Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Collecting Calligraphy

by Conservation

8/16/2018

behind the scenes , Collecting Calligraphy , Qur'ran , paper conservation

In the recent post from our paper conservator about preparing Islamic calligraphy for exhibit, the example showed how certain pigments in the decorative elements break down the paper.  In this example, the ink is the evil player.  This page from a Qur’an was written in the 13th century in Spain.  Like the Egyptian page from 1327 described previously, it is on pink paper and is decorated with gold leaf and opaque paint.  The details below show the black ink used on the Egyptian page and the dark brown ink on the Spanish page. 

The black ink has some cracks but is stable and looks like traditional India ink that can still be purchased today.  The brown ink is thick and cracked, and the iron in the ink has degraded the paper and caused breaks through many of the letters.  The worst degradation is where the paper is covered by ink on both the front and back of the sheet, shown in the detail of the page in “transmitted light,” where the light is placed behind the paper.  The ink is water soluble, and the paper is so fragile that the damaged areas cannot be repaired by the same consolidation and mending techniques used on more stable objects.  Also, repairs will have to be done on top of the ink and will be visible.  While some stabilization is possible, the best preservation technique for this sheet of calligraphy is minimal and very careful handling.