Star maps restored: conserving al-Sufi’s text

Conservation of the “Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars” by ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sūfī

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from Robert Minte, Bodleian Libraries Conservation & Collection Care

A project to conserve and digitise a 6th-Century AH/12th-Century CE Arabic manuscript is nearing completion, enabled by a generous grant from The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and private donations.

The manuscript, believed to be the fourth oldest extant copy of this important and popular astronomical treatise, is particularly significant to scholars as not many examples of book art survive from the period, and it contains unique illustrations of Bedouin constellations superimposed over Ptolemaic ones.

The manuscript’s fragile condition had necessitated restricted access for study and display, the priority for conservation being the stabilisation of its fragile paint layers and repair of the paper support corroded by green copper-based pigment used to illuminate chapter headings.

After detailed examination and assessment of the manuscript’s condition, the delicate and time-consuming task of repair was carried out with careful consideration of appropriate materials to be used in its treatment. A number of materials for consolidation of powdery paint layers were investigated, bearing in mind the need to minimise any introduction of moisture, which acts as a catalyst to copper-green degradation. This also informed the choice of a suitable adhesive for the repair of the fragile, copper-corroded areas and infilling of losses, using Japanese papers dyed to match the tone of the original paper: a very light-weight tissue to repair and support fragile areas, and a heavier paper to infill areas of loss.

The conservation and digitisation of this highly important manuscript will once again enable it to be safely studied and displayed.

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