Selden Map of China – conservation news and colloquium

– from Marinita Stiglitz and Robert Minte, Conservation & Collection Care, Bodleian Library.

Since making our first blogpost on the Selden Map of China the conservation treatment continues to reveal some interesting aspects of the Map’s previous restoration.

After removal of the early 20th century textile lining and application of a temporary facing, the map was secured face down onto a perspex table to keep it flat during the removal of old paper patches from the back. This also allows constant assessment of the map’s condition with transmitted light.

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The task of releasing the many paper patches applied during past restorations to protect fragile or missing areas proved to be challenging due to the very tenacious adhesive used for their application and the thin and fragmentary paper support in these patched areas. A few different techniques were used. Some patches were carefully separated from the map by sliding a bamboo spatula in between; others were released only after the adhesive had been softened by humidifying through sympatex (a permeable membrane). Often after this delicate process the exposed map support presented loose fragments that had to be secured back to the temporary facing with funori.

During many hours spent removing the old patches and therefore closely examining the verso, a few unexpected details came to light regarding past restoration. The discovery of weave pattern imprints on the verso and fragments of an earlier textile lining have revealed that in the past the map underwent at least two separate linings. Also the patches, differing in their shape and paper type, suggest that the map was repaired more than once. The verso of the map in general presents an overall surface dirt under the adhesive layer indicating that it was kept without any lining for some time.

Fragments of the paper support, paper patches and textile linings as well as samples of adhesive from different areas have been collected to scientifically identify their origin and therefore expand further our knowledge of the map.

The collaboration with Mark Barnard (formerly of the British Library) and Keisuke Sugiyama (British Museum) continues to be extremely beneficial; most recently planning for the dying of Chinese paper to be used to infill the many losses.

Funding for the conservation work has been generously provided by The Pilgrim Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, Sir Robert Horton, The Mercers’ Company and Merton College.

The Selden Map will be the subject of a one-day colloquium at the Bodleian Library on 15 September, 2011.
See details here.

Conserving a 17th-century map of China’s trade routes

The ‘Selden Map of China’ arrived at the Bodleian Library in 1659 as part of John Selden’s bequest. It was long considered a rare curiosity until 2008, when an American scholar, Robert Batchelor of Georgia Southern University, noted that it records coastal trading routes linking the port of Quanzhou in Fujian Province with other parts of South East Asia. The map is now recognised not only as a beautiful and colourful representation of China and South East Asia, but also as a unique historical record of China’s trading activities in the early 17th century.

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Through this renewed interest, the map’s fragile condition was highlighted, initiating a detailed technical examination and major collaborative conservation and research project. The map’s vulnerable condition was already noted in conservation records from 1977, being described as “crudely mounted on paper and linen in 1919 as a hanging scroll, though not originally intended as such. The linen has stiffened, and is severely cracked in many places.”

At the time no treatment was attempted, but now circumstances allow this challenging conservation project to go ahead with the combined expertise of conservators Robert Minte and Marinita Stiglitz (Bodleian Library) Keisuke Sugiyama (British Museum) and Mark Barnard (British Library).

The extensive treatment of the 1m. x 1.5m map, using Western and Far Eastern techniques and materials, aims to stabilize the map’s paint layer and strengthen its thin Chinese paper support.

During the first stage, the map was gradually humidified by spraying purified water onto the surface from both sides using dahlia sprayers. This drew out discolouration, flattened distortions, and enabled the textile lining to be removed.

Next a temporary facing, consisting of several layers of rayon and sammoa paper, was applied on the front with funori, adhesive extracted from Japanese red seaweed, using noribake, Japanese paste brushes. The map was left to dry flat on a karibari, Japanese drying board, for a few days…

The facing protects the fragile surface whilst paper patches and adhesive layers are removed from the back. Loose fragments will be secured, missing areas infilled and new paper linings applied, restoring the map’s original flexibility and appearance.

This project will continue until next spring. Funding for the conservation work has been generously provided by The Pilgrim Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, Sir Robert Horton, The Mercers’ Company and Merton College.
History & image of the Selden Map.
For more information about John Selden’s collections, visit the Bodleian Library website.