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Mon, Feb 19, 2024

Passing down Japan’s artistic treasures: TSUMUGU’s repair grant for fiscal 2024

Part 2 of 2: Important cultural properties

Every year, the Tsumugu Project — a joint effort between Japan’s Cultural Affairs Agency, Imperial Household Agency and national daily The Yomiuri Shimbun to restore, preserve and promote the nation’s artistic treasures and traditional culture — uses a part of the proceeds from art exhibitions it organizes to help repair a certain number of cultural assets in need of urgent care.

The 9 cultural assets TSUMUGU Project will help repair in FY2024:

– National treasure: Seated statue of Miroku-butsu (Maitreya) — Kofuku-ji temple, Nara

– National treasure: Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era (Taiping Yulan) — Tofuku-ji temple, Kyoto

– National treasure: Prince Shotoku and the High Priests of Tendai Buddhism — Ichijo-ji temple, Hyogo Pref.

– Important cultural property: Shaka’s Eight-phase Nirvana — Tsurugi-jinja shrine, Fukui Pref.

– Important cultural property: Prince Shotoku Lecturing on the Srimaladevi Sutra — Seirai-ji temple, Mie Pref.

– Important cultural property: Sutra in Gold Letters on Deep Blue Paper (Excavated from the sutra mound at Kinpusen) — Kinpusen-ji temple, Nara Pref.

– Important cultural property: Portraits of Mansai, Giken, Gigyo, Gien, Kakujo — Daigo-ji temple, Kyoto

– Important cultural property: Statue of Fugen Bosatsu in Cabinet — Gansen-ji temple, Kyoto Pref.

– Important cultural property: Landscape by Ito Jakuchu — Saifuku-ji temple, Osaka Pref.

For fiscal 2024 (financial year starting on April 1), the project has selected nine assets to help restore, comprising three designated national treasures and six designated important cultural properties of Japan.

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— Important Cultural Property —

Shaka’s Eight-phase Nirvana
(Tsurugi-jinja shrine, Fukui Pref.)

Important Cultural Property: Shaka’s Eight-phase Nirvana
(Tsurugi-jinja shrine, Fukui Pref.)
*Conservators need five years to repair the severely damaged painting

Life and death of Shaka illustrated

The composition of the painting is quite unique in that it portrays the death of the historical Shaka (Shakyamuni Buddha) at the center of the huge screen (about 210 centimeters by 280 centimeters in size) and other major events of his life layed out on both ends. The select committee of Tsumugu’s repair grant program issued a comment stating that the painting is “a Kamakura-period masterpiece.”

The reclining Shaka is surrounded by grieving disciples and some animals. The eight major events (hasso) in his life — including his birth, renunciation and first sermon — are depicted in vertically long frames on both ends. There was once a temple in the Tsurugi-jinja precinct. The painting is said to have been hung on a wall of the temple hall.

The painting is severely damaged due to folds, chippings and peelings of the pigment. It has often been displayed in major Buddhist art exhibitions, but experts say further use will have to be limited due to its current condition. The repair work is expected to last five years.

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— Important Cultural Property —

Prince Shotoku Lecturing on the Srimaladevi Sutra
(Seirai-ji temple, Mie Pref.)

Important cultural property: Prince Shotoku Lecturing on the Srimaladevi Sutra
(Seirai-ji temple, Mie Pref.)
*The painting requires urgent care due to a number of folds running across its width.

Connoting spread of faith in Prince Shotoku

The painting depicts Prince Shotoku (574-622, son of Emperor Yomei) giving a lecture on the Srimaladevi Sutra (Shoman-gyo) to Soga no Umako (died 626) of the powerful Soga clan and three others at the behest of Empress Suiko (554-628, first reigning empress of Japan). The artwork is deemed important in that it connotes the spread of faith in the prince.

