Summer at the Chester Beatty

Over the summer, the Conservation team were delighted to offer a student placement (18th July- 11th August 2017) to Jana Müller. Jana is currently a student in the Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany. We’re happy to share this post from her.

On the first morning as I walked through the busy streets of Dublin on my way to the Chester Beatty Library, I arrived to find the conservation laboratory as an oasis of calm and concentration, only occasionally interrupted by screaming seagulls. Throughout this placement the seagulls have reminded me that I am right beside the sea.

My first project was the remounting of Surimono prints. The Chester Beatty Library has around 400 of these special Japanese woodblock prints and I had the opportunity to work on 31 of these lovely artworks. For various reasons discussed in a previous blog post here, the whole collection of Surimono prints is currently being remounted. The first step in this process is to lift the tabs from the old board with a little moisture and a spatula so that they can be reused later. Secondly, each object gets two more tabs attached at the bottom edge using wheat starch paste in order to keep it in place in the float mount later. Each unique Surimono is measured for a window mount and, once it is cut, the object is positioned and the tabs at the top of the print are attached to the new mount.

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Two moveable window mounts simplify the measurement of the new mount (left); The 2mm overlap of the tabs attached at the bottom edge of each Surimono allows for quick removal if necessary (centre); Once the tabs are attached to the new mount, they are allowed to dry under weight (right).

The remounting worked really well and it is interesting to see how the impression of an artwork can be changed with a new mounting system. I also got to have a close look at the fine printed lines and I gained a better understanding of how these prints are produced. There is so much work in every single print, which further increased my admiration for the beautiful Surimono.

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Jana, working carefully on a fully illuminated page of an Italian manuscript (CBL W  113).

Another project was the in-situ conservation of an Italian parchment manuscript from 1472 (CBL W 113). Due to a very tight library binding some quires of the textblock were loose and had stepped forward. The threads at the centrefolds of these quires had ruptured. Three strong creases parallel to the spine edge had caused further damage. Usually one would humidify the parchment to bring it back to its original shape but in this case the different colourful inks in black, blue, red, green, yellow and purple seemed to be highly sensitive to moisture. To avoid the risk of bleeding, the creases were flattened under dry conditions using only weight and time.

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The tail edge of the manuscript textblock showing the heavily ingrained creases before treatment.

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W 113 before (left) and after treatment (right), showing the successful reduction of an ingrained crease.

The creases could be reduced within a couple of days so that the text is readable again without restriction. I had never tried this method before and I was surprised by how well the treatment worked. Another necessary treatment was the local consolidation of flaking pigment layers on two of the fully illuminated folios. With a very fine brush I applied a special natural adhesive made from sturgeon swim bladder—isinglass—beside the flaky pigment, and capillary action drew the adhesive between the pigment layer and the parchment securing it to the folio again.

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Detail of flaking in the green parakeet in W 113.

The next project I worked on was an Ethiopian manuscript (CBL W 913). The codex is written in Ge’ez, the Ethiopian language, and is dated to the late 17th or early 18th century. The illustrated parchment folios show scenes from the life of Christ and are in an excellent condition. However, the damage to the codex affects the connection between the heavy wooden front board and the textblock. The board attachment was completely broken at the two inner sewing stations and severely damaged at the outer ones. For this reason, there was a high risk that the front board would detach from the textblock, particularly as it needs to be handled for digitisation. To prevent further damage, the two inner sewing stations were supported gently by introducing new threads, led through the original channels in the wooden board and attached to the original thread at the board edge. The two outer sewing stations were supported with twisted Japanese tissue, also led through the board, and then fanned out and pasted to the spine edge of the first quire to distribute the stress away from the delicate original thread.

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Clockwise from top left: Ethiopian manuscript CBL W 913, detail of the broken threads between the wooden boards and textblock; using a curved needle to lead the twisted Japanese paper through the board; after treatment, the new threads stabilise the connection between the board and textblock.

The result is a very honest conservation treatment: the new material is clearly visible because of the brighter colour but it is unobtrusive at the same time. I am a little bit proud of my suggestion to use twisted Japanese tissue because it is very tear-resistant, flexible and versatile. I will definitely keep that technique in mind when working on projects in the future.

