Warriors, Weapons and Horses: conserving folios from a Mamluk manuscript

The Mamluks ruled Syria and Egypt from 1250 until they were defeated by the Ottoman’s in 1517. Very few illustrated manuscripts from this era have survived, but one of them is held at the Chester Beatty. This bound manuscript (CBL Ar 5655), dating from the mid-14th century, is a Compendium of Military Arts featuring warfare, weaponry and horsemanship.  Twelve separate folios from the manuscript have recently been conserved in preparation for our upcoming temporary exhibition, Gift of a Lifetime (opening on 19th October 2018).

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CBL Ar 5655.134 before treatment.

The thickly applied white pigment (probably lead white) on the faces and turbans of the warriors had suffered serious cracking and in some cases small losses. In other more localised areas there was cracking and slight flaking/powdering of some pigments, particularly in association with creases in the paper. It is also likely that the smooth surface of the highly burnished paper support had contributed to the loss of media.

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Left: Cracking of media associated with creases in the paper (CBL Ar 5655.134); Right: Flaking white pigment (CBL Ar 5655.134).

All of the pigments were checked under magnification and consolidated as needed using Bermocoll, a synthetic cellulose-based adhesive. Isopropanol was applied to the edge of the flaking areas using a very fine brush, directly followed by the adhesive applied with a second brush. The alcohol acts as a wetting agent, reducing the surface tension of the adhesive so it is drawn underneath the flaking pigment layer by capillary action. On drying, the adhesive secures the fragile pigment layer to the paper below.

On a number of folios the paper along the spine edge was fragile and torn with paper fibres at risk of being lost. A small number of tears along the creases in the paper were also apparent. The folios had been repaired in the past and although these historic repairs were indiscreet it was decided that they should be left intact because they had not caused any damage to the folios and can now be considered to be part of the object’s history.

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CBL Ar 5655.159 in transmitted light, showing the historic repairs.

Repairs were carried out to stabilise the damaged areas of paper and ensure that no further damage would occur through handling. As the thin Islamic paper was particularly susceptible to distortion with the addition of moisture, the repair methods were chosen carefully to ensure that only a very small amount of moisture was introduced. The tears were repaired using remoistenable tissue, a very thin Japanese tengujo paper pre-prepared with 1% methyl cellulose adhesive. Along the spine edge the loose fibres were secured with thick wheat starch paste. In some areas bridge repairs were added to support small parts of the paper that were at risk of detaching.

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Left: Repairing a tear on CBL Ar 5655.161 using remoistenable tissue; Right: Applying small bridge repairs to the spine edge of CBL Ar 5655.162.

For the bridge repairs, Japanese paper fibres were teased out from the torn edge of a long-fibred kozo paper and rolled together between finger and thumb to create tiny bridges. The repair fibres were then pasted with wheat starch paste and positioned carefully across the damaged areas.

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Detail of the spine edge of CBL Ar 5655.134, before treatment in transmitted light (left) and after treatment (right).

Whilst working on these charming miniatures I had the chance to observe some of the techniques used by the artist(s). Scoring lines (visible in raking light) had been used to plan out the symmetrical designs and under-drawing was visible where the pigments had been lost from the faces and turbans. Interestingly, the pigment on the back of the black horses had a shiny finish and there was slight cupping of the painted surface. This suggests that a surface coating was applied locally over the black pigment before burnishing to create this lustrous finish. The undersides of the black horses were left without this additional surface treatment leaving the pigment more matte, possibly to give the effect of shading.

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Left: Ar 5655.167 in raking light, showing the scoring lines used to map out the design; Right: Ar 5655.156, showing both shiny and matte media on the black horse.

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Mounting the Ar 5655 folios.

After treatment, the Mamluk folios were secured in window mounts using T-hinges made from Japanese sekishu paper adhered with wheat starch paste. The folios will be on display alongside other treasures from the Chester Beatty collection, in the exhibition ‘Gift of a Lifetime’ (19th October 2018—28th April 2019). We do hope you’ll come and see it!

Alice Derham, Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty’s magnificent bequest, Gift of a Lifetime (19 October 2018 – 28 April 2019) presents a choice selection of masterpieces from this unique collection. You can find out more about some of the treasures in the exhibition here

 

 

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No need for Magic: A simple trick for the display of a Batak manuscript

Amongst the treasures at the Chester Beatty is a small collection of 51 Batak manuscripts – 45 bark books, 4 inscribed bamboos, 1 bone amulet and one paper manuscript. Hailing from North Sumatra in Indonesia, the oldest of these manuscripts is dated to the 19th century. The Batak manuscript culture encompasses written texts on various organic materials including bamboo, bone and tree bark. The bark books, also known as pustaha are divination books, although other subjects such as medicine and magic are also common.

