New open access e-book collection

Last week Getty Publications launched a Virtual Library providing free access to over 250 backlist titles. The collection comprises titles published by the J.Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute and cover a diverse range of materials including exhibition catalogues, monographs, key art historical texts, journals, symposium papers and works on conservation. There is significant crossover with the library’s book collection including Cezanne in the Studio (currently in the short loan collection), Illuminating the Renaissance, Riegl’s The Group Portraiture of Holland and The Conservation of Wall Paintings, edited by the Courtauld’s Sharon Cather.

Getty Virtual Library

These and other freely accessible e-book collections relevant to staff and students at the Courtauld are available via our e-books page where you can also find links to our subscription e-books collections.

New Online Resource: Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives Film Collection

The Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at Dunbarton Oaks have recently made available online fourteen films from their collection. Of greatest interest to Courtauld staff and students will be those dealing with the restoration and conservation, during the first half of the twentieth century, of Byzantine art and architecture at the Red Sea Monastery of Saint Anthony near Cairo and Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii in Istanbul.

A film still showing restoration of a mosaic at Hagia Sophia

A film still showing restoration of a mosaic at Hagia Sophia

The restoration work was carried out by the Byzantine Institute of America under the direction of the archaeologist and scholar Thomas Whittemore. The work at the Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii was enabled by Whitemore’s friendship with Mustafa Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. At the Hagia Sophia, many mosaics previously thought lost in the earthquake of 1894 were uncovered and Laurian Douthett suggests that this may have led to the conversion of the mosque into a museum.  The films provide a fascinating early use of the medium to document the restoration process as well as giving a glimpse of life in Turkey in the 1930s and 1940s.

Thomas Whittmore at Hagia Sophia

Thomas Whittmore at Hagia Sophia

Whittemore’s four volume preliminary reports on the mosaics of St. Sophia at Istanbul can be found in the Book Library at classmark A3780 BYZ. An exhibition catalogue from the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University detailing the Byzantine Institute restoration at Kariye Camii can be found at Z5020 NEW WAL (2004).

Another film gives an insight into the history of the garden at Dunbarton Oaks. The aging 16mm films were themselves in need of urgent conservation which resulted in their digitisation and publishing on the Dumbarton Oaks website.

All images are courtesy of the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA)  at Dunbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

New Temporary Display at the V&A: Research on Paintings: Technical Art History & Connoisseurship

17 December 2012 – 22 September 2013

The Embarkation of St Helena to the Holy Land. Tintoretto

The Embarkation of St Helena to the Holy Land; Oil painting, Tintoretto Tintoretto (1519-1594) Venice Ca. 1555 (c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The following exhibition may be of interest to Courtauld students, especially those in the Conservation and Technology Department. The V&A is holding a temporary display looking at recent research on some of the Museum’s European paintings- in particular 11 Italian, French and Netherlandish paintings created between the early 15th and early 19th centuries- including work by Tintoretto. During a recent research programme that lasted 2 years, 200 of the museum’s paintings, were, as they say on their site, re-attributed or re-identified.

The culmination of this research is this display, which goes into detail on the methods and techniques used by researchers to examine the oil paintings, connoisseurship (i.e. close examination,) ‘documentary research and technical analysis.’ The 11 paintings featured act as case studies to provide a ‘step-by-step’ introduction to technical art history and conservation. Interestingly, the paintings will also be displayed with X-radiographs and infra-red photographs. This display is free and open to all. It is held in the Julie and Robert Breckman Prints & Drawings Gallery, Room 90. Please see for more information.

Other useful links

V&A Conservation Journal Online

(The most recent issue can be found here:

Preserving intangible integrity

The conservation and technical examination of Bernadino Fungai’s Virgin and Child with Two Saints

Oil Painting: Materials and Techniques

Book cleaning CABS book of the month – November

As a conservator you know why it is important to clean books, but sometimes it feels like you are not making any appreciable difference. Until you take a photograph half way through a cleaning job and you see the value of a whole day with a smoke sponge …

This is a book from CABS – Nouveau traité de toute l’architecture : ou l’art de bastir ; utile aux entrepreneurs et aux ouvriers, by Jean-Louis de Cordemoy, 1714 – that is being prepared to have its back board re-attached.

Erica Foden-Lenahan
Special Collections

Tender loving repairs part 2

A couple of months ago I wrote a posting about repairs undertaken by Camberwell book conservation students. Well all the books have now been returned and I’d like to update you on some of the more complicated repairs.

