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

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Exploring Ruzbihan’s palette: Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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f.185a, a wealth of gold techniques.

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

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

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

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

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

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

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

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

The Chester Beatty’s magnificent 890-page Qur’an by Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘I al-Shirazi (CBL Is 1558), forms the centrepiece for the Library’s next temporary exhibition, Lapis and Gold: the story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an. Over the past few years this incredible sixteenth century Persian manuscript has been subject to an extensive program of conservation and study, which has yielded a wealth of information about how it was produced. The exhibition presents many of these intriguing findings through the display of more than fifty of the currently disbound manuscript folios.

The manuscript was disbound in 2012 by book conservator Rachel Sawicki, to allow for its full conservation. She then carried out extensive paper repair, and former conservation intern Fiona McLees worked on the delicate task of pigment consolidation. The manuscript is now in good condition, and curator of the Islamic collections Dr Elaine Wright has taken the opportunity to have a number of the disbound folios mounted and framed for this beautiful exhibition.

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Positioning a folio in its bespoke window mount.

This presented an interesting challenge for the conservation team. As the folios will only be mounted temporarily for this exhibition, and won’t remain in their frames long-term, we needed to design an adaptable mounting system that would allow them to be easily removed when the exhibition is over. To minimise the introduction of moisture on the highly burnished and water sensitive Persian paper, we decided to mount the objects using Melinex V hinges from Secol. These were added on all edges of each opening, and offer a more temporary mounting system than our usual technique of Japanese paper hinges and wheat starch paste.

However, as these objects are folios from a book, our mounting system also needed to support up to three thicknesses of paper (one fully open bifolio and one closed bifolio on top of it, forming a full opening). How to secure the closed bifolio on three sides, whilst eliminating the risk of movement and bulk along the gutter (spine) edge of the folded bifolio was quite a challenge.

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Cross section of a typical opening formed of two bifolios.

In order to do so we created a mount prototype which introduced a 25 mm wide strip of polyethylene strap from Benchmark . By positioning the strap inside the folded bifolio and gently pulling it through slots in the mount board at the top and bottom of the folio, we could secure the bifolio with just a little gentle pressure.

To mark the position of the slots for the strapping we made small pencil marks about 1mm away from the edge of each bifolio at top and bottom. We then removed the object from the mount, and cut a slot between the pencil marks at a slight angle. When the object was returned to the mount, the strapping secured the folded bifolio in place on the mount board, and reduced any unwanted movement of the object. The angled slot provided sufficient friction to secure the strapping without the need for adhesive.

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

This method was used to mount all of the manuscript openings which included folded bifolios as well. Once the strapping and folios were in place, Melinex V hinges were added around each opening to hold then in place. By staggering the position of the v hinges, we hope to have reduced the chances of the delicate paper cockling.

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Placing the temporary Melinex V hinges

This simple and yet unusual method of mounting the folios of the Ruzbihan Qur’an has proved very effective. It successfully provides the folded and otherwise precariously supported bifolios with an extra level of support which will keep them safe for the duration of the exhibition.

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

Mounting and framing these incredibly beautiful objects has been a real pleasure and we hope you will have a chance to see the exhibition when it opens.

Lapis and Gold: The Story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an, runs in the Chester Beatty Library temporary gallery from 15th of April to the 28th of August, 2016.

Lapis and Gold in the Irish Times, 14th April 2016.

Kristine will give a lunchtime lecture titled ‘Lapis and Gold: exploring Ruzbihan’s palette,’ on Thursday 28th April at 1.10pm in the Chester Beatty Lecture Theatre. 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puneeta Sharma, Heritage Council Intern in Paper Conservation

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

Traditions of Papermaking in the Islamic World

The Islamic Manuscript Association’s inaugural course and symposium on the materials and techniques of Islamic manuscript production was held at the British Library from 23rd- 27th March this year. Julia and I were lucky enough to attend.