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Right: CBL Sum 1144, a small size bark concertina manuscript held closed with a band of plaited rattan; Left: CBL Sum 1147, an inscribed bamboo rod

In preparation for a rotation of the Batak display case in the Sacred Traditions gallery, I condition checked four bark manuscripts. They were all in good condition and required very little attention, with the exception of one object (CBL Sum 1102).

The bark concertina manuscripts vary in size from some which are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, to others which are around A4 in size. They are made of two wooden covers glued to a folded textblock made from the bark of the alim tree or agarwood. The stiff bark is prepared in rice water to allow it to soften and be folded into a concertina book.

In the typical East Asian fashion, lacquer was used to seal off the raw edges of the bark at head and tail of the concertina textblock. This provided extra strength to the most vulnerable part of the exposed textblock.

Inside the textblock, the text runs vertically in plain black ink, following the folds in the concertina. There are additions of elaborate illustrations and tables within the text, sometimes highlighted in red ink.

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CBL Sum 1129 open textblock

The wooden covers of the Batak manuscripts are sometimes decorated with hand-carving, and always carefully cut to the size of the manuscript or left slightly larger to provide a square which would protect the textblock. To hold the concertina books and their wooden covers together when closed, a band of plaited rattan or sometimes leather is used.

On many examples, handle straps are attached to the upper cover of the larger books. They are made of a dark coarse material, probably tree fibres of the sugar-palm, and roped together to create a handle. This enabled the owner of the manuscript to transport them from site to site and also to store the book on the wall, away from rodents and moisture.

On manuscript CBL Sum 1102, the sugar-palm fibre straps on the manuscript upper board were bent down and had lost their 3-dimensional aspect. As the curator wanted the object to be displayed closed, with the straps held up to give some context to the object and meaning to the straps, we needed to find a solution to support the misshapen straps, as invisibly as possible.

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CBL Sum 1102 with sugar-palm straps bent down

The use of a Perspex or brass rod support underneath the strap was considered and a few unsuccessful ideas were tried out such as Melinex supports, manipulation of the straps and humidification, I decided to go back to basics.

Using a simple thread which was attached to the strap on one side and to the display case fabric on the other, I hoped that the strap would stay in place. Luckily for us, the bend in the strap was facing away from the back of the case. This meant that with a very simple low-tech thread the same colour as the fabric lining the case, I could pull the strap in to place using enough tension to pull it up for the duration of the display. In a worst case scenario, the thread would give way well before any damage to the palm fibres occurred and would only lead to the handle coming back in to its bent position.

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Display of CBL Sum 1102 with straps help up using silk thread

I used an extremely fine 100% orange silk thread which I looped around the book cover handle and into the fabric at the very top of the case and knotting it to itself. The system is extremely discreet and after a few months of display, the thread has held and I am happy to say that the handle is still standing!

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CBL Sum 1102 on display with straps held upright

Working on the display of the Batak manuscripts was extremely rewarding. Problem solving is what conservators love best and I was happy to be able to use a simple, low-tech solution for the display of this manuscript. It is sometimes all you need.

If you want to learn more about Batak manuscripts, I recommend you read this great article by René Teygeler.

Julia Poirier – Book conservator

 

 

Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours

The conservation team have been busy preparing 144 exquisite illuminated miniatures from a manuscript dating to c. 1443, for our next temporary exhibition ‘Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours’.

The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082) was made for the renowned book collector, Prigent de Coëtivy (1400-1450), who was Admiral of France at the time. The book was specifically commissioned to commemorate his marriage to Marie de Rais in Paris in 1444. Nearly 500 years later, the book was given to Chester Beatty by his wife, Edith, on the occasion of their wedding anniversary in 1919.

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Fig. 1. The Coëtivy Book of Hours (left) and miniatures housed between glass (right), before conservation.

The tiny manuscript (14.2 x 11.3 x 4.2 cm) is bound in an intricately tooled early nineteenth-century binding. The 364 folios are skilfully painted, with highly decorative borders throughout the manuscript.  However, 144 of the 148 three-quarter page miniatures were removed from the book by Beatty soon after it came into his collection, as he wanted people to be able to ‘look at them as closely as they want and study them properly’. They were therefore stored between glass to aid their preservation and display.

