Conservation of ‘Histoire Naturelle des Singes et des Makis’.

monkeyWritten and illustrated by Jean Baptiste Audebert, this large, 19th century French book includes 63 full-page engravings of beautifully represented monkeys and lemurs. The book recently arrived at the Wren Library as part of the Crewe collection, bequeathed by Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe to Trinity College. The binding was in fairly poor condition and handling of the book risked further damage. Conservation treatment was requested by the Librarian.

The leather spine had fallen into pieces and the remaining leather and the covering marbled paper on the boards were both scratched and torn, especially along the edges. The boards were still attached to the text-block by the laced-in cords ; however, the missing leather along the joints and torn inside hinges made the attachment vulnerable.

The text-block was wavy and dirty along the top edges and several pages had large water stains.

The conservation treatment, which took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book and Manuscript Conservation Workshop, aimed to restore the accessibility of the book while considering its historical and aesthetical values.

Firstly, the entire text-block was dry cleaned using a smoke-sponge. The two title pages were removed from the book and washed in warm de-ionised water. They were then left to dry under weight.

The visually disturbing water stains that covered some engravings were reduced by humidifying the stain edge and drying it immediately with a heated spatula through filter paper to avoid spreading the discolouration and distorting the paper.

The worn and delaminated vellum corners were repaired with new toned vellum and wheat-starch paste. The vellum was previously lined with paper which allows the piece of vellum to be moulded easily around the corner.

After removing the spine linings and any old adhesives, the spine was pasted, re-shaped slightly and lined with a strip of Japanese paper to consolidate the sewing. The board attachment was strengthened with a strip of aerolinen adhered onto the spine and extending onto the boards. The two title pages were then re-attached to the text-block by sewing them through the aerolinen.

New back-bead headbands were made with linen threads to reinforce the sewing structure.

A hollow back made of Heritage Archival paper was adhered to the spine and the book was re-backed with a piece of calf leather toned to match the remaining leather on the boards. Finally, the original leather label was pasted onto the spine and gold lines were tooled to imitate the original spine.

And finally, some full page images from the conserved book:


With thanks to Gwendoline Lemée.

Roubiliac in the Wren Library

Portrait of Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Wren Library houses a magnificent series of portrait busts by Louis François Roubiliac, the leading sculptor in England in the mid-18th century.

By Wren’s time, there was a well-established tradition of furnishing libraries with painted and sculptural portraits. The subjects of these portraits would often be ancient and modern authors, great men worthy of emulation and providers of inspiration. This can be seen in the Wren in the series of plaster and wood busts placed on top of the bookcases on either side, one side ancient, one side modern. Together with representations of authors, portrait busts were also made of illustrious former members of College as a means of honouring them as well as helping to construct a sense of the College’s institutional history. It is in the series of busts which line either side of the Wren at floor level, each on a plinth, that we find the glorious workings of Roubiliac.

Wren Library interior
Interior of the Wren Library showing the busts at floor level on wooden plinths

While figurative sculpture for the interior of the Library had been envisaged by Wren, this was not realised to any scale until the middle of the eighteenth century when it became part of a wider project to ‘define and articulate Trinity’s intellectual affiliations and identity’ [1]. Enter Roubiliac.

By the 1750s he had established his reputation as one of the best sculptors in England. He was appreciated not only for his mimetic skills but also for his inventiveness, the latter which enabled him to stand out from rivals like John Michael Rysbrack and Peter Scheemakers. Probably the first thing that impresses as you gaze upon one of Roubiliac’s busts [in the Wren Library] is a delightful synesthesia conjured up in the immediacy of encountering the subject of the bust as if in person, a person who emerges from marble that, far from being cold and static, seems to flow around the contours of the face, hair and upper torso, and is suffused with warmth. There is a pleasing symmetry to the busts, from the head out to the shoulders and in again to the socle at the base. As Malcolm Baker expresses it in his invaluable chapter on the portrait sculpture in the Wren, they are created to be viewed as works of art in their own right and not merely as sculptures with a public function.

It is thus not surprising that it is to Roubiliac that the Master, Robert Smith, and Fellows of Trinity turned when they were embarking on a programme to develop the College’s iconography. This programme was guided by Smith’s own interests, particularly in the sciences, and was by no means confined only to the Library, or only to works of sculpture, but encompassed various forms of portraiture arranged throughout the College. There is no evidence to suggest a coherent plan, however. In the Library, the busts were either donated or commissioned by former members or friends of College, at the instigation of Smith; the combination of busts that resulted was down, in the end, to who he succeeded in persuading.

The busts in the Wren Library comprise:

10 by Roubiliac, the earliest being those of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Francis Willoughby or Willughby and John Ray. These are placed in pairs at either end of the Library. Later additions include Isaac Barrow, Richard Bentley, Baron Trevor, Lord Whitworth, Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Edward Coke. There are also two by Scheemakers and one by John Bacon.

