New Approaches to the Conservation of Tibetan Books

The 19th Seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts was held at the University of Copenhagen from the 19th to the 21st. of April 2023. The meeting gathered conservators, scholars and students, colleagues from all over the world who share the interest on a wide and complex subject. The programme included codicological studies, diagnostic analyses and innovation in the field of book conservation.


In that occasion, together with her Tibetologist colleague Dr. Michela Clemente, Federica Delia could present a research, to whom they have been dedicating enthusiastically the past few years.
The presentation illustrated the research on new approaches to the conservation of Tibetan books. In particular, the project is focused on two fragmentary manuscripts of the Tibetan Tucci Collection, belonging to the IsIAO Library. The Collection is hosted in the African and Oriental Collection Hall of the National Central Library of Rome (BNCR), while it is managed by the International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies (ISMEO).
A precious collaboration with Dr. Filippo Lunardo, researcher at Sapienza Università di Roma and expert of Tibetan Art History, helps in the study of the illuminations. Dr. Mauro Missori, physicist at the National Research Council (Cnr) and Sapienza Università di Roma, coordinates instead the diagnostic analyses on the two manuscripts. The whole project is under the supervision of Silvia Sotgiu, Head of Conservation at the BNCR.
Federica and Michela have started the research with the aim of identifying the employed original raw materials. Then, they selected specific Himalayan fibers and experimented the making of a paper to be applied to the conservation of Tibetan books. The experimentation has been conducted at the laboratory of the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome. The handmade paper production involved two specialists in paper technology: Elena Bordacconi and Giacomo Mafrici.

Our first intern

Starting from this week until the beginning of March we are happy to host at the studio Elena Gómez García, our first intern.

Elena is studying Painting in Spain at the Universitat Politècnica de Valencia and she is going to graduate in a few months. In 2022 Elena travelled to Italy as Erasmus student for a semester at the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome. There she attended among others the course on Paper Conservation held by Federica Delia.

Careful and curious, we are sure that through this internship Elena will be able to enrich her knowledge on conservation. She will carry out restoration treatments applying the information acquired during her studies and will briefly experience working in private practice.

Welcome and good luck with your work, Elena!

The Conservation of Tibetan Books

Prague, July 2022 – After two years of pandemic finally we begin to travel again. The occasion is to present Federica Delia’s recent research on the Himalayan paper and the conservation of Tibetan books.
From the 3rd to the 9th of July 2022 the International Association for Tibetan Studies chooses the capital city of Czech Republic to host its 16th Seminar. It is a meeting of hundreds of professionals researching around Tibet and its millennial culture. A whole week of discussion, talks and social events on the topic.
So, it’s time to return to Prague!

The decided to participate to the Seminar has the aim to present Federica’s analysis on the conservation of Tibetan books carried out in the past and more recently in the West.
Based on case studies from the Tucci Tibetan Collection belonging to the IsIAO Library, she offered an overview on the history and development of the conservation field. She also shared questions and thoughts on methods and materials usually employed on Tibetan books in pothi format.
Federica’s presentation was particularly focused on the knowledge and awareness that a Western conservator should gain to be able to operate with full respect on these precious artifacts. Where is the limit? How can we conserve Tibetan books with no risk of compromising their history or committing a violation of their sacredness?

With no claim to be exhaustive, Federica Delia hopes that her little contribution can start a fruitful debate on the topic. With this aim she is happy to share ideas and experiences with other colleagues to improve the practice.
So, anyone involved in the conservation of Tibetan books and interested in joining the discussion, can write her at federica.delia@rectoversolab.it.

A spot of the castle from Charles Bridge.

Mission to Ethiopia

Ethiopia
Priests show part of their collection of manuscripts.

Addis Abeba, February 2019 – Just right before the beginning of Spring Federica Delia went on a mission to Ethiopia. The aim was to evaluate the state of conservation of some important book collections and to meet the people in charge of their preservation and protection.
Her trip was also the occasion to talk to locals about their culture, history and crafts, and to share knowledge and information. It was definitely a constructive meeting that built the foundation for a future fruitful collaboration.

Arabic Calligraphy with Amjed Rifaie

amjed rifaie

Rome, April 2018 – On April 21st at the Italian Geographical Society in collaboration with the Iraqi Embassy in Rome, my colleagues and I organised a one-day workshop on Arabic Calligraphy with Amjed Rifaie. Iraqi from Tikrit, he is a calligrapher based in Rome since almost 10 years.
The workshop took place in the tranquillity of the historical library of the Society located in a XVI century building in the heart of Villa Celimontana, not far from Colosseum.

