Historical interleaves in Moroccan manuscripts from Qatar Collections: technical analysis and significance by Amelie Couvrat Desvergnes

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The heading interleaf, dyed with safflower, consists of a band of paper terminated by a circular extension to protect the illuminated title and the marginal rosette, HC-QNL 1220, 19th century, Heritage Collection of Qatar National Library, Doha, Qatar. ©Qatar National Library

This current research is part of a more comprehensive study, initiated in 2013, which aims to analyse and identify interleaving materials encountered in Islamic manuscripts. Interleaves are meant to counteract the chemical and physical deteriorations of pigments and inks contained in the illuminations and illustrations and to prevent offsetting onto the opposite pages of the book block.
Three groups of original and historical interleaves were identified according to three distinct geographical areas: thin sheepskins in19th century Iran, translucent and gilded papers in Ottoman Turkey and coloured pieces of paper in Morocco. While the results of interleaves in Iranian manuscripts have been recently published (Couvrat Desvergnes, 2015), the author has, since 2014, been focusing on the study of Moroccan manuscripts. The project is funded by the Islamic Manuscript Association (March 2015). The uniqueness of this research not only lies in the materials themselves but also highlights, in Qatar, the existence of collections of cultural and historical interest.
During the 16th and until the end of the 19thcenturies, in Morocco, some copies of Dalā’il al-Khayrāt were supplied with coloured interleaves. The Dalā’il al-Khayrāt or Guidelines to the Blessings is one of the most widespread prayer books among Muslims. It was written by Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazūlī
(d.1465 CE), a Moroccan mystic Sufi. The text, divided in seven parts, consists of long series of prayers and blessings over the Prophet Muhammad, to be recited during the seven days of the week. From Morocco, the book was disseminated as far as to Southeast Asia and took local appearance in the book covers, text layouts, and illustration designs. Some copies display double representations of the graves of the Prophet and his companions, the caliphs 'Umar and Abū Bakr, on one side and the interior of the Mosque of Medina, on the other side. Full-paged coloured interleaves were placed between the double illustrated folios and strips of cut off paper were laid on the illuminated titles introducing the chapters. These materials were made of paper, toned in a colour ranging from yellow to orange or fuchsia.
With the aim of advancing the knowledge of North African manuscripts and gaining more information on the materials implemented for their production, the dyestuffs used to tone the paper of the interleaves were analysed and identified. The physical features of these pieces, as well as the papers used, were also investigated to give a complete understanding of these particular objects.
The initial project includes seven copies of Dalā’il al-Khayrāt which mostly date from the 19th century from collections in Qatar. One copy belongs to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) (Fig.1) and the other six are kept at the National Library of Qatar (HC-QNL) (Fig.2).
Micro-samples of interleaves, taken from five different manuscripts, were analysed with High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) at the Royal Institute of Heritage (KIK IRPA) in Brussels.
Safflower (Carthamus Tinctorius L.), a natural dye, widely cultivated throughout the whole Mediterranean, was identified in three manuscripts. Safranin and azo dyes, which belong to the early synthetic organic dyes developed from 1859 onwards, were found in two other copies. These results thus reflect the historical evolution of materials used by the end of the 19th century in the production of some Moroccan manuscripts and, the adoption of synthetic dyes coming from Europe.
Conservation issues are also raised since early industrial dyes were unstable in water and fugitive to light. In addition, there were very few technical manuals or standard procedures available on the market for their application and use (Barnett, 2007). Therefore accidents and poor results, such as dye bleeding and staining (Fig. 3), occurred due to a lack of information and knowledge from the local craftsmen in the implementation of these new imported dyes.
The second phase of the project sees the expansion of the study with the addition of seven other manuscripts from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dated from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
These were analysed in-situ with visible spectrometry in collaboration with IRAMAT-Centre E. Babelon, in France, a joint unit between the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Orleans, specialising in the analysis of archaeological materials, inks and pigments.

In addition to the scientific analysis of dyes, it is important to highlight the particular significance of these interleaves from codicological and historical perspectives. Until recently, interleaves were disregarded by scholars since they were considered to be modern alterations placed by restorers or bookbinders. But, thorough study, combined with careful examination, literature searches, and fruitful exchanges with other scholars, revealed that these materials are in fact original, part of the Dalā’il al-Khayrāt production and demonstrate an early interest for book preservation from Moroccan craftsmen.
In Morocco, the prayer book has been considered as a sort of alternative to the Qur'an, both text and illustrations being worshiped for centuries (Witkam, 2007). A comparison is made with silk curtains found in some Western manuscripts-religious and secular-during the medieval and modern periods. A scholarly study has revealed that these materials not only constituted physical protection against pigments degradations but also played the role of emotional and symbolic barrier for powerful figurative representations (Sciacca, 2007). Therefore, it is most likely that interleaves in Dalā’il al-Khayrāt, served the same meaningful goal of physical and ritual interaction between the readers and the book. The whole findings, soon to be published, will open further interesting prospects for researchers in codicology and art history.

Further reading
Couvrat Desvergnes A. 2015. "Skin against Paper: Identification of Historical Interleaving Materials in Indo-Iranian Manuscripts" in the Book and Paper Group Annual, American Institute for Conservation, 34: 130-139.
Barnett J.C. 2007.Synthetic organic dyes, 1856−1901: an introductory literature review of their use and related issues in textile conservation, in Reviews in Conservation, 8:67-77.
Abid H. 2011. "An Enduring Prayer Book: Dalā’il al-Khayrāt ", in Roads of Arabia, Exhibition catalogue, Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin.
Sciacca, C. 2007. Raising the curtains on the Use of Textiles in Manuscripts. In Weaving, Veiling and Dressing, Textiles and their Metaphors in the Late Middle Ages, Ed. by K. Rudy and B. Baert, Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers.
Witkam, J.J. 2007. The battle of the images Mekka vs. Medina in the iconography of the manuscripts of al-Jazūlī’s Dalā’il al-Khayrāt, published as Pre-Print on 18 July 2007, Leiden.

Amélie Couvrat Desvergnes has been working as a senior book and paper conservator in the Museum of Islamic Art of Qatar since 2012. She holds a MA in Conservation from Paris Pantheon Sorbonne and a MA in Museology from Ecóle du Louvre in France. Alongside her involvement in the conservation activities of the conservation laboratory, she undertook a research on Islamic manuscript materials in collaboration with several European institutions and UCL Qatar.