Each bust is inscribed with the name of the sculptor, sitter and donor, and a date.

The final resting place of all 10 Roubiliac busts in the Wren Library was not established until into the 19th century. While we know that the busts of Newton, Bacon, Ray and Willoughby had been placed in the Library in the 1750s, and the bust of Cotes by the first decade of the following century, guidebooks and accounts do not mention the other busts until the 1830s, and so these had probably been placed elsewhere in College.

The Roubiliac busts










1. Baker, Malcolm. ‘The portrait sculpture’: in ‘The making of the Wren Library’, edited by D. McKitterick, p. 110.

Further reading:

Esdaile, K.A. Roubiliac’s work at Trinity College Cambridge.

Esdaile, K.A. The life and works of Louis Francois Roubiliac.

Bindman, David. Roubiliac and the eighteenth-century monument.

Photograph of the Month

Add. PG.18
Add. PG.18

This photograph shows bathers at Trinity during the Long Vacation in 1894. The three terms at Cambridge are separated by three vacations (Christmas, Easter and Long Vacation). The Long Vacation is aptly named since it runs from mid June until the end of September. During this time no undergraduate teaching takes place. The Long Vacation is also known as the Research Period.


Shelley and the Birth of Frankenstein

Two hundred years ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley made a tour of Europe with his lover and future wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her step-sister Claire Clairmont, who was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child. Their sojourn in the Alps quickly become notorious for two reasons: one night in June, the group challenged each other to write the scariest horror story, and the first seeds of the novel Frankenstein were sown. And the following month, on 23 July 1816 Shelley caused a scandal by publicly declaring himself an atheist when signing the visitors’ book at the Hôtel de Londres in Chamonix. The offending page from that hotel visitors’ book has just resurfaced in the Wren Library as part of a new bequest.

Visitor book

The visitors’ book was ruled with several columns, allotted to date, name, place of birth, and the starting-point and destination of the visitor’s journey. Shelley entered his name on 23 July 1816, born in Sussex and travelling from London ‘à l’Enfer’ – to Hell. In the space for comments, where an earlier visitor has commented on the divine majesty of the Alps, Shelley writes, in Greek, ‘eimi philanthropos, demokratikos, atheos te’: ‘I am a lover of mankind, a democrat and an atheist’. A later visitor wrote beneath this a verse from the Psalms: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God’.

Visitor book close-up

Shelley’s public declaration of atheism in this book quickly became infamous, and many came to the hotel in order to inspect the book. Underneath Shelley’s name is written ‘Mad. M. W. G.’ – Madame Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the future Mary Shelley – and a further name, now crossed out, was Claire Clairmont. It was very likely to have been Byron who underlined Shelley’s name along with ‘the fool’ in the Greek text, in order to vent his frustration at Shelley’s outrage, and who crossed out Claire Clairmont’s name. A later visitor cut this page out of the visitors’ book, and it found its way into the collection of Richard Monckton Milnes, the remarkable Victorian MP and bibliophile whose library was recently bequeathed to Trinity College by his grand-daughter Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. Several very rare Shelley editions are included in the bequest, and this page had been pasted inside the front cover of his epic poem The Revolt of Islam.

Mont Blanc seen from Chamonix, from Narrative of an Ascent to the Sumhmit of Mont Blanc (London, 1828), by John Auldjo, a Canadian-born student at Trinity College who became a noted Alpinist.
Mont Blanc seen from Chamonix, from Narrative of an Ascent to the Sumhmit of Mont Blanc (London, 1828), by John Auldjo, a Canadian-born student at Trinity College who became a noted Alpinist.

Before they arrived at the the hotel in Chamonix, Shelley had taken Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont to visit Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, where he was staying with his personal physician, John William Polidori. On one night in June 1816, Byron challenged each member of the group to write a ghost story. Polidori’s efforts were later expanded into The Vampyre, the first vampire novel, and Mary Godwin’s story was published in 1818 as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. This page shows the first appearance of Frankenstein’s monster, in the Alps.

Shelley returned to England in the autumn of 1816. The following year he began work on an epic poem inspired by his observations of the French Revolution. First published as Laon and Cythna, the work became better known in its revised version as The Revolt of Islam, and is a highly sophisticated parable of revolutionary idealism. Shelley drafted much of the text on a boat on the Thames near Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Trinity College Library houses one page from the neat copy which Shelley prepared for his printer, showing part of Canto IX. It forms part of a substantial collection of autographs, the Cullum Collection. Laon and Cythna was quickly withdrawn after publication, amid fears of prosecution for blasphemy, and was reissued with a new title and many altered lines in 1817.

Wittgenstein’s Letter to the Garden Committee


The papers of the eminent philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein are available via the Wren Digital Library. Outwith this archive, however, is a curious letter he addressed to the Garden Committee of the College in 1934, of incidental interest because of his studied objections to their plans for the Fellows’ Garden.

