Friday, April 29, 2016

Publication: The Three Hares, A Curiosity Worth Regarding



TOM GREEVES, SUE ANDREW AND CHRIS CHAPMAN

Hardback, 368 pp., 326 illustrations
ISBN : 9780993103926
England: Skerryvore Productions Ltd, 2016
Price: £30.00
Order online here

From fifteenth-century rural churches in deepest Devon to sixth-century cave temples on the edge of the Gobi desert in China, this book follows its three authors on the tantalising trail of a mysterious medieval motif - three hares running in a circle sharing three ears which form a triangle at the centre of the design.

Along the way, a modern Devon myth is exposed, and the Three Hares in the sacred art of Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism are explored, and tentatively explained, before the trail leads into the Islamic world, and the great Mongol Empire.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Conserving a Chinese scroll

Vania Assis is Conservator of the Dunhuang scrolls at the British Library, and works on various projects supporting IDP's activities. Here is a post about one of her latest conservation jobs.

My colleague Wong Wing-hui and I recently worked on the Chinese scroll Or.8210/S.3877. Like other items in the Stein collection, it had been previously treated during its life as a collection item.

In the past, various materials were used to strengthen and repair manuscripts. In the case of our scroll, silk gauze was pasted on both sides with animal glue. There were, sometimes, several layers on top of each other. Heavy and thick paper was also applied to reinforce weak areas, such as edges, tears and missing areas.

Gauze covering the surface of scroll Or.8210/S.3877

As these materials aged, they became more unstable, causing the item to distort and transferring acidity to the paper. Higher acidity meant that the document became discoloured, which when combined with the texture of the gauze meant that it was difficult to perceive the original aspect of the scroll. In addition, a lower pH also made the item more brittle, making safe handling problematic.

Scroll Or.8210/S.3877 before conservation

Removing these materials proved very challenging: first, because they heavily adhered to the most vulnerable areas; second, because the paper used to make this scroll was particularly thin and transparent.

We worked on a section at a time, using hot water to reactivate the animal glue. We then removed the gauze with tweezers, carefully pulling it away from the paper. One of the most time-consuming processes was to remove the residual animal glue, which had been used in very large quantities. We did so by scraping it with a spatula, while it was damp. During this stage, we also removed old repairs, as they easily peeled away from the original material.

To repair the scroll's countless small tears and lacunae, we used Japanese paper, which is not only more sympathetic to the original paper, but also light weight and acid-free.

Detail of scroll Or.8210/S.3877 before conservation
Detail of scroll Or.8210/S.3877 after conservation

After all treatments, the scroll was lightly pressed for a week, to flatten any distortions. Finally, we rolled it onto an archival quality core support, and it is now ready to be digitised and handled!

Scroll Or.8210/S.3877 after conservation

Monday, April 11, 2016

Publication: La fabrique du lisible


JEAN-PIERRE DREGE with the collaboration of COSTANTINO MORETTI

Paperback, 420 pp., colour
ISBN : 9782857570738
Paris: Collège de France, Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises
€69.00
Order online: Editions de Boccard

Until recently, the history of the book in China focused mainly on the printed book. Admittedly, most works date the invention of the book back to inscriptions on turtle shell or Shang and Zhou bronzes, but they tend not to give much attention to manuscripts on bamboo, wood, silk and paper.

The discovery of a large number of early manuscripts in the Mogao cave 17, near Dunhuang, and elsewhere has opened up new perspectives and allowed parallel lines of investigation to be drawn. The emergence of codicology and the development of research on the history of text production applied to Western manuscripts have also provided a model upon which to open a new chapter in the history of Chinese manuscript books.

This publication gathers fifty-one articles from thirteen scholars based at French institutions. Representing a first attempt to write a history of ancient Chinese texts in their context, it examines the production of manuscripts, their utilisation, handling and preservation, as well as their design, the readership for whom they were intended and how they were written and read.