Although the book itself did not require conservation treatment, it was decided that the miniatures should be removed from the glass in order to facilitate their digitisation and enable safe handling by researchers in the future. When the glass sandwiches were opened, it became clear that each folio had been attached to the glass at the top and bottom of the spine edge with pressure-sensitive tape. Thankfully, the carrier of the tape was easily removed with a metal spatula. The rubber-based adhesive left dark residual staining, but it was decided that this would not be removed as in some cases the staining was in contact with the original media and solvent treatment would be too risky.

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Fig. 2. Removing folio 291 from glass.

The parchment folios of the manuscript are very thin and have very few visible flaws, indicating that they were made from carefully selected and evenly prepared skins. Scientific analysis by the BioArCh team at the University of York revealed that both calf and goatskin were used in the Coëtivy Hours. Overall, the media was in excellent condition, and did not require consolidation. In some areas there were losses to the blue pigment and gold leaf, but the areas around these losses appeared to be stable and, when examined closely, there was no active flaking of the media.

After the folios were condition checked, the new Digital Department at the Chester Beatty Library took high quality images of every folio using a Phase One XF camera with an IQ380 attachment, capable of producing images with a resolution of 80 megapixels (look out for the new digitisation blog that is coming soon!). The opening of the nineteenth-century binding was somewhat restricted, allowing it to open to little more than 90 degrees, so the conservation team provided advice on handling and helped to ensure the manuscript was supported on a cradle throughout digitisation, whilst the pages were held in place with polyethylene straps from Benchmark.

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Fig. 3. Digitisation of the Coëtivy Book of Hours.

When devising a mounting system for the individual parchment folios, it was important to choose a system that would be strong enough to hold the folios safely in place during display and handling, but allow the parchment to move with natural fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. The mounting system also needed to take into account the unique contours of each folio. For this reason, a bespoke system of Japanese paper tabs was used to mount the folios within window mounts.

The majority of the folios were mounted in pairs, in a standard size mount made from acid-free, buffered Conservation Board (1650 micron), with a standardised aperture. Each folio was over mounted on the spine edge only, with the other three edges floated just a couple of millimetres inside the aperture. This partial float mounting system ensured that each folio was held in place securely, but also offered room for the parchment to expand and contract. Aesthetically, the mounting also reflects the character of the object and reminds the viewer that the miniatures are not only artworks in their own right, but are folios from a bound manuscript volume.

Two sizes of tabs were used on each folio – two 25mm tabs of Japanese sekishu paper were adhered to the spine edge and 3-5 smaller 15mm tabs of a lighter weight Japanese usumino paper were attached along the other three edges. For each tab, the edge in contact with the object was water-cut and then trimmed down with scissors.

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Fig. 4. Tabs of Japanese paper, with trimmed water-cut edges, for hinging the folios to the mounts.

The tabs were attached to the folios, with an overlap of less than 2mm, using wheat starch paste and left to dry underneath Bondina, blotting paper and small bag weights.

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Fig. 5. Attaching the Japanese paper tabs to the verso of each folio using wheat starch paste.

In terms of positioning, the two spine tabs were placed about 7mm from the bottom and top edges, to reduce the risk of the corners catching when the verso of each folio is viewed. In some cases, the position of these tabs needed to be shifted in order to avoid the red ruling lines.

The level of planar distortion varied from folio to folio, as the parchment not only had a memory of being in a bound volume but also the memory of being part of an animal skin! To account for this variation, the smaller tabs were positioned on a case-by-case basis, allowing each folio to lie as flat as possible whilst also allowing some movement. No more than 5 staggered paper tabs per folio were added, to reduce the risk of tensions arising and cockling.

2018_Composite_ImagesFig. 6. Folios 241 and 270 during treatment, showing the positions of the Japanese paper tabs.

Next, each pair of folios was positioned in their mount and the tabs on the spine edge were pasted to the back board of the mount. A Teflon folder was used to ensure a strong attachment.

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Fig. 7. Attaching the tabbed folios to the mounts using wheat starch paste.

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Fig. 8. Folios 294 and 295 after mounting.

The final stage in preparing these folios for exhibition involved framing the mounted miniatures in bespoke gold frames and then hanging them in the midnight blue temporary gallery, so the beautiful illuminations sparkled.

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Fig. 9. Framing the folios in the lab (left) and installing the exhibition (right).

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

The Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition is on display from 9 March until 2 September 2018. We do hope you’ll come along to see it!

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.

Reflections on links between Conservation in Dublin and Tokyo

While preparing for the current exhibition on display in our temporary gallery, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (3 March– 27 August 2017), and the supporting gallery rotation in our permanent galleries, I was drawn back to my experience as a participant at the ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation programme in 2015.