View of the Garden

The area of land to the west of Trinity College and alongside Queen’s Road was bought for the college in 1871 (it had been leased for about 60 years before that). At the time it was known as the ‘Roundabout’ because of the circular walks within it, but from then on it was designated as the Fellows’ Garden. Designs were provided by the landscape gardener William Brodrick Thomas (1811-98) who also designed the ornamental lake at Sandringham and the Garden Committee was set up to oversee the implementation of these plans. They included retaining the already established avenue of elms and the ‘roundabout’ path, but adding flowering shrubs and ornamental trees.

Wittgenstein's Garden Plan
Wittgenstein’s Garden Plan

Summer grasses in the Fellows’ Garden were traditionally left uncut, but in 1933 some experimental paths were cut through the long grass. Ludwig Wittgenstein – by this time a fellow of Trinity – in a letter to the secretary offered (presumably unsolicited) opinions and advice on this decision. Affronted by the line of the paths, he suggested re-positioning them as well as making adjustments to the shape of the flower beds and the position of trees. He also criticised the planting schemes “… the kidney shaped bed with the dahlias in it looks very bad because of the border of Veronica round the dahlias. This fringe makes it look like a gaudy birthday cake.”

No response is known!

The Fellows’ Garden is open to the public once a year as part of the National Gardens Scheme and also during the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival.

Birdsong in the Fellows’ Garden


Further Reading:

Jane Brown, Trinity College: a garden history (Cambridge, 2002)

Photograph of the Month


This photograph shows Abram Samoilovitch Besicovitch (b. 1891) mowing Trinity College lawns during the Second World War. Originally from Russia, Besicovitch came to Cambridge as a lecturer in 1927, was made a fellow in 1930 and was later appointed Rouse-Ball Professor of Mathematics (1950-58). He died in Cambridge in 1970.

For further biographical information see the Trinity College Chapel Website.


Recent Additions to the Wren Digital Library (II)

R.3.15_f066rB.15.27_f090rB.15.18, f115rB.2.25_f001rpage_432

The latest additions to the Wren Digital Library include a manuscript containing works by Chaucer (R.3.15), a volume given to Trinity by Jonathan Dryden (B.15.27), two manuscripts of Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection (O.7.47 and B.15.18), a volume from Christ Church Cathedral Priory (B.2.25) and a medieval encyclopedia (R.9.10).

R.3.15: Chaucer etc

This late-15th/early 16th century volume is written in a number of hands and includes copies of most of the Canterbury Tales as well as Piers Plowman. The Library has other copies of both texts (R.3.3 and B.15.17). The featured page has the opening of the Reeve’s Tale: “At Trompyngton not fer from Cambrige/Ther goth a broke and over that a brige/Upon the whiche broke there stondeth a mylle/And this is verey soth that I yow telle”

R.3.15, f.66r

B.15.27, Hugo de Sacramentis

This work by Hugh of St Victor – De sacramentis christianae fidei – is one of a number donated to the College by Jonathan (John) Dryden. It is a theological and mystical text. An original medieval cloth cover protects the decorated initial at the start of book 2.

B.15.27, f.90r

B.15.18, Walter Hilton. Scala Perfectionis

The Library has two manuscript copies of Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection (O.7.47 and B.15.18). Based on the internal evidence provided in the colophon (a statement giving evidence of authorship), manuscript B.15.18 has been dated to c. 1499. The text is also annotated throughout by James Grenehalgh who also worked on other extant copies of this text at the end of the 15th century.

B.15.18, f115r
B.15.18, f.115r

B.2.25, Holcot super librum sapientiae

B.2.25 is one of more than eighty manuscripts in the Library which originate from the Benedictine Cathedral Priory of Christ Church in Canterbury. The majority were bequeathed by John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1583 and 1604, but this one was given by another donor, Thomas Nevile (Master of Trinity 1593–1615). The volume begins with the decorated initial and border below, but also contains some plainer initials decorated with faces (eg f.225r).

B.2.25, f.001r
B.2.25, f.001r

R.9.10, Isidori Etymologiae

The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville were compiled in the early 7th century. The encyclopedia comprises 20 books. Some books focus on etymology (the study of words), but others cover topics as varied as mathematics, birds and animals, buildings and music. This manuscript dates from the 13th or 14th century. The page shown – written in a tiny hand – is from the end of the volume and is part of the (incomplete) index.

R.3.10, f.225v
R.3.10, f.225v


Photograph of the Month

Trinity Ball 1905

This month’s photograph shows a group attending the Trinity May Ball in 1905.  They are posed around the water fountain in the Market Place.  College May Balls traditionally happen, not in May, but in June at the end of the exam period.

