view of lake Bolsema


Montefiascone is a small medieval walled city about 100 k (80 miles) north of Rome, on Lake Bolsena. Since 1988, conservators 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.

29th July – 2nd August: Re-creating the Medieval Palette

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 mostly (though not exclusively) be on manuscript art – Islamic and European – and 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.

Course tutor: Cheryl Porter

5th August – 9th August: A Luxury French Romanesque Limp Binding

In this class, participants will make a model of a luxury limp binding structure, dating from the first third of the 13th Century. Based largely on Ms 1740 from the Clairvaux collection (Médiathèque du Grand Troyes-Champagne Métropole), the model will also draw on a number of other contemporary limp manuscript bindings from the same period. These bindings will offer a starting point for discussion around the diversity of Romanesque limp bindings, whilst exemplifying a number of distinct luxury features, which will be incorporated in our model. These will include the making of coloured chevron endbands (over primary endbands), the stitching of a leather edge, the attachment of a strap, and the tawing of a fine skin lining. The nature of the skin lining will provide an opportunity, for those who are interested in making their own skins, to investigate Cistercian alum-tawed skin making techniques (this aspect of the course will be optional). Whilst the complexity and diversity of historic limp binding structures in French collections is not yet fully understood, it is hoped that this course will provide an opportunity to explore some of their variety and unique characteristics across France (especially in the Duché of Lorraine), in comparison with the rest of Europe.

Course tutors: Élodie Léveque and Cédric Lelièvre

12th August – 16th August: A study of small format bindings from fifteenth-century Germany and the Low Countries.

I have sought everywhere for peace, but I have not found it, except in a little corner with a little book’. (Thomas à Kempis).

Devotional literature in fifteenth-century Germany and the Low Countries accompanied an increased emphasis on non-institutional piety, in the form of private prayer and meditation. Texts include the influential writings of Thomas à Kempis; notably the works The Imitation of Christ and Meditations on the Incarnation of Christ. A fine example of a small format devotional text from Cambridge University Library’s collection of incunabula is another of Thomas à Kempis’ works, Prayers and Meditations on the Life of Christ. CUL Inc.7.A.4.1[344], Meditationes de vita et beneficiis Jesu Christi, printed in Cologne (Ulrich Zel, ca. 1488), measures just 111 mm high.  It has a contemporary binding with interesting structural features, including a cover of alum-tawed pigskin over wooden boards; the binding has the addition of blind-tooling.  The copper alloy fastening components are striking in their design and construction.  This little book feels entirely natural for devotional use; one can turn the leaves carefully whilst supporting it comfortably in one hand.  This harmony between book and reader is an important feature not least in the historical context of the practice of peaceful, private devotion.

The tutors will enable the course participants to make a model of the binding.  Processes will include sewing the text-block, sewing the endbands, shaping and attaching the boards and covering with alum-tawed pigskin.  The covered books will be blind-tooled and have copper alloy fittings and fixtures applied.  Complementing the practical aspect of the course, the tutors will seek to set the binding into context; the model binding will provide a starting point for discussions around the diversity of bookbinding in fifteenth-century Germany and the Low Countries.

Course tutors: Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson

19th August – 23rd August: A Sikh Binding of the 18th Century

“The sacred codex is the abode of the supreme being…” Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Adi Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikh codex making traditions developed from the 15th century onwards in the Panjab region of South Asia. At the end of the first millenium CE, mainly in the north-western parts of the sub-continent, the codex technology interacted with the ancient and well-established traditions of non-codex book production including the birch bark and palm-leaf traditions. During this encounter, South Asian literate groups were able to draw on existing methods of book production and combine them with the technology of the codex to produce new incarnations of the book. One especially important incarnation was the Sikh codex. Drawing on  Indic, Islamicate and possibly even European traditions of book production, Sikh codices reflect the diverse cultural and religious traditions of Sikh communities in late medieval and early-modern South Asia.

Students undertaking this course will make a model based mainly on two mid-18th century Adi Guru Granth Sahib manuscripts, one from the Guru Nanak Dev University collection (MSG 98) and another from the British Library collection (MS Panj.d3). Due to the large size of these codices, the models will be scaled down to 2/3 of their original size. The model will include a number of specific features including palm leaf-style ruled margins, silk quire tackets, metallic twined endbands, spine stiffening bands as well as a characteristic textile over-garment with extended endband tabs protecting the entire textblock edge. Sikh scriptural codices were worshipped as the physical form of the Guru and the course will also include an exploration of how this can be observed in Sikh worship practices and traditions of preventive conservation.

