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. The summer 2017 programme is as follows:

Week 1, July 24-28: Re-creating the medieval Palette

This class will study the colours (made from rocks, minerals, metals, insects and plants) that were processed and 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 the 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

Week 2, July 31-August 4: An Italian fifteenth century binding

In the fifteenth century, new techniques and decorative elements were introduced into the Italian bookbinders’ repertoire that was eventually to permeate throughout Europe. By the middle of the fifteenth century, decorated bindings were being produced in Italy for manuscripts which celebrated the revival of classical literature and learning, written in a new style of handwriting: ‘the humanistic script’. These decorative bookbinding styles are the result of the dissemination of techniques and decoration from the Islamic world. However, influences are only to be found in terms of the decorative techniques; the Italian binders did not adopt the Islamic structure.

Manuscript CUL Add. 8445 (circa 1480) is a copy, written in humanist script, of Cicero’s Topica. It has a contemporary binding with interesting structural features, including a covering of leather over beech boards. The binding has the addition of intricate blind and gold tooling, showing the influence of Near and Middle Eastern bindings. The brass fastening components are striking in their design and construction.

The tutors will enable the course participants to recreate the binding. Processes will include sewing the text-block, sewing the endbands, shaping and attaching the boards and covering with leather. The covered books will be blind and gold tooled and have brass fittings and fixtures applied. Complementing the practical aspect of the course, the tutors will seek to set the binding into context.

Course tutors: Jim Bloxam, Shaun Thompson and Alison Ohta.

Week 3, 7-11 August: The Secret Ledger and Memorial Book of Pepo degli Albizzi: An Early 14th Century Italian Ledger Binding.

This course will trace the development of Italian ledger bindings beginning with one of the earliest and most luxurious examples of the style. The Secret Ledger and Memorial Book of Pepo degli Albizzi (Case MS 27), long considered one of the treasures of the Newberry Library, is a fourteenth century manuscript (c.1339-1360) containing the records of the Albizzi, a prominent Florentine merchant family. The manuscript represents an early example of ricordanze, Renaissance journals which combined personal and business records and which may be seen as the precursors to modern diaries and business ledgers. Written in the well-ordered mercantesca script used by Renaissance merchants, the journal provides fascinating insights into a broad range of social, political and economic issues that defined life in Renaissance Italy.

The parchment leaves of the manuscript are bound within a parchment wrapper attached to an elaborate alum-tawed cover stained with brazilwood and lined with white leather. The sewing supports, also stained with brazilwood, are attached to the cover through a system of tackets and overband supports, resulting in a highly decorative and visually engaging cover. This style of binding came to represent a standard that was imitated well into the 19th century. Students will recreate the binding using traditional techniques, including sewing the textblock, creating endbands, preparing brazilwood dye for staining the cover, and attaching the textblock to the cover. Supplemental lectures will establish the historical context for the binding and explore the development of ledger bindings over time, drawing on examples from libraries in Chicago and New York. Students will have time to examine later 17th century ledger bindings from the Seminario Barbarigo collection, providing practical research experience and the opportunity to discover firsthand how Italian ledger bindings developed over time.

Some knowledge and experience of bookbinding or book history would be useful, but is not essential. All materials will be supplied at cost. Participants will need to bring basic bookbinding tools. The course tutor will contact prospective students with suggested readings and a list of recommended tools.

Course tutor: Scott Devine

Week 4, 14-18 August: A conservation variation for the Ethiopic binding

Manuscript production is still a living tradition in Ethiopia, though at a much reduced scale than in the past. It is one of the very few places in the world where medieval practices of manuscript production and manuscript uses are largely unchanged. An immense wealth of historical Ethiopian manuscripts survives throughout the country, often in remote churches and monasteries. Many are desperately in need of conservation and preservation to help them survive. Within the framework of a wider project towards the salvage, documentation and study of Ethiopian manuscripts from previously unrecorded sources in Tigray, Ethiopia, access to a variety of traditional manuscript bindings was made possible. What is more, several conservation challenges were addressed that opened the path to explore in depth many features of these structures and to incorporate some traditional techniques that had a potential as conservation alternatives. Participants will explore all the features of the traditional Ethiopic bookbinding and will be introduced to some unique materials for making the Ethiopic book. They will create a model based on the conservation binding that was employed for the conservation of a very special 15th century large parchment manuscript containing the Gädlä Sämaʿtat (hagiographies), which incorporates some historical characteristics intended to increase the conservation potential of these simple, virtually non-adhesive, structures. Participants will also create a traditional manuscript satchel in order to keep the textblock under the necessary pressure, to hang it on the wall for storage and …to stroll it around like a real Ethiopian monk!

Course tutors: Marco Di Bella and Dr Nikolas Sarris.


Cheryl Porter has been Director of the Montefiascone Project since its inception in 1988. After graduating from Camberwell College (University of the Arts, London) 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 currently a consultant for a number of institutions with book, papyrus and manuscript collections. She has published many articles concerning colour in manuscripts and has lectured in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and throughout Europe.

Jim Bloxam is 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 Collection Care Manager, Cambridge University Library, UK. Shaun has worked at Cambridge University Library since 2003 and during this time he has taken the opportunity to examine and recreate some of the medieval bindings within the library. He has sought to share his knowledge and skills by teaching a number of practical workshops in the UK. Shaun taught courses in 2013, 2014 and 2016 at Montefiascone and is looking forward to returning to share his ever-widening knowledge and experience.

Alison Ohta is currently Director of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  She completed her PhD thesis at SOAS on Mamluk bindings and has published and lectured extensively on the subject.

Scott W. Devine is a rare book conservator with over 20 years experience in the field of conservation. He holds a Masters of Information Science with an Advanced Certificate in Conservation Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and received additional training in rare book conservation at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and at the Centro del bel libro in Ascona, Switzerland. His research interests include the history of Italian bookbinding and the politics of preservation in Italy, from antiquity to present day. He is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and currently serves as the Head of Preservation at the New York Academy of Medicine.

Marco Di Bella graduated from the European Course for Conservators-Restorers of Book Materials in Spoleto (Italy) in 2001, the same year joined conservation and survey projects in Dubrovnik (Croatia) for the National Trust for Croatian Monuments, and in 2003 in Sinai (Egypt) for the Camberwell College of Arts (London), both lead by professor N. Pickwoad. In 2004, for three years, he was book conservator and consultant for the Yemeni Social Fund for development in San’a’ (Yemen). Since 2005, as UNESCO consultant, he gave several training courses in book conservation in Yemen, Uzbekistan and Iraq. From 2006 to 2013 he has been book conservator for the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation-Dar al-Kutub conservation project. He was book conservation consultant for the National Archive of Tripoli (Libya) in 2010. Periodically employed as book conservation tutor by Palermo University since 2007. From 2011 to 2014, book conservator for the Hiob Ludolf Center for Ethiopian Studies, Hamburg University (Germany) in the framework of the Ethio-Spare project (Ethiopia). In 2016 he has been senior project conservator for the Early Irish Manuscript project at Trinity College Dublin. Has worked for several private book conservation studios in Italy and lectured in international conferences researched and published on archaeology of early Islamic bookbinding and book conservation. He has been co-tutor in the Traditional Islamic binding course and tutor of the box binding course in Montefiascone.

Dr Nikolas Sarris is a book and paper conservator at the National Library of Greece. He has been a lecturer of book and paper conservation at the Department for the Preservation and Conservation of Cultutal Heritage in Zakynthos, Greece and the supervisor of the book conservation studio at the monastery of St John Theologian, Patmos, Greece, where he has also organized several workshops on book and paper conservation and historic bookbinding. He has worked as a book conservator at the British Library, where he took part in the conservation of the Codex Sinaiticus and the UCL Strange Print Room of the Slade School of Arts.  He has collaborated since 2001 with the Ligatus Research Centre on research related to the St Catherine’s Library Conservation Project and since 2006 with the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation for conservation and training projects at the National Library of Egypt, Cairo. He collaborated with Hamburg University on an EU funded project (Ethio-SPARE) for the preservation and on-site conservation of Ethiopic manuscripts from Tigray, Ethiopia and with UNESCO for the training of conservators and librarians in libraries of Iraq. He has taught and lectured in the UK (London, Oxford), Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Ethiopia. He received his book conservation training at Camberwell College of Arts, London and was awarded his PhD in 2011 on the classification of finishing tools on Byzantine/Greek bookbindings from the Library of the St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt.

Costs: 550 euros per week (or the UK£ sterling equivalent) 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 website

For further information and to enrol, contact Cheryl Porter: or consult our website