Ancient items have a long and often adventurous story to tell, which forms a significant part of their historical value. Knowing how to make an artefact tell this narrative is as much a part of a conservator’s job as taking care of its physical form.
Manuscript Or. 78a from the Library of Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana in Rome is an emblematic case. This uncatalogued and damaged specimen disclosed its rarity and value during the conservation intervention. Its story begins in 14th-century Rasulid Yemen, but presents a Mamluk-style miniature, traces of different sewings and several possession notes, unveiling its journey to join Prince Leone Caetani’s collection between 1888–1911.
This article retraces the steps that brought it from its original home to its present location and then to the conservator’s bench, and explains the conservation and preservation decisions taken in light of the item’s unique vicissitudes.
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In1888the Prince visited Greece and then Egypt up to Sinai. In the two following years he travelled through Northern Africa especially Algeria and Sahara. He reached Persia in 1894 crossing the Middle East in 1899 and in 1900 he headed to India and returned to Egypt Palestine and Syria in 1908. Valentina Sagaria Rossi “La collezione di manoscritti orientali di Leone Caetani di Sermoneta” in Beatrice Palma Venetucci (ed.) Il fascino dell’Oriente nelle collezioni e nei musei d’Italia (Perugia Artemide editore 2010) 198.
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Husby“Islamic Book Conservation”; Camilleri “Restauro”207; Maria Luisa Russo “Il fondo Yemenita della BANLC. Tra codicologia conservazione e restauro” in Libri islamici in controluce. Ricerche modelli esperienze conservative Valentina Sagaria Rossi ed. (Roma: Università degli studi di Roma Tor Vergata 2008) 144–146.
Adam Gacek“Instructions on the art of bookbinding attributed to the Rasulid ruler of Yemen Al Malik al-Muẓaffar” in Scribes et Manuscrits du Moyen-OrientFrançois Déroche Francis Richard eds (Paris: 1999) 61.