Roman Holiday: Work Placement at the Accademia dei Lincei

This year was an international one for Books postgraduate work placements, with students in the UK, the Netherlands, and Singapore-and then me, in Rome! I did my placement at the Biblioteca Nazionale dell'Accademia dei Lincei e Corsiniana, a public library with a long history, which we visited as part of our study tour in May 2012. (You can see some great pictures of the Accademia from Abby's blog post about it). As a result of our visit, West Dean and the Accademia organized the opportunity for me to undertake my placement there.

The Accademia library has two principal sources for its collection. The first of these is the Corsini collection, which belonged to a Florentine family with ecclesiastical aspirations, resulting in one cardinal and one pope (Clement XII), and their Rome family palazzo is now the home of the Accademia. The other source is that of the Accademia dei Lincei itself, a Renaissance scientific academy or society that had as some of its first members Federico Cesi and Galileo Galilei. The two collections were united in the 1800s and the Accademia became an Italian national institution following World War II. You can read more about the Accademia dei Lincei on their website.

There were two main parts of my placement: practical work undertaken in the Accademia's conservation laboratory, and visits to conservation professionals in libraries and studios all over Rome. Unfortunately, photos of the work I did in the lab can't be posted on the Internet, but you can see some photos of the interior of the Accademia in last May's blog post. I can show some photos from areas that we didn't get to visit before, such as the manuscript and rare books room, from which the work I did came. Some of the highlights of the manuscript room include original copies of the first books printed in Italy, a life-size anatomical atlas that requires a special hidden compartment behind the normal bookshelves, and an entire case of Aldus Manutius printings.

My main conservation project was a seventeenth century reprint of a Latin treatise, with a heavily deteriorated leather binding and damaged endbands. It needed a leather reback, new sewn endbands, and a reassembled original spine. I also did some paper repair to a small parchment-bound text, and did an in-depth study of Ethiopian manuscripts, including a few models of different sewing structures.

My visits spanned a wide variety of institutions. One half of the visits were to a variety of Rome's public libraries, including the three oldest (Biblioteca Angelica, Biblioteca Casanatense, and Biblioteca Vallicelliana), both of which began life as monastic collections and later were opened to the noble literate-before becoming truly public in the modern period. Most conservation in these public libraries is sourced to private studios, like two I visited: that of Paolo Crisostomi, a former pupil of my conservation supervisor at the Accademia, and who receives much prestigious work, including a current project working with manuscript opera scores from La Scala in Milan; and that of Leandro Gottscher, a collector and antiquary, who specializes in work for those fields.

The public or institutional studios I visited were ultimately based in two entities: the Vatican and ICPAL, an international center for book studies and which has a conservation studio and school on its premises. ICPAL was fascinating to visit, particularly for a gorgeous Gospel manuscript done on purple parchment, which is getting a new binding and is being carefully considered before any action is taken. ICPAL are especially wary of pursuing a course of action given past intervention-an illuminator, concerned about the deterioration of the gorgeous illuminations, consolidated the pigments with gelatin, causing the parchment leaves to become a muddy translucent color. The undecorated pages are still gorgeously purple and legible, fortunately.

The Vatican was a real pleasure to visit. I visited three different conservation workshops: that of the Vatican Apostolic Library, that of the Vatican Secret Archive, and that of the Art on Paper section of the Vatican Museums. We had to pass Vatican security (i.e. the Swiss Guard) to get in and I had to surrender my passport in order to get a visitor's badge. It was fascinating to see some of the items they were working on in the Library and Secret Archive studios, but my attention was really caught by the objects in the Vatican Museums, including a terrestrial globe undergoing careful reconstruction and pigment consolidation, and a set of medieval playing cards found during a conservation project on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel.

Rome was a wonderful experience. Of course, I took as much opportunity as I could to visit the gorgeous churches and ruins around the city, and enjoyed unbelievably nice weather in January for someone who has always lived in climates with cold winters. Overall, it was an amazing chance to learn about conservation in a different setting and to meet dozens of people in the same field. Conservation is truly an international and tight-knit family, as I discovered in the heartfelt best wishes for my future career from every professional I met.