Detail of CBL In 45.8 (Awadh state, India, c. 1760-1770).

Conservation Book Club: Islamic Paper

13 October, 2020

Continuing our #ConservationBookClub recommended reading, we thought we would think about Islamic paper.

In June 2015, back on our old WordPress blog platform, I shared a brief review of The Islamic Manuscript Association’s practical workshop, Traditions of Papermaking in the Islamic World. We looked at the practicalities of forming a sheet and discussed a number of medieval treatises. You can read it here.

Islamic paper is a subject which we are frequently asked about at the Chester Beatty. What makes a piece of paper Islamic? In what ways is it different to European paper? How does it behave during conservation treatment and why? These are just a few of the questions we consider on an almost daily basis!

Whilst answering those questions is the subject of a lifetime rather than a short blog post, we thought we could share a small number of key texts which will be of interest to anyone working with, or hoping to learn more about, papers made in the Islamic world. Whilst there are many more resources which explore specific traits and typologies of various Islamic papers (see Evyn Kropf’s exhaustive bibliography here), the following publications offer an excellent overview of the subject, and will provide many avenues for further exploration at your leisure.

1. Joseph von Karabacek, Arab Paper.

First published in 1887, Don Baker’s work provides an accessible and refined translation of Karabacek’s seminal work.

Translation by Don Baker and Suzy Dittmar with additional notes by Don Baker. London: The Don Baker Memorial Fund/Archetype Publications, 2001.

Image of CBL Ar 4000 (Egypt, dated 344/ 955-956) The Stations (Kitab al-mawaqif), by Muhammad al-Niffari), a 10th century Egyptian manuscript on paper.
CBL Ar 4000 (Egypt, dated 344/ 955-956) The Stations (Kitab al-mawaqif), by Muhammad al-Niffari), a 10th century Egyptian manuscript on paper.

2. Johannes Pedersen, The Arabic book.

Originally published in Danish in 1946 (Den Arabiske Bog), Pedersen’s work looks at the production of books in medieval Islam. ‘Chapter 5: Writing materials,’ covers bone, potsherds, parchment, papyrus, and—finally—paper. Pedersen discusses the introduction of paper technology from China to the Islamic lands, before mentioning various paper types cited in historic works (Samarkand, Baghdad, Yemen etc.), sheet formation, and preparation. It draws heavily on Karabacek.

Translated by Geoffrey French, edited with an Introduction by Robert Hillenbrand, Cambridge (Mass.): Princeton University Press, 1984.

Image of a detail of CBL Is 1457.44a (Cairo, Egypt, early 14th century), fragment of a Mamluk Qur'an viewed in raking light.
Detail of CBL Is 1457.44a (Cairo, Egypt, early 14th century), fragment of a Mamluk Qur'an viewed in raking light.

3. Don Baker, "Arab Papermaking."

Don Baker’s work on Islamic paper brought the conservator’s practical eye to a previously largely historical subject and builds on his translation of Karabacek which he made around the same time.

The Paper Conservator 15, 1991, pp. 28–35.

4. Helen Loveday, Islamic Paper: A Study of the Ancient Craft.

2001 was a bumper year of the study of Islamic paper! Building on Don Baker’s legacy, Helen Loveday’s work aims to classify Baker’s library of sample papers—with considerable additions—based on a methodology developed by Baker to document their physical characteristics. The resulting work provides a summary of Persian and Syro-Egyptian papers from the 12th to the 19th centuries.

London: The Don Baker Memorial Fund, 2001.

Image of CBL Ar 5655, f.149r (Cairo, Egypt, dated 767/ 1366), from a Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship (Nihayat al-su’l wa al-umniya fi ta‘allum ‘amal al-furusiyya) by al-Aqsara'i.
Detail of CBL Ar 5655, f.149r (Cairo, Egypt, dated 767/ 1366), from a Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship (Nihayat al-su’l wa al-umniya fi ta‘allum ‘amal al-furusiyya) by al-Aqsara'i.

5. Jonathan M. Bloom, Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World.

Bloom’s pivotal work offers an in-depth and brilliantly illustrated study of the history of paper in the Islamic world. The importance of good illustrations really cannot be overestimated in materiality studies, and Bloom’s contextual and sociological study brings a lot to the table. Start your reading here!

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Image of CBL Per 294 (Shiraz, Iran, 1430-1440), Opening of an Anthology of Six Persian Poets on olive green Chinese paper.
CBL Per 294 (Shiraz, Iran, 1430-1440), Opening of an Anthology of Six Persian Poets on olive green Chinese paper.

6. Mandana Barkeshli, "Historical and Scientific Analysis on Sizing Materials Used in Iranian Manuscripts and Miniature Paintings."

This is a more focused study, looking specifically at the sizing of Iranian papers from the 15th to 19th centuries. However, as surface sizes are such an important aspect of Islamic paper production, and key to the conservators’ interactions with this substrate, this paper is an essential read.

The Book and Paper Group Annual 22, 2003, pp. 9–16.

Image of details from CBL Per 195 (Shiraz, Iran, dated 935H/ 1528-1529), Five Poems (Khamsa) by Nizami on cream paper with dyed cut paper page markers.
Details from CBL Per 195 (Shiraz, Iran, dated 935H/ 1528-1529), Five Poems (Khamsa) by Nizami on cream paper with dyed cut paper page markers.

7. Francis Richard, "The Writing Surface: Paper."

Richard’s work gives a practical overview of paper production and use, paying particular attention to material analysis, sheet production, the adoption of watermarked papers, and the use of decorative techniques.

In François Déroche, et al. Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script, London: Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2006, pp. 49-63.

Image of a detail of CBL Per 350 (Shiraz, Iran, dated Rajab 972H/ February 1565), the Garden (Bustān), by Sa`di, marbled and gold-flecked paper.
Detail of CBL Per 350 (Shiraz, Iran, dated Rajab 972H/ February 1565), the Garden (Bustān), by Sa`di, marbled and gold-flecked paper.

8. Hend Mahgoub et al. ‘Material properties of Islamic paper.’

This recent paper provides an interesting look at the possibilities of using non-destructive analytical techniques and micro-chemical testing to characterise Islamic papers. Their methodology also incorporates close looking to describe paper morphology and asks what should or should not be considered an Islamic paper.

Hend Mahgoub, Tiphaine Bardon, Dirk Lichtblau, Tom Fearn & Matija Strlič, ‘Material properties of Islamic paper,’ Heritage Science 4, 34 (2016).

Image of an opening of CBL Heb 761 (Yemen, 13th century), folios from a Hebrew Yemenite Pentateuch written on Islamic paper. https://chesterbeattyconservation.wordpress.com/tag/islamic-paper/
An opening of CBL Heb 761 (Yemen, 13th century), folios from a Hebrew Yemenite Pentateuch written on Islamic paper.

You can read more about CBL Heb 761 here.

 

Kristine Rose-Beers, Head of Conservation.

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