Study Programme 2024

1st – 5th July

Early Islamic bookbinding – The box binding


Tutors: Marco Di Bella and John Mumford

This workshop will offer the opportunity to reconstruct a model of the so-called “box binding” – among the earliest known Islamic book binding structures (8th-12th century AD). Many unique fragments of this structure are preserved – mainly in Yemen and Tunisia, and also in a number of important collections elsewhere – but no intact bindings are extant. The binding style has until now, only been associated with the Qur’anic (Koranic) text, and no known historic treatises describe such a structure. For this reason, the reconstruction of this bookbinding is based on the few published examples, and on the direct study of the Yemeni collection. Analysing different features and variations of the Yemeni fragments, participants will reconstruct one binding incorporating the most common features encountered.

Marco Di Bella is a freelance book conservator who graduated from the European Course for Conservators-Restorers of Book Materials in Spoleto (Italy) in 2001. He has worked in conservation, assessment and training projects for the Camberwell College of Arts (UK), UNESCO, Yemeni Social Fund for development, ISCR (Italian Institute of Conservation), ICRCPAL (Italian Institute of Book Conservation), National Archive of Tripoli (Libya), Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation – Dar al Kutub Conservation project, The Islamic Manuscript Association, the University of Palermo (Italy), the Hiob Ludolf Center for Ethiopian Studies (Hamburg University), the American University of Beirut, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, the University of Turin (Italy). Between 2015 and 2017 he was senior manuscript conservator at Trinity College Dublin for the Early Irish Manuscript Project. In 2017 he was part of the Clarkson Slide Archive Project. He has taught at Montefiascone and San Gemini summer schools, and worked for private book conservation studios in Italy as well as lecturing in international conferences, researching and publishing on the archaeology of early Islamic bookbinding and book conservation.

John Mumford completed his 4-year apprenticeship training programme at the British Library in 1975. He continued his studies in historical book structures and their conservation techniques, working at the British Library’s Early & Rare Book conservation studio team and then the British Library’s Oriental and India Office book studio. In 2004 he was appointed Head of Book Conservation at the British Library. After leaving the British Library, John spent 11 years in Cairo as a member of the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation Preservation & Conservation Team, working on a collaborative project with the Egyptian National Library of Egypt, organising and teaching conservation and preservation training workshops and lectures. He has taught at the University of the Arts London, given international lectures and practical workshops, including “The Preservation & Conservation of the Islamic Book’. John is now based in London where he works as a freelance book & paper conservator and consultant from his London studio. He is a visiting lecturer at West Dean College of Arts & Conservation, and at the University of London Arts (London) and is keen to continue to promote the understanding of historical book crafts and their preservation and conservation.


8th – 12th July

Recreating the Medieval Palette

Tutor: Cheryl Porter

This class will study the colours (made from rocks, minerals, metals, insects, and plants) that were processed to produce the colours used by artists throughout the medieval era. The focus will be on manuscript art – Islamic, Hebrew, and European. Participants will re-create the colours using original recipes. Illustrated lectures will address history, geography, chemistry, iconography as well as conservation issues. Practical making and painting sessions will follow these lectures. No previous experience is necessary.

Cheryl Porter is the director of the Montefiascone Conservation Project at the Seminario Barbarigo in Montefiascone, Italy, which she founded in 1988. She graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 1989 and has subsequently worked in many museums and Learned Societies in the UK and many other countries. She teaches workshops on the history of the uses, and methods of application of colour in manuscripts – Islamic, Western and Hebrew. From 2007-2009 she was Head of Conservation and Preservation for the Thesaurus Islamicus and Dar al-Kutub (National Library) of Egypt Manuscript Project and Deputy Head of the Project from 2009-11. She is a consultant to the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and is currently writing a book based on her manuscript colour workshops.


15th – 19th July

An Italian Fifteenth Century Binding alla Islamica

Course Tutors: Jim Bloxam, Shaun Thompson and Alison Ohta

Manuscript CUL Add. 8445 (circa 1480) is a copy, written in humanist script, of Cicero’s Topica. It has a contemporary leather binding with intricate blind, blue and gold tooling which bears witness to the beginning of a bourgeoning expansion of the decoration of Italian books, impacted by Near and Middle Eastern bindings. Jim, Shaun and Alison first taught this binding at Montefiascone in 2017.  In the subsequent years they have continued their research on the techniques and decorative elements which were introduced into the Italian bookbinders’ repertoire that were eventually to permeate throughout Europe. However, influences are only to be found in terms of the decorative techniques; Italian binders did not adopt the Islamic structure.