The painting, about 114 centimeters by 63 centimeters in size, was produced during the Kamakura period (13th century). The face of the characters in the painting was depicted distinctively, and overall, the colors used were muted as with the prince’s soft vermilion robe. Other paintings of the Kamakura period depicting the same scene usually add Prince Yamashiro (Yamashiro-no-o’e-no-o), the son of Prince Shotoku, among the four attending to the lecture, which leads to the conclusion that this painting retains the style of the earlier Heian period.

The painting was last repaired more than a century ago in 1918. It has a number of folds running across its width, which, if unattended, may lead to further chipping or peeling of the pigment. In short, the painting is in need of urgent care. Conservators will have to change the backing paper, take steps to prevent further peeling and clean the painting.

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— Important Cultural Property —

Sutra in Gold Letters on Deep Blue Paper (Excavated from the sutra mound at Kinpusen)
(Kinpusen-ji temple, Nara Pref.)

Important cultural property: Sutra in Gold Letters on Deep Blue Paper (Excavated from the sutra mound at Kinpusen)
(Kinpusen-ji temple, Nara Pref.)
*Repair work started in 2023. If all goes well, it can be exhibited as soon as in fiscal 2026.

Sutras handwritten by Michinaga
and Moromichi of Fujiwara clan

Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), who wielded great power as regent in the mid-Heian period, and his great-grandson Moromichi (1062-99) both buried sutras in gold letters on deep blue paper in their own handwriting at the top of Kinpusen (present day Sanjogadake) in Nara Prefecture.

During the Edo period, nine leaves of the handwritten sutras were said to have been found among items excavated from the sutra mound at Kinpusen (collectively designated as a national treasure). 191 leaves more were discovered in the Kinpusen-ji temple precinct in recent years. The nine leaves found earlier were then separated from the excavated items and newly designated as an important cultural property together with the newly found 191 leaves. The Gotoh Museum (Tokyo) houses a part of the sutras, which was also designated as an important cultural property.

Michinaga himself says in his diary (“Midokanpakuki,” a designated national treasure) that he buried the sutras atop Kinpusen as offerings. The sutras in gold letters on deep blue paper are historical materials of immense value in that they are telling of religious beliefs held by Heian-period court nobles.

Putting them on public display is unthinkable at this point due to the damage done over time. To conserve or use the sutras in the future, steps must be taken to prevent further peeling of the gold letters and fix chippings. The main paper falling away must be reattached for safe use.

The repair work of the sutras started in September 2023 with a plan to finish in fiscal 2025.

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— Important Cultural Property —

Portraits of Mansai, Giken, Gigyo, Gien, Kakujo
(Daigo-ji temple, Kyoto)

Important Cultural Property: Portraits of Mansai, Giken, Gigyo, Gien, Kakujo
Right: Mansai Left: Gien
(Daigo-ji temple, Kyoto)

Head priests of Sanbo-in depicted
in exemplary portrait paintings

The portraits represent the five priests who respectively served as the head of Sanbo-in — a subtemple of the Shingon Buddhist Daigo-ji temple in Kyoto — from the Muromachi period through the Edo period. They were collectively designated as an important cultural property in 2020. Mansai, one of the five, gained the trust of Askhikaga Yoshimitsu — the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate — and was deeply involved in the politics of the time. Mansai’s posture in his portrait later became somewhat of a norm for priests in portrait paintings.

Each portrait is 90-96 centimeters by 40-50 centimeters in size. Mansai’s diary tells us that his portrait was rendered by Tosa Yukihiro, an influential painter of the time. In the painting, the priest sits resolutely with his juzu rosary in hand on a thick agedatami straw mat with colorful ungen (decorated cloth binding) borders. Giken, the next in line, is posed like his predecessor in his own portrait with an intelligent mien.

The portraits are themed on the succesion of Sanbo-in’s doctrines and thereby treasured. However, all the paintings have deep folds running across and damage to the colored areas are more than conspicuous. Mansai’s face in the painting has nearly disappeared. The repair work will involve changing the backing paper of each painting and enhancing the flaking pigment layer.

— Important Cultural Property —

Statue of Fugen Bosatsu in Cabinet
(Gansen-ji temple, Kyoto Pref.)

