the Chinese collection to complement the exhibition. The items are displayed in the Arts of the Book gallery, and have been installed as part of the annual rotation of the galleries in order to coincide with the new exhibition opening.

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Installing jade books in the Arts of the Book gallery.

The conservation team is involved in all aspects of preparation for gallery rotations. We condition assess each individual item before undertaking conservation work as necessary. Stabilisation of fragile objects includes pigment examination and consolidation if necessary, paper repairs, and sometimes also work on the covers or binding structure of bound volumes which might otherwise be too fragile for display.

Once each artefact has been stabilised, we can then begin to plan for its display in the galleries. The mounting system for bound codices involves carefully measuring and drawing the open profile for each manuscript, before commissioning a tailor-made Perspex cradle that supports the unique opening of each book.

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Mounting a print with temporary Melinex V hinges; Installing a scroll in a bespoke Perspex mount in the gallery.

We mount prints individually in conservation standard window mounts. If the mount will be a temporary home for the print or folio, we often use Melinex V hinges to attach the print to the mount board. This method is very useful as it does not require any adhesive to be in contact with the object. Once the mounting system is secure, the mounts are installed in the display cases using Perspex pins at top and bottom to hold them in place. Scrolls are carefully unrolled and both ends fitted into C shape Perspex holders which are secured to a sloped support. Using internal blocks and panel measurements, together with Perspex fittings, we try to ensure our mounting systems disappear and do not distract from the beautiful objects.

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Installing a mounted print in the gallery.

When we are finally ready to install the objects, we work closely with the curator to decide their placement in each case as well as lighting. We keep light levels at a maximum of 50 lux to protect the delicate and light-sensitive pigments and inks. Once the objects are installed, we monitor the environmental conditions in the galleries each day to check they remain stable and that no fluctuations in temperature or relative humidity are recorded.

The objects removed from display to allow these new items to go on view are then condition checked in the conservation lab before being returned to storage for a well-deserved rest. Blocks, frames and mounting systems are safely put away, ready to be used again in the near future.

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Installing an ink study gifted to the Library by the artist, Hong Ling.

Hong Ling: A retrospective is open now and will run until January 29th 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays. Make sure you also take a look at the Chinese section in Arts of the Book to see the treasures on display including Hong Ling’s beautiful ink study which the artist gifted to the Library to commemorate the opening of the exhibition.

 

Thank you for following the Chester Beatty Conservation blog during 2016. We’d like to wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season, and we look forward to sharing more of our work with you in the New Year!

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

A stitch in time

 

In August this year, a digitisation team from Ritsumeikan University’s Art Research Centre in Japan will travel to the Chester Beatty in order to digitise our Japanese printed book collection. The collection includes more than one hundred woodblock-printed illustrated books from the Edo period (c. 1603–1868). International collaborations with teams such as this one are key to enabling digital access to our collections, which in turn reduces the need to handle these objects so frequently ensuring their preservation.

A short condition survey of the selected items was carried out which highlighted a number of volumes with damaged and weakened sewing. As the sewing of these bindings is integral to their structure, it was essential that we carry out repairs to make the bindings suitable for handling during the digitisation process.

The fragmentary sewing was reinforced with lengths of new soft linen thread. This was joined to the existing silk or cotton thread with a simple binder’s knot, which could then be used to continue the sewing through the original sewing holes or stations.

Once complete, this simple technique proved strong enough to hold the previously loose volumes together, allowing the books to open safely once again.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Internship in conservation

The Heritage Council and the Chester Beatty Library are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the conservation internship scheme. We are pleased to offer a twelve-month internship in book and/or paper conservation.

The scheme is co-funded by by the Heritage Council and the generous support of the Library’s Patrons. The internship offers the possibility of professional workplace experience within a prestigious institution.

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Cécilia Duminuco, carrying out pigment consolidation as part of her internship.

The successful candidate will gain experience working in the Library’s busy Conservation Laboratory. He/She will work under the supervision of the Library’s Senior Conservator, Kristine Rose Beers. Practical projects will be assigned to fit in with the Library’s on-going treatment, exhibition and loan programmes and include the preparation of manuscripts and single folios for digitisation from across the collections.

