Image of a manuscript waste binding from the Archives of Krems.

So many books, so little time: Attending Ligatus Summer School 2019

23 October, 2019

In September, I was lucky to attend the Ligatus summer school, organised this year in partnership with the Danube University Krems, Austria.

As expected, the first week at the Ligatus summer school was excellent. Our teacher, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, is a world expert and scholar dedicated to the history of European bookbinding. His knowledge of the subject is impressive, and he was extremely generous in disseminating information to the group using lectures in the morning and physical examination of bindings in the afternoon. Professor Pickwoad constructed the course very carefully; we started looking at features of the book-making process chronologically, from the initial stages of folding the printed sheets of paper into book quires, to the decorated metal bosses on a leather cover–possibly the very last stage of the binding process.

Image of Nicholas Pickwoad at Kremmunster.
Nicholas Pickwoad with participants of the Ligatus Summer School, examining bindings at Kremsmünster Abbey.
Image of Zwettl cloister
Zwettl Abbey cloister.

In the afternoon we discussed the many binding features and techniques in more detail looking at specific examples. Thanks to the location of the summer school this year, which is richly dotted with such beautiful places, we were granted special access to the three monastery libraries of Kremmünster, Melk and Zwettl. This was a real privilege for all of the participants as access to such beautiful libraries is often restricted. And of course, looking at books in close detail provides a unique opportunity to identify small differences in production and thereby perhaps to identify a place of binding production.

I feel a lot more confident in my ability to identify bookbinding structures after taking this class. It has given me the chance to learn more about specific book characteristics, some of which are common and others which are completely unique to a city or a region.

Image of a laced-in cartonnage binding
A laced-in cartonnage binding.

The second week of the summer school was just as inspiring. Set full time at the university, we spent the morning classes with Georgios Boudalis who presented his extensive research on the structure of early codices as an introduction to Mediterranean bookbinding. Following the same logical examination process of looking at the features of the book in the order it was made, we looked at the construction and specificities of Byzantine, Armenian, Syriac, Georgian and Islamic bindings. We focused our interest largely on Byzantine bindings and their evolution in time. Georgios’ passion for the endbands of these books meant we spent a good part of the course looking at variations of these fascinating features, understanding in greater detail how they were produced and how to identify them.

Image of Giorgos Boudalis showing details of a Georgian binding.
Georgios Boudalis showing endband details of a Georgian binding.
Image of Thanasios velios with students.
Athanasios Velios discussing databases with students.

The afternoon classes were spent with Athanasios Velios, looking at the idea of linking data for book conservation along with how to structure a database in the hope that the information will be accessible globally. Although a little bit different from the usual book conservation course, the concept and overview of the many steps necessary to achieve this idea was very interesting.

On the final day we practised using the Ligatus database designed for the St Catherine’s Monastery project, using a selection of Armenian, Islamic and Georgian books that were lent to the University for this exercise.

Having both Georgios and Athanasios at hand for specific questions regarding the book structures or technical queries with the database, we recorded the structure of a handful of books, practising careful looking and recording the information as closely as possible.

Attending the Ligatus Summer School at the Danube University Krems, surrounded by motivated students and knowledgeable teachers, was really inspiring. I am grateful to ICOM-Ireland for facilitating my attendance. This course has given me a better starting point from which to examine the book stacks at the Chester Beatty and start recording binding features in our own collection.

If I learned anything during those two weeks, it is that when one looks in great detail at book structures that look similar, an infinite number of variations appear to be a lot more common than I had ever imagined.

Julia Poirier

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