12 participants attended the workshop on Arabic Calligraphy with Amjed Rifaie. They learnt the history of Arabic calligraphy, the different styles and the basics of the technique. Showing the use of the qalam, Amjed explained how to draw the letters following the rules of this fascinating art and century-old tradition.
The music helped the participants to gain concentration and test theirselves in this difficult practice. During the lunch break they could taste some delicious Arabic recipes by the Iraqi chef Waqar Younus.

Identification and Preservation of Digital Prints

Tallinn, September 2017 – The Estonian Photographic Heritage Society (EPHS) and Art Museum of Estonia organised a workshop on Identification and Preservation of Digital Prints held at Kumu Art Museum by Martin Jürgens on September 27-29.

The workshop introduced to the history, materials and techniques of digital printing. Samples of different techniques have been shown and analysed under a microscope, and then deterioration processes have been examined and discussed, along with the illustration of preservation strategies to handle, mount and store the materials in the most suitable way possible.

preservation of digital prints

Using magnification and different illumination techniques, I could exercise how to identify the main families of digital prints, particularly electro-photography, digital exposure to photographic materials, thermal processes, and inkjet.

The workshop on Identification and Preservation of Digital Prints has been also the occasion to meet colleagues involved with photograph conservation in North Eastern European countries, such as Estonia, Finland, Latvia and  Lituania, and to visit the wonderful city of Tallinn during the Estonian Photographic Art Fair with a rich program of exhibitions and talks in Telliskivi.

The Conservation of Byobu

conservation of byobu

Berlin, July 2017 – Last week I was in Berlin again. After almost three years, I came back to attend the workshop on the Conservation of Byobu Japanese Screens at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Dahlem.

One more time I had the chance to meet my teachers from Japan and colleagues from all over the world. During the week I learn about complex objects such as byobu and traditional techniques to built and restore them. Once again I had a wonderful and useful experience for both my professional and personal growth.

Conservators and restorers, who already have an advanced knowledge of Japanese restoration and conservation techniques, can apply for this five-day workshop on the conservation of byobu. Applicants are required to have previously attended either “Basics for Japanese Paper and Silk Conservation” or similar workshops run by Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, such as JPC.
They will learn the basic techniques of Japanese paper restoration, the structure of Japanese screens like byobu (folding screen), the analysis of damages on screens through the practical work conducted by Japanese specialists.

In the pictures: moments from the workshops; life in Berlin.

The Museum of Islamic Art of Qatar

museum of islamic art of qatar

Doha, July 2017 – I have just returned from my trip to Qatar, my second time in Doha.
After 10 years, this summer I have visited the Museum of Islamic Art of Qatar, where I worked in 2007 as a paper conservator. It was one of the most challenging experiences in my life and surely the most fruitful in terms of what I have learnt about the world.

Although, at that time the museum was still under construction and it was just an empty space. Today I could finally see it open.

In the pictures: the dom of Museum of Islamic Art of Qatar from the inside; a view of the city skyline from the museum terrace; me in front of the museum entrance.

An important anniversary

visit of the exhibition at the Society

Rome, May 2017 – Yesterday the Italian Geographical Society celebrated its 150th anniversary with the opening of an exhibition of its collection masterpieces in the presence of the President of the Republic.

On this occasion I participated in setting and mounting the objects that were on display in the library rooms of Palazzetto Mattei in Villa Celimontana, historical headquarters of the Society and a starting point for many Italian expeditions around the world.

In the pictures: visitors at the exhibition; Vice President Prof. Margherita Azzari and General Director of Libraries and Cultural Institutes Dr. Rossana Rummo; conservation work; concert of the Orchestra dei Carabinieri.

A talk in Portugal

Lisbon, March 2017 – On the 9th of March the Italian Cultural Institute in Lisbon invited my colleague Barbara Cattaneo and me for a presentation on the conservation of paper and photographs along with Luis Pavao, one of the pioneers of photograph conservation in Portugal.

It was a pleasure to meet him and all the participants, to share and compare practice and principles of conservation at international level.
Moreover, we could visit Luis Pavao amazing conservation lab, where he also hosts professionals for trainings and interships.

In the pictures: a flyer of the conference; me and Barbara getting ready for the presentation; visiting the photographic conservation lab of Luis Pavao; Lisbon.