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Jana installing a printed book during a rotation in the Arts of the Book gallery.

Beside my conservation treatments I had the opportunity to help with a number of rotations in the permanent exhibition galleries, which needed to be done quickly before visitors walk in at 10 am! Overall, I had the opportunity to see many beautiful objects from the diverse Chester Beatty collections. You can gain an idea of these stunning and detailed objects here.

For conservators, it is very important to work as much as possible on objects to improve and practice the various treatments we learn, and to make sure every method is well-known and reflected upon. At university, it is difficult to spend enough time on objects between classes and exams, that’s why internships are so important. I had a great time at the Chester Beatty Library. My lovely colleagues made me feel very welcome and I was able to improve my skills while learning new things on objects from different times and countries. I gained more self-confidence as a conservator and I am now looking forward to starting my master thesis next year.

13Jana Müller (B.A.), Student at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany

Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials

http://www.abk-stuttgart.de/

http://www.papierrestaurierung.abk-stuttgart.de/

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Two for the price of one!

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

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Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach, from Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Chester Beatty map of Brazil, and Janssonius.

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

Installation

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

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

Delving into Russia – Conservation for Digitisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dorothea gently working through the manuscript to ease it open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothea MüllerHeritage Council Intern in Conservation

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

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.

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 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.

 

Conserving the past, whilst training for the future

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

CBL Archive:

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

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

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

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

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

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Heb 779, before and after conservation.

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

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

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

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Tear repair and infills on Heb 776.

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

Heb 776 (9)

The Torah scroll after conservation.

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

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

Icon wall Installation 18 Jan 2016 (25)

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

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

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

Board reattachment for a 12th century Syriac manuscript

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

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

Syc 703 Front board.JPG

The upper board of CBL Syc 703

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

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

Syc 703 weak attachment to the board

The extremely weak upper board attachment, and fragile textblock

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

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

Slide23

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

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

Slide22

Attaching the detached folio with Japanese paper tabs.

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

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

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

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

A Hebrew Yemenite Pentateuch

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

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

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

TB

The main body of the textblock H255mm x W195mm x D67mm

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

before

Folios 335-353 before treatment

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

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

insect_damage

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

transmitted

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

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

paper_prep

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

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

Heb 761_trimming (3)

Finished paper repairs, ready for very careful trimming.

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

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

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

 

Understanding skin – Examining the parchment of a 14th century Samaritan manuscript

As part of our current project to conserve the CBL Hebrew collection, I have been working on a large 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch. In the first post about this manuscript I will concentrate on the context in which it was written, and the materials from which it is made.

Heb 752 - Mss

The disbound textblock before conservation.

The Samaritan people are a religious and ethnic group preserving the tradition of copying the Pentateuch in the Samaritan alphabet. The Pentateuch comprises of the first five books of the Hebrew bible/Old Testament, also known as the Five Books of Moses because they are believed to have been dictated by God directly to Moses. The Chester Beatty manuscript codex was written in 1339 AD in Samaritan majuscule Hebrew characters. The primary scribe of this manuscript is believed to have been Abisha ibn Pinhas ibn Joseph.

This manuscript is composed of 28 parchment quires, each made of five bifolios (H: 32cm x W: 51cm). Given its overall size, a very large number of animals have been used to produce the textblock. Earlier this year we provided samples from some of our parchment manuscripts to be tested by the BioArch project at the University of York.

Taking samples

This fascinating project uses minute rubbings from the surface of the parchment to gather collagen which can be analysed with mass spectrometry. The protein within the collagen can be extracted and provide valuable information about the parchment species and its condition.

Analyses from three bifolios and a singleton from this manuscript all confirmed that the parchment is made from sheep skin. This confirmed features seen in my visual examination of the skin characteristics such as size and colour. Follicle patterns, although sometimes visible, can be misleading due to distortion during the production process. The cost of buying the  raw skins, the time spent preparing the parchment, as well as writing the text meant that the cost of production for this manuscript was likely very high and it was probably commissioned by a wealthy devote.

Composite images 3

A natural stretched edge (left) and imperfect keratinised areas (right).

As I worked on this manuscript, I found considerable evidence that the parchment skins were being used economically. Scholars in the field believe that Samaritan scribes were responsible for preparing their own skins and kept even the flawed skins for use, supporting the evidence that the material was a valuable commodity. I found that they had used all areas of the skin that were available, even the hard keratinised extremities of the stretched skins and imperfect or transparent areas.

Single folios were created from any remaining areas of the skin, which were not large enough for full bifolios. In some of the quires a full bifolio is substituted for two single guarded folios. The single folios are always inserted in the middle of the quire between bifolios- this is consistent throughout the manuscript. The quires with guarded folios are usually located in the second half of the codex but no more specific pattern was identified.

Heb 752 - scrapping marks and holes in skin (3)

Holes and cut marks, possibly made during flaying.

I was able to observe a number of large holes throughout the manuscript. These may have been small cuts or imperfections already present in the skin or holes accidentally made during preparation of the skin that have become larger after stretching during preparation of the parchment. Other elements of the parchment manufacturing process are also apparent; the de-hairing of the manuscript appears to have been poorly executed on some of the skins, leaving patches of animal hair in the manuscript, and the scraping of the skins has created both some harsh flay cuts and shaving marks on the parchment, and also unevenness in the thickness of the skins. However there are no sewing repairs in this manuscript, a rather common feature in Samaritan manuscripts.

Heb 752 ff231-240 (11)

Delamination of the skin.

Heb 752 - Assessment (6)

Marks left by the parchment maker’s knife during thinning of the skin.

Although the parchment used in this manuscript is not of the best quality, the collation follows Gregory’s rule, a common medieval practice of collating parchment skins so that when folded and arranged in quires the hair side of the skin faces hair side and the flesh side faces flesh side.

By looking in detail at the parchment, I have tried to understand the scribe’s preparation process. The text appears to be very carefully centred on the page. Most often the skins were prepared for calligraphy by folding the bifolio in half and piercing both layers of parchment with a metal point along the fore-edge. The perforations were made on the folded bifolio. On most bifolios the pricking marks line up but in some cases the parchment has moved, throwing off the alignment while others simply do not align. A metal point was used to score between the marks at each fore-edge, creating blind lines to write on, while leaving a margin at the fore-edge and centre of the bifolio. On single guarded folios, I observed a similar approach with the pricking of the parchment on both the folio and the guard.

Heb 752 - Blind lines

Ruling across a bifolio (left) and pricking marks along the fore-edge of the folio

To create the vertical lines, a pair of marks about one centimetre apart was made at each corner of the folded bifolio by perforating the parchment with a sharp knife. When joined these create vertical blind lines which were used to centre the text in the page.

Heb 752 - different hands and inks used

Heb 752 Scrapping of ink and parchement (2)The decoration in the manuscript is rather sober, in compliance with the Samaritan’s interested solely in the text. Aside from some simple black ink markers throughout the manuscript, there are only a few dividers that separate the text. Those decorated dividers often indicate a change in hand and inks. Most commonly, the ink appears to be a black carbon ink, with possibly some gall inks mixtures. I could observe very little evidence of damage or loss, with the exception of some scraping of entire words, possibly as a way of correcting a mistake.

One folio (120) showed three blind compass circles along the fore-edge. I think they are an unfinished feature on this particular folio as there are no other examples in the manuscript.

Heb 752 f.120 drawn circle (2)

Heb 752 - Trimming lines (1)The uneven trimming of this codex is also worth noting. The scored lines at the edges of the bifolios appear to have been drawn with a metal point being dragged along the parchment, creating small ridges on the surface. The lines were then used as a guide for trimming by the binder.

Another interesting feature of this manuscript is found along the tailedge of folio 144v. A strip of parchment is sewn with a medium thickness red thread and protrudes over the fore-edge of the manuscript where it has been used as a bookmark. The text on this page (Lev. 9:22-10:1) is heavily worn, supposedly from kissing. This is a common occurrence in Samaritan manuscripts, again demonstrating the importance of the written word for the Samaritans.

CBL Heb 752, f.144v

I look forward to posting more about the conservation of this manuscript in the New Year.

Julia Poirier, Book & Paper Conservator