How to apply:

If you are interested in joining the CBL conservation team then further information and details on how to apply are available to download here.

You can learn more about the experiences of previous interns here.

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. 

 

 

Preserving Qianlong’s Victories

This post is slightly different from our usual blog format. Guest author and CBL conservation volunteer Adam Macklin writes about the production and provenance of a collection of Chinese prints, and the issues they present for conservation.

The world is now a small place; we travel widely and work, study and teach with people from different countries and cultures. Imagine a world far larger and quite disconnected. This is the world we must travel back to in order to understand one of the most intriguing artistic endeavors of the eighteenth century.

In the 1750s the Emperor of China fought a campaign on his western borders. To mark his success the Emperor, known as Qianlong, commissioned several cultural works. These included a fascinating set of copper plate prints designed in China and etched in France. A set of these are now held by the Chester Beatty Library. This post will look at the campaigns, the making of the prints, and the ethical issues regarding their conservation.

The Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) fought several “Pacification” campaigns in the mid eighteenth century. Despite this defensive title, these wars went beyond Qing borders. The first of these campaigns was in an area now called the “New Frontier”, Xinjiang, in 1755. Primarily the Emperor sent troops to suppress a border revolt, by the Dzungars – a Mongolian tribe at the very western end of the Great Wall. By the end of 1759 he had extended his northern and western borders, eliminated rival control over the Dalai Lama in Tibet, removed rival influences in Mongolia, and appeased the Islamic tribes of Central Asia.

CBL C 1662

CBL C 1662

To celebrate this success and to cement his place in history, the Emperor commissioned several cultural works. The Emperor himself wrote many poems about the campaigns. He also ordered the carving of stone stele, commissioned portraits of deserving soldiers and civilians to be painted, ordered the painting of battles and Mongolian receptions, and, most interestingly, in 1765, he commissioned Jesuit priests at court to design scenes of the campaign for the production of copper plate prints.

“I want sixteen sketches of the victories, gained by me during the conquest of Dzungaria and the neighboring Muslim countries [Xinjiang] that were painted by [Castiglione] and other European painters in my service… to be sent to Europe where the best artists will be selected to transfer these pictures perfectly… onto copper plates.” Princeton, 2009.

The Jesuits had established themselves at the Qianlong court where they were valued for their skills in art and science. This was in a centrifugal atmosphere that was suspicious of trade and diplomatic ties with Europe. Men like Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit priest, had worked hard to master Chinese painting and other disciplines. During this period we witness a very interesting yet limited cultural flow between China and the West.

The Qianlong Emperor commissioned 16 plates to be etched and printed in Europe. He had been impressed by Georg Phillip Rugendas’ battle prints and took an interest in etchings. He ordered that four be made as soon as possible. Drawings would be prepared by four Jesuits; Castiglione, Ignatius Sichelbart, Dionysius Attiret and Jean Damascène. Castiglione, from Milan, had the greatest reputation among them both as an artist and architect. Some of the later drawings were prepared by unknown Chinese artists under the tutelage of the Jesuits.

Once these were finished, they were sent to Canton and then to France. Initially the British were approached to etch the copperplates, but a French priest in Canton intervened to secure the commission for France. A contract was drawn up by the Hong merchants on the Emperor’s behalf. The Compagnie des Indes took receipt of the drawings and presented them to the French Ministers of the State in Paris.

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Detail from CBL C 1671

Charles Nicolas Cochin was eventually placed in charge of the work to transfer the Beijing drawings into etchings. His team of expert etchers and engravers included Jacques Philippe Le Bas and Jean Jacques Aliament. Cochin set out 15 demands to complete the work which included bonuses and stipulations for the quality. These were largely agreed. Once negotiations were finished in May 1767 work began. Soon afterwards in July, the remaining 12 drawings arrived from Beijing.

There were slight delays in the production of the first batch of copper plates. Cochin reviewed and corrected some of the etchings himself. He also requested that the Compagnie des Indes obtain agreement for a delay. He was very careful over choosing the paper and a printer. This latter choice was very important to the integrity of the project as there was a likelihood for pulling extra prints for personal gain. Due to the nature of this imperial project, extra prints would have been highly sought after.

The first shipment of seven plates arrived in Beijing in December 1772. A second batch arrived in August 1774 and the final set arrived in mid 1775. The Emperor was delighted with the first seven prints he received and immediately ordered further impressions printed. The commission was very demanding, but despite the cultural and geographical boundaries the results are impressive.

The Chester Beatty Library collection of Qianlong Victories prints, commemorating the campaign in Xinjiang includes all 16 prints in this set (CBL C 1656- 1671), as well as 18 accompanying woodblock prints with text (CBL C 1672- 1689). Sir Alfred Chester Beatty acquired the prints in the early 1950s. Delicate strips of decorative blue silk had been attached to all of the etchings. These 40-50mm wide strips frame the prints. When Chester Beatty acquired the sets the blue silk strips were already part of the objects, making them composite items.

The engravings have survived in good condition. However, a number of them have suffered from exposure to high humidity. The presence of the restrictive silk borders has prevented the prints from moving freely. This created extensive cockling and distortion to the print surface as they expanded and contracted in reaction to the changing environmental conditions. As the prints are no longer flat, storage and display of the images is problematic with risk of abrasion of the ink. This distortion also makes the prints difficult to appreciate and is distracting when displayed.

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Cockling caused by the restrictive silk borders of CBL C 1671.

It is difficult to say with certainty when the strips of silk were added to the prints. Based on the quality of the silk and the paper used to attach the strips to the prints, it is likely that these borders were added by a collector or dealer in China. In many ways it is similar to the textile mountings found on Chinese hanging scroll paintings.

What conservators and curators at the Chester Beatty Library now have to consider are the ethical implications of how to preserve these prints in order to display and maintain their beauty; do they remain bordered in their silk frame or should they be released from their confines? Although, removing the silk borders would grant easy access to the prints and allow conservators to carefully flatten them, it also changes the nature of the object. To make an informed decision on whether to remove the borders and flatten the prints, the provenance of the silk borders needs to be understood.

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Detail of the silk borders of CBL C 1671

As there are copies of these prints in other collections around Europe, America and China, further research is currently underway on where and when the silk borders were added to the prints. If the provenance cannot be identified, the conservators’ decision-making will be based principally on their duty to the prints’ long term preservation. The search goes on.

Adam Macklin, CBL conservation volunteer

World Book Day: judging a book by its cover

The Chester Beatty Library is home to some of the most beautiful and famous books in the world, so to celebrate World Book day here in Ireland, we thought we’d set ourselves an impossible task. To mark the occasion, conservation staff have selected just one favourite book that is currently on display to share with you. We do hope you enjoy them and that you’ll come and choose your favourite book next time you visit.

Cécilia, Heritage Council Intern

Selecting a favourite book from the Chester Beatty Library collections is not an easy task. After wandering around the galleries and thinking deeply about how to solve this problem, I finally decided to present a book from the East Asian Collection. Indeed, it is likely one would not think of this object when first thinking of a book structure.

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CBL Thi 1301: the closed manuscript (left) and its beautiful inlaid cover (right)

CBL Thi 1301 is an Elephant Treatise from Thailand. The first folio of the book is dated 1816 A.D. This folding book includes 144 folds, with covers made of wood and inlaid with white, red and green glass in a floral and cross design.

This beautiful object brings together my two interests and my love for both book and painting conservation. The binding structure -a concertina- is a book form that was developed in Asia between the eighth and the twelfth centuries. In these books, the sheets are folded back and forth, forming the same shape as the musical instrument by the same name. Throughout the manuscript the Thai script is painted in gold on different coloured grounds.  The brightly painted folios are well preserved and the colours are still vibrant. The palette is varied with yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, green, blue, white, black and earth colours. And let’s not forget one of the most beautiful aspects of the book- the elephants! The animal design is simply fascinating.

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Colourful decorated elephants throughout the textblock

If you haven’t already had the chance to see it, don’t forget to stop by and admire the Elephant Treatise in the Arts of the Book Gallery next time you come to the Chester Beatty Library!

Julia, Book Conservator

We have all said it, but I must reiterate that it is an impossible task to select a favourite book currently on display in the galleries. All are unique and absolutely beautiful for different reasons. Some are rare, others are lavishly decorated and stunning to look at. Most of them are both at once! However, for World Book Day I thought I would select a manuscript and it’s binding rather than the opening of a book alone. As a book conservator, I think the book structure is as important as the manuscript itself and informs us of the manuscript’s usage.

