Study Programme

Montefiascone is a small medieval walled city about 100 k (80 miles) north of Rome, on Lake Bolsena. Since 1988, conservators, curators, art historians, book artists, and others interested in books and their history have come together to work, to learn and to enjoy this special place.  Participants come to enjoy the medieval architecture, friendly people, a clean accessible lake, books and scholarship.  The Montefiascone Project is a non-profit making organisation, set up to fund the restoration of the Library of the Seminario Barbarigo in Montefiascone. Participants may attend one, two, three or all four weeks.

Costs are £630 (or euro equivalent) for each week and include all lectures (which are in English).  For more information and to enrol, contact Cheryl Porter: [email protected]

Week 1: 17th-21st July
Recreating the colours on the Medieval palette: Western, Hebrew and Islamic
Course 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 and conservation issues.  Practical making and painting sessions will follow these lectures. No previous experience is necessary.

Week 2: 24th – 28th July
Recreating an early seventeenth-century Cambridge bookbinding
Course Tutors: Jim Bloxam, Shaun Thompson. Lectures: David Pearson

Following on from our recreation of a late 15th-century Cambridge binding a few years ago, and of a late 16th-century one in 2022, we are continuing the theme with the opportunity to make a model of an early 17th-century one. Cambridge was always one of the major English centres of bookbinding work, because the University created a steady trade in new and secondhand books.  The two Cambridge bindings we have made so far have were quite different in their materials and construction methods; the first had wooden boards and clasps, while the second had pasteboards and cloth ties.

Our 2023 binding will be different again, and reflect the evolution of both forwarding and finishing in early Cambridge workshops. 17th-century binders there produced some very high quality work, elaborately decorated for presentation; we have chosen a handsome binding covered with white skin with gilt and black tooling, with a painted central motif, originally made for a volume of Cambridge poems printed there in 1623. During the first half of the 17th century the raised bands that are typical of 15th and 16th-century spines had fallen out of favour, and we will be recreating the recessed support structure that created the smooth spines that had become fashionable. Our aim will be to create a faithful model of the 1623 original, including its endleaf construction and edge decoration.

The course will be led by a team bringing together the hands-on expertise of Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson from the Conservation Workshop in Cambridge University Library, and the historical knowledge of David Pearson.  David is not a binder, but a binding historian, currently working on a project to map the development of Cambridge binding between the 15th and 18th centuries, so that Cambridge work can be better recognised and dated.  He teaches the evolution of binding styles at the Rare Book Schools in London and Virginia, and the week will include presentations on ways in which Cambridge binding changed during the 17th century, how it fits into the wider context of British and European binding of the time, and thinking about the value of studying historic bindings, of the questions we should ask.

Week 3: 31st July – 4th August
An Ottoman binding
Course Tutor: Kristine Rose-Beers. Lecture: Alison Ohta

This workshop will focus on the small, highly decorated full leather bookbindings produced in Ottoman Turkey between the 16th and 20th centuries.

Although there are many variations to the books produced over this long time period, and across the vast geographic range of the Ottoman Empire, royal bindings produced in Bursa, Edirne, and later at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, were characterised by a standardised layout with central medallion, pendants, and four corner pieces. This became prevalent from around 1500 and was often accompanied by the use of deep relief pressure tooling and a two-piece spine construction.

During this course, participants will sew a small paper textblock and add endbands in a traditional Islamic style. They will make multi-layered pasteboards covered with leather and pressure tooled, before attaching them to the textblock. Examples of Turkish bindings throughout the ages will be discussed.

Week 4: 7th-11th August
Course Tutor: Ann-Marie Miller
Early Modern English Parchment Stationery Bindings – Materials, Structures and Techniques

This course focussed on the creation and history of early modern parchment stationery bindings. We will be recreating specific, individual bindings found in London collections from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Early modern parchment stationery bindings represent the pragmatic, elegant and functional binding solutions that our institutions and culture use to record their own evolution and history. Made as blank books they offer unique engineered binding structures with excellent opening characteristics. We will be producing 3 bindings; from a simple catgut-tacketed pamphlet to a laced parchment case; and a more substantial stationery binding with “clowthings” and overbands. We will be using traditional materials and techniques, learning how to work with parchment, produce tackets; sew both the textblocks and endbands, and then construct the bindings. By covering a variety of traditional techniques, you will be well-placed to decipher the endless variation of stationery bindings that form the foundation of archives across England. Ideally you will have substantial binding experience, all materials will be provided.


Cheryl Porter is founder and director of the Montefiascone Project. She trained as a book conservator in London and has worked as a conservator, collections manager and consultant for libraries and museums in many countries, including  Australia, USA, Egypt and in Europe. She was deputy Director of the Dar al-Kutub (National Library) and Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation Manuscript Project in Egypt from 2008-2011. She has published widely on the topic of colours used to paint in manuscripts and is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation.

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 a passionate advocate for the importance of hand bookbinding skills in book conservation. A traditionally trained bookbinder with over thirty years’ experience. He is currently Conservation and Collection Care Manager at Cambridge University Library where he has worked for the past 20 years. He teaches post-graduate students in the UK at West Dean College and City and Guilds of London Arts School, as well as courses on the Montefiascone Conservation Project Study Programme in Italy. Shaun’s main research interest is in early northern European book structures and their conservation.

David Pearson retired in 2017 as Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries for the City of London Corporation, after a professional career of 35 years or so working in various major research libraries in London and elsewhere. He is now a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London, and a member of the teaching staff of the London Rare Books School there. He has published extensively on aspects of book history, with a particular interest in aspects of the book as an owned and designed object; his books include Provenance Research in Book History (1994), Oxford Bookbinding 1500-1640 (2000), English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005), and Books as History (2008). He has taught and lectured in these fields for numerous audiences and is a Past President of the Bibliographical Society. He is currently working on a project on early modern Cambridge bookbinding, to become a book published by the Legacy Press, and the basis of the Sandars Lectures in Cambridge in 2023.

Kristine Rose-Beers is Head of Conservation at the Chester Beatty in Dublin and an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation. Her research interests include the conservation of Islamic manuscript material, early binding structures and the use of pigments and dyes in medieval manuscripts. Before moving to Ireland, Kristine worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as Assistant Keeper (Conservator of Manuscripts and Printed Books); at the Chester Beatty Library with a particular focus on the Turkish manuscript collection; and at Cambridge University Library. She graduated from the Conservation programme at Camberwell College of Arts in 2002 and is a member The Islamic Manuscript Association and the Kairouan Manuscript Project.

Alison Ohta is currently Director of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  She completed her thesis at SOAS (London University) on Mamluk bindings and has published and lectured extensively on the subject.

Ann-Marie Miller ACR is an accredited book and archives conservator based in London, and has run a private workshop, Codex Conservation, for the last 12 years.  Her passion for heritage began after studying the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.  After studying Chemistry and Bookbinding she attained a post-graduate diploma and MA in conservation at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London.  After graduating she worked freelance as a bookbinder and conservator in both the public and private sectors.  Whilst working for 7 years at the British Library, she achieved accredited status in 2007.  With her small team at Codex Conservation, she works for a broad range of institutional clients and private collectors from national museums and academic libraries to corporate archives.  She also provides consultation, teaching, supports digitisation programmes and provides collection care advice. She is a mentor and assessor for the Institute of Conservation and is a director of Impact Heritage CIC, alongside Ruth Stevens and Ian Watson, a not-for-profit company that works with community archives to help develop training and funding opportunities for their collections.