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CBL J 1154 on display in the Arts of the Book gallery

One of the painted handscrolls, Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals (Junirui uta awase emaki) CBL J 1154, was selected for display and installed in the permanent galleries to support the current print exhibition which focuses on Japan’s poetry circles. Between 1994 and 1995, the mid-17th century scroll was conserved at the Handa Kyūseidō Studio, Tokyo National Museum, courtesy of the Hirayama Art Research Foundation. Although having been conserved nearly 20 years ago, the scroll is still in perfect condition.

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CBL J 1154 before (left) and after conservation (centre & right) by the Handa Kyūseidō Studio.

As I was installing this beautiful scroll, I remembered with great delight my extra curricula visit to the Handa Kyūseidō conservation studio in September 2015. Set in a peaceful neighbourhood of Tokyo, I was given a comprehensive tour of the traditional conservation studio by Ikuko Handa, the head of conservation at the studio, and Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator at the studio and my course tutor.

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Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator and IICROM course tutor, demonstrating use of the karibari.

The visit was organised thanks to Keiko Furumoto. Keiko was the first Heritage Council conservation intern at the National Library of Ireland in 2007 and she has been working at the Handa Kyūseidō studio since returning to Japan. Since completing her internship, she has regularly returned to Ireland and made one of these visits in early April 2015 – around the same time I found out I had been accepted for the JPC course- so we kept in touch regarding a possible visit to her workplace in Tokyo.

The Handa Kyūseidō studio is set-up across 3 separate floors. The ground floor is a reception and digitisation area, the first floor is dedicated to the conservation of painted hanging scrolls, hand-scrolls and folding screens and the second floor to archive (historical documents), calligraphy and book conservation. Although it is located in a modern building, the studio is everything one would expect from a traditional Japanese conservation studio: low work tables, tatami mats, paste bowls and sieves, drawers full of Japanese repair papers and of course, karibari boards of all sizes lining the walls!

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Julia preparing a handscroll at the ICCROM JPC course (left), and a traditional paste bowl and brushes (right).

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Chester Beatty to reconnect with the prestigious studio, as during the 1990’s the Handa Kyūseidō Studio was also responsible for the restoration of one of the great treasures of the Library, a pair of Japanese picture scrolls entitled Illustrated Scroll of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Chōgonka gakan) CBL J 1158 and the beautiful hanging scroll on silk Portrait of the Bodhisattva Jizō (Jizō zō) CBL J 1214.

The funding for this conservation treatment was provided by the Joint Council for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Japanese Art Works in Foreign Collections, a council made up of The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties and the Art Research Foundation and supported by the Tokyo National Museum.

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Participants of the ICCROM JPC 2015 course in Kyoto.

I am very grateful to Head of Conservation, Ikuko Handa for her kindness and generosity in facilitating my visit, and my tutor Makoto Kawabata for showing me his work outside of the ICCROM JPC course setting. I am also grateful to Keiko Furumoto for acting as a wonderful tour guide and translator during my visit.

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints

The Chester Beatty Library’s collection of surimono and picture calendars extends to some 375 single sheet prints. Alongside these are the kyōka books and a further 116 surimono with illustrations in the Shijō style popular in Osaka and Kyoto, many of which are preserved in albums. The greater part of this collection was formed between 1954 and 1963.

Acquired by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty for his newly built Library in Dublin, the collection took shape under the specialist guidance of Jack Hillier and Beatty’s own developing interests in Japan’s printed arts. As works created through the collaboration of artists and poets in celebration of new beginnings, it is fitting that these prints were collected in that same spirit.

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J 2183 before (above) and after conservation (below)

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland: an event precipitated in March 1957 by an exchange of letters between the Japanese and Irish ambassadors in London. The Chester Beatty Library is marking this anniversary with a special exhibition The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (March 3 – August 27 2017). Dr Mary Redfern, curator of East Asian collections, selected 95 single surimono prints for exhibition and a number of poetry anthologies and surimono albums all from the Library’s own collections and many by leading artists such as Hokusai and Gakutei. This new exhibition focuses on the surimono and the literati circles that created them.

The Library received a generous grant from the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland (AFAI) which enabled the Chester Beatty Library to conserve, mount and frame all the prints and related material currently on display.

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The overall condition of the surimono collection is very good. The prints were all carefully mounted when the Library received funding for a conservator to travel to Dublin from Tokyo to advise and oversee the project. The mount card used nearly 40 years ago was conservation quality but quite thin and lightweight, so offered little support during handling and would not have prevented the prints touching the glass when framed for exhibition. The window apertures had been cut without a bevel, and overlapped the edges of the prints, hiding precious details of the images from scholars and visitors. The decision was therefore made to remove them from their historic mounts, and transfer them to new standard size mounts made from heavier (1650 micron) acid-free, buffered Conservation Board.

