Conservation, Medieval Portland Senior Capstone

Medieval Portland: Preliminary Treatment Report First Draft

Ashley West. Art Conservation Project.

OWNER: Portland State University Special Collections

ARTIST: Calligrapher: Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh



The fold is where you can see the previous treatment.
Oxidation caused by Lapiz Lazuli ink



  • The Object: Illuminated manuscript of  texts of Bustān (The Orchard, 1257) and Gulistān (The Rose Garden, 1258) originally composed by the poet Majmūʻah-i Saʻdī. The calligrapher of this particular copy is unknown. The area of the book needing attention are the last two pages. Tarnished gold leaf cover them with geometrically painted lines with flowers. One page has a border while the other consists of half text, and the other half covered with a block of illustration.
  • History: The first page of the book contains the date, ‘1226 AH’ (1811 AD) in Arabic. This means that the book’s fabrication took place during the Qajar dynasty1. The calligrapher and book binder of this particular book is/are unknown. In keeping with consistency of Islamic art, the book has no figural illustrations. According to Marjan Anvari, an art conservator specializing in Medieval Islamic manuscripts, the pages were illustrated using Tazhib style2. Tazhib style is the geometric art style generally created by taking a larger polygon and creating smaller and smaller geometric shapes inside thus creating the precise detail seen in this book3. Though the date in which the illuminations were fabricated suggest Qajar dynasty, there is significant4
  • Fabrication: The book was bound with a leather cover. The ink and type of paper used is unknown until further examination can take place. All but the last two pages of the book.

2. Condition

  • Object Description: Overall, the bookbinding is stable. There are two current notable gold flakes missing from the second illuminated page of the book. There is also some slight lifting of the gold leaf.
  • Examination

3. Previous Treatment

  • There is evidence of previous treatment as the last page of the book shows signs of reformatting. The protective first and last pages were new editions.

Treatment Proposal 

  • Unfortunately, treatment on the gold leaf is absolutely unadviseable. The oxidation caused by the lapis lazuli can be slowed, but this is not an immediate concern. Water soluble ink was used in this book, so do not use water to clean dirt and grime.

Factors Influencing Treatment

  • Any attempts to treat the gold leaf would require unbinding the entire book. Doing so poses a much higher risk to the object. The best thing to do is just to practice safe handling.

Written and researched by Ashley West.

2016 Medieval Capstone Student

Continue reading “Medieval Portland: Preliminary Treatment Report First Draft”

Conservation, MPF Conservation Internship

Medieval Portland: Photo documentation

I checked out a camera from the Portland State University VA office hoping to get some better shots of the poetry book. I was highly discouraged from using flash (for good reason), but if I made do with what I could.

Unfortunately, since I left, it looks like the damage has gotten slightly worse. The gold leaf on your right in the image is now lifting just a little bit!

I wanted to talk a little bit about photography in the art conservation field: I’ve had two different experiences with my two different internships. At Robert’s lab, we had a set-up which involved placing the object in a white tent and playing with lighting to get the best results. Below, you can see my first project which is against a white background with a color strip to fix the color balance when the photo is put in for editing.



I also was fortunate enough to order the second edition to “The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation” on sale for $20 from $60. I’ll hopefully be getting it sometime in the middle of November at the latest, and when I do, I’ll read it and post more information, but basically what I’ve learned from every conservator I’ve ever talk to is that documentation is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the conservation process. Sometimes, even more so than the actual treatment itself.

Everything you do has to be reversible in case future discoveries find more effect forms of conservation. This is why it’s important to document everything you do for future conservators to learn from, fix, and otherwise learn about what happened to the object.

Photos have to be taken BEFORE any treatments are made, and then several process photos are highly recommended to show other fieldworkers your work as well as proving to a potential client that you did indeed put the extensive work into the object that you did.