The ball at Trinity College is the first to take place and is officially known as the First and Third Boat Club May Ball. The first official ball took place in 1866 to celebrate the success of the First and Third rowing teams at the May Bumps (a rowing competition which still takes place annually).

For more on the Bumps see the website of the Cambridge University Combined Boatclubs.




500th Manuscript Online


Bernard Gui (1260-1331) was a Friar-Preacher perhaps best known as an Inquisitor against the Albigensians (or Cathars). He ended his career as Bishop of Lodève. This manuscript (R.4.23) includes various works by Bernard, but we are highlighting the beautifully illustrated genealogical tree – Arbor genealogie regum – which traced the lineage of the French Kings from their Trojan origins (ff. 49v-52v).

Each page is a sequence of illuminated pictures which narrate the succession and genealogy of the kings of France. Each king is represented standing in a medallion in which their name and the length of their reign is also written. The kings have the royal insignia – the crown and sceptre – and are dressed in gowns covered with the fleur-de-lys. Beside them there are usually some smaller medallions in which their ancestors, offspring and spouses appear.

The tree begins on f.49v with medallions representing the chiefs of the Sicambri and, at the top of the page, a damaged miniature of robed men conversing. The tree continues with larger medallions. The first (on f.50r) is Pharamond, a legendary early King of the Franks; he was not mentioned in any chronicles from the Middle Ages (for example he was omitted by Gregory of Tours in his famous Historia francorum). The legend says that his daughter Argotta, from his second marriage, is the ancestress of the French royal line, as she was Merovech’s mother. Below Pharamond follow Chlodio, Pharamond’s son and Merovech, the founder of the Merovingian dynasty in the 5th century.

R.4.23, f.50r
R.4.23, f.50r

The lineage continues on the subsequent pages. Those depicted on f.52v, for example, represent Dagobert II, king of Autrasia (676-679) who was made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church; his feast is on 23 December. He is pictured with some of his relatives. Ansegisel, a son of Arnulf of Metz, is pictured in the uppermost medallion. Through his marriage to Begga, the daughter of Pepin the Elder, the clans of the Pippinids and the Arnulfings were united, giving rise to a family which would eventually rule the Franks as the Carolingians. Below, other important figures appear, like Charles Martel (king of Franks between 737-741) and Pepin the Short.

R.4.23, f.52v
R.4.23, f.52v

The last page (f. 57r) presents Louis X (who reigned between 1314-1316); he was the eldest son of King Philippe IV ‘the Fair’, most famous for having annihilated the order of the Knights Templar. The name of Louis X is not written in the medallion but it is mentioned in the accompanying text. Some later notes continue the genealogy.

R.4.23, f.57r
R.4.23, f.57r

Conservation of the Trinity College Charter of Dotation

rolled charter

From the beginning of January to the middle of March, the College’s Charter of Dotation, dating from 1546 and listing Trinity’s endowments, underwent extensive conservation treatment at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book and Manuscript Conservation Workshop.

distorted charter
The Charter as received, showing distortion due to rolled storage.

The Charter, which is written on seven skins of vellum connected by a green cord that bears a brown wax impression of the Great Seal, had suffered from a certain amount of neglect in past centuries. The parchment was heavily soiled with dark, sooty dirt, and fluctuating relative humidity, combined with rolled storage, had left the document distorted and extremely difficult to read. The seal had become detached in the past and had been tied back on upside-down!

Obverse of seal.
Reverse of seal.

Conservation treatment of this magnificent document involved highly detailed cleaning of the parchment to remove as much dirt as possible before the individual leaves were gently humidified and the distortions eased out. The cleaning charter 1cleaning process in particular demanded great concentration so that later annotations, some of them in pencil, were not removed along with the dirt. Three Mars plastic erasers were used in total, mostly cut up into tiny wedge-shaped pieces so that dirt could be removed from between the lines and the words!

charter text
Careful cleaning transformed the document from dark grey to creamy parchment.
Detail from the cleaned top border
Detail from the cleaned top border.

During cleaning, it was interesting to find a trimming from the end of a quill hidden in the plica (fold) of the document: there is no way of telling quite how long it had been concealed in the fold, but even if it is not from the pen of the original scribe, it must be several centuries old. Evidence such as this is always preserved during conservation treatment and the trimming has been mounted in the box with the conserved Charter.

The humidified and flattened parchment leaves needed to settle under weighted boards for several weeks so that they stabilised properly. During this time, a bespoke fitted box was made in the workshop to house the Charter and allow it to be displayed safely. The new box is made from archival materials and has a completely removable lid so that the base tray can act as an exhibition mount when the Charter is displayed, without further need to handle the original document. The box incorporates a contoured, padded recess to protect the seal and a window in which the quill trimming is displayed.

conserved charter
The conserved charter in its new box.


With thanks to Edward Cheese, ACR