Bookbindings as Archival Instruments: Defining, Ordering and Transmitting Knowledge in Christian Egypt (4th– 11th centuries)
Bindings capture the onlookers’ gaze, inspiring religious veneration, esthetical admiration and manifesting the purpose for which the manuscript has been created. Hence, the materials and the techniques adopted in bookbinding manufacture bear witness not only to the craftsmanship but also to the prestige of a manuscript, to its use and to the context in which it has been produced or transformed. Therefore, apart from protecting the leaves, bindings are used to define, organise and transmit a specific knowledge. Furthermore, this archival function dynamically changes as the binding is modified in order to adapt to the events which are stratified during the life of a complex object, such as the manuscript.
This project will examine the relationship between the binding of the manuscript and its content by looking at a corpus of Christian Egyptian codices dating between the fourth and the eleventh centuries. The research aims to understand the role of early Egyptian bookbindings as instruments to define and archive textual contents. The questions which this study seeks to answer are: which materials and techniques were available for bookbinding manufacture and which reasons oriented the choice of specific solutions? What is the relationship between the content and its binding? How did archival practices change in the course of time, reflecting in changes in bookbindings?
Through a systematic description of bookbinding features and measuring similarities of decorative motifs tooled onto the covers with the aid of digital imaging techniques, this research aims to reveal recurring patterns in order to propose a typological classification of Christian Egyptian bookbindings. By linking the material data to the textual content of the manuscripts, and interpreting the information in light of their cultural context, the study will reveal the criteria beyond the choice of materials and techniques for binding, thus highlighting their role in archiving Christian Egyptian manuscripts. Eventually, the set-up of a good documentation practice, based on standardised terminology and methods, will allow to combine bookbinding records from different projects’ databases, especially PAThs and Beta maṣāḥǝft, thus fostering the research in a comparative perspective.