This fascinating class was taught by Cathleen Baker, conservation librarian at the University of Michigan Library; Tim Barrett, director of the University of Iowa Center for the Book; Evyn Kropf, librarian for Near Eastern and religious studies and curator of the Islamic manuscript collection at the University of Michigan Library; and Katharina Siedler, papermaker and historian. The thirteen participants had travelled from around the globe to attend and included the authors of several pre-eminent scholarly publications on Islamic paper.

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The intensive four-day course focused on the practical techniques of Islamic papermaking based on the methods used by hand papermakers in parts of India today. Our daily papermaking sessions considered mould construction, fibre preparation, sheet formation, pressing and drying, as well as sheet finishing techniques of sizing and burnishing. You can read Ann Tomalak’s lovely account of the processes here.

Whilst this was a wonderful opportunity to gain first hand-experience in an alternative (to European) technique of papermaking, for me it was the discussion that surrounded the class that proved invaluable. The varied experience of the participants meant that an active and lively discussion was soon underway, and the problems of discussing ‘Islamic papermaking’ were soon at the forefront of our minds.

One of the first discussion points was about terminology. The word Islamic is the commonly accepted term used to describe the cultures of the vast and diverse regions which have been ruled or inhabited by predominantly Islamic populations. This makes it a rather open-ended term, and we soon realised that rather than a generic Islamic form of papermaking, we were looking at a far more regionally specific variation of the craft. In particular, the living practitioners our tutors had studied and learnt from were working in regions of India. Our terminology reflected this, and we used the Indian word chapri to describe the characteristic flexible mould screen.

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

One of the key texts we reviewed in relation to the observations of papermaking in the field, was ibn Badis. This text was written in 11th Century northeast Algeria, and describes papermaking with flax from a raw plant fibre stock. This account contrasted with the observations made in India today (as in Europe) where only rag fibres are used to form the pulp. So ensued much discussion: Is ibn Badis documenting a particularly unusual papermaking process? Is he just an interested individual- a prince no less- with limited practical experience or understanding? Or could it be that ibn Badis’ source was protective of the true details of his livelihood?

We also discussed the only other known historic treatise on papermaking, an anonymous work attributed to al-Ghassânî (d. 694-1294) in the Yemen. Al-Ghassânî notes the use of raw plant fibres from the fig tree and fails to mention any use of recycled rags, but perhaps he is influenced by Southeast Asian trade with the Yemen, and documenting a Southeast Asian papermaking process. Our discussion served to emphasise the diversity of papermaking traditions over centuries and across a vast geographic range, as well as the potential hazards of relying upon historic treatises alone.

In the practical sessions, discussion focused on the materials our moulds were made from, and our sheet formation technique. We experimented with bamboo and grass chapri’s woven with thread or horsehair and tried a double-dip technique at the vat, similar to that seen in some Japanese and Korean papermaking traditions; but contrary to popular belief, neither double-dipping nor immediately couching wet sheets on top of one another produced a sheet which was easy to delaminate, a common misconception regarding Islamic papers. Having said that, only three of our number were professional papermakers. The rest of us were at best inexpert at this skillful craft. Our dry sheets were surface sized with starch and burnished with agates and bone folders to produce a crisp hard writing surface, a process which also masked a multitude of sheet formation flaws!

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We finished the fourth day with observations of historic manuscripts. Our session was spent looking at a variety of attributed historic manuscript fragments on a lightbox, which was hugely informative; the differences in paper production techniques across the vast Islamic world were obvious when they were seen side by side. On the last day of the week a symposium was held and I have no doubt that all of the participants’ minds were whirring. It was clear that the speakers had taken the discourse and experiences of the week into consideration in their presentations which added to the thought provoking atmosphere.

In conclusion, this fascinating week was extremely inspiring. There is still much to learn about the intriguing subject of Islamic manuscript production, and this course highlighted the range of unknowns. However, I left feeling enthused by the conversation between deeply passionate participants and tutors.

Another variation of Indian papermaking using a floating mould and textile separators

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator