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Five UNESCO-listed Arabo-Persian manuscripts restored and digitised by the Martin Bodmer Foundation

Thanks to the support of Helvetia Insurance, these 15th and 16th-century documents can now be stabilised and made accessible to the public in exhibitions or online.
20.05.2021 | Media releases
Five Arabo-Persian manuscripts dating from the 15th and 16th centuries will be restored and digitised by the Martin Bodmer Foundation. As with all the other texts in the collection bequeathed by Martin Bodmer, these manuscripts are part of UNESCO's "Memory of the World" register. Due to the tears, holes, stains and various other types of damage that the manuscripts have suffered, some of which were caused by previous attempts at repair, they were previously considered too fragile for any kind of handling, which rendered them completely off-limits to research, display or attempts at digitisation. Thanks to the support of Helvetia Insurance, this three-year conservation-restoration and digitisation project will make it possible to stabilise the manuscripts so that they can be displayed in exhibitions, while digitisation will make them accessible to the public, researchers, bibliophiles and academics once again via the Internet.
In a statement, the Board of Directors of the Martin Bodmer Foundation said: "The Martin Bodmer Foundation is the custodian of a UNESCO-listed collection, and we are fully committed to ensuring its preservation and accessibility for both researchers and the general public. Sponsors such as Helvetia Insurance are crucial in allowing us to push forward with our mission and in ensuring that this 'Memory of the World' endures and can be studied and admired in the best possible conditions."
In the words of Olga Britschgi, an art historian who is also Helvetia's insurance underwriter for works of art in French-speaking Switzerland: "This project makes it possible to save, restore, and digitise exceptional pieces of art, making them accessible to all. This helps to address Helvetia's own concerns as an art insurer, namely that works of art are conserved while at the same time being made available in virtual form for research and for viewing pleasure."
The conservation-restoration project will be carried out by Sandra Vez, the Foundation's restorer, in the institution's recently unveiled workshop. The Martin Bodmer Foundation has extensive experience in the field of digitisation and has been involved for years in many different projects developed in partnership with very prestigious Swiss institutions. The corpus will be digitised by specialist Naomi Wenger in the Foundation's own photography workshop, using one of the best digitisation machines available.
The five manuscripts in the project
  • CB 501, Proverbs of Ali, 1559: Together with its Ottoman-style binding, this manuscript, which was copied in Bukhara and contains the words of the Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law, is in a very concerning state of preservation. It can neither be displayed nor handled due to the immediate risk of further deterioration. The folios are very badly damaged (tears, gaps etc.), the pictorial layers are raised and unstable, and the binding structure is creating significant tension on the body of the text.  
  • CB 507, Jami of Herat, Diwan, Shiraz, 1497: This collection of works of poetry is the third-oldest illuminated manuscript created by Jami of Herat. It includes eleven full-page illustrations, each of which is in a state of preservation that requires stabilisation. Some of the individual works are dissociating from the main body, while the binding has weakened in several places.  
  • CB 532, Salvaji, Diwan, 1567: this document is the second collection of poetry copied by Gulshan Kashani and contains a dozen large illuminations; the binding is most likely contemporaneous to the period during which the manuscript was created. The stitching of the work is loosened and the bound set has suffered numerous losses of material. 
  • CB 542, Qur'an,1550: this scroll, which is almost 10 metres in length, is a fragment (beginning at the 36th surah) of the Holy Qur'an. Unfortunately, the very fine calligraphy is showing characteristic signs of deterioration of the verdigris, which has led to the loss of some of the lettering where the cellulose in the paper has oxidised.
  • Sahi, Diwan, 1582: this manuscript was bequeathed to the Martin Bodmer Foundation by Professor Badi' as a collection of separate pages glued into binder pockets. The packing box used to transport the text contained 90 decorated and calligraphed pages that had been separated from their cover. The aim of this conservation-restoration project would be to restore the work to book form and to make it possible to study its content.

Contact information
Jonas Grossniklaus
Head of Media Relations
Phone: +41 58 280 50 33