Statue of Fugen Bosatsu in Cabinet
(Gansen-ji temple, Kyoto Pref.)
*The statue last went under conservation a century ago. Deterioration over time is becoming more and more conspicuous. The zushi cabinet (miniature shrine), where it is kept, also needs to be repaired.

Gentle facial feature
worshipped by women

The statue of Fugen Bosatsu — made of camphor wood (kusunoki) using the ichiboku (single wood)-zukuri carving technique — in the main hall of the esoteric Shingon Risshu school temple Gansen-ji in Kizugawa, Kyoto Pref., is about 39 centimeters tall. The white elephant, which serves as a base for the statue, is made of Japanese cypress (hinoki) wood and about 27 centimeters in height. Together, they are placed behind the seated statue of Amida Nyorai (also a designated important cultural property), which is the temple’s principal image of worship. Hints of vermilion, blue-green and other colors remain on the statue. The artist is unknown.

The Fugen Bosatsu was worshiped during the Heian period by women wishing to enter nirvana. The gentle facial features and slender body all suggest that it was made during the late Heian period. Purportedly, a part of the pedestal, the white elepant and halo were later added to the statue.

The zushi cabinet (miniature shrine), where the statue resides, is about 150 centimeters tall. Cloth was glued to its surface before it was black lacquered. A mandala depicted on the inner wall of the cabinet suggests that it was made during the Nanbokucho (Northern and Southern courts) period. Presuming from an inscription in black ink, the doors of the cabinet were fixed in 1519 when the white elephant and the hands of the Fugen Bosatsu went under repairs.

When the Fugen Bosatsu statue was inspected before an exhibition in 2023, pigments on the surface were found flaking or peeling. The cabinet was deteriorating in the same way.

Seijo University Professor Mitsuharu Iwasa, who chaired the selection committee for Tsumugu’s repair grant project, pointed out that it was imperative to stabilize the situation to prevent further peeling. Conservators plan to finish the repair work in fiscal 2025.

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— Important Cultural Property —

Landscape by Ito Jakuchu
(Saifuku-ji temple, Osaka Pref.)

Landscape by Ito Jakuchu
(Saifuku-ji temple, Osaka Pref.)

Jakuchu’s originality demonstrated

Large and small rocks depicted with the grazing touch of the brush running from the center of the painting to its bottom exude their presence. Mountains with gentle slopes, rounded leaves and a couple of boats depicted in various shades are composed in such a way that creates a quaint mood in the painting. The work of mid Edo-period painter Ito Jakuchu has great significance in that it can help us figure out his style of landscape painting.

Jakuchu, whose house in Kyoto was lost in the Great Fire of the Tenmei Era (1788), sought refuge in Osaka. At Saifuku-ji temple (in present day Izumi, Osaka Pref.), he worked on “Lotus Pond” and “Cactus and Domestic Fowls” among others. The two paintings “Landscape” — about 168 centimeters by 93 centimeters in size — and “Cactus and Domestic Fowls” are believed to have been made around the same time. They both bear an inscription saying “75 years old.” A member of the selection committee said “this work can only be done by Jakuchu.”

Discoloration, stains and insect damages on the painting’s surface are conspicuous. Folds run across its width, largely in the lower half. A repair work to restore its original beauty is called for.

Repair grant covers 34 assets up until FY2023

The Tsumugu Project has provided grants to help repair 34 designated cultural assets — national treasures and important cultural properties — between FY2019 and FY2023, 13 of which are paintings. “The Bodhisattva Fugen,” a national treasure housed at the Tokyo National Museum, had gone under conservation for three years starting in FY2019 and was later exhibited at the same museum. Exhibitions introducing cultural assets repaired under the auspices of the project are more to come.

Conservators are trying to come up with the right way to re-bind the “Fan-shaped Booklets of the Lotus Sutra” of Shitenno-ji temple in Osaka city, another designated national treasure. The booklets will likely go on show when the repair work, which started in FY2022, is finished.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun and other sources)



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