Tag Archives: conservation

Decorated papers in the covers of librettos of opera

In the beginning of July of 2016 I finished my study on techniques of decorated papers of the second half of 18th century, which was presented as a final work of the Master of Direction of Projects in Conservation-Restoration at University of Barcelona.


xviii-3226t copia
A sample of decorated paper in the cover of libretto. Nº XVIII-3226, Biblioteca de Reserva of University of Barcelona (source).


During the work,  I also made few experiments on making some samples of decorated paper by myself in order to define precisely the features of traditional paper decoration techniques. I also made a reconstruction of the binding structure of a sample of libretto of opera.

I hope to continue to work on this interesting topic in other cultural and historical contexts in the very near future. Here I submbit a summary of my work in English:

“Decorated paper in the collection of librettos of opera of the University of Barcelona”


The main objective of the present study consists of the investigation and description of a collection of librettos of opera preserved in the Library of University of Barcelona (Biblioteca de Reserva de la Universitat de Barcelona). The study also makes a special focus on the techniques of manufacturing of decorated papers used in the covers of the documents. Moreover this investigation reflects on current limits of the researches made on decorated paper. Unlike most of the studies which are based on a synthetic approach embracing the whole history of paper decoration techniques, the present study provides an analytical view, combined with a perspective from book an paper conservation, applied to a particular case of the collection of librettos. The study presents a detailed description of seventy-six specimens of the collection made during individual examination of every document and it’s conditions of conservation.  A map of quantitative and qualitative information showing the structures of binding, printing processes, a typology of paper decoration techniques and pathologies of their conservation status was created, according to the results of the examination of the collection. Finally, some proposals for the better preservation are made and the description of the collection is amplified by contextualizing the types of paper decoration found in the collection through comparison with similar examples, available in other European libraries, including the same editions of librettos preserved in the Library of Catalonia (Biblioteca de Catalunya).


Archeology of bindings

On 2nd – 4th of June I had an opportunity to participate in a course about the typology of the bindings of the 15th-16th centuries, organized by the conservators of the restoration studio of the Monastery of Sant Pere de les Puel·les (Barcelona) and conservator-restorer Arsenio Sánchez Hernampérez (National Library of Spain, Madrid).


Arsenio Sánchez Hernampérez during the course showing how to make a headband


The course was specially focused on the so called archeology of bindings, a discipline which aim is to give back the importance to the bindings of the books preserved in libraries and archives. Although sounds a little bit strange, until very recent times many of the binding structures were considered as a secondary part of the book. Considering binding only as a functional protective part of medium of a textual information, many of them were dismantled, removed or replaced by new ones. The only exception of deeper study of bindings was exceptionally related with  documentation of decorative elements based on esthetic perspective.

Archeology of bindings offers a different perspective and reveals not only a  history of evolution of the shapes of the book, whether it is “beautiful” or not from the perspective of history of art,  but also contributes to the  practical knowledge of the craft of bookbindery and it’s development. An “archeological” study of binding besides of showing the structural information in all it’s layers, also attempts to detect it’s relations with particular cultural and social contexts.

This particular course was focused on bindings of Iberian Peninsula of 15th and 16th centuries, including some samples of earlier periods. The first day was dedicated to the theoretical introduction to the archeology of bindings accompanied by a visit to the impressive ecclesiastical archives of the cathedral of Vic, a beautiful Catalonian town.




Ecclesiastic Archive of Vic


The next days were dedicated for manufacturing of two models of samples of binding structures popular in Iberian Peninsula in 14th-16th centuries. One model represented a gothic style binding, often related with local mudéjar decorative style. The raised bounds on the spine are thickly covered by a thread and heavy wooden boards are partly covered by leather often decorated by small metal nails.


Samples of gothic mudéjar of Cathedral of Toledo. (source of the picture)


A model of 15th-16th centuries half leather gothic binding
A model of 15th-16th centuries half leather gothic binding. See more in the detailed description.


The second model was a reconstruction of an Oriental type of alum leather binding with a flapping element on it’s right side. This particular type of binding represents the fusion of Oriental and Western traditions of binding, as a result of a specific cultural context of Iberian Peninsula where main bookbinders at that time were members of Jewish and Arab communities.


An example of binding with a flapping element on the side in the Cathedral Archive of Murcia (source of the picture)
A sample of binding with a flap on the right side in the Cathedral Archive of Murcia (source of the picture)


A model of oriental type of binding structure
A model of Oriental type of binding structure. See more details on the description.

To sum up, besides the archeological study of antique bindings which contributes to the knowledge of local traditions and development of the bookbindery, a special call for the attention to every type of binding, including the modern one, should be noticed. Modern bindings, starting from 18th century that form a great part of the archives of Western libraries, often still are not considered enough valuable for it’s special study. However these bindings, as well as those paperback editions, from the conservative point of view, should be considered in the same way as the antique ones, as they are the part of our bibliographical heritage that represents a particular historical period of the evolution of book. Manufacturing the models and reconstructions of particular bindings allows to understand better those structural decisions and gestures made by bookbinders in the past.