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J 2171 Before (left) and after conservation (right)

The prints had been attached to the previous mounts with conservation standard handmade Japanese paper tabs, so these were gently lifted from the backboards and retained where possible. Each print was then gently surface cleaned using soft brushes.

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Removing J 2171 from its old mount, and gently surface cleaning.

The prints were then carefully measured and in order to fully reveal the detail of the surimono, the new bevelled-edge apertures were cut slightly larger than each object so that the entire print could be seen. In order to mount the prints in this way, additional Japanese paper tabs were attached to the bottom edge of each print with wheat starch paste. These additional tabs along the bottom edge allow the prints to ‘float’ in the aperture, whilst the tabs hold them safely in place under the bevelled window.

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Applying new tabs to the tail edge of J 2171

The surimono were then carefully positioned in their new mounts, and the uppermost Japanese paper tabs were secured to the backboard, again using wheat starch paste and dried under weights.

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Mounting J 2171

New mahogany-coloured frames were ordered and each print selected for exhibition was framed by the team. Bespoke archival boxes have been ordered to house the collection while in long-term storage.

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Mounting and framing the conserved surimono prints in the lab.

The seven bound volumes to be included in the exhibition were all in good condition. They were surface cleaned and minor tear repairs carried out where necessary. Bespoke acrylic cradles were made to exactly fit the opening of each volume. These were then installed in three display cases in the Library’s Temporary exhibition Gallery.

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Four bound volumes on display.

Finally, the framed prints were hung in the gallery ready for the opening on 3rd March.HangingThanks to the generous grant provided by the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland, the Chester Beatty Library has been able to ensure the long-term preservation of this rare and beautiful collection.

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints runs from March 3 until August 27, 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays.

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

 

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Wicked Wit: Conserving Mary and Matthew Darly’s Comic Prints

The conservation team have just completed a project to conserve over 140 hand-coloured, eighteenth-century etchings by the husband and wife team, Mary and Matthew Darly in preparation for the Library’s next temporary exhibition Wicked Wit.

This printer-publisher team produced well over 500 comic images of Caricatures, Macaronies, and Characters from no. 39 Strand (London) in the decade between 1770 and 1780. They became so popular that their publications were available throughout Great Britain and Ireland, Europe, and even America. The name Darly became synonymous with the humorous images they produced.

Wep 0494_disbinding (2)

The exhibition focuses on the largest album of Darly prints in the Chester Beatty Collection (Wep 0494). The 18th century binding contained 147 prints and was in very poor condition when it first came to the Conservation Studio at the beginning of 2015. Both boards of the quarter-back leather binding were detached, the spine leather was fragmentary with extensive losses, and the sewing was almost entirely broken. The prints were covered in surface dirt and a number had large tears and creases. Due to the level of damage that had already occurred to the album, and the risk of further damage to the precious prints it contained, it was decided to disbind the volume fully to allow for the conservation of the collection.

The decision to disbind an object is never one to be taken lightly, however in the case of this album, the extensive deterioration meant that disbinding the volume was the only option which would facilitate the safe conservation of the prints. It also presented a unique opportunity to display the folios as individual art objects in a dedicated exhibition before the eventual restoration of their integrity as a rebound volume.

repair

Once disbound, glue accretions were carefully removed mechanically before the prints were surface cleaned to remove dust and dirt with chemical sponges and localised use of polyvinyl eraser. Next, a number of large tears and losses were repaired with a range of handmade Japanese papers and wheatstarch paste. With the prints clean and fully repaired, they could be handled safely for photography and exhibition mounting.

As the prints will be rebound into an album after the exhibition, the mounting is a temporary measure, so the folios were secured in the bespoke conservation standard window mounts using Melinex V hinges. They were then framed in plain black wooden frames, which were sealed using paper tape; removing every fleck of dust and finger print from the glass is a surprisingly time consuming task for the team.

Darly slide

Hanging the framed prints is a precision operation and during the planning process a model of the gallery is used to work out the hanging for the room and calculate any additional temporary walls required. Curator, Dr Jill Unkel worked closely with the installation team to ensure the layout and order was correct, taking into account the positioning of text panels and labels. The conservation team then installed a number of bound volumes and mounted prints into four desk cases. Following a final clean of all the glass and touch up of the paintwork all was ready for the opening.

installation

The exhibition Wicked Wit opens to the public in the temporary Gallery on 11 September and will run until 14 February 2016. There is a richly illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition which is available to purchase from the Library shop.