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The spine of one of the volumes from Gottorfer Codex.

Behind | News about the art | Exhibition | 23.may.2013

Giving the book a ‘flu shot

When Duke Frederick III entertained guests at Gottorf Castle in Northern Germany in the mid-17th century he was only too pleased to show them his magnificent garden. Its vast expanses were home to a wealth of flowers. But what did he do during winter? How could he show off his beautiful and rare flowers in December? At that time of year a few plants were stored in greenhouses, while everything in the garden itself lay dormant.

To compensate for the grey gardens and parks the duke might invite his guests to sit with him in a heated room and ask his waiter to go to the castle’s lavish library to fetch the parchments showing hundreds of flower paintings.

For from 1649 to 1659 Duke Frederick hired the flower painter Hans Simon Holtzbecker to paint plants from the duke’s wonderful garden onto easy-to-handle pieces of parchment, and Holtzbecker painted no less than 1,180 flowers and plants over the course of his 10 years of work.

Now, the Flowers and World Views exhibition at the SMK offers modern-day visitors the chance to see the same paintings from the Gottorfer Codex.

At the time these words were written the paper conservators are putting the final – and very crucial – touches to volumes 3 and 4; this work is what makes it possible to view the books and turn their pages without damaging the paintings. For the spines of these 17th century covers have become very tight, which makes it difficult to turn the leaves over. It is necessary to loosen the covers, making them supple again and allowing each page to be turned. Carrying out this work also allows us to repair the broken leather spine.

The book covers are very worn. This tells us that the volumes did not spend all their time sitting on a shelf; they have been taken out and perused many times. What is more, they have also made long journeys during the Great Northern War as they became part of the Danish king’s spoils of war in the early 18th century.

The edges of the books have been battered and bruised so much that they have lost their original shape, and the gilt spines are on the verge of falling off. Threads and stitches are exposed, revealing how the books have been put together.

The covers each comprise two thick pieces of cardboard, which form the front and back, and a piece of calf leather has been glued onto each cardboard piece.

The syringe being inserted into the broken corner and along the edge contains glue.  The cardboard corners have become bruised and worn over time and are crumbling. However, the addition of some of this liquid glue and a little extra paper makes it possible to reshape the corners. The edge of the book has been given the same treatment and is being kept in place by small pieces of cardboard and small clamps while it dries.

The gilt leather spine has been removed altogether, and a new brown piece of leather has been fitted to the spine. We often find ourselves needing to come up with creative solutions in order to handle and treat a given work. The whole arrangement with the white strips in the foreground is one example of such self-built solutions.

One of the volumes in its freshly invented straitjacket. The old gilt spine has been glued onto the new leather spine. The new spine remains visible; you can still see the lighter-coloured brown leather along the edges. The book has become slightly wider as a result of the restoration work, and this has greatly improved the book’s ability to open and close. The soft cotton strips, the Velcro, and the strings keep the spine in place as the glue dries.

  • By: Anja Scocozza
  • 23.may.2013
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