Before and After: Georgio Bonelli’s Hortus Romanus, published in 1774
By Harry Ransom Center
The conservation department of the Ransom Center is responsible for the care and preservation of the Center’s collections. This feature highlights repair and conservation work on collection items.
The complete Hortus Romanus is an eight-volume folio size set of stunning hand-colored botanical prints, of which the Ransom Center owns Volumes 1–3, bound in marbled paper with parchment spines. When a Reading Room patron noticed damage, conservators stepped in to remediate the effects that a quarter millennia had wrought. Ya-Jhu Chang, a conservation intern from Taiwan, oversaw the delicate repair of these hefty volumes. With mold contamination, torn stitches, loose pages, and worn covers, Volume I was in greatest need of repair.
The initial assessment revealed that the cover and pages were attached, and the cord sewing supports remained laced into the cover boards. Parts of the parchment spine were missing, and mold and insects had discolored and weakened the upper corner of every page of the text block. Using a HEPA-filter vacuum and a micro brush, the mold was gently suctioned from the marbled paper covers and parchment spine.
Next, Chang led a team of three conservators in the painstaking process of adhering long-fiber paper with wheat starch paste to reinforce the weakened pages. In the process of turning and mending pages, Chang concluded that the text block would have to be re-sewn. Using new threads to reinforce the original sewing support cords, she carefully sewed the pages. The cover was reattached to the text block in a manner similar to the original, in keeping with the goal of preservation.
The new sewing, reshaped text block, and re-lined spine increased the thickness of the text block so that the pages no longer fit into the original spine covering. The parchment spine covering was cut free along the back joint.
The final step was to mend and re-attach the back cover board and parchment spine covering. The parchment covering was lifted off the back cover board so that the sewing support cords could be pasted down. Long-fiber paper was toned and adhered to bridge the gap along the back joint and to replace the missing areas at the head and tail of the spine.
The Hortus Romanus is now ready for its next 250 years.