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Making the Invisible Visible: Conservation and Islamic Art

April 2–August 4, 2013

Pair of Carved Doors, Iran, dated 1466

Beth Edelstein
Associate Conservator
The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation


Front (left) and reverse (right) views of a Pair of Carved Doors, 1466. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1935 (35.127a, b).

This pair of carved doors with inset panels bears a date of 1466 on one of the small rectangular panels at the bottom, and the name of the maker on the vertical bar. During conservation examination and treatment, three handwritten inscriptions were discovered on the reverse, which became readable only with near-infrared reflectography (IRR). IRR photography capitalizes on the sensitivity of digital cameras to wavelengths in the infrared spectrum, which are absorbed or reflected by different materials. Inks or other black materials commonly used for writing or underdrawing absorb infrared, allowing their visibility even when faded or obscured by surface layers. Initial translation of the longest inscription, written in Persian, suggests that it describes the difficulty in completing a task—perhaps referring to the creation of the doors themselves, or of their larger setting.

Detail of inscription in visible light (left) and with infrared reflectography (right)

Detail of inscription in visible light (left), and with infrared reflectography (right). Below: Detail of longest inscription, referring to the difficulty of completing a task.