One of the books, Eugène Müntz’s Leonardo da Vinci: artist, thinker, and man of science, had the most comprehensive treatment. My classmate Salvador Alcantara documented how he treated the book:

Rebacking – Pull off original spine, linings and (animal) glue. The latter by applying thick layer of wheat starch paste, letting it pull the glue for several minutes then clean with the help of a bonefolder trying not to disturb the original sewing. Operation repeated until almost completely clean. New linings – two strips of kozo-shi tissue, the size of the spine, applied with wheat starch paste. A hollow back was discarded. New linen cloth spine overlapping 1-1.5 cm on each board, to be covered with previously lifted original cloth. This is trimmed approx. 1-2 mm from the joint.

Split inner hinges – Narrow strip of wove paper. Wheat starch paste. The book resting in flat position, the cover must be opened at about 135º for the pasting of the hinge.
Eugène Müntz's Leonardo da Vinci: artist, thinker, and man of science

Worn (green) corners – Locally lift the minimal amount of covering material (original cloth and pastedown). To rebuild corners: millboard shavings mixed with wheat starch paste. Then cover/reshape with piece of kawanaka tissue. Paste down the previously lifted cloth and endpaper.

Reposition of former spine titling as a full-size label on new spine – Edges ought to be pared to flatten the union label-support as much as possible. Wheat starch paste.

Book shoe – Provided to avoid further detachment of the text block while stored in upright position. Millboard of an appropriate thickness to match the width of the square at the tail, held in place by a U-shaped polyester film (Melinex) wrapping of the text block.

This book lives on the Oversize shelves at D623.LEO MUE.

Salvador also treated a quick reference book, Henry Liddell’s Greek-English lexicon from 1968. This has a substantial textblock, but the boards and spine were insufficient to support the weight of the block. In addition to some small repairs, the main improvment for the book is the addition of a protective blue manila wrapper. It has a polyester film (Melinex) window on spine to make title visible and it is tied at the fore edge with two cotton tapes integrated in the cover. This solution also allows a better upright storage of the book by means of a tighter holding of the text block.

Although not yet fully catalogued, this book lives in the Quick ref section (by the photocopiers) at shelfmark QUICK REF Z33.G

Naomi Mitamura and Katie Kelsey both worked on Paul Ortwin Rave’s Genius der Baukunst. It has a beautiful flesh-toned paper cover which hides the very fragile, crumbly biscuit board boards.

After much experimentation, Naomi found a way to use Japanese tissue to build up the corners, where the board had crumbled away. Katie also worked on the corners, before Naomi re-attached the spine covering, using Japanese tissue, and toned the repairs to maintain the same flesh.

This book is also awaiting full cataloguing, but will eventually be in B588 somewhere.

The last book has also be
en repaired with toned Japanese paper. Maudie Gunzi found that the Swedish Nationalmuseum catalogue of its Italien paintings and drawings had a solid sewing structure, but the leather on the spine and corners had rotted.

Once again, I’d like to point out that these repairs are not full conservation treatments, they are just to stabilize the items and to be able to use them. And, as a result, some of the aesthetic delicacy has not been prioritized.

Other books were repaired by Lizzie Courtney, Mary Garner, Lisa Knight, Olga Martinosi and myself.

Erica Foden-Lenahan
Special Collections

Tender loving repairs

Some of you may have noticed that
there are books on the shelves that have seen better days? Perhaps their covers are torn or the spine has been partially torn off, or maybe it is just a case of the corners becoming so bent and de-laminated that the book pitches forward on the shelf. All this damage is the result of wear and tear, photocopying, pulling them off the shelves by the heads of their spines. These are ‘minor’ repairs and most libraries don’t have the funds to re-bind books unless they are falling apart.

In come students from Camberwell College of Arts, who are studying towards a Foundation Degree in Book Conservation. The 9 students on the course, including Erica one of our part-time Special Collections Librarians, were looking forward to learning some basic conservation. There may be times when they need to do the work themselves or teach others how to make basic repairs. In January we selected 17 books from the main library shelves, not Special Collections, and the Camberwell students have been working on them. Most have required hinges or hollows made of Japanese tissue, which is very strong but light, to re-attach the spines and some have also needed re-enforcing hinges on the inside upper and lower covers, as you can see in the photos.

Ten of the 17 books have been returned now and are either back on the shelves or are awaiting full cataloguing. In some cases they don’t look drastically different because the students prioritzed a stable, minimal repair over the aesthetics and restoration.

A few of the books turned out to be much bigger jobs than we had expected and there will be more about them in a future blog post. In the meantime, Erica is going to monitor the books in 6 monthly intervals, to see how the repairs are holding up.

Don’t do this to our books!

Every sticky note label that you put in one of our books leaves a residue. You can clearly see the rectangles in these pictures, where we have removed the labels.

They damage in 2 ways -they can actually accelerate the degradation of some papers. And they leave that residue, which attracts dirt that promotes the growth of mold. So don’t do this to our books or we’ll feed you to the penguins!