Today, I was fortunate enough not only to visit the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, but also to hear three of the museum’s conservation staff discuss their work with the exhibition In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art. Only donated to the museum in 2002, the Calderwood Collection includes a wide variety of ceramic wares from across the Islamic world in the mediaeval period, as well as a stunning array of manuscript illuminations in the Persian tradition.

The discussion, entitled From the Laboratory to the Gallery: The Conservation and Technical Study of Islamic Art, began by delving into these paintings, most of which illustrated scenes from Firdowsi’s Shahname, or ‘Book of Kings’. Written in the 10th century, the Shahname relates the mythic and historical past of Iran and became, over the course of the following centuries, an icon of Persianate culture. Elaborate decorated manuscripts…

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