Ultimo aggiornamento 5 July 2023

The Central Institute for the Pathology of Archives and Books (ICPAL) was born in 2007 from the merger of the Central Institute of Book Pathology (ICPL) with the Center for photoreproduction, bookbinding and restoration of the State Archives (CFLR), initially assuming the denomination of Central Institute for the Restoration and Conservation of Archival and Librarian Heritage.

ICPAL therefore brings together two entities that are quite distinct by birth, history and reference contexts, each bearer of its own values and operational traditions. Both institutions have conquered a position of excellence in the field of restoration of archival and book assets, as evidenced by the increasingly numerous and significant interventions, both in Italy and abroad.

This great wealth of knowledge and experience accumulated over the years is now concentrated in a single Institute, whose main activity consists in research aimed at the knowledge, protection and conservation of archival materials and books belonging to the State and other public bodies .

The ICPAL Regulation provides for the carrying out of restoration, conservation, research and consultancy activities in both areas, giving particular emphasis to prevention, training, international cooperation and scientific information.

The Institute’s strategic objectives also include the promotion and enhancement of archival and book assets, through initiatives and projects conducted in collaboration with the main national and international institutions operating in this area, participation in exhibitions, conferences, internships and seminars, the production of tools suitable for the dissemination of information.

Great attention is paid to teaching: through the Higher Education and Study School the restorers of archives and books are trained.

Central Institute of Book Pathology

The Central Institute of Book Pathology was born in 1938 based on a project by Alfonso Gallo with the aim of combining the study of the book from a historical point of view and its material components with scientific disciplines.

Since its origins, the Institute’s commitment has essentially consisted of research and higher education aimed at the knowledge, conservation and restoration of book materials preserved in Italian libraries. In 1975 (with the law 805/1975) it was included among the central institutes of the new Ministry for Cultural and Environmental Heritage.

Unique in its field, over the years the Institute has accumulated an immense patrimony of knowledge, skills and abilities, which have allowed it to become an international point of reference and an institutional model to inspire.

With the awareness that conservation and restoration concern the material component of cultural heritage, research has been carried out at the Institute for the reconstruction of the technological history of books. This option has been taken up and developed since the 1980s in the wake of a discipline – the archeology of the book – which has as its objective the reconstruction of the material culture that presided over the manufacture of ancient books. Over the years, the laboratories have always carried out research on the double track of preventive conservation and the actual restoration intervention. The research activity was carried out in close collaboration with the main national and international institutions operating in the sector: from the National Research Council to Universities, to international organizations involved in the field of knowledge and conservation of ancient and modern books.

Over the decades, the ICPL has gained international notoriety and prestige in the field of book restoration, witnessed by the increasingly numerous and significant interventions, among which we mention the most recent.

In the last year of activity, he intervened on 35 cards of Boccaccio’s Decameron, found at the end of the 19th century by the lawyer Fabio Vitali inside an incunabulum printed in Ulm in 1478: the cards, dating back to the second half of the 14th century and drawn up by a hand coeval with Boccaccio, they have been subjected to a particular type of restoration, with the primary objective of recovering the areas compromised by reuse.

Another particularly important intervention was the one on the Piana 3.207 manuscript preserved at the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, a large-format parchment codex dating back to the 13th century, richly illuminated and containing the Decretum Gratiani.

The Institute has also always collaborated in the technical and regulatory organization and has carried out an intense consultancy activity for the solution of conservation and restoration problems in Italian state libraries. He has faced complex problems and dramatic emergencies: the campaign to fight against thermal phenomena, the census of the damage caused by bombing, collapses and fires, the recovery of material damaged by the flood of Florence, the interventions on the volumes belonging to Cesare Pavese damaged by the flooding of the Tanaro (November 6, 1994).

He was part of the working group for the conservation of the Dead Sea scrolls and was identified as responsible for the recovery project of the membranous fragments of the Koran, dating back to the seventh and eighth century, which luckily came to light in the Great Mosque of San’a in Yemen.

Photoreproduction, bookbinding and restoration center of the State Archives

The Centre for Photo Reproduction, Bookbinding and Restoration of the State Archives (CFLR) was established in 1963 on the basis of the Law on Archives (Presidential Decree of 30 September 1963, n.1409), with tasks of research, study and experimentation in the field of conservation and recovery of archival documents and training of technical personnel (archivists, restorers and photographers working at the State Archives).

The CFLR has represented a point of reference and an answer to the many problems that the direct and indirect conservation of documents entails. The documentary heritage submitted to the Centre’s activity includes documents on any medium: parchments, papers, seals, photographs, digital formats, etc.

As part of the primary activity of the Center – the restoration and conservation of archival assets – the most recent and significant interventions are worth mentioning. First of all the intervention carried out on the oldest document on paper preserved in Europe (a. 1109) The mandate of the countess Adelasia preserved in the State Archives of Palermo. Through the synergistic collaboration of the chemistry, biology and restoration laboratories and an in-depth study of the document and its material components, the direct restoration intervention has allowed the recovery of parts of the text that were compressed and hidden in the undulations and folds.

The Center has restored important documents from the Museo Garibaldino di Caprera, as part of the celebrations for the bicentenary of the birth of the Hero of Two Worlds; part of this material was exhibited on the occasion of the Garibaldi Salvato exhibition at the ICPAL headquarters.

Added to this are other interventions of excellence: the recovery of nineteen illuminated Latin codes, in parchment and other precious documents on paper, thanks to the constant consultancy provided to the Archive of the Studium Biblicum in Jerusalem; the restoration of the precious documentation relating to the processes of the Holy Office carried out for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Another significant field of research is the study of particular differentiated methods for the restoration of “transparencies”, which all archival institutes are provided with. Tracing papers, a material that was not born for long conservation, very often represent the only documentation available to scholars of modern architecture.

As regards participation in international projects, the Center has played the role of Italian partner in the TAPE project (Training for audiovisual preservation in Europe) and has acquired the position of consultant of the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo in Brazil .

In terms of training, some of the most significant projects should be mentioned: the seminar on mechanical restoration (leaf-casting) organized in Argentina for the Latin American Institute; the training course for restorers born from the UNESCO initiative, organized for the Library of Alexandria in Egypt; participation in the restoration project of the precious collection of Dead Sea scrolls in concert with the Israel Antiquities Authority of Jerusalem.