The Medieval Book Structure Course


26 – 28 March 2015


Museu de Lisboa, Palácio Pimenta, Campo Grande, 245, 1700-097 Lisboa, Portugal


It has been said, on several occasions, that the history of bookbinding is actually a story of decorative styles applied to the covers. Effectively a glimpse at the bibliography on the subject shows a huge amount of deluxe binding catalogs, monographs and general works on the binding styles and a catalog of renowned bookbinders. However if we try to know something about the binding, in addition to the cases we have to resort to a sparse bibliography, scattered and difficult to locate. Apart from being an annoyance, lack of supporting documentation is a serious problem that explains, on the one hand, the lack of interest on the part of historians and researchers, in the description of the old bindings and on the other, the enormous difficulty of the restorers in interpreting traces of the old bindings and propose treatments.

Since the beginning of the XX century a small group binders, restorers and historians, identified the main medieval bookbinding techniques. The most important contributions are articles by Berthe van Regermorten, Léon Gilissen, Paul Vezin and especially the excellent book by Janos Szirmai, "The Archaeology of the Medieval Bookbinding", a true compendium of the main techniques of binding used before the XVI century. In the Iberian Peninsula stands out the study of Nascimento and Dias Diogo on the bindings of Alcobaça and the exhibition catalog "Leather on wood" on the Mudejar bindings of the National Library of Spain.

The lack of information is reflected in a steady loss of medieval bindings, something Clarkson denounced with lucidity in 1978 and later also Szirmai in his famous article "Stop destroying ancient bindings". It is not rare to find an intact binding in a digital library and trying to carry out a technical study on the original, only to discover that the book in question was recently restored with the inevitable destruction of original elements of great archaeological interest. For all this, it is of great importance to know the medieval bookbinding techniques, their specific elements and their peculiarities. In other words, to fully understand the medieval binding.

Aim and description of the course

The purpose of this course is to serve as introduction to technical study of ancient bindings designed for conservators of books and documents, historians, archivists and librarians in charge of old book repositories . Despite being recommended prior experience in binding techniques, the course is open to people who can benefit from the practical knowledge to understand and discover the old bindings. The course will focus on the different techniques used between the X to XV centuries, in particular the confection of structural elements such as seams, capitals, covers, etc., all with a strong practical component but supported by a strong theoretical and graphic framework.

Dates: 26, 27 and 28 Mach 2015

Place: Museu de Lisboa, Palácio Pimenta, Campo Grande, 245, 1700-097 Lisboa

Work plan

1st day

8h30-9h00 - Reception, documentation

9h00-11h00 - General theoretical framework of the course.  The book in codex form. Interpretations of their possible origin. Major archaeological remains. Eastern and Western bindings: differences and similarities. Main types of binding in the West. Medieval bindings (first period and late period) in the Iberian Peninsula. The transition to the Renaissance binding.

11h00-11h30 – Pause

11h30-14h30 - Practice. Preparation of books. Sewing on simple nerve. Sewing on split nerve.

14h30-16h30 – Lunch

16h30-19h30 - Covers elaboration. Preparation of splices.

2nd day

9h00-11h00 - Theoretical framework. Study of book structures: the main authors and study areas. Current situation. The description of medieval structures

11h00-11h30 – Pause

11h30-14h30 - Practice. Preparation of reinforcements. Simple headband sewing

14h30-16h30 – Lunch

16h30-19h30 - Headband stitching embroidery. Covers Union. Skin Preparation

3rd day

9h00-11h00 - Theoretical framework. Study and description of medieval structures

11h00-11h30 – Pause

11h30-14h30 - Practice. Covers preparation. Preparation of skin closures

End of work and certificates delivery


Professor Arsenio Sanchez Hernampérez (biographical note)

Member of the conservators of the National Library of Spain.

He was awarded the National Award for Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Property in 2013 for his exceptional work within the conservation of bibliographic and documentary heritage.

Degree in Geography and History and a diploma in graphic documents by the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Madrid, he worked at the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain, at the Museum of the Spanish Town and since 1992 at the offices of conservation and restoration of the National Library of Spain as conservator-restorer of the reserved collections.

He teaches "Conservation of Collections" at the master's course of Archival at Carlos III University and at the master's course of Document Management and Administration at the University Ibero-american of Andalusia.

He regularly collaborates with the Faculties of Sciences Documentation and Fine Arts at the Complutense University and the Faculty of Philology at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

His work and research has been focused on the recovery of ancient techniques of bookbinding, history of intervention criteria on restoration of documents and special methods of conservation and preventive  preservation of documents.

Between 1999 and 2001, led the restructuring of services Conservation of the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina University in Sarajevo and participated in various cooperation projects in Cuba and Morocco.

Belongs to Bibliopegia group, consisting of researchers and conservators devoted to the study of the book in its different valences.

He has a vast array of published works: Políticas de conservación en bibliotecas, (Madrid: Arco Libros, 1999), Los desastres en archivos: cómo planificarlos (Gijón, TREA. 2011), editor of Manual de planificación y prevención de desastres en archivos y bibliotecas (Madrid: Fundación Histórica Tavera, 2001) and over thirty articles and publications specialized periodicals and collective works.

Training Certificate

A training certificate will be issued by The Lisbon City Council Development and Training Department, regarding the 21 hours of the course.

Event, PAC (Preservation and Conservation)

Last update: 16 May 2018