Seeing through the cover – University of Copenhagen

CC18 > Programme > Thursday 14 April - Session A > Seeing through the cover

Nikolas Sarris: Seeing through the cover: A methodology for classifying decorated book bindings at St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai. 

This paper investigates the methodology that was devised and followed for examining and classifying 1200 decorated bindings from the manuscript collection of the Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt.

Tooled decoration on book-bindings has been a field of research in the last decades and a useful means of studying, grouping and identifying the date and provenance of a bookbinding. However, the classification of large numbers of bindings, or those of entire library collections, is a complex task that requires a methodological approach.

The examination and recording of book-bindings from the St Catherine collection presented the opportunity of devising a methodology, where thousands of rubbings could be obtained and classified. The procedures followed, set the bases on which to demonstrate how bindings that carry common finishing tools and decorative characteristics form groups, which can consequently be attributed to particular bookbinding workshops or even linked to certain locations and date frames. The result of this classification process and study was the identification of 70 different bookbinding workshops, represented within the library of St Catherine and the mapping of nearly the entire collection of decorated book-bindings. This is an outcome that will help us understand the history of the library and that of individual manuscripts.

The methodology presented is intended as a tool that could be applied for the survey of most collections of decorated bindings. This paper explains the process of obtaining and scanning rubbings, the digital imaging techniques used for identifying and comparing rubbings, the database created for storing and organizing them, as well as overcoming terminology problems in describing tools.