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CBL Ar 5570 preparing the manuscript for display, and detail of the selected opening.

This late 18th/early 19th century North West African prayer book (CBL Ar 5570, Kunuz al-asrar fi al-salat ‘ala al-mukhtar or The Golden Treasure of Prayers for the Prophet) is written in the beautiful Sudani Maghrebi script with light black and red ink on highly burnished Islamic paper. The square format and the loose paper leaves are typical of the region and display a different binding format and structure from the majority of the books in the Islamic collection.

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CBL Ar 5570 on display in the Sacred Traditions gallery

A leather wrapper with envelope flap protects the loose leaves. The wrapper is inserted into two leather wallets for full protection of all four edges. The manuscript is even further protected when placed in its leather satchel, secured by long leather straps and impressive braided toggles. This system allows the manuscript to be carried around the waist by the owner. The portability of this object, as well as the care that went into decorating and painting the leather on the slipcases and satchel, highlights the importance of spreading the written word in Muslim West Africa.

The beautiful pages on display are characteristic of this region with the strict geometrical ornamentations painted in brown, blue and red pigments as well as the absence of gold. The pages of the manuscript on display show well known symbols of the Prophet’s mosque and the city of Medina. Come see it on display in the 2nd floor Sacred Traditions Gallery!

Kristine, Senior Conservator

My choice for World Book Day is a Coptic manuscript (CBL Cpt 815) currently on display in the Arts of the Book gallery. To me it is no exaggeration to say this is one of the most exciting artefacts in the world. Not only is this manuscript one of the earliest surviving examples of the book in its most familiar form- that is a multi-quire textblock- but its treatment in the 1930’s represents one of the first examples of modern book conservation.

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Above left: A folio from CBL Cpt 815; above right: the manuscript on display, together with Lamacraft’s model, and 15 late-6th century coins from Alexandria which were found with it.

Cpt 815 is a Psalter and gospel of St Mathew dating to c.600 A.D. Chester Beatty purchased this manuscript, along with two others, in the mid 1920’s from a dealer in Cairo. Comprised of 160 folios in 20 quires of fine parchment, it was conserved along with its sister volumes by eminent bookbinder Charles T. Lamacraft in the 1930’s.

Lamacraft’s work was decades ahead of its time. He kept and preserved everything, documenting each detail of these precious manuscripts and making model bindings of each structure to capture his observations fully. His 1939 article, ‘Early book-bindings from a Coptic monastery,’ is still a very relevant read to anyone with an interest in the history of the book and its conservation.

As a conservator fascinated by the development of the codex structure, and the earliest roots of book binding traditions, this little manuscript represents one of the most important steps towards a recognisably book-shaped machine. In terms of our profession, it is conservation heritage.

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A detail of Lamacraft’s model of CBL Cpt 815.

Jessica, Head of Collections

I have most definitely gone for the ‘WOW’ factor with my choice. I’d like to present this seventeenth century Armenian jewelled binding (CBL Arm 584). The four gospels are among the most copied texts in Armenian; this copy is written on parchment and bound in red leather covered wooden boards. The front board is covered with silver-gilt filigree work and studded with silver bosses and green and red stones; in the centre is Christ in relief. While the back cover is silver gilt with the crowned Virgin and child and the heads of the angels in the four corners.

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Upper and lower jewelled boards of CBL Arm 584

What I love about this book is not just the splendour of its binding, but the fact that the manuscript it contains is also exquisitely decorated. As the spine is made from one piece of silver which makes it very difficult to open more than 40 degrees, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share two beautifully illuminated openings from the manuscript. I first visited the Library soon after it opened at Dublin Castle in 2000 and ended up spending over two hours in just one gallery. I vividly remember seeing this binding on that day. Since then I have been lucky enough to handle it on a number of occasions, most recently for photography, and it still takes my breath away. For once you really can judge a book by its cover.

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Opening details of CBL Arm 584. Above left: Folio 16r, showing the Last judgment; above right: folio 92r, a portrait of St Mark.