Hosting an exhibition at the Library always presents us with the opportunity to conserve items in the collection that might otherwise remain in the state in which they are received. Our Planting Dreams exhibition features approximately 140 items from the State Library’s collection, many of which have required conservation treatments. One of the older items in the exhibition required considerable treatment, a herbal, Herbarum vivae eicones ,1532-1536 by Otto Brunfels.
Herbarum vivae eicones or “Living portraits of Plants”, is a book describing plants, their appearance, medicinal properties and information on how to prepare and use them. Herbarum vivae eicones was a major break with tradition as the illustrations by Hans Weiditz (c.1495-c.1536) were woodcuts produced from live specimens rather than copies from previous work. The resulting illustrations were more lifelike than anything printed before. The copy in the Library’s Rare Book collection was rebound sometime in the 18th century and features a trade European style binding typical of the time.
The volume came to the Library as part of the David Scott Mitchell Bequest following his death in 1907 and was in a desperate state of repair. The sewing structure had broken down and the text block and leather spine were splitting in several parts. It was in a vulnerable state and not in a condition to be issued to clients or displayed in an exhibition. It was decided that extensive treatment would be necessary for this work of art to be included in Planting Dreams.
The entire text block in 80 sections comprising 438 pages was pulled apart to be dry cleaned of dust, dirt and animal glue then repaired with thin Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. The text block was then resewn with linen thread on 6 double linen cords, as it would have been originally. The broken head and tail headbands were replaced by new handmade ones sympathetic to the original and new boards were reattached. The book was then fully covered with a pared, dyed and prepared calf leather to match the remaining original leather. The front and back original leather covers were repositioned and glued on the new covering leather and new endpapers and pastedowns were added. The original bookplates of the previous owners were repositioned in the front cover. Finally, a custom made clamshell box was made to house the book into the future.
The Library’s cherished copy of Otto Brunfels’ masterpiece Herbarum vivae eicones is a functional book again. It is safely accessible, structurally sound, opens easily, and is now ready for research and exhibition.
Guy Caron, Book Conservator, Collection Care
Herbarum vivae eicones by Otto Brunfels will be on display in Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens from 3 September 2016 to 15 January 2017
Conservation treatment on Herbarum vivae eicones by Otto Brunfels
Herbarum vivae eicones spine pre treatment
Herbarum vivae eicones with damaged headbands pre treatment