Under the microscope

Conserving a Mughal Album from the Shahjahan period (MS. Douce Or. a. 1.) by Julia Bearman, Senior Paper Conservator, Bodleian Library.

Bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in 1834 by antiquary and bibliophile Francis Douce, MS. Douce Or. a. 1 is the earliest album within the Libraries’ Mughal collection.  The album was assembled in the 17th century for a member of the Mughal Imperial family and contains 41 pictures and 53 calligraphic panels within decorated lacquered boards.

MS. Douce Or. a. 1 has been the recent focus of treatment in the Bodleian Libraries conservation studio. Fragilities to the painted images became evident in 2019 during an assessment of its condition to determine whether it could be lent for an exhibition abroad. Thanks to the generous support from a group of donors the conservation treatment went ahead and is due for completion in 2023.

MS. Douce Or. a. 1, fols. 56a/55b.
Ms. Douce Or. a. 1, fols. 11a/10b.

Each folio is made from several sheets of paper pasted together to form a thick sheet and burnished to create a smooth surface. The corners were found to be fragile where they had been touched repeatedly over the centuries causing them to break and delaminate. The conservation treatment included stabilizing these areas by adhering a very thin (3.5g/m2) Japanese paper to them.

The condition of the paint layer on both the paintings and calligraphies was examined under a stereo microscope at magnifications of up to 40x. This revealed not only paint loss but also actively unstable miniscule flakes of paint beginning to lift away from the paper beneath. The securing of these unstable flakes to prevent further losses was of primary importance.

Julia Bearman viewing MS. Douce Or. a 1 under the microscope.

To stabilize the paint, a liquid adhesive was introduced under the edges of each unstable flake using an exceptionally fine tipped brush and a steady hand, whilst viewing the manuscript through the microscope. Within the field of conservation there are a number of adhesives suitable for the consolidation of painted media and the one chosen for this project was the polysaccharide JunFunori®, which is the purified form of Funori, a Japanese adhesive made from the red algae genus Gloiopeltis furcate.

MS. Douce Or. a. 1, fol. 42a and Paint flakes after stabilization. MS. Douce Or. a. 1, fol. 42a.

The microscope was also a useful tool to view the boards, and revealed layers of paper, gesso, paint, gold and lacquer. The lacquered boards require further study in order to understand how they were produced and to understand their ageing process and their conservation issues.

Lacquered boards, MS. Douce Or. a. 1

The materials and techniques of traditional Persian lacquered bookbinding will be explored with Prof. Dr. Mandana Barkeshli, a conservation scientist and academic, and her colleague Dr. Hamid Malekian, during a forthcoming workshop for conservators and a public lecture.*

*Persian lacquered bookbinding: A journey through its layers and conservation challenges, by  Prof. Dr. Mandana Barkeshli takes place on Tuesday 27 June 11-12pm at Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries. Book your place here.

The Bodleian Libraries gratefully acknowledge support from these donors for the conservation of this album:

Lady McNeice Charitable Foundation
Davidson Family Charitable Trust
Jan Hall
Rafaël Biosse Duplan
Clive C R Bannister
Anonymous donors