Course tutors: Jasdip Singh Dhillon and Sukhraj Singh


Cheryl Porter has been Director of the Montefiascone Project since its inception in 1988. She worked at University College London Paintings Analysis Unit, analysing the use of pigments in paintings and manuscripts. She was Manager of Conservation and Preservation at the Dar al-Kutub (National Library and Archives of Egypt) and Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation 2007-2010 and is a consultant for a number of institutions with book, papyrus and manuscript collections. She is currently writing a book on the use of colour in manuscripts for Yale University Press.

Élodie Léveque is a Senior conservator in Trinity College Dublin. She previously worked at the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS) in Paris as a research engineer. Prior to this, Elodie was a Manuscript Conservator at Montpellier University Library. For the past 5 years, her main focus has been on medieval bindings from the Clairvaux Collection of manuscripts. She also worked for the National Library of Ireland (2010-2016), conserving the Library’s manuscripts collections, incl. the Gaelic and the Ormond Deeds Collections. She is the author of numerous publications about manuscript conservation, in international peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the Journal of Paper Conservation; in addition, she is part of the seminar advisory board for Care and Conservation of Manuscripts (University of Copenhagen). She is a member of the International Council of Museums (Committee for Conservation), and of the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA). She graduated from the Sorbonne (Paris) in 2010.

Cédric Lelièvre is a freelance book conservator based in Nîmes (south of France). He started his career in 2001 and has run his own business since 2006. He mostly treats early manuscripts and printed books from public collections but also undertakes commissions for preventive conservation evaluations and provides advice to museums, archives and libraries. During the last several years a number of important libraries, including those of Orléans, Carpentras and Troyes, have entrusted to him the conservation of some unique medieval manuscripts and bindings.

Cédric’s passion for the construction and mechanism of books started thanks to Christopher Clarkson and Nicholas Pickwoad, whom he studied under in Spoleto (Italy). He was a member of the Ligatus team at St Catherine’s monastery (Egypt) on two occasions, which allowed him to more intensely study and observe early bookbindings. He has just started researching archive material and, more specifically, the first ledger bindings, to try to understand their evolution.

Jim Bloxam, Head of Conservation and Collection Care, Cambridge University Library, UK. Jim is an Accredited Conservator of the Institute of Conservation. His particular 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 Romanesque and Gothic book structures.

Shaun Thompson is a traditionally trained bookbinder with over thirty years’ experience and a passionate advocate for the importance of hand bookbinding skills in book conservation. He has worked for Cambridge University Library for the past 15 years, playing a unique role across both the bindery and conservation teams, and presently holds the position of Collection Care Manager.

Shaun has a research interest in early northern European book structures with particular interest in the materials and techniques used to create them. He has made good use of the Library’s collections to examine and recreate several of its key medieval bindings. He is also an experienced and highly skilled practical teacher, having taught hand bookbinding to conservation students in the UK, at both West Dean College and Camberwell College of Arts. He has taught a number of courses at Montefiascone and is looking forward to returning to share his ever-widening knowledge and experience.

Jasdip Singh Dhillon has been a library and archives conservator at the Oxford Conservation Consortium since May 2017. Prior to this he worked on a Wellcome funded project at Berkshire Record Office in Reading. In addition to working at the consortium, he takes a deep interest in the history of South Asian manuscripts and printed books, especially those originating from the Sikh tradition. As part of this, he helps run a charitable organisation called Pothi Seva for the conservation of Sikh religious books and manuscripts. As well as documenting the history of the Sikh codex, he is also especially interested in researching South Asian papermaking and this has led to the development of the Dhan Su Kagad Project which was awarded the ICON Frederick Bearman Research Grant. Jasdip graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 2016 and is a member of a number of organisations, including The Islamic Manuscript Association, International Association of Paper Historians and also the British Association of Paper Historians.

Sukhraj Singh has been a conservation assistant at Pothi Seva since 2016. Over the past three years he has worked on a number of important conservation projects on early Sikh printed texts and later Sikh manuscripts. More recently, he has also worked on the creation of a teaching curriculum for volunteers. As part of his interest in eastern Mediterranean bindings, he has also studied a course focused on endband structures under Dr Georgios Boudalis.

COSTS: 550 UK£ sterling for all tuition (which is in English)

Scholarship: The Nicholas Hadgraft Montefiascone Scholarship is awarded each year by Conservation-by-Design. The successful applicant will be offered £1500 (UKP) towards tuition and accommodation for the Montefiascone course(s). For further information see Conservation-by Design


For further information and to enrol, contact Cheryl Porter: