On Tuesday 11/1, I met once again with Marjan Anvari so that we can look at the poetry book together. This was particularly exciting for me because rather than just looking at the book face value like I have been, I was able to see the book through the eyes of an expert.
I got that and so much more.
I didn’t really know anything about Middle Eastern art, and Marjan really opened my eyes.
Tazhib art (the symmetrical, geometric patterns that you see in this book and other Persian artworks), is commonly referred to as, “Islamic,” but it actually predates Islam and it would be much more correct to refer to it as “Persian.” In fact, when Mohammad came from Arabia to Persia, all art was banned, so Tazhib had to be reintroduced into the culture years later.
She told me about the three times the Middle East reached its peak culturally; Achaemenid (or the Persian Empire, the longest dynasty before Islam), the Turkish Empire, and, finally, the Safavi dynasty. Despite the artwork being from the Qajar dynasty, we ended talking about the Safavi dynasty a lot.
The image above is an example of Safavi art. Safavi is Tazhib style, but most importantly, it is a very delicate, precise art style. The colors also have a very pleasant harmony to them. If you look at the dome of the mosque here, it has blues, whites, and gold. The colors don’t draw your eye to one particular area, though smaller shapes bring your attention to the center with the colors working together.
Qajar art, which is the art that the poetry book is from, is a different story (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good pictures that were not copyrighted, but I urge you to do a google search for “Qajar Tazhib” and you’ll see what I mean). The colors are bolder with equal parts saturation of red and blue.
Also, now, I know this is an old joke, but later Qajar dynasty art were doing “Put a Bird on It” before it was cool. Seriously, Google search, you’ll see what I mean.
Now to talk about the actual book itself. Marjan said that if I was to do a complete preliminary report on the book, I would have taken notes and pictures of every page.
I forgot to take a picture, but we were able to find the name of the calligrapher who wrote this book. His name was Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh.
There were a couple interesting things about the book that I asked her about. If you look here:
She said that this part translated to “Question and Answer” for the emperor.
On a scientific note, we looked at this page:
Which is the back of this:
The brown stuff on the back page is oxidation from the blue ink, (Lapiz Lazuli). There is no way to clean this up without harming the art piece, but stuff could be done to it to slow down the oxidation.
And finally, let’s talk about the lifting:
When the book was first brought to my attention, this was the thing that people in Special Collections were concerned about. Unfortunately, I have some bad news. According to Marjan, the only way to properly fix this would be to take the entire book apart, fix the page individually, then put it back together. The problem? It is a much higher risk to do that than just keep and handle the book safely. Basically, the book itself is in good condition and has some minor tears and holes here and there. In fact, I could hypothetically take a non water-based solution and clean up some of the dirt inside, but other than that, this is not worth messing with.
Oh well. This is one of these ethical issues that does come up in the conservation field.
On a much happier note, Marjan spent the last ten minutes of our session showing me her portfolio! That was really amazing to see.
I was so happy that she took the time to meet with me! All in all, this was a very enriching experience!
Hey, everybody! So, I’ll be meeting with Marjan tomorrow to look at the book and get more information about its history and possible ways to treat the problems with it, hypothetically. Now, this another part of my project, where I’ll be making illustrations for the Special Collections Code of Conduct (or Rules for Researchers) which can be found here. I’ve been spending a few hours on Gimp gridding out the rules, and I’ll be putting the illustrations in the circles (the ugly blue shapes won’t be on the final draft, they’re just guides for the text and illustrations).
Ashley West. Art Conservation Project.
OWNER: Portland State University Special Collections
ARTIST: Calligrapher: Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.