The tutors will enable the course participants to recreate the binding. Processes will include sewing the text block, sewing the endbands, shaping and attaching the beech boards and covering with leather. The covered books will be blind, blue and gold tooled and have brass fittings and fixtures applied. Complementing the practical aspect of the course, Alison will lecture and seek to set the binding into context.

Jim Bloxam is the former Head of Conservation and Collection Care, Cambridge University Library, UK (retired June 2022). He now teaches at City and Guilds of London Arts School on the BA (Hons) Conservation: Book and Paper course. His research interests lie mainly in the history of books, their structural qualities and their cultural context. He has taught historical book structures in the UK, Europe and the US, focusing mainly on European book structures. He has taught courses on the Montefiascone Conservation Project Study Programme since 1998. He seeks to communicate his knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm for the sophisticated technology of the codex structure.

Shaun Thompson is the Conservation Manager at Cambridge University Library. He is a dedicated advocate for book and paper conservation in the heritage sector, specialising in the care and repair of manuscripts and printed books. Shaun’s research interests include early European book structures, the history of books, their structural characteristics and the materials and innovative mechanisms used to create them. He has presented his work at international conferences and published his research in peer-reviewed journals. He has taught at leading conservation schools such as West Dean College of Arts, City and Guilds of London School of Art, University of Amsterdam, and the Montefiascone Conservation Project in Italy. Shaun has made significant contributions to the field of Conservation, notably through his work as a teacher and mentor to conservation students in the UK and abroad.

Alison Ohta is the Director of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. She completed her doctoral thesis at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, on bindings of the Mamluk period (1250–1516). She has lectured and published widely on the subject, and her recent publications include: “Looking inside the Book: Doublures of the Mamluk Period.” In The Making of Islamic Art, Studies in Honour of Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021, 184–207 and “Mamluk Qur’ans: Splendour and Opulence of the Islamic Book.” In the Proceedings of the Qur’an Symposium, December 2017 at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., in 2023.


22nd – 26th July

Carolingian binding from Fleury

Course tutors: Élodie Lévêque, Lucie Moruzzis

This workshop will be dedicated to the production of Carolingian bindings from Fleury Abbey, France, dating to the 9th and 10th centuries, now housed in the Library of Orléans. Fleury, Saint-Benoît Abbey, founded in 645 by Leodebold, abbot of Saint-Aignan d’Orléans, was a centre for manuscript production, a large number of which retained their original bindings, although some were modified and repaired in the Middle Ages.

While there are some small variations in the bookbindings produced over two centuries in Fleury, the main characteristics of these bindings are the velvety deerskin oil/tawed leather covering, quarter-sawn wooden boards with typical Carolingian-style board attachments, fastenings and square tabs secured with herringbone endbands.

During this course, participants will sew a small textblock and add endbands in a traditional Carolingian style. They will prepare the wooden boards, attach them to the textblock and cover them with tawed-leather. Examples of Carolingian bindings throughout Europe will be discussed.

Élodie Lévêque is a book conservator. She is an associate professor in Book and Paper Conservation at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris and a member of the Beast to Craft project (ERC). She previously worked as Senior Conservator in the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College and as a research engineer at the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT/CNRS) in Paris. Prior to this, Elodie was a Manuscript Conservator at Montpellier University Library. She completed a PhD in Medieval History in 2020 (Paris 10 University) and graduated with a Masters in Book Conservation from the Sorbonne in 2010. For the past 10 years, her main focus has been on Romanesque bindings from the Clairvaux Collection of manuscripts and more recently on French Carolingian bindings.

Lucie Moruzzis is a bookbinder and book conservator. She holds a PhD in the history and archaeology of books from the Centre Jean Mabillon (École nationale des chartes) and the Centre Gabriel Naudé (ENSSIB). Her work focuses on the strategies and practicalities of preserving bound documents over time in religious and secular community establishments. She is particularly interested in the conservation of the archives of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and of works from the chained library of the Collège de Sorbonne. She works as a senior conservator at the Archives nationales de France and teaches conservation and bookbinding at the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne.