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.

23-27th July: Re-creating the Medieval Palette

Course tutor: Cheryl Porter

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 the history, geography, chemistry, iconography and conservation issues.  Practical making and painting sessions will follow these lectures. No previous experience is necessary.

30th July- 3rd August: An Indo-Persian binding

Course Tutors: Kristine Rose Beers and Julia Poirier. Alison Ohta lecturing.

In this class, participants will make a model of an Indo-Persian Qur’an binding structure dated to c.1600. Based largely on CBL Is 1550, the model will also draw on a number of other contemporary Indian and Persian manuscripts from the Chester Beatty Library collection. These bindings will offer a starting point for discussion around the diversity of Indian Islamic bookbinding, whilst exemplifying a number of distinct characteristics, which will be incorporated in our model. These will include an extended foredge piece, which allows the envelope flap to rest above the upper board, and leather sewing supports. The multifaceted nature of bookbinding at this time speaks of the complex geopolitical nature of the Indian subcontinent in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the inevitable exchange and movement of manuscripts and artisans between kingdoms and dynasties.  Whilst the true diversity of historic binding styles in India 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 the Indian subcontinent.

6-10th August: A study of sewing techniques in Romanesque book production.

Course tutors: Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson

This course will concentrate on Romanesque sewing techniques, with particular reference to Peterhouse Ms 13, Gregory’s Magna Moralia. The sewn elements of Peterhouse Ms 13 include: the text-block and endband sewing; the construction and attachment of the chemise; the sewn attachment of an edging-strip and a number of sewn repairs to the chemise. The tutors will describe and demonstrate the variety of sewing techniques outlined above. The course participants will be guided in the creation of their own model Romanesque binding, which will enable them to understand how the sewn elements combine and interact. Processes will include sewing the text-block, sewing the endbands, lacing on the boards, primary covering with alum-tawed skin and the making of a chemise. Complementing the practical aspect of the course, the tutors will seek to set the binding into context.  The tutors will also consider other Romanesque bindings in Cambridge libraries as well as those in significant collections in the UK and abroad.

13-17th August: Dirck de Bray and Beyond

Course Tutors: Anne Hillam and Maria Fredericks

As bookbinders and conservators, we immediately associate the term stiff-board binding with a specific structure, from either Dutch or Italian imprints.  However, within these binding styles, stiff-board parchment bindings can include multiple distinct structural variations dependent on geographical region, workshop, available materials, economics, and individual binder. As the overarching theme, we will examine the genre of stiff-board bindings, emphasizing the value of comparative study of the variants.

This workshop begins by focusing on reconstructing two parchment covered laced-case bindings with stiff boards as detailed in Dirck de Bray’s 1658 manual, A Short Instruction in the Binding of Books. The 2012 translation describes the manuscript as the “earliest known original Dutch description of the process of binding books and the tools used for it.”  This structure was common in Holland from the 17th – 18th century and is described as a spitselband or spitsel binding, in reference to the trimmed and pointed bands, or spitsels, that are laced through the cover. Two covering styles, as described by de Bray, will be discussed and constructed.  Based on class discussion and an examination of numerous structures, a third binding of your choice will be constructed to illustrate the many variations of binding styles within this genre. Some knowledge and experience in bookbinding is preferred.  All materials needed to construct the models will be provided at cost.  Participants will need to bring basic bookbinding tools.


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 is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and has published many articles concerning colour in manuscripts. She has lectured in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and throughout Europe.

Kristine Rose Beers is Senior Conservator at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation. Her research interests include the conservation of Islamic manuscript material, early binding structures and the use of pigments and dyes in medieval manuscripts. Before moving to Ireland, Kristine has worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as Assistant Keeper (Conservator of Manuscripts and Printed Books); at the Chester Beatty Library with a particular focus on the Turkish manuscript collection; and at Cambridge University Library. She graduated from the Conservation programme at Camberwell College of Arts in 2002 and is a member of The Islamic Manuscript Association.

Julia Poirier is Book and Paper Conservator at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. She joined the team for a one-year Heritage Council Internship in 2012. Julia trained as a bookbinder in France before obtaining an MA in conservation of fine art, with a specialty on works of art on paper, from Northumbria University in Newcastle in 2010. After graduating, Julia worked as a paper conservator in private practices in Edinburgh as well as the special collection division of the University of Edinburgh, before joining the Derry and Raphoe Project conservation team in 2011. Julia is an accredited member of the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) and currently the Membership Secretary. She is also a member of The Islamic Manuscript Association.

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

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 a traditionally trained bookbinder with over thirty years’ experience and is a passionate advocate for the importance of hand bookbinding skills in book conservation. He has worked for Cambridge University Library (CUL) for the past fourteen years, playing a unique role across both the bindery and conservation teams, and presently holds the position of Collection Care Manager. Shaun has research interests in early Northern European book structures and has made good use of CUL’s collections, examining the physical aspects and historical techniques used in medieval bindings. He is an experienced and highly skilled practical teacher; he has taught conservation students in the UK at both West Dean College and Camberwell College of Arts. Shaun taught courses at Montefiascone in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017, and is looking forward to returning to share his ever-widening knowledge and experience.

Anne Hillam is a book conservator in private practice providing consulting and conservation services for institutions and individuals in New York City and Western Massachusetts.  She has been in the field for more than 25 years, specializing in the conservation of books and paper, with a strong interest in parchment bindings.  Anne acted as Head of Conservation at the New York Academy of Medicine’s Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory from 2007 – 2012.  She is currently a contract conservator in the Barbara Goldsmith Conservation Laboratory at New York University.  Anne is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

Maria Fredericks is the Drue Heinz Book Conservator at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, and a Visiting Lecturer in Library and Archives Conservation in the New York University/Institute of Fine Arts conservation graduate programme. From 1998-2005 she was Head of Conservation at Columbia University Libraries; she has also held conservation positions at the Huntington Library, the Winterthur Library, and the Library of Congress. Her current research interests include Italian long-stitch paper and parchment-covered bindings as well as Italian wood-board bindings of the 14th and